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THE BRAZEN SERPENT.
HEN the Babel-builders scattered abroad upon the earth to form new nations, and, in all but one group, to lose the knowledge of the true God, their worship-what worship they had soon came to be connected with fear rather than with any other emotion. It is the same down to the present
day, it was so in the instance of the polished Greeks and Romans, even votive or thankofferings had scarcely in them the element of true gratitude or love; they only represented another phase of fear, lest a blessing bestowed by the Deity should be removed. This being true, it is not wonderful that serpent-worship was one of the earliest kinds of idolatry, and it has steadily prolonged itself to this very moment; for fetish offerings are yet made to snakes by various tribes of Africa. In Egypt, during the sojourn of Israel, the serpent was reverenced, especially the horned serpent, or Cerastes, regarded as sacred to Ammon. In Assyria the snake sometimes appears in old sculptures as of importance in their symbolism, this creature in a wheel-like form, with its tail in its mouth, representing eternity. In the ancient mythology, Esculapius, the god of healing, is furnished with a staff entwined with serpents. Looking at these things, we are for an instant, perhaps, surprised that Moses received the command in Numb. xxi. 8. And an additional difficulty appears in the undeniable fact that the serpent, from the fall of man down to the close of the sacred canon, represents evil either in spiritual beings or incarnated in man, which is opposed to the welfare of our race, and the prominent foe of the Messiah, who consummates his victory by the subjugation of the old serpent (Rev. xx. 2, 10). And in many religious books the "brazen serpent" has had associated with it much that is incorrect in reasoning and exhortation; to call it in any strict and proper sense a type of Christ seems to me unscriptural; a more objectionable figure could not be conceived than a serpent in any guise, unless it had been so revealed, which is not the case. For if we look at the oft-quoted passage in John iii. 13, what does it say? "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be
VOL. V., SECOND SERIES.
THE BRAZEN SERPENT.
lifted up." It is the manner of the exaltation in the two instances that links them together, and no resemblance in the quality of the object beheld. And the lesson in both cases is
faith in God.
But the curative sight of the brazen serpent in the wilderness had its particular bearing in the cause of the sufferings experienced by the Israelites. Serpents had attacked the people, and killed many, and by a representation in metal of that very object they dreaded, healing and restoration were to be brought to all who needed. The proud and the sceptical would be only too likely to reject, or coldly scrutinize, a means of healing which was opposed to their natural feelings. No excuse or palliation can be offered for the subsequent serpent-worship into which the Israelites fell in the days of Hezekiah, and probably earlier (2 Kings xviii. 4). This incident shows the danger that may arise from the preservation of a seemingly harmless and interesting relic of the past, therefore with emphasis Hezekiah names it "Nehushtan," i. e., nothing but a "piece of brass."
But about the fiery serpents-what were they? The most improbable position is, that they had a luminous, or fiery aspect. Others think that the creatures had fiery or yellow markings upon their skins. But most weight, I think, must be given to those who take the phrase to apply to the serpents on account of the mortal nature of the wound they gave. and the pain that followed. For the Septuagint translates the Hebrew into "deadly serpent," and the old Arabic version has it," serpents of burning bite." And an old traveller in the East was possibly right when he declared that the species called the Red Dart Serpent, occurring in increased numbers, was the kind sent in judgment upon the Israelites. These were known in the wilderness of Sinai, and their bite, he says, "doth burn like fire. Therefore," he adds, "I, for my opinion, conclude that these serpents (as the highest poison in nature) were sent by God to afflict the sinning Israelites, whose poison was incurable, except by divine miracle."
A church at Milan professes to have fragments of the true brazen serpent, which, at the time of its fracture, were collected and preserved, and these are, of course, held in high reverence by Papists. J. R. S. C.
THE DEATH OF MOSES.
VAINLY have several authors striven to depict, in prose or verse, the various emotions which swelled in the breast of the great captain of Israel, and forcing an outlet at his eyes, for a time blinded the organs destined soon after to take so sweeping a gaze, when bidding a farewell to those who for forty years had been his companions in the wilderness wanderings. A great part of the host were indeed young, but there were those who, coming from Egypt in the bud of their youth, were now men advancing in years, and in their society Moses had passed through much of sorrow and of joy. We are expressly told that "his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated; " or literally, "his moisture was not fled," his bodily frame had not the attenuated and shrivelled appearance old age often has, and therefore, no doubt, his mental sensitiveness was keen, and not in that torpor which so frequently accompanies the decline of life. Josephus, in his narrative of early Jewish history, gives details which can hardly be believed, yet they had, no doubt, high antiquity. He says: "Amidst tears of the people, the women beating their breasts, and the children giving way to uncontrolled wailing, he withdrew. At a certain point in his ascent he made a sign to the weeping multitude to advance no farther, taking with him only the elders, the high priest Eleazar, and the general Joshua. At the top of the mountain he dismissed the elders, and then as he was embracing Eleazar and Joshua, and still speaking to them, a cloud suddenly stood over him, and he vanished in a deep valley." This close is brought into harmony with Deut xxxiv. 6, as the tradition supposes that he was borne off from the mountain peak to some mysterious valley, where first his decease, and then his burial took place. According to this narrative, were it to be depended upon, Moses' view from the mountain of Pisgah was not the solitary contemplation of the glories of Canaan it is generally deemed to have been. Another Jewish tradition, to be found in the Rabbinical books, that God removed Moses' spirit by a kiss, is not without its beauty. In the newly published Speaker's Commentary it has been suggested; while the remarkable appearance of Moses with Elijah on the mount of transfiguration gives some support to the idea that the body of the lawgiver was, if interred, only interred for a brief space, and that he was at once raised to immortal life, and therefore holds a position in the unseen world which only belongs to Enoch and Elijah beside, save our Lord himself. It is at least wonderful that after many centuries of delay, Moses was at last permitted to enter the land of promise;
THE HOLINESS OF GOD.
at a time too when the sceptre had been wrenched from Judah by the Roman power, and the "Shiloh" had already begun to gather the people into His kingdom. The mysterious contention about the body of Moses may have arisen regarding the identity of the body in which Moses was seen by the amazed disciples.
Dr. Thomson has remarked upon the intense clearness of the mountain prospects in Palestine, and the sharpness with which distant houses, rocks, and trees stand out, when seen many miles off. He believes therefore, that it is not necessary to suppose any miracle by which the eye of Moses was supernaturally strengthened to grasp the view from the top of Abarim.
J. R. S. C.
THE HOLINESS OF GOD.
It has been well remarked that while the heathen had their " gods of wisdom, gods of power, gods of battles, they had no god of holiness." Their mythologies ascribed acts to their gods which would have been vile in men, too vile to be named. In character they were worse rather than better than many men. The fact, too, should be borne in mind that while we have glimpses and manifestations of God's other attributes in nature, for our knowledge of this attribute we are indebted to divine revelation alone.
The author of the "Philosophy of the Plan of Salvation,” in one chapter of his work, deals with the question, How was the idea of God's holiness conveyed to the minds of the ancient Israelites ? After remarking on the grossness of the Egyptian idolatry, he observes that there was not an object in the material world which would convey to the mind the idea; it therefore would have to be originated; and that, in order to meet the constitution of the mind, must be by a series of comparisons. Look at the ceremonial law in illustration of this thought. There was the division of animals into clean and unclean; that used for sacrifice selected from the clean was to be without blemish, it was to be offered by a set of men specially set apart, who were to be free from ceremonial defilement, wearing special robes, in some cases required to wash themselves prior to officiating. He had to wash the animal in pure water, the altar and all the vessels used were to be sanctified, and "neither priest, people, nor sacrifice was deemed sufficiently pure to come into the divine presence, but the offering was made in the court without the holy of holies." The thought receives
further illustration in the punishment for offering strange fire, and in the laws concerning leprosy.
"There is, finally, demonstrative evidence of the fact that the idea of perfect moral purity, as connected with the idea of God, is now and always has been the same which was originated and conveyed to the minds of the Jews in the manner described. The Hebrew word quadosh was used to express the idea of purity as originated by the tabernacle service. The literal definition is, pure, to be pure, to be purified for sacred uses. The word thus originated and conveying this meaning is employed in the Scriptures to express the moral purity or holiness of God. In the New Testament this word is translated by the Greek term agios, but the Hebrew idea is connected with the Greek word. In King James's version this Greek word is rendered by the Saxon term holy-the Saxon word losing its original import (whole, wholly), and taking that of the Hebrew derived through the Greek. Nor is there any idea among any people that approximates closely to the Scripture idea of holiness, unless the word received some shades of its signification from the Bible,"
JOHN THE BAPTIST'S MINISTRY.
WHAT was the condition of the disciples of the Lord Jesus during His personal ministry on the earth, and what their relation to the Jewish system out of which they were stranded?
If we imagine a stranded vessel about to be dashed in pieces by a storm gathering in the distance, we shall have a fit emblem of the Jewish system when John the Baptist commenced his ministry. We may name the vessel "Hagar." The Jewish nation were in it. They were under law and under curse, and John was sent to warn them of the coming wrath. He took his stand not in, but by the side of the vessel. He stood on the sand, and behind him was a rock. He stood between the vessel and the rock, and when any heard his cry and joined him on the sand, he pointed onward to the rock; and they who reached it gained safety there, and found themselves by the side of the Lord Jesus. You 99 "Sarah write may over their heads. They were the children of promise. They were instantly fixed, like Abraham, upon the ground of grace. Promise and grace, not law and condemnation, became instantly their portion. In the estimate of God (no matter what their apprehensions were) they stood in "the full acceptance of the name of Jesus."-" Lectures on Matt. xxiv.," by Dr. W. Newton.