16. And they envied Moses in the camp, and Aaron the saint of Jehovah. 17. The earth opened and swallowed up Dathan, and covered over the tent of Abiram. 18. And a fire was kindled in their assembly, and the flame consumed the wicked. 19. They made a calf in Horeb, and worshipped before the molten image. 20. And they changed their glory into the likeness of an ox that eateth grass. 21. They forgot God their preserver, who had done great things in Egypt; 22. And wondrous works in the land of Ham, and terrible things at the Red Sea.
"What am I, and what is Aaron, that ye murmur against us?" (Numbers 16:11)
As it was the will of God to rule the people by means of Moses and Aaron, not to submit to their rule was virtually to set themselves obstinately to resist the authority of God himself. There is therefore great importance attached to the term,
"If any thing common happen to these men, then believe not that God who ruleth in heaven rules over you and me; but if this new and extraordinary thing happen, namely, that the earth open her mouth and swallow them up, then indeed believe that I am sent by God," Numbers 16:29
When the Israelites were so infatuated as to rise in rebellion against God, then did the terrible nature of their distemper appear in that it could not be cured by the stringent remedy which was applied to it. And as even hypocrites are afraid when they feel the severity of God, it was the height of folly in them to fret and quarrel with God where he was visiting their iniquities with stripes. Should any one ask why God charges the faults of a few upon the whole body of the people? the answer is obvious; for although there were only two individuals who were the principal abettors of the conspiracy, and along with them two hundred and seventy seditious persons, yet it would seem, from the murmurings and cavillings of the whole congregation, that they also were affected with the same distemper. The punishment did not extend beyond the captains 3 and ringleaders of this wicked conspiracy, it being the design of God to mitigate it, and to spare the people at large, who nevertheless had been most desirous of innovation, seeing they could not endure the authority of Moses and Aaron.
It is necessary, however, to observe the design of the prophet, which is to point out the blindness of men as more base and abominable, because not contenting themselves with any common form of superstition, but casting off all sham they give themselves up to the most shocking forms of worshipping God. Had the people formed for themselves a likeness of God under the likeness of a man, even that would have been impiously robbing God of his due; how much more shameful was their conduct when they assimilated God to an ox? When men preserve their life by eating and drinking, they acknowledge how frail they are, because they derive 7 from dead creatures the means of its continuation. How much greater is the dishonor done to God when he is compared to the brutal tribes? Moreover, the comparison referred to increases the enormity of their guilt. For what credit was it for a holy people to worship the inanimate likeness of an ox instead of the true God? But God had condescended to spread out the overshadowing wings of his glory upon the children of Abraham, that he might put on them the highest honor. Therefore, in denuding themselves of this honor, they had exposed their own baseness to the derision of all the nations of the earth. And hence Moses employs the phrase of nakedness, when he is showing that crime of idolatry:
"And when Moses saw that the people were naked, (for Aaron had made them naked unto their shame among their enemies)"
Should any one be disposed to say that the ark of the covenant was a representation of God, my answer is, That that symbol was given to the children of Israel, not to engross the whole of their attention, but only for the purpose of assisting and directing them in the spiritual worship of God.
1 "The saint, i.e., a man consecrated with holy oil to the office of the priesthood, and wearing on his mitre a plate inscribed, 'Holiness to the Lord,' (Exodus 28:36)" -- Cresswell.
3 "Capitaines et portenseignes." -- Fr.
4 This idol seems to have been an imitation of the Egyptian God Apis, or Serapis, a word which signifies the head of an ox, the Egyptians having exalted that animal to the rank of a god whom they absurdly worshipped, and to whom they resorted as to an oracle. "The modern Jews assert, that their ancestors were in that matter misled by certain Egyptian proselytes, who had accompanied the Israelites when they were delivered from their bondage. The Psalmist, it may be remarked, does not observe the order of time in his narrative, the making of the calf being prior to the fate of Dathan and Abiram. -- Comp. Exodus 32:4, 5." -- Cresswell.
5 "More properly, 'the overlaid image;' or, more literally still, 'the metalline shell.'" -- Horsley. "The Hebrew word," says Mant, "here, as elsewhere, rendered by our translators 'molten image,' strictly and properly means 'the metalline case' or 'covering spread over' the carved wood. It is often joined with the 'carved wooden, image' which it covered. Aaron's calf was thus made of wood, and overlaid with gold."
6 "That eateth hay -- the Egyptians, when they consulted Apis, presented a bottle of hay or of grass, and if the ox received it, they expected good success." -- Cresswell.
7 "Empruntent des creatures mortes la continuation d'icelle." -- Fr.
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