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assertion of theirs, that irreproachable conduct in the trusts which they had sustained gave a just title to such indulgence, the suitable reply was, that, even on that ground, the indulgence had not been earned by them, as their conduct, if meritorious, had not been free from reproach.
Whether it was, that the southern border of Canaan presented peculiar obstacles to an invasion, from the character of its inhabitants, or the face of the country, or that the remembrance of the former unsuccessful attempt would have had a dispiriting effect, or for some other cause unexplained, the course now proposed is, to make the inroad from the east, above the head of the Dead Sea. To this end, Moses sends to solicit an unobstructed passage by the great road, which
lay through the northern district of the Edomites, or Idumæans, descendants of Jacob's elder brother, Esau. It is refused, and he directs the march southward, along the western boundary of Edom, with the purpose of passing to the east through the less populous region, which bordered upon the Elanitic gulf.
the Elanitic gulf. On its way, the host arrives at Mount Hor, where Moses with Eleazar is directed to attend, in a retirement of that hilly region, on the last hours of the high-priest, and to transfer the insignia of Aaron's high office, to his son.*
* Numb. xx. 14-28. — "'Thy brother Israel ” (14); compare Gen. xxv. 30. — “ Strip Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son " (26); that is, invest Eleazar with the attributes of his father's office. The words need not to be literally taken. We should not hesitate to say, that a son succeeded to his father's crown, even though, strictly speaking, no crown had ever been on the head of either. — “ They went up into Mount Hor ..... and Aaron died there” (27, 28). Tradition indicates his tomb near the ancient, and recently re-discovered, city of Petra, thus agrceing with an opinion at least as old as the time of Josephus. (Ant. lib. 4, cap. 4, § 7.) Burckhardt visited the spot in 1812 (“ Travels,” &c., p. 430), and it has since been more fully explored by several travellers, our enterprising countryman, Mr. Stevens, among the number. (“Incidents of Travel” &c., Vol. II. pp. 95–98.) VOL. I.
Having devoted thirty days to ceremonies of mourning, and suffered some loss in a skirmish with a party of the southern Canaanites,* the people pursued the course which had been marked out, and, passing by the head of the gulf, gained the unoccupied country to the east of Idumæa. Here they were annoyed by venomous serpents, and Moses, interceding for the cure of those who had been stung, was ordered to erect a brazen image of the reptile, and give notice, that whoever looked upon it, should be cured. A few more stages towards the north, brought them to the territory of the Amorites, through which, as before through that of Idumæa, they sent to ask free passage, with the promise of giving no disturbance, and touching no property, as they passed to their destination in the country west of the Jordan. Sihon, king of the Amorites, not only denied their request, but “went out against Israel into the wilderness,” and, without provocation, assaulted them
* Numb. xxi. 1-3. — “By the way of the spies" (1). There is no authority for this rendering. The Septuagint, and after it the Arabic, understand a proper name to be intended, and translate “by the way of Atharim,”—“And he called the name of the place, Hormah” (3); 17; a word having reference to the on, or doom to which they had devoted it (2). With some English commentators, I decidedly incline to regard all of this verse, except the last clause, as the gloss of a later time, indicating the subsequent execution of the doom, here threatened, by Joshua, and the tribes of Judah and Simeon, as recorded in Joshua xii. 7, 14; Judges i. 17. The words “unto Hormah ” appear to have been inserted in Numb. xiv. 45, subsequently to the giving of that name under the circumstances here related.
† Numb. xxi. 4-9, Burckhardt (p. 499) and Laborde (“Journey through Arabia Petræa” &c., p. 138, London Edit.) found abundance of serpents in this region. Fiery serpents"; serpents with an inflammatory bite. That they were a supernatural judgment upon the Israelites is not said, either in the text before us, or in the parallel passage in Deuteronomy (viii. 15). “The Lord sent fiery serpents” (6) as he sends every thing; and by a natural tendency of the mind, when trouble was experienced, and there was at the same time a consciousness of being faulty, the calamity was viewed (7) as a punitive providential infliction. The fitness of the arrangement for the cure is to be vindicated upon the principles exhibited at p. 159, which see.
there. Victory declared for the Israelites, and they took possession of Sihon's country by the right of conquest. Proceeding on their way, an attack, equally unprovoked, as appears, was made upon them by Og, king of Bashan, the region adjoining Moab on the north. “He went out against them, he and all his people, to the battle, at Edrei.” It was attended by a similar result, and the victors occupied his country also.*
The alarm, occasioned by these conquests, extended
* Numb. xxi. 10 - 35. — In 14, 15 (compare 13), there can be little doubt (though the passage is obscure, and has not improbably been corrupted), that Moses is quoting some history or poem of the Amorites, to the end of determining the extent of the country, of which, by his victory over them, he had become master. He adduces the lines to show, that this people, in their wars with the Moabites, had pushed their southern boundary as far as the river Arnon (compare 24, 26); and accordingly, as far as this, the Israelites might now maintain a claim against the people of Moab, whom they did not propose to disturb in their own possessions. (Compare Deut. ii. 9.) If this view be correct, and if (which has been doubted) the word 7717 (14) is genuine, and rightly pointed, the title, “the book of the wars of the Lord,” used in quoting a record of idolaters, must be understood as equivalent to “ the book of the great wars.” Such forms, for a superlative, belong to the Hebrew idiom; compare Gen. x. 9; xxx. 8; xxxv. 5; Jonah iii. 3; Luke i. 6; Acts vii. 20. 6 What he did" (14). Who is here intended we cannot say, because of the abrupt beginning, so common in quotations. The clause, further, is altogether obscure; the verb (3771) being not only not found elsewhere, but being of a formation not agreeable to Hebrew analogy. - In verses 17, 18, we appear to have the few first lines of a hymn, composed and sung on the joyful occasion of finding an easy and abundant supply of water near the nation's future home. —“And Israel sent messengers” &c. (21). They had before entered an unfrequented part of the country claimed by Sihon (13, 20), but had not, till now, approached its settlements.
-“Come unto Heshbon” &c. (27 – 30). Here again, (as in 14, 15,) some language current among the Amorites, in the form of ode or ballad, (not of “proverbs,”) is quoted, to the end of showing that Heshbon, having been previously taken from the Moabites by Sihon, passed, with his defeat, into the hands of the Israelites, his conquerors. – “ There was none left him [Og] alive' (35). Not that all his subjects were put to death ; but that none of them remained living about their homes. They were treated like the subjects of Sihon (34); and these were not all slaughtered, but expelled (32).
among the neighbouring tribes; and Balak, king of Moab, proceeded to take measures, prompted by the superstition of the time, for securing himself against the expected inroad. In the region, further east, towards or beyond the Euphrates,* lived a person, named Balaam, to whom the popular belief ascribed the mysterious art of propitiating the powers of Heaven, and bending their will to his purposes. To him Balak sent a commission of some of his chief men, associating with them some of the elders of Midian (with which people it would appear from the sequel, that Moab was in alliance), to bribe him, with the promise of great gifts and honors, to come and lay the invaders under that ban, which it was believed would paralyze all their dreaded strength.† Balaam, having a character for supernatural wisdom to maintain, of course took care to inform himself of facts, by which he could judge what oracles to utter, with a probability that the event would fulfil them. Not to say, that tidings of the force and the impetuosity of the strange people, which had issued from the desert, would be likely to reach him in his not distant home, a report of the subjugation of the Amorites, and of Bashan, could hardly have failed to go abroad, and the very message of Balak was hint enough to the watchful and practised sagacity which his profession demanded. When he had learned from those who bore it, how great was the panic which prevailed, he already perceived what the event of any contest was likely to be, and possessed the information needful for keeping up his reputation as a prophet.
* Balaam is said (Deut. xxiii. 4), to have been “of Mesopotamia." Instead of “the land of the children of his people,” (197, Numb. xxii. 5,) which is indefinite, the Samaritan, Syriac, and Vulgate give a reading corresponding to “the land of the children of Ammon.” (jipr.) The territories of Ammon and Midian lay to the east of those of the Moabites and Amorites; and it is likely, that between the two former respectively, as well as between them and Mesopotamia, still further east, the boundaries were not strictly defined.
+ Besides the direct effect, upon the Israelites, of this imprecation, Sihon naturally relied upon it to revive the courage of his own army,
He understood his art, however, too well to dismiss the messengers at once with the declaration that he could do nothing for their master. It belonged to the proprieties of his assumed character, to entertain their suit; besides, they had come “with the rewards of divination in their hand," and it was his obvious policy to protract the negotiation, and, by stimulating their anxiety while he kept them in suspense, to extort the highest possible recompense for his good offices. Accordingly, he bids them remain by him over night, until he shall consult Jehovah, the patron Deity of the formidable strangers, with whom he professes himself to be in communication. In the morning he informs them that he had obtained an answer, probably in a dream, but that it was unfavorable; Jehovah would not consent that he should comply with Balak's wish.*
* Numb. xxii. 1 - 13. —“The plains of Moab” (1); the district, to which the Israelites had advanced, and into which Balak, moving among the hills, had followed them, retained its ancient name, as is common, though it had passed into the possession of the Amorites. — The substance of verses 3-6, reported to Balaam by the messengers, was enough to indicate to him, in the first instance, the panic which made the Moabites incapable of a successful defence.—“I will bring you word again, as Jehovah shall speak unto me (8). Upon this statement, of Balaam's speaking of “ Jehovah,” Le Clerc (“Commentarius” ad loc.) remarks ; “Forte Moses eum, more Hebraico, inducit loquentem, quamvis non hac, sed synonymâ quâ piam voce, usus sit.” I agree to the soundness of the principle of interpretation herein implied, which is developed in Le Clerc's “ Ars Critica" (Vol. I. p. 277 et seq.); but I think that, to apply it here, is to lose sight of the spirit of the passage. If Balaam was an Ammonite, agreeably to a view in the last note but one, he had an hereditary knowledge that the Hebrew divinity was called Jehovah, for the Ammonites were descended from Lot (Gen. xix. 36-38). At all events, he lived near to that
Nor is it at all necessary even to devise a way for his becoming acquainted with a fact, so notorious, that whoever had heard any thing of