A Great Man--His Meekness--Life in Egypt--His Failure as a Public Speaker--The Ten Plagues--The Events in the Wilderness--Laws and Law-Courts-- Jethro--The Ten Commandments--The Calf of Gold --Death of Moses.
Just as in the American Revolution and again in the Civil War there appeared a Leader of genius, without whose wisdom, patience and unselfishness the result might in each case have been quite other than fortunate, so in the critical period of early Israelitish history--the residence in Egypt and the wanderings in the wilderness--there rose from the ranks a leader, law-giver and stateman--Moses. He must be called a great man. His public acts and private character are alike admirable. In addition to the books written about him by theologians and Bible students, he has been the subject of secular examination. Forty years ago I heard a lecture delivered by Henry George on "Moses, the Great Hebrew Statesman," and in 1920 a book was published by a scientific man, called "Moses the Physician," praising his learning, his foresight, and especially his belief in cleanliness and segregation of disease.
A famous parenthesis in the twelfth chapter of Numbers tells something definite about his character : "Now the man Moses was very meek, above
all the men which were upon the face of the earth." This passage has damaged the prestige of Moses with modern readers; Moses, "the meekest man," has seemed a milksop. For although many persons are in reality mild and timid, they like to be thought of as bold, aggressive, and fierce. The difficulty here is in the word "meek," which in 1611 had a nobler connotation than in later times. It then meant gentle in manner, modest, and above all self-controlled, the crown of courage and strength. Meekness was the finest attribute of warriors and kings. When Chaucer made his picture of the Knight, a first-class fighting man, the hero of many wars, he added this touch:
And though that he were worthy, he was wys,
And of his port as meek as is a mayde.
He nevere yet no vileinye ne sayde
In al his lyf, unto no maner wight.
He was a verray parfit gentil knight.
Both in the Psalms and in the Gospels we are told that the meek shall inherit the earth. It has been said cynically that this is indeed the only way by which the meek could get it. Yes, but how about the violent and predatory? What success have they had? Consider Alexander, Napoleon, and the German Emperor Wilhelm II. They were rather the opposite of meek. They tried to control the earth, with what result is history. There is in reality no strength like the strength of meekness.
That Moses was the meekest man in ancient history is the best thing said about him.
"I am meek and lowly in heart," is a portion of the autobiography of the only Person who ever overcame the world.
Like many great statesmen, Moses was not a fine public speaker. We are apt to believe that oratory is the main qualification for public life; whereas wisdom, foresight, and courage are superior to rhetorical gifts. Daniel Webster was a supreme illustration of the combination of mental and oral powers; but much of the most important work in statesmanship is done in committees, and by men who cannot make an impressive public address. I suppose Benjamin Franklin was the greatest committee man in history; one of the ablest American constructive statesman of our time, Herbert Hoover, is not an effective orator. President Hayes gave the United States one of the best administrations we have had; he also was no speech-maker. On his feet Grover Cleveland was dull, but he had the wit to know it.
At the outset of his career, Moses said unto the Lord: "O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant; but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue." ("I am so bad an orator that I cannot talk effectively even when divinely inspired.") That which is the very breath of life to many politicians, public speaking, was always a terror to Moses; there was noth-
ing he hated more. Like almost all men, Moses failed as an after-dinner speaker, as we learn from his lack of success immediately after the fall of manna.
Aaron, the Levite, was selected to do the talking; he was inferior to Moses, both in intelligence and in character; "he shall be to thee instead of a mouth, and thou shalt be to him instead of God." Moses was to tell Aaron what to say, and Aaron was to say it with emphasis and elegance. This worked well; but when Aaron, in the absence of Moses, relied on his own ideas, the result was disaster.
Perhaps Moses would have produced a more speedy effect on the hard heart of King Pharaoh, if he had had the gift of public speaking. It was all Pharaoh could do to listen to him, and the royal personage was not impressed. But Moses held the trumps, as his adversary eventually discovered.
Labour troubles began in Egypt, as they have begun in some other countries, by oppression. The good king, Joseph's friend, was dead; and one of his successors on the throne took a familiar and natural, though erroneous, policy toward the numerous and powerful aliens in the land. He looked about him and saw that the Israelites were many in number and successful in business; that is, they were adding to the wealth and prosperity of the country. (Most natives have never been able to endure this.) Had the king dealt kindly with the Jews, there is no saying what might have been the greatness of
Egypt and the glory of the ruler; but human nature cannot be expected to show the wisdom of gentleness and the conquering power of good will. Pharaoh said to his courtiers, "Come on, let us deal wisely with them." (Now the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.) "Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens."
The service increased in rigour and cruelty, and the workers grew ever more numerous and strong; so the policy of extermination was decided upon; instead of changing the medicine, he increased the dose. But it is difficult to subdue human beings by severity, and the Irsaelites found a way to escape extinction. Then a man and wife, both of the house of Levi, had a handsome boy; his mother hid him in the reeds by the river. When Pharaoh's daughter looked into the basket, the baby began to cry; about the only time in his life when his eloquence had an immediate effect; it should be remembered that his audience was composed of women. By a neat device, his own mother was hired as nurse; the child grew up under her care, and under the protection of the Princess. Pharaoh's daughter not only saved him, but gave him his name Moses, which means Drawer Out; and she said, "Because I drew him out of the water." She named him better than she knew; for he drew the children of Israel out of slavery. She was a good girl, and I wish we knew more about her.
We are ignorant of the facts of Moses's childhood and adolescence. His first recorded act as a man was harshly resolute, and prophetic of his future powers of deliverance. He saw an Egyptian beating up a Hebrew, and he killed the tormentor. But the next day he saw two of his own people fighting; and endeavouring to restrain them, he spoke to the aggressor, who insulted him by asking him if he meant to murder, as he had murdered the Egyptian. This was the first of a long succession of insults that Moses was to receive from his countrymen.
Moses fled, entered the land of Midian, and there married one of the seven daughters of Jethro. This man Jethro, being grateful for "meek" Moses's services in standing up alone for his daughters against a whole pack of roughs, treated him kindly. It is interesting to notice that Moses unconsciously prepared himself for the position of leader of the nation by living the quiet, reflective life of a shepherd, which was later David's occupation before becoming a king.
It was while Moses was keeping the flocks of his father-in-law, that he experienced the first of many divine revelations, and knew that he had been selected as the inspired leader. He saw a flame of fire in the midst of a bush, and yet the bush was not consumed. Moses turned to look at it out of curiosity; but when he heard the voice calling to him from the flame, and answered, "Here!" like a boy at school, he was told to come no nearer. Then
he hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God. After receiving his commission, he rather boldly enquired, What name shall I use in speaking of the Divine Voice?
To this question he received a reply that shows how profoundly spiritual the religion of the Israelites was, and how superior to all their contemporaries they were in their conception not only of One God, but of that. God as Pure Spirit. Compare this not only with the paganism and polytheism so common in the world, but with such a familiar and childish notion as le bon Dieu; where half the people use the expression naively, and the other half with condescending contempt. Moses was told to say unto the children of Israel that I AM had sent him. No modern philosophy has been able to define the Supreme Reality with more accuracy, brevity and dignity. With God it is always the present tense; man is quickly in the past.
Moses, like most of his race, was not easily convinced even by God; and he knew that the people would be sceptical of his story unless he could prove it. So he was allowed to perform a variety of miracles; his rod turned into a snake, his hand became leprous and whole again, and greater works were promised.
Pharaoh, like other kings, did one good thing; he died. It is extremely fortunate for the good of the world that kings have shared this peculiarity with their subjects; it is probable that Death has
done much toward making the world safe for democracy. To be sure, a new Pharaoh appeared, who was no improvement; but that particular one could torment the world no longer.
Moses and Aaron went in to interview the king, but it is plain that he regarded them as dangerous radicals, labour-agitators; so far from listening to them, he tried the method subsequently adopted by Rehoboam and by many rulers in more recent times. He attempted to crush their spirit by increased severity, a plan which has many ardent advocates in all epochs, though history seems to prove its inadequacy. "Let there more work be laid upon the men, that they may labour therein; and let them not regard vain words." ("I'll show them!")
Thus the brilliant scheme was adopted of having the Israelites make bricks without straw, which brought about so acute a crisis in the labour situation that it will never be forgotten. I remember being a listener to a debate in the House of Commons in 1900, when a Conservative, who was conspicuously lacking in talent, attempted to make a speech amidst the heckling of the turbulent Irish members; he was describing work on some public building, and he proceeded as far as the unfortunate word "bricks"; instantly the Irishmen roared out as though the chorus had been carefully rehearsed: "Bricks without straw!" and the speech was buried in derisive laughter.
If Abraham was the father of the children of
Israel, Pharaoh was the father of the Bourbons. He learned nothing and forgot nothing. He called in his magicians and had them attempt to rival the enchantments of Moses and Aaron; this is the first time the competitive method appears, which later was to be used with such success by the prophet Elijah. The spectacle interested the royal observer, but it hardened his heart against Moses. It now became necessary to make a demonstration that should affect the whole Egyptian people; and we have the dramatic series called the Ten Plagues-- a tragedy in ten acts, ending with a climax. The horrible events came in this order:
|I. Blood.||VI. Boils and Blains.|
|II. Frogs.||VII. Thunder and Hail.|
|III. Lice.||VIII. Locusts.|
|IV. Flies.||IX. Darkness.|
|V. Murrain.||X. Death of the Firstborn.|
Aaron stretched out his rod: the water in the Nile turned into blood, as well as every pond, pool, and creek; even the waters in the kitchen pans became blood, and an intolerable stench arose from dead fish. This lasted seven days; and the magicians, trying their technique, found that they could turn water into blood just as easily as their rivals. Their real prowess would have been better proved if they had reversed the process; as it was, they merely added to the general discomfort. Pharaoh was no more affected by the blood than if he had been
Louis XV. Kings have seldom been afraid of blood; and nothing on earth is more stubborn than your true reactionary. Then came millions of frogs; the Egyptian magicians, apparently pleased with this miracle, tried their enchantments and found that they could increase the population of frogs, though there seem to have been plenty without their assistance. But the king did not like frogs, and he sent for Moses and Aaron. It appears to me that the stupidity of this monarch reached its climax in the answer he made to the question put by Moses; the Hebrew asked: "When shall I make supplication that the frogs return to the river?" The king answered: "Tomorrow." If he had had rudimentary common sense, he would have said, Today; this minute.
Next day the frogs died just where they were; and for a time they were more potent dead than alive. But no more came; and Pharaoh refused to let the Hebrews go. Then came lice, billions of them; they covered every man and beast in Egypt. Pharaoh paid no attention to them; he may have noticed nothing unusual.
The magicians, who had been conspicuously successful with the frogs, tried to create lice; but here they failed and were then convinced that Moses and Aaron were inspired. Their professional admiration for their competitors, in whom they now recognised masters in their own art, was so great that it exceeded their fear of the king; they told him what
they thought about the situation, but Pharaoh would not listen.
Then came the flies; it was unendurable; Pharaoh spoke to Moses, who abolished the plague; immediately the king was himself again. Then came murrain, a pestilence which destroyed all the cattle; Pharaoh was interested sufficiently to make enquiries as to the extent of the disease; but he remained firm. Then came boils, which later were to try the patience of Job, but the king would not relent. Then there was a frightful storm, thunder and lightning and hail, which wrought untold damage to man, beast, and crops. Pharaoh could not endure it, and he said quaintly: "I have sinned this time." The storm ceased, carrying Pharaoh's repentance with it. There came a fresh east wind, bringing numberless locusts, which ate up everything that the hail had spared, so that the farms looked as if recently visited by the army worm. Pharaoh had another attack of remorse; the west wind came and blew the accursed locusts into the Red Sea, so that there was not one left in the whole country.
A friend writes me: "I wonder do you know of the locust plague in Jerusalem, during the war? The locusts came 'out of the clear sky,' suddenly. They ate every vegetable thing except wood, stripping a tree to its bare twigs and branches within an hour. The government ordered everyone to bring in his peck or so of dead insects each day. The poor earned their living, collecting the daily
quota for others. Tin is the best offensive. The American colony's special technique was to 'shoo' the insects along converging, low, tin-walled canals into sunken gasolene tins. But this seemed like trying to empty the ocean with a medicine dropper. Finally, when no green thing is left, the plague passes on, abruptly. And no one knows whither the locusts go, as no one knew whence they came."
The plague of locusts was followed by Egyptian darkness, thick darkness for three days, so that no man could see and no man dared move. Pharaoh sent for Moses, and when the darkness was lifted and the pleasant light returned, he said bitterly to the man of God:
Get thee from me, take heed to thyself, see my face no more; for in that day thou seest my face thou shalt die.
And Moses said, Thou hast spoken well, I will see thy face again no more.
Then came the last terrible plague, the killing of the firstborn in the night, and the first passover, when the Lord passed over the favoured people; an event that is still annually and solemnly celebrated by millions.
There arose a great cry in Egypt; both the king and the people besought the aliens to depart. In the midst of this turmoil, there is one touch of humour. The children of Israel "borrowed" of the Egyptians jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment.
They had been in Egypt four hundred and thirty years when the great exodus began; and then they were not allowed to take the short way to the Promised Land through the country of the Philistines, but were led south-east to the Red Sea. In front was the Pillar of Cloud by day and the Pillar of Fire by night.
Pharaoh ought to have been glad to see the last of them; but either he regretted his defeat or the loss of the borrowed jewels; he pursued them with chariots and horsemen; so the Israelites, who preferred life to honour and slavery to death, bitterly attacked Moses and for the first time raised a protest that was to be heard more than once: "We were better off in Egypt."
But the Red Sea opened; the timid and querulous multitude passed through in safety. Then in the darkest hour before the dawn the waters returned and swallowed up the Egyptian host, soldiers, chariots, and horsemen. And in the morning light the children of Israel saw the pleasantest sight their eyes had ever beheld.
"Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea shore."
I remember hearing Phillips Brooks preach a notable sermon on that text. We may have sorrows in the future; we may have enemies tomorrow; but there are difficulties, there are evils that we survive. They can never annoy us again. "Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea shore."
The immediate troubles of the Hebrews were over; the troubles of Moses began. He had more vexations with his own people than he had had with his avowed enemies. Human nature asserted itself in the wilderness. In spite of their great deliverance and the mighty evidence of God's favour and of the inspiration of Moses, the people were constantly discontented; they were always on the point of rebellion. The genius for complaining, which is inherently human, found almost daily expression; until the patience of Moses was exhausted.
The shortest distance from Egypt to the Promised Land is considerably less than the distance from Philadelphia to New York; so far as miles were concerned, Canaan could have been reached in a week. But Israel was not fit to occupy Canaan or indeed any other country, as the behaviour in the wilderness abundantly proved. The famous Elizabethan "atheist," Marlowe, said that Moses was a miserable leader, because it took him forty years to lead his people a short distance; he could have done much better himself. These forty years in the wilderness, however, were necessary; and never did a leader and statesman show finer capacity for meeting both chronic and acute difficulties.
Furthermore, during these wanderings a complete system of laws, both moral and technical, became established; the health of the people was cared for by a definite set of hygienic regulations; the ritual for worship was proclaimed. The Israelites reached
Canaan when, and not before, they were mentally and physically fit to settle there.
It was perhaps natural that in comparison with the privations and hardships of the wilderness, Egypt looked good; they saw it only in retrospect and, as is frequently the case, the difficulties of the past faded out of the picture, and they remembered only their homes and their regular meals, as indeed a free man will sometimes during a vacation spent in voluntary camping. They complained of the lack of food, so manna rained down from heaven. It covered the ground like a frost, was white to the eye and sweet to the taste. When the people complained of thirst and nearly mobbed Moses, he was divinely ordered to strike a rock, and pure water gushed out. These are some of the chief events that were recorded during the journey.
One day, Jethro, Moses's father-in-law, appeared on the scene, bringing the wife of Moses and their two sons. On the next day, Moses took his regular place as a judge, and began to hear complaints and cases of all kinds, both little and big. The petitioners had to stand in line for hours, and justice was almost as slow as it is now. Jethro watched the proceedings awhile, and then told Moses that all this would wear both him and the nation out; he advised that Moses select a number of able and upright judges, who could settle relatively unimportant cases, while Moses should be the Supreme Court. This admirable counsel was followed; and
so the children of Israel not only had a set of laws and ordinances, but a court system to administer them. Then the good Jethro departed into his own land, and we see his face no more. So far as I know, there is no further allusion to him in the Bible. But he ought not to be forgotten.
The laws established by Moses were fair and reasonable, and in all that concerned man's dealing with man were adapted to the times and the people. They often went beyond mere scrupulosity, and enjoined kindness to strangers, gentleness to widows and orphans, and consideration for animals. The nineteenth chapter of Leviticus contains rules that ought to be remembered to the eternal honour of their maker. People were forbidden to reap the corners of their farms; gleanings must be left for the poor and the stranger. Labourers must be paid at the end of the day's work; "the wages of him that is hired shall not abide with thee all night until the morning." Cruel practical jokes were forbidden; no doubt some boys thought such things were funny. "Thou shalt not curse the deaf" (I have heard American boys do this) "nor put a stumbling-block before the blind." Rich and poor were to be treated exactly alike in court. "Thou shalt not go up and down as a tale-bearer." Courtesy and etiquette were taught by law. "Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man." They must see to it that they have just balances and just weights.
Those who maintain that the Mosaic Law was harsh and cruel should remember that the following verses are in Leviticus, though many seem to have forgotten the fact:
Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart.
Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
When Our Lord gave the eleventh and twelfth commandments, he was quoting from Moses, as He was when He said: "I will give you rest."
The presence of laws forbidding many strange sins and crimes seems to indicate that so-called unnatural evils were known to exist there and then, as they have in all nations since.
There was the same fondness for superstition and the same eagerness to be gulled as there is today. "Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards."
The Ten Commandments, which have had such a prodigious influence in human history, are all prohibitions except one. The chief sins are forbidden in the Tables of the Law, and it would be difficult indeed to have arranged at that time a list of regulations that would have covered a wider area of human conduct with fewer words.
Clouds and darkness surrounded Mount Sinai at the giving of the Fundamental Law.
There were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon
the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled.
And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount.
And Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly.
And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice.
Although many in the audience forgot to keep these commandments, it is certain that no one forgot the day and the manner of their announcing.
I. Thou shall have no other gods before me.
In the ancient world, man was polytheistic; here was the promulgation of one Divine Principle. Literally translated, it reads: "You shall have no gods except me." More and more, this commandment is seen to be the expression of philosophical truth. Later, the children of Israel ran after other gods with tragic consequences; and in the twentieth century, the German Empire broke the first commandment, worshipping the gods of iron and steel as revealed to man in huge armaments. This is now a common form of paganism, perhaps the most popular religion in the world, numbering more adherents than all other systems; yet it is an illusion, for there is only one God.
And just as nations have madly worshipped other gods, so individuals have constantly substituted
other gods for the Ideal; the gods of money, of influence, of pleasure, of social position, of fame; most common of all and most tragically absurd is the substitution for the Eternal Spirit of Truth and Right--One's Own Self.
II. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image . . . for I, the Lord thy God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
This and the Fourth are the longest of the commandments, containing respectively ninety-one and ninety-four words. It was necessary to forbid idol-worship, to which the Israelites continually surrendered, copying, as so many nations do, only the evil features of their rivals; remember how Rachel, Jacob's wife, stole the images out of her father's house, and how bitterly ironical was the language of the prophet Isaiah in dealing with this form of superstition. The awful words, "I am a jealous God," give offence to many people today, but they are a statement of simple fact. Religion is the most jealous thing in the world, more jealous than any woman. There is only one place in the human heart for religion--the first place. It must have that or nothing. It must either dominate a man's life, be
the supreme, controlling factor, or it becomes as ornamental as a graven image, and as powerless. Those who use religion as a decoration, or as a last resort in fear and sickness, betray their real paganism in brushing it aside when their personal, selfish interests are concerned. Religion is never content with a weekly contribution, or a large occasional present, or a tribute of courtesy; religion demands the heart, the inmost citadel; and unless it has that, it wants nothing. Either religion is the most vital of all truths, or else it stands for silly superstition, and should not be allowed to annoy and harass conduct, any more than Napoleon permitted it to interfere with his purposes. He went as far as anyone has gone without religion, and he is perhaps more to be admired than those who wish to have it both ways, like a man who gives presents to his wife, and his heart to some one else.
The last part of this commandment, which speaks of the remote consequences of evil-doing (and also, be it remembered, of virtue) particularly enrages the enemies of religion. Thomas Hardy sneered at it in Tess of the D'Urbervilles, saying it might be good enough for Divinity, but was scorned by average human nature. Precisely so; it is scorned by average human nature, which is one reason why there are so many unfit children born into the world. Their lifelong weakness and suffering come from the selfishness of their ancestors, who scorned this commandment, just as they scorned the established
truths of science, of which this is a powerful affirmation. The second commandment will be supported by every family physician, and by students of society like Henrik Ibsen.
III. Thou shall not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
Never was this commandment more needed than in the twentieth century. Swearing is instinctive in human nature; all men are naturally cursers, but that does not make them admirable. There has been an enormous increase in swearing within recent years. Of all habits, it is the most difficult to break.
IV. Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.
Six days shall thou labour, and do all thy work.
An old divine wisely pointed out the fact that there was more profanation of the second sentence than of the first. "Six days shalt thou labour." If this commandment were universally followed, there would be enough food, fuel and clothing for everyone in the world. Every lazy, idle, and useless person breaks the fourth commandment six times oftener than other men. The first clause means: "Remember the day of rest and keep it inviolate." Take one day in seven off, provided you have earned it; don't let anything interfere. It is curious that so many persons have thought it more wicked to have recreation on Sunday than to work. Sunday was
never meant to be a day of gloom; it ought to be the happiest day in the week, for God blessed it. The ideal use of that holiday is to devote it to religion and recreation; forget business and the regular round of toil. Experience seems to show that people need one day in seven; the French Revolutionists tried to make it one day in ten, but the experiment was not successful. An excellent way to spend the day is to go to church and thank God in the morning, and enjoy some outdoor sport in the afternoon. The Sabbath was established for man's health and happiness, as our Lord pointed out.
V. Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God glveth thee.
It is often called "the only commandment with promise," but those who say so forget the Second. That length of days should be associated with filial affection seems curious; for some cruel sons have lived long. But, more closely examined, it is not longevity, but continued residence on the family property that the statement emphasises. Affection and care for one's parents keep up the estate; neglect of them means wandering, and the invasion of strangers. It is unfortunate that parents love their children so much more intensely than children love their parents; but the whirligig of time brings in his revenges. There is no commandment that parents must love their children, for the command-
ments were in every instance directed at common sins.
VI. Thou shalt not kill.
Do no murder. Some extremists have held that this means one should not kill a quail or a woodcock. Nonsense; but it is true that as we grow older, we more and more appreciate the gift of life and hate to take it away. Few young people think shooting is wrong; but there are plenty of conscientious objectors among adults, Thomas Hardy, for example, and Emerson, who said: "Hast thou named all the birds without a gun?" A little common sense is useful here, as elsewhere; the wanton destruction of animals is no doubt wicked; but if it be wrong to go out and shoot an occasional partridge, then it is even more wrong to kill chickens. For you feed chickens and pretend that you are interested in their welfare, when in reality you are a traitor. The wickedness in shooting enormous bags of game, raised for the purpose, consists in the fact that many wounded ones escape, and while you are eating your dinner and talking merrily of a "good day's sport," these wretched creatures are in agony.
VII. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Every adulterer is also a liar and usually a sneak. It is interesting to observe that many men who would not lie to others in business, will break their word given in the church before many witnesses. The
reason is largely a matter of cowardice. If a man breaks his word to another man, penalties follow, whereas a man can break his word to a woman with impunity. But adultery is founded on falsehood and dishonour fully as much as corrupt dealing in trade. In the fifth chapter of Numbers, there is a strange but impressive method of dealing with jealousy and adultery.
VIII. Thou shall not steal.
Which ought to apply as much to embezzlement and crooked manipulations as to house-breaking or borrowing apples.
IX. Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
Which refers, I suppose, not merely to perjury, but to slander and malicious gossip.
X. Thou shall not covet.
Observe that all of these commandments are meant to preserve from harm those who accept them, not merely those who might be victims. It is not pleasant to have a thief steal from you, but it is much better for you than to steal something yourself; it is unfortunate to be killed, but it is better than to go out and kill somebody. That is, the commandments were not only necessary for the welfare of society, but fidelity to them is necessary for individual happiness. The tenth is wholly devoted to this purpose; it does not hurt your neigh-
bour if you covet his house; some persons are so constituted that this adds to their delight; but it hurts you horribly and poisons your peace of mind. I suppose covetousness of one's neighbour's possessions drives more people into financial difficulties than any other vice.
The twentieth chapter of Exodus, containing the Ten Commandments, which might be called the Moral Constitution, is immediately followed by a succession of chapters, which might be called the By-laws, because they give specific regulations. Then follow detailed directions for the ritual of worship; very tedious reading this is today, but doubtless important then, in order that the people might have ever before them the thought of Divine Leadership.
Human nature lost little time in asserting itself; despite the wonders they had seen, despite the terrible majesty of the promulgation of the Law, what do we hear of the people's behaviour? Well, they did exactly what millions are doing today; they forsook the worship of God for the worship of the Golden Calf. Moses could not trust the people out of his sight; they behaved like bad boys in the absence of the teacher. Moses was away in the mount; and the children of Israel said to Aaron: "Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him." To the eternal discredit of Aaron, he sur-
rendered to mob sentiment at just the moment when a strong voice was most necessary. Apparently the women had much jewelry, perhaps the finery they had "borrowed" from the Egyptians; Aaron fashioned the whole collection into the form of a golden calf and worshipped it with song and dance.
Imagine the feelings of Moses coming down the mountain with the two tables of the Law, his mind still in the solemn obsession of the Divine Presence. That honest young lieutenant, Joshua, hearing the racket below, said to Moses: "There is a noise of war in the camp." Moses replied crisply: "It is not the voice of them that shout for mastery, neither is it the voice of them that cry for being overcome; but the noise of them that sing do I hear."
He made up his mind that they would shortly sing another tune. When he saw the calf and the idiotic dancing around it, ungovernable rage possessed him; he smashed the tables he was holding. When a man is in a state of terrific rage, he simply has to smash something or burst; it is an immense relief to take it out of the furniture.
The rest of this narrative is downright funny. Moses took the golden calf, burnt it, powdered the ashes, made a soup of it, and forced the whole congregation to drink it! If you want your calf, down with it. Then Aaron behaved even worse than Adam in Eden; in response to the sharp questions of Moses, he said: "You know these people; they are always bent on mischief." Then he declared
that he had taken their golden contribution. "So they gave it to me; then I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf." Was there ever a more ridiculous, a more childish lie? Can't you see the liar's face?
Observe that meek Moses was not rebuked by God for smashing the tables; he was given new ones in their place. He was punished for only one thing --because he had momentarily lost confidence in God at the waters of Meribah, when he was more afraid of popular clamour than of God Himself. For this reason he was not permitted to enter the Promised Land.
Moses lived to be one hundred and twenty years old, in sound bodily and mental health. His eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated. His farewell charge to the people is filled with poetry and splendid imagery, containing many promises and many warnings. Like all persons, they needed advice, received it, and forgot it. Human nature is revealed in their shortness of memory; for nothing is more frequently heard than good advice, and there is nothing so quickly forgotten. The first alluring picture is enough to drive it out of the mind.
One passage in this farewell speech retains its flavour: "Thou shalt lend unto many nations, and thou shalt not borrow."
Moses stood on Pisgah Heights, on Mount Nebo, and looked with what emotion we can only imagine
on the fair panorama of Canaan. He could not enter it any more than Abraham Lincoln could live to see the growth of the mighty nation he had saved. But Moses, though he had little confidence in the people, knew that their immediate future was assured; that the results of his wisdom and foresight would last long; he saw the travail of his soul and was satisfied.