Verses of Numbers 16
Numbers 16:48 Commentary - Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae (Old and New Testaments)
Num 16:48. And he stood between the dead and the living: and the plague was stayed.
CORRUPT as human nature is, there are some sins which we scarcely think it possible for a rational being to be guilty of; and, if it were suggested to us that we ourselves were in danger of committing them, we should be ready to reply, “Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this thing?” Such is the sin which all the congregation of Israel committed on the very day after the death of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. These three persons had excited a rebellion against Moses and Aaron; Korah and his company aspiring to the priesthood, and Dathan and Abiram, with their friends, affecting the office of supreme governor. For this their impiety they had been severely punished; Korah and his company being destroyed by fire that issued from the tabernacle; and all the relatives of Dathan and Abiram being swallowed up by an earthquake. These signal judgments, one would have thought, should have effectually silenced every murmur throughout the camp: but, instead of being humbled, the people were the more enraged; and murmured more than ever against Moses and Aaron, complaining, that the people who had been destroyed were “the people of the Lord,” and that Moses and Aaron had been their murderers: “Ye have killed the people of the Lord.” God now renewed his threatening to destroy them: but Moses and Aaron “fell upon their faces,” as they had done frequently before [Note: Compare ver. 45 with Num 14:5; Num 16:4; Num 16:22.], and importuned God to spare them. God however would not spare them, but sent a plague among them for their destruction. But no sooner did Moses perceive that “the plague was begun,” than he sent Aaron with an offering of incense to arrest its progress. Aaron went immediately into the midst of the people, and succeeded according to his wishes: “he stood between the dead and the living: and the plague was stayed.”
This subject is to be considered in a two-fold view;
As an historical fact—
In this view it is worthy of particular attention. We cannot but admire,
The interposition of Aaron—
[If ever opposition was unreasonable, it was then: if ever a people had offended beyond all sufferance, it was at that time. Well might Moses and Aaron have said, ‘We have interceded for you often enough: we have repeatedly saved every one of you from destruction: and now, because God has seen fit to punish some of the ringleaders in rebellion, we are charged with having killed them. If mercies will not reclaim you, it is high time that judgments should be tried.’ But not a thought of this kind entered into their hearts. They were filled with nothing but compassion and love. They fell on their faces to intercede for these rebellious people, as much as if they had received no provocation at their hands. The expedient suggested by Moses was instantly carried into effect: and Aaron, at his advanced age, ran with haste into the midst of the congregation, to make an atonement for them. He did not know but that the incensed people would wreak their vengeance upon him, as they had frequently threatened to do; and put him to death, as the author of their present sufferings. Nor could he be certain, but that, if he ran into the midst of the plague, it might sweep him away together with the rest. But he thought not of himself, nor listened for a moment to any personal considerations. He was intent only on saving the lives of his fellow-creatures.
What a glorious example did he afford to all future ministers! What a blessing would it be to the Church, if all her priests were like him; if all could say, “I count not my life dear to me, so that I may but fulfil my ministry [Note: Act 20:24.];” “most gladly will I spend and be spent for my people, though, the more abundantly I love them, the less I be loved [Note: 2Co 12:15.]:” “I could wish even to be accursed after the example of Christ, if I might but by any means save only some [Note: Rom 9:3; 1Co 9:22.]:” yea, most cheerfully would “I suffer all things for their sakes, that they might obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory [Note: 2Ti 2:10.]!” Were there more tender compassion amongst us, more ardent love, more self-denying zeal, more active exertion to “pluck our people as brands out of the fire,” and more willingness to perish in the attempt, we might not stop the mouths of gainsayers, it is true; but “we should save many souls alive,” and have them to be “our joy and crown of rejoicing” to all eternity. O that “God would speak the word, and that great might be the company of such preachers [Note: Psa 68:11.]!”]
The effect of it—
[How wonderful! No sooner does the cloud of incense arise from Aaron’s hands, than the plague is stayed! On the day before, two hundred and fifty censers full of incense had been offered at the tabernacle, and had brought instantaneous destruction on the offerers: now the incense from one single censer averts destruction from all the congregation of Israel. The plague was spreading its ravages with such rapidity, that already, notwithstanding Aaron’s haste, fourteen thousand seven hundred persons had died of it: but the moment he reached the spot, the arm of justice was arrested, and the sword fell from the hand of the destroying angel. It proceeded irresistibly till it came to Aaron; but could not advance one hair’s breadth beyond him. On the one side of him all were dead; on the other, all remained alive. What a testimony was this to Aaron’s divine appointment! What a refutation was here of the accusations brought against him! and, above all, what an encouragement was here given to all future generations to abound in prayer and intercession! O! what might not be effected for the souls of men, if all ministers were men of prayer, and all who profess themselves the servants of the Lord would interpose between the living and the dead! O that “a spirit of prayer might be poured out upon us” all! If only we took our fire from off the altar of burnt-offering, the smoke of our incense should come up with acceptance before God: “We might ask what we would, and it should be done unto us [Note: Joh 15:7.].”]
As a history this passage is instructive: but it is no less so,
As an emblematic record—
They who read the Scriptures merely as a history, read them like children. The Old Testament, as well as the New, contains the deepest mysteries: and, to understand it aright, we must consider it not only “in the letter, but in the spirit.” Now the passage before us has undoubtedly an emblematic import: it was intended to shadow forth,
The means by which God’s wrath is to be averted—
[Aaron himself was a type of Christ; and the atonement which he now made for the people was typical of that great atonement which Christ himself was in due time to make for the sins of the whole world. There was indeed no animal slain; for there was now no time for sacrifice: but the fire taken from off the altar of burnt-offering, whereon the sacrifices were consumed, was considered on this occasion in the same light as “an atonement:” and the incense burnt on this occasion typified the intercession of our great High-Priest. By these two, the sacrifice and intercession of Christ, the whole world is to be saved. To this the whole Scriptures bear witness. What can be clearer than the prediction of the prophet Isaiah; “He bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors [Note: Isa 53:12.]?” What more express than the declaration of the beloved Apostle; “If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and he is the propitiation for our sins [Note: 1Jn 2:1-2.]?” The one intent of the Epistle to the Hebrews is to establish and illustrate this glorious truth.
Let us then look beyond Aaron and the rebellious Israelites, to Christ and a rebellious world. Let us see with what eager desire for our welfare he left the bosom of his Father, and came into the midst of us, not at the risk of his life, but on purpose to “make his soul an offering for sin [Note: Isa 53:10.].” Let us hear too with what compassion he interceded for his very murderers; “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Let us look through the shadow to the substance. Then shall we have a right understanding of the history when we view it as “a shadow of good things to come.”]
The efficacy of them for the end proposed—
[Death was arrested in its career, and could proceed no further. And to what is it owing that our rebellious world has not long since been consigned over to destruction? “Not unto us, O Lord Jesu Christ, not unto us, but unto thy name be the praise:” thou by thine atoning blood hast made reconciliation between God and us; and by thy prevailing intercession hast procured for us the mercies we so greatly need. Can we doubt whether this statement be true? St. Paul expressly tells us that Christ is “our Peace:” and, in that view of him, exultingly exclaims, “Who is he that condemneth? it is Christ that died, yea rather that is risen again, who also maketh intercession for us [Note: Rom 8:34.]:” and he tells us further, that “Christ is able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for us [Note: Heb 7:25.].”
Here then again let us view the history in its proper light: and let us learn, Whither to look, and, In whom to hope, whensoever our sins have raised the divine displeasure against us. Let us learn too the force of that apostolic argument, so weak in logic, but so sound in theology, “If the censer in Aaron’s hand prevailed for the preservation of one rebellious people from, temporal death, how much more shall the atonement and intercession of Christ prevail for the everlasting salvation of our souls, yea, for the souls of the whole world [Note: See Heb 9:13-14.]!”]
From the whole of this subject let US learn the duties,
[In the case before us, the benefit was conferred on account of Aaron’s faith, just as our Lord afterwards healed the paralytic on account of the faith of those who brought him: but in the great concerns of our souls, nothing can be obtained but through the exercise of our own faith. Notwithstanding our great High-Priest has performed the whole of his office, no benefit will accrue to us, unless we believe in him. In this respect we are to resemble the Israelites when bitten by the fiery serpents; we must look unto the brasen serpent in order to be healed; or, in other words, we must regard the Lord Jesus Christ as our Advocate and propitiation: we must renounce every other hope, and “flee for refuge to him as to the hope set before us.” On the one hand, we must not construe the forbearance of God as an approbation of our ways, as though we had no ground for fear: nor, on the other hand, should the greatness of our guilt or the multitude of our provocations make us despair, as though there were no ground for hope: but, viewing Christ as the appointed Mediator between God and us, we should “go to God through him,” trusting to his promise, that “he will in no wise cast us out.”]
[We see not men struck dead around us under any visible marks of the divine displeasure: but we know that “God is angry with the wicked every day,” and is summoning multitudes to his tribunal under the weight and guilt of all their sins. What are we then about? How can we behold these things with such indifference? Why do we loiter? Why do we not run, as it were, into the midst of the congregation, in order, if possible, to awaken them from their stupor, and to save their precious souls? Why do we not at all events betake ourselves to prayer? We have, at least, our censers nigh at hand, if only we would take fire from the altar of burnt-offering, and burn incense on them. Let it not be said, “This is the work of ministers:” doubtless it is so; but not of them exclusively: they should lead the way, it is true, and be examples to the flock; but others should imitate their example, and “be followers of them, as they are of Christ;” or rather, should follow Christ, whether they will follow him or not. I call you then, every one of you, to forget yourselves, as it were, and your own personal concerns, and to be swallowed up with love and pity for your perishing fellow-creatures. Remember that they are not a whit safer by reason of their delusions. They may call rebels, “the people of the Lord;” but that will not make them the Lord’s people. They may cry out against God’s judgments as injustice and cruelty; but that will not prevent those judgments from being inflicted, either on others or themselves: yea rather, it will bring down those very judgments the more speedily, and more heavily, upon them. Try then to stir up within you the feelings of men, the feelings of Christians: “Of some have compassion, making a difference: and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh [Note: Jude, ver. 22, 23.].”]
Verses of Numbers 16
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Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae (Old and New Testaments)
Charles Simeon (1759 - 1836) was an English evangelical Anglican cleric.
Horae Homileticae reflects the rich source of Biblical understanding of Simeon, a towering figure in the history of evangelical theology.