Some, either present or imminent danger, and that no small one, had more than usually distressed the Prophet at the writing of this psalm; wherewith his spirit, for awhile, being tossed to and fro in great anguish, as may appear by those three great billows in the seventh, eighth, and ninth verses, yet at last he cometh to an anchor in the tenth verse, 'upon the remembrance of the right hand of the Most High.' Which right hand, in one even tenor throughout all ages, not only to that of David's, but even to this of ours, hath ever showed itself a right hand of pre-eminence and power, in the two points in the latter part of the Psalm specified, the special matter of his and all our comfort. 1. The final confusion of his enemies, though for a while exalted until this verse. 2.The final deliverance of His people, though for awhile distressed in this verse. Which twain, of many Psalms are the substance, and of this now before us; and indeed, all the whole story in a manner is nothing else but a calendar of these two. That the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, is El Nekamoth, 'a God of vengeance' against His enemies; and but a letter changed, is El Nechamoth, 'a God of comfort' [16/17]unto His people. That His Cherubims hold a flaming sword to repress the one, and have their wings spread to shadow and succour the other. That His creatures--the cloud from above is a mist of darkness to confound the Egyptians; and the same cloud a pillar of light to conduct the Israelites. That the water from beneath, to the Egyptian is a gulf to devour them, but to the Israelite, 'a wall of defence on their right hand and on their left.' We need not to seek far; in the Psalm next before, and again in the Psalm next after this, you shall find these two coupled; as indeed for the most part they go still together.
And as they go still together, so still they end in the safeguard of the Church. Of all the prophecies, of all judgments, of all miracles, past or present, new or old, that is the key and conclusion. The last verse, if I may so say, of the deluge was the rainbow; of the Egyptian bondage was the Feast of the Passover; and even here in this Psalm, after it hath in the four verses next before rained and poured down, and lightened and thundered, and Heaven and earth gone together, there doth in this verse ensue a calm to God's people. This is the blessed period that shutteth up the Psalm: Them that hated Thy people, or dealt unkindly with Thy servants, them Thou drownedst and destroyedst; but 'Thy people Thou leadest like sheep by the hands of Moses and Aaron.'
And in these two may all kingdoms and countries read their own destinies, what they are to hope for or to feat, at the hand of God. If they be Lo-ammi, 'not His people,' they may look back, what they find in the verses before, and that is storm and tempest. If they be His, and we I trust are His--and more and more His He daily make us! this verse is for us, that is, safe and quiet conduct; 'Thou didst lead Thy,' &c.
In which verse there is mention of the three persons: 1. God. 2. God's hand. 3. God's people. 4. And of a blessing or benefit issuing from the first, that is, God; conveyed by the second, that is, God's hands, Moses and Aaron; and received by the third, that is, God's people; and it is the benefit of good guiding or government. This is the sum of the verse.
As for order, I will seek no other than as the Holy Ghost hath marshalled the words in the text itself. Which of itself [7/18]is right exact; every word in the body of it containing matter worth the pausing on.
1. First, in the foremost word. Tu, God Who vouchsafed this benefit.
2. And secondly, in Duxisti. The benefit itself of guiding from Him derived.
3. And thirdly, derived to His people, the parties that receive it.
4. And fourthly, derived to His people by his hands, which hands are Moses and Aaron, the means that convey it.
I. 'Thou leadest Thy people,' &c. To begin with God, Who beginneth the verse, by Whom and to Whom we lead, and are led, and in Whom all right leading both beginneth and endeth.
It is Thou, saith the Psalmists, that leadest Thy people, and in the next Psalm it is 'He that carried His people in the wilderness like a flock.' Who is that He, or this Thou? It is God, saith the Prophet in the sixteeneth verse.
That is, whosoever be the hands, God is the Person, He is the Tu. Whose names soever we hear, whose hands soever we feel, whose countenance soever we behold, we must yet look up higher, and see God in every government. To Him we must make our apostrophe, and say, 'Thou leadest,' &c. For He it is leadeth properly; and in strict propriety of speech Moses and Aaron lead not, but God by the hands of Moses and Aaron. And that thus it is, that God is the Person that leadeth, and all other but hands under Him and unto Him, the Prophet giveth us in this same verse matter of three marks of difference between Him and them.
The first is in Duxisti. 'Thou didst lead,' saith the Prophet, didst and dost lead--didst then and dost still: but Thou didst lead by Moses and Aaron; so dost Thou not now. The hands are changed. Then, Moses and Aaron; after Joshua and Eleazar; after, Othniel and Phinehas; after, others; sed Tu idem es, 'but Thou art the same still and Thy years shall not fail.' As if He should say; Their years indeed fail, and come to an end: within so many years they were not so led, and within so many more they shall not be. But God hath a prerogative, that He is Rex a Sæculo, and Rex in Sæculum; was 'our King of old,' and 'shall be our King for ever and ever.'
[18/19] The second is in populum Tuum, 'Thy people;' another limitation. For this people are, in the fifteenth verse before said to be 'the sons of Jacob and Joseph:' so far stretcheth Moses' line, and no farther. But, Tu duxisti, God`s line ivit in omnem terram, 'goeth over all nations, even to the uttermost parts of the world.' God's leading hath no marches. This people and all people are His; and He by special prerogative is Rex universae terrae, 'King' not of one people, or of one country or climate, but 'of all the people of the whole earth.'
The third is, per manus, 'by the hands.' For as He guideth the people by the hands, so He guideth the hands themselves, by whom He guideth; ruleth by them, and ruleth them; ruleth by their hands, and ruleth in their hearts; is both 'the Shepherd of Israel,' leading them like sheep, and farther leadeth Joseph also, their leader, tanquam ovem 'like a sheep.' That is, they be reges gentium, 'kings of the nations,' but He is Rex regum, 'King over kings themselves.' Moses and they with him be _goÚmenoi. 'guides, as St. Paul calleth them; but Jesus Christ is ArchgÑj 'the Arch-guide.' Aaron and his family be pome/nej, 'shepherds' as St. Peter termeth them; but Jesus Christ is Arcipoimºu 'the high and sovereign Shepherd over all.' Why then dicite in gentibus, 'tell it out among the nations,' saith the Prophet, 'that God is King;' that He is the Tu, the Leader, the perpetual, the universal, principal Leader of His people.
From which plain note, that the Lord is Ruler, the Psalmist himself draweth a double use, containing matter both of comfort and fear.
1. Of comfort, in the ninety-seventh Psalm: Dominus regnavit, exultet terra; 'the Lord is Ruler, or Leader, let the earth rejoice.'
2. Of fear, in the ninety-ninth Psalm: Dommminus regnavit contremiscat populus; 'the Lord is Ruler, or Leader, let the people tremble.'
First from God's ruling, matter of joy. For if we will be ruled by Him, He will appoint over us a ruler 'according to His own heart;' He will 'prevent her with the blessings of goodness;' He will deliver the power of Sisera into her [19/20] hands; 'He will clothe her enemies with shame, and make her crown flourish on her head, and set the days of her life as the days of Heaven.'
Secondly, matter of fear too. 'The Lord is Ruler, let the people tremble.' For if they fall to be unruly, He can vindemiare spiritu, principum, as easily 'gather to Him' 'the breath of a Prince,' as we can slip off a cluster from the vine. He can send them a Rehoboam without wisdom, or a Jeroboam without religion, or Ashur a stranger to be their King; or, which is worst of all, as disordered anarchy, quia non timuimus Jehovam. Therefore in 'joy and trembling` let us acknowledge God and His supreme leading. That our parts may be long in Dominus regnavit, exultet terra, 'The Lord doth lead us, let the land rejoice.'
Yet one point out of this Tu, by comparing it with the verses before, on which it dependeth; that as it is the Person and Power of God that is chief in every rule, so not every power, but even that very power of His, 'whereby He worketh wonders.' For the Prophet, in the fourteenth verse, having said of God, 'Thou art the God That doest wonders,' and so particularising, 'Thou thunderest from Heaven, Thou shakest the earth, Thou dividest the sea,' at last cometh to this Thou;--'Thou leadest the people.'
Very strange it is, that He should sort the leading of the people with God's wonders, and that not only among them all, but after them all, as chief of all; recount the government of the people, as if it were some special miracle. And indeed a miracle it is, and whosoever shall look into the nature and weight of a Monarchy will so acknowledge it. The rod of government is a miraculous rod--both that of Moses, for it would turn into a serpent, and back again; and Aaron's rod too, for of a dry and sear stick it came to blossom again, and to bear ripe almonds; to shew, that every government is miraculous, and containeth in it matter of wonder, and that in two respects.
For whereas there is naturally in every man a seeking his own ease, to lie soaking in his broth, as Ezekiel speaketh; not to be custos fratris, nor to afflict and vex his soul with the care of others; it is surely supernatural to endure that cark [20/21] and care which the governors continually do--a matter that we inferiors can little skill of; but to read Eâ nocte dormire non potuit rex, 'Such a night the King could not sleep;' and again, Such a night 'no meat would down with the King, and he listed not to hear any music.' To endure this, I say, is supernatural; and it is God which, above all nature, by His mighty Spirit worketh it in them.
Again, whereas there is in every inferior a natural wildness or unwillingness to brook any ruler or judge over them, as was told by Moses flatly to his face, for by nature the people are not like sheep; it is not certainly any power of man, but a mere supernatural thing, to keep the nations of the earth in such awe and order as we see them in. Quis potest, saith Solomon, 'Who is able to manage this mighty multitude,' so huge in number, so unruly in affection? Nonne potestatem habeo? 'Have not I power,' saith Pilate? But our Saviour Christ very fitly telleth him, Power he hath indeed, but it is not innata, but data desuper;and except it were given him from above, he should have none at all. It is Tu duxisti that doth it; even Thou, O Lord, and Thine Almighty power, that holdest them under. And very fitly from the wonder in appeasing the sea, in the last verse before, doth the Prophet pass in this to the leading of the people. Their natures are alike, himself in one verse matcheth them; 'Thou rulest the raging of the sea, and the noise of the waves, and the madness of the people.' That is, no less unruly and enraged by nature is the multitude, than the sea. No less it roareth, Dirumpamus vincula eorum, and Nolumus hunch regnare super nos, when God unlooseth it. Of one and the same power it proceedeth, to keep them both within their banks. Thou that calmest the one, charmest also the other.
Wherefore when we see that careful mind in a prince, I will uses Moses' own words, to carry a people in her arms, as if she had conceived them in her womb, as no nurse, nor mother more tender; and again, when we see this tumultuous and tempestuous body, this same sea of popularity kept in a quiet calm, and infinite millions ebbing and flowing as it were, that is, stirring and standing still, arming and disarming themselves, killing and being killed, and all at the monosyllables of one person, 'Go and they go, Come and they [21/22] come, Do and they do it;' let us see God sensibly in it, and the power of God, yes the miraculous power of God; and say with the prophet, Thou art the God That doth wonders, 'Thou leddest Your people like sheep by the hands of Moses and Aaron.' And so much for the first part, first word, and Person.
The second word compriseth the benefit issuing from God, which is a leading or conduct, the second part. A word of great compass, and includeth many leadings under it. For, to be our Jehovah-Nissi, our 'Standard-bearer, and to lead our forces in the field; to be our 'wonderful Counsellor,' and to lead that honourable board; to sit in the midst of our Judges, and to lead them in giving sentence; all these and more than these are all in duxisti. And all these are especial favours; but the chief of all, and that whereof all these are but the train, is the leading us in His heavenly truth, and in the way of His Commandments, to the land of the living. All the rest attend upon this; this is chief, and therefore the leading of principal intendment.
And in this leading there be these four points. For that it be a leading, it must be orderly without straying, skilfully without erring, gently without forcing, and certainly without missing our journey's end. First, orderly without straying; led and not wandered. Second, skilfully without erring; led and not missed. Third, gently without forcing; led and not drawn. Fourth, certainly without missing; led, and not led about, ever going, but never coming to our place of repose.
1. In the first whereof, we are but let see the wandering and stayless estate we were in, till God vouchsafed to send us this gracious conduct; sicut oves, like Ezekiel's 'stray sheep, straggling upon every valley, and upon every hill.' The very case these people here were in, when God in mercy sent them these two guides, scattered all over the land to seek stubble. Which estate of theirs, is the express pattern of the world, wandering in vanity, picking up straws, and things that shall not profit them, 'seeking death in the error of their life,' till God look mercifully upon them, and from this wild wandering reduce them into the right way.
2. Which right way is the second point; for else it is not duxisti, but seduxisti; and as good no leading at all, as misleading. [22/23] Now this right way, if we ask where it lieth, the Prophet will tell us, 'Thy way, O God, is in the Sanctuary;' that is, it is the word of God which is the load-star, when God is the Leads-man. Sicut oves it must be, and this is the voice of the true Shepherd to be listened to of all his flock, that will not rove and run headlong into the wolf's den. This is the 'pillar of the cloud' in regard of this people here, to be kept in view of all those that will not perish in the wilderness, wherein is no path. Indeed it is both 1. 'the pillar of the cloud' before, directing us in the way; 2. and the voice of the shepherd behind us, as Esay saith, telling us when we miss, and crying, Hæc est via, ambulate in eâ, 'This is the way, the right way, walk in it.'
And in this way our guiding must be mild and gentle, else it is not duxisti but traxisti; drawing and driving, and no leading. Leni spiritu non durâ manu, rather by an inward sweet influence to be led, than by an outward extreme violence to be forced forward. So did God lead this people here, Not the greatest pace, I wis, for they were a year marching that they might have posted in eleven days, as Moses saith. No nor yet the nearest way neither, as Moses telleth us. For he fetched a compass divers times, as all wise governors by his example must do, that desire rather safely to lead, than hastily to drive forward. The Spirit of God leadeth this people,' saith Esay, 'as an horse is ridden down the hill into a valley;' which must not be a gallop, lest horse and ruler both come down one over another, but warily and easily. And sicut oves still giveth us light, seeing the text compareth it to a sheep-gate. Touching which kind of cattle, to very good purpose, Jacob, a skilful shepherd, answereth Esau, who would have had Jacob and his flocks have kept company with him in his hunting pace. 'Nay not so, sir,' saith Jacob, 'it is a tender cattle that is under my hands, and must be softly driven, as they may endure; if one should overdrive them but one day, they would all die,' or be laid up for many days after. Indeed, Rehoboam left ten parts of his flock behind, only for ignorance of this very point in duxisti. For when in boisterous manner he chased them before him, telling them what yokes he would make for them--a far unmeet occupation for a prince to be a yoke-maker--they [23/24] all shrunk from him presently, and falsified his prophecy clean. For whereas he told them sadly, 'His little finger should be as big as his father's whole body,' it fell out clean contrary; for his whole body proved not so big as his father's little finger. A gentle leading it must be, and in the beginning such was the course. Therefore ye have the Kings of Canaan in Genesis for the most part called by the name of Abimelech, that is, Pater Rex, a King in place, a Father in affection. Such was Moses our leader here, 'a meek man above all the men on the earth.' Such was David himself, who full bitterly complaineth, 'Ah, these sons of Zeruiah are too hard, too full of execution for me.' And, to end this point, thus describeth he his good prince in the seventy-second Psalm; 'He shall come down,' not like hail-stones on a house-top, but 'like the dew into a fleece of wool,' that is, sweetly and mildly, without any noise or violence at all.
Last of all. All this reducing and right leading and gentle leading must end in an end; they must not go and go still in infinitum; that is no leading but tiring outright. It must be sicut oves whom the good Shepherd, in the three and twentieth Psalm, leadeth to a place, and to a place meet for them, 'where there is a green pasture by the waters of comfort.' So was it in this people here. They were led out of Egypt to sacrifice to God, and to learn His law in the mount of God, Sinai; and from thence also to Sion itself, His own rest, and holy habitation. And even so our people are led from the wanderings of this world unto the folds of God's Church, where, as the Prophet saith in seventy-third Psalm, first God 'will a while guide them with His counsel, and after will receive them into His glory.' And this is the end of all leading. To bring us all from the vain proffers of the world, which we shall all find, as Solomon found it, vanitas vanitatum et omnia vanitas to the sound comfort of His word in this book, which is indeed veritas veritatum et omnia veritus; in the knowledge and practice whereof, when they shall have fulfilled their course here, God will bring them to His own rest, to His heavenly Jerusalem, where is and ever shall be felicitas felicitatum et omnia felicitas.
But in this life here, we come no farther than 'the borders of His sanctuary,' as he telleth us in the next Psalm, in the [24/25] way whereof if God lead us 'constantly,' not after our wanton manner, out and in when we list, all the other inferior leadings shall accompany this one. For this leading leadeth them all. He shall lead our Counsellors that they will advise the counsels of His own heart; He shall lead our Judges, that they shall pronounce the judgments of His own mouth; He shall lead our forces into Edom, the strong cities and holds of the enemy; He shall lead our navy in the sea by unknown paths to the place it would go; and I can say no more. Through all the dread dangers of the world, through the perils of the Red Sea, through the perils of the desert, through the malice of all our enemies, He shall safely lead us, and surely bring us to His promised Kingdom, where we shall see the 'goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.' And this is the benefit, and thus much for that part.
The value of which benefit we shall the better esteem, if we consider down in these words populum Tuum; which is the third part. That all this good is for the people, worthy not so much as the least part of it. For, what is the people? Let Moses speak for he knew them, Siccine popule stulte et insipiens? And Aaron too, for he had occasion to try them, 'This people is even set on mischief.' And, if you will, David also, Inter belluas populorum. And to conclude, God Himself, Populus iste duræ cervicis est. This is the people. We may briefly take a view of all these.
Will you see the folly and giddiness of this multitude? ye may, Acts. 19. There they be at the town-house, some crying one thing, some another; 'and the more part knew not why they were come together.' Therefore Moses truly said. it was a fond and giddy-headed people.
Will ye see the brutishness of the people? In the twenty-second of Acts, you shall see them taking up a cry, upon a word spoken by St. Paul, and 'casting off their clothes and throwing dust into the air,' as if they were quite decayed of reason; that David truly might say, Inter belluas populorum.
Will ye see the spite and malice of the people? In the sixteenth of Numbers, for Korah's death they challenge Moses and Aaron, 'ye have persecuted and killed the people of the [25/26] Lord.' Yet neither did Moses once touch them, but God Himself from Heaven, by visible judgment, shewed them to be as they were. Neither were Korah and his crew the people of God, but the sons of Belial. But that is their manner, in despite of Moses, if for aught they like him not, presently to canonize Korah and his complices, and make them the saints of God. That Aaron said truly of them, 'This people is even set on mischief.'
Lastly, if ye will see their headstrongness, look upon them in the eighth of the first of Samuel, where having fancied to themselves an alteration of estate, though they were shewed plainly by Samuel the sundry him with 'No'--for that is their logic, to deny the conclusion 'but we will be like other countries about us, and be guided as we think good our ownselves.' That, of all other, God's saving is most true, 'It is a stiff-necked and headstrong generation.'
And yet, for all these wants, so well weaning of themselves as they need no leading, they; every one among them is meet to be a leader, to prescribe Moses, and control Aaron in their proceedings. So that, where God setteth the sentence thus, 'Thou leddest Thy people like sheep by the hands of Moses and Aaron; might they have their wills, they would take the sentence by the end, and turn it thus, 'Thou leddest Moses and Aaron like sheep by the hands of Thy people.'
And this is the people, populus. And surely, no evil can be said too much of this word people, if ye take it apart by itself, populus without Tuus, 'the people,' and not 'Thy people.' But then, here is amends for all the evil before, in this word Tuus; which qualifieth the former, and maketh them capable of any blessing or benefit.
A common thing in Scripture it is thus to delay one word with another. Si peccaverit in te frater tuus: peccaverit stirs our choler straight, but then frater makes us hold our hand again. Telle festucam ex oculo. Festucam, 'a mote?' our zeal is kindled presently to remove it; but then ex oculo, the tenderness of the party tempers us, and teacheth us to deal with it in great discretion. And so it is here; populus so unruly a rout as Moses and Aaron would disdain once to touch them; but when Tuus is added, it will make any of [26/27] them not only to touch them, but to take them by the hand. For it much that lieth upon this pronoun Tuus; indeed all lieth upon it, and put me Tuus out of the verse, and neither God respecteth them. nor vouchsafeth them either Moses to govern, or Aaron to teach, or any heavenly benefit else. For populus is unworthy of them all; but for Tuus, nothing is too good.
For there is in Tuus, not only they be men, and not beasts; freemen, and not villains; Athenians or Englishmen, that is, a civil not a barbarous people--the three considerations of the heathen ruler; but that they be God's own people and flock; and that is all in all. His people, because 'He made them;' and so, the lot of His inheritance. His people again, because 'He redeemed them' from Egypt with His mighty arm; and so His peculiar people. His people the third time, because He redeemed their souls by His sufferings; and so, a people purchased most dearly, purchased even with the invaluable high price of His most precious blood. This is that, that sets the price on them. For over such a flock, so highly prized, so dearly beloved, and so dearly bought, it may well beseem any to be a guide. Moses, with all his learning; Aaron, with all his eloquence; yes, even 'kings to be their foster-fathers, and queens to be their nurses.' No leading too good for them. I conclude with St. Augustine upon these words; Quamdiu minimis istis fecistis fratribus meis, fecistis et nihi. Audis minimis, saith he, et fratribus, 'Take this with thee too, that they be Christ's brethren thou leadest;' et mihi crede, non est minima gloria horum minimorum salus, 'and trust me, it is no poor praise to protect this poor flock, but a high service it is, and will be highly rewarded.' Christ will take and reward it, as done to Himself in person.
Sicut oves standeth doubtful in the verse; and may be referred, either to the manner of leading--thus, 'Thou leadest like sheep;' or, to the persons led--thus, 'Thy people like sheep,' There we touched it before in duxisti, in every of the four manners of leading; and here now we take it in again with the people to whom it may have reference. And indeed, [27/28] there is no term that the Holy Ghost more often sendeth for than this of His flock to express His people by, for in the estate of a flock they may best see themselves. As here it is added respectively to duxisti, to let them see, both what interest they have in it, and what need they have of it. I mean of government.
First, as a note of difference between Amni and Lo-ammi, Thy people, and the people. God's people, and strange children. Every people is not sicut oves, nor everyone among the people. There is a people, as the Psalmist speaks, sicut equus et mulus, 'like the untamed horse or mule, in whom is no understanding;' and among the people there be too many such. Surely, by nature we are all so, wild and unbroken as the ass-colt, saith Job. Which wildness of nature when they are untaught, and taught to submit themselves to government; to become gentle and easy to be led sicut oves- led to feeding, led to shearing, to feed those that feed them; tractable of nature, and profitable of yield; it is a good degree and a great work is performed on them. For by it, as by the first step, they become God's people. For His people are populus sicut oves, and they who are not His, are populus sicut hirci, 'a people like he-goats,' in nature intractable, in use unserviceable.
Now, being His people, they come to have an interest in duxisti, the benefit. For populus sicut oves must be led gently; but populus sicut hirci must be driven forcibly. Duxisti is not for both; it is a privilege. And if there be any who retain their wild nature, or degenerate from sheep into goats, as divers do daily; for them Aaron has a rod to sever them from the fold by censure of the Church. And if that will not serve, Moses has another which he can turn into a serpent and sting them; yes, if need so require, sting them to death by the power secular. For nachah is leading, and the sound remaining, nacah is smiting; and a necessary use of both. The one for Thy people like sheep who will be led; the other for the strange children like goats, who will not stir a foot farther than they be forced. And this is the interest.
But now again, when they be brought thus far to be like sheep, they are but like sheep though; that is a weak and unwise cattle, far unable to guide themselves. Which sheweth [28/29] them their need of good government, and though they be the people of God, yet that Moses and Aaron be not superfluous. For, a feeble poor beast we all know a sheep is; of little or no strength for resistance in the world, and therefore in danger to be preyed on by every wolf. And as of little strength, so little reach. None so easily strays of itself, none is so easily led awry by others. Every strange whistle maketh the sheep; every ecce hîc maketh the people cast up their heads, as if some great matter were in hand.
These two defects do mainly enforce the necessity of a leader. For they want sight, as blind men, and they want strength, as little children, stir not without great peril, except they have one to lead them. And both these wants are in sheep, and in the people too.
If then they be sicut oves, 'like sheep,' what is both their wisdom? Sure to be in the unity of a flock. And what is their strength? Truly to be under the conduct of a shepherd; in these two is their safety. For if either they single themselves and stray from the fold; or if they be a fold and yet want a shepherd, none more miserable than they. And indeed in the Holy Spirit's phrase it is the ordinary note of a private man's misery, to be tanquam ovis erratica, 'as a stray sheep from the flock;' and of the misery of every estate politic, to be tanquam grex absque pastore, 'as a flock without a shepherd.' Therefore, guiding they need--both the staff of unity, 'Bands' to reduce them from straying, and the staff of order; 'Beauty,' to lead them so reduced. And would God they would see their own feebleness and shallowness, and learn to acknowledge the absolute necessity of this benefit; in all duty receiving it, in all humility praying for the continuance of it, that God break not the fold, and smite not the shepherd for the flock's unfaithfulness!
By the hands of Moses and Aaron. This part of the verse that is behind, and containeth the means by whom God conveyeth this benefit to His people, had had no use, but might well have been left out and the verse ended at populum Tuum, if author alienæ potentiæ perdit suam had been God's rule.For He needed no means but immediatley from Himself; sine manibus could have conveyed it, without any hands save those that made us, that is His Almighty power, but without [29/30] any arm or hand of flesh, without Moses or Aaron, without men or Angels, He was able Himself to have led us. And aprincipio fuit sic, for a time He did so, of Himself immediately, and of His own absolute sovereignty held He court in the beginning, and proceeded against Adam, Eve, Cain, the old world, and there was none joined in commission with Him. He only was our 'King of old,' saith the Psalmist; and for a space, the justice that was done on earth, He did it Himself. And as He held court before all, so will He also hold one after all. Veniet, veniet, qui male judicata rejudicabit dies. 'There will come a day, there is a day coming, wherein all evil-judged cases shall be judged over again.' To which all appeals lie, even from the days of affliction in this world, as sometimes they be, to the day of judgment in the world to come.
This estate of guiding being wholly invested in Him, there being but one God and one Guide, He would not keep it unto Himself alone as He might, but it pleased Him to send 'Moses His servant, and Aaron whom He had chosen,' to associate them to Himself in the commission of leading, and to make hominem homini deum, 'one man a guide and god to another.'
And those whom He thus honoureth, 1. First, the Prophet calleth God's hands, by whom He leadeth us; 2. and secondly telleth us who they be,--Moses and Aaron.
God's hands they be; for that by them He reacheth unto us duxisti, and in it religion and counsel and justice and victory, and whatsoever else is good. 'He sendeth His word to Moses first, and by him,' as it were through his hand, 'His statutes and ordinances unto all Israel.'
And not good things only, but if they so deserve, sometimes evil also. For as, if they be virtuous, such as Moses and Aaron, they be the 'good hand' of God for our benefit, such as was upon Ezra; so if they be evil, such as Balak and Balaam, they be the 'heavy hand' of God for our chastisement, such as was upon Job. But the hand of God they be both. And a certain resemblance there is between this government and the hand; for as we see the hand itself parted into divers fingers, and those again into sundry joints, for the more convenient and speedy service thereof; so is the estate of government, [30/31] for ease and expedition, branched into the middle offices, and they again as fingers under them. But the very meanest of them all, is a joint of some finger of this hand of God. Nazianzen, speaking of rulers as of the images of God, compareth the highest to pictures drawn clean through, even to the feet; the middle sort to half pictures drawn but to the neck or shoulders. But all in some degree carry the image of God.
Out of which term, of 'the hands of God,' the people first are taught their duty, so to esteem of them, as of God's own hands; that as God rules them by 'the hands of Moses and Aaron,' that is, by their ministry, so Moses and Aaron rule them by the hands of God, that is, by His authority. It is His name they wear, it is His seat they sit in, it is the rod of God that is in Moses and Aaron's hands. If we fall down before them, it is He who is honoured; if we rise up against them, it is He who is injured; and that peccavi in caelum et in te, must be our confession, 'against heaven and them,' but first against heaven and God Himself, when we commit any contempt against Moses or Aaron.
1. And the rulers have their lesson too. First, that if they be God's hands, then His Spirit is to open and shut them, stretch them out, and draw them in, wholly to guide and govern them, as the hand of man is guided and governed by the spirit that is in man. Heavenly and divine had those hands need be, which are to be the hands and to work the work of God.
2. Again, they be not only hands, but manus per quam, that is hands in actu. Not to be wrapped up in soft fur, but by which an acutal duty of leading is to be performed. Moses' own hand, in the fourth of Exodus, when he had lodged it in his warm 'bosom, became leprous;' but being stretched out, recovered again. Hands in actu then they must be; not loosely hanging down or folded together in idleness, but stretched out; not only to point others but themselves to be foremost in the execution of every good work.
3. Thirdly, manus per quam ducuntur; that is, as not the 'leprous hand' of Moses, so neither the 'withered hand' of Jeroboam stretching itself out against God, by misleading His pp. 31/32 people and making them to sin. 'Leading back again into Egypt'--a thing expressly forbidden; either to the oppression and bondage of Egypt, or to the ignorance and false worship of Egypt, from whence Moses had led them. For as they be not entire bodies of themselves but hands, and that not their own but God's; so the people they led are not their own but His, and by Him and to Him to be led and directed. So much for 'God's hands.'
This honourable title of the 'hand of God,' is here given to two parties, Moses and Aaron, in regard to two distinct duties performed by them. Ye heard how we said before, The people of God were like sheep in respect of a double want; 1. want of strength by means of their feebleness; 2. and want of skill by means of their simpleness. For this double want here cometh a double supply, from the hand, 1. of strength, and 2. of cunning; for both these are in the hand.
1. It is of all members the chief in might, as appeareth by the diversity of uses and services it is put to. In potentatibus dextræ, saith the Prophet.
2. And secondly, it is also the part of greatest cunning, as appeareth by the variety of the works which it yieldeth, by the pen, the pencil, the needle, and instruments of music. In intellectu manuum, saith the Psalmist, in the end of the next Psalm; and 'let my right hand forget her cunning.'
This hand of God then by his strength affordeth protection to the feebleness of the flock, and again by his skill affordeth direction to the simpleness of the flock. And these are the two substantial parts of all leading.
These twain, as two arms, did God appoint in the wilderness, to lead His people by. Afterwards over these twain did He yet set another, even the power and authority regal, in the place of the head, as Himself termeth it; and to it, as supreme, united the regiment of both. The consideration of which power I meddle not with, as being not within the compass of this verse, but only with the hands of regiments ecclesiastical and civil, which, as the two cherubim did the ark, overspread and preserve every estate. One, says Jehoshaphat, dispensing res Jehovae, 'the Lord's business,' the other dealing in negotio regis, 'the affairs of state.' One, saith David, intending 'the worship of the tribes,' the other, [32/33] 'the thrones for justice.' One, saith St.Paul, being for us in t_ prÑj QeÑu 'things pertaining to God;' the other in biwtik_ 'matters of this present life.' the one pro aris, the other pro focis, as the very heathen acknowledge.
1. These two are the hands, necessary to the body, and necessary each to other. First, they be both hands; and the hands, we know, are pairs. Not Moses the hand, and Aaron the foot, but either and each the hand. As they be the pair of hands, so be they also a pair of brethren. Not Moses de primis, and Aaron de novissimis populi; not Moses the head, and Aaron the tail; not Moses a quis, as St. Hierome speaketh out of the twenty- second of Esay, and Aaron a quasi quis; but both of one paentage, both one man's children.
2. Secondly, being both hands, neither of them is superfluous, no more to be spared, than may the hands; but both are absolutely necessary, and a maimed and lame state it is, where either is wanting. The state of Israel, in the seventeenth of the Judges, without a civil governor proved a very mass of confusion. The very same estate, in the second of Chronicles, chap. 15. sine sacerdote docente, no less out of frame. Miserable first, if they lack Joshua, and be as 'sheep wanting that shepherd.' And miserable again, if they lack Jesus, and 'be as sheep wanting that Shepherd.' Moses is needful, in the want of water, to strike the rock for us, and to procure us supply of bodily relief. Aaron is no less. For he in like manner reacheth to every one food of other kind, which we may worse be without, even 'the Bread of life' and water out of 'the spiritual Rock,' which is Christ Jesus. Moses we need, to see our force led against Amalek, for safeguard of that little we hold here in this life; and Aaron no less, to preserve our free hold in everlasting life: for the great and mighty ... Gk. the legions of our sins, the very forces of the prince of darkness are overthrown by the spiritual weapons of Aaron's warfare. Moses may not be spared from sitting and deciding the causes which are brought before him. No more may Aaron, whose Urim giveth answer in doubts no less important; and who not only with his Urim and Thummim giveth counsel, but by his incense and sacrifice obtaineth good success for all our counsels. In a word, if Moses' rod be requisite to sting and devour the wicked, [33/34] Aaron's is also to receive the good and to make them to fructify. If Moses' hand wants too, with the key to give us an entrance. And thus much will I say for Aaron--for the devil hath now left to dispute about Moses' body, and bendeth all against him--that the very first note of difference in the Bible to know God's people by, is that as Cain and his race began at the city walls first, and let religion as it might come after, any it skilled not what; so the posterity of Seth, the people of God, begun at the Church, et coeptum est invocari, at the worship of God and His tabernacle; as the point of principal necessity in their account, and as Christ reckoned it, unum neccessarium. And truly if we be not populus, 'a people,' but populus Tuus, 'God's people,' we will so esteem it too. For as for justice and law, and execution of them both, taliter fecit omni populo, it is every where to be had, even among the very Heathen and Turks themselves. So is not God's truth, and religion, and the way of righteousness. No; notus in Judæâ Deus, saith the Prophet in the last Psalm;--that is only to be had in the Church, and Non taliter fecit omni populo 'He had not dealt so with every people.' Every 'people have not knowledge of the His laws.' So that if the governor be not merely pastor agrestis, 'a rural shepherd,'such as are in the fields, and the people of God in His eyes no better than pecora campi; so that if he keep them one from goring another with their horns, and one from eating up the other's lock of hay, all is well and no more to be cared for of Gallio; but that he be like the great Shepherd, the Good Shepherd, the Prince of Shepherds, Who was Pastor animarum, as St. Peter calleth Him, 'a Shepherd of souls;' to see also that they be in good plight, that they be led in the way of truth. It will easily be yielded to, that per manum Mosis is no full point, but needeth an Aaron to be joined to it. Moses himself saw this, and therefore in the fourth of Exodus, when he had divers times shifted off this sole leading, while God stood still upon ecce mittam te; at last when God came farther and said, ecce Aaron frater tuus, mittam eum tecum, that contented him, and then he undertook it, as knowing these were like hands maimed, the one with the other, but that Moses and Aaron make a complete government.
[34/35] 3. And what should I say more? They be hands, and they need each other. Moses needeth Aaron, for Moses' hands are heavy and need a stay; and Aaron it is that keepeth them steady, by continual putting the people in remembrance that they be subject to principalities; by winning that at their hands by his continual dropping his word upon them, which Moses, for the hardness of their hearts, is fain to yield to. By strengthening mainly Moses' debita legalia, 'duties of Parliament and common law,' by his debita moralia, 'duties of conscience and divinity.' And whatsoever action Moses doth imprison, Aaron imprisoneth all the thoughts any ways accessory to the action. Which thoughts if they may run at liberty, the action will surely be bailed or make an escape, and not be long kept in endurance. And so many ways does Aaron support, and make both more easy and more steady, the hands of Moses.
And Moses, for his part, is not behind, but a most jealous preserver of Aaron's honour and right every where. Every where mild save in Aaron's quarrel, and with those only who murmured against Aaron, and said he took too much upon him. Take but his prayer for all, because I would end, his prayer made for Aaron's by name, in the thirty-third of Deuteronomy, and these three points in it. 'Bless, O Lord his substance;'--therefore he would never have heard, ut quid perditio hæc? that all is lost that is spent on Aaron's head. Then, 'accept the work of his hands;--therefore he would never easily have excepted to, or with a hard construction scanned all the doings of Aaron. Last of all 'Smite through the loins of them that rise up against him;'--therefore he would never have strengthened the hand of his evil willers, or said with Saul to Doeg, 'Turn thou and fall upon the Priests.'
To conclude, Moses and Aaron both have enemies. As Aaron hath Korah and Dathan that repine at him, so hath Moses too Jannes and Jambres that would withstand him. And he that at one time dipsutes about the body of Moses. It is good therefore they be respective each to other; Aaron help Moses in his lot; and Moses, Aaron in his; that they stand in the gap one for another; that so their [35/36] unity be hand in hand as the unity of brethren, strong and hard to break as the bars of a palace.
The Lord, by Whose Almighty power all governments do stand, those especially wherein the people are led in the way of His sanctuary; as He has graciously begun to lead us in that way, so leave us not till we have finished our course with joy! Knit the hearts of Moses and Aaron, that they may join lovingly; teach their hands, and fingers of their hands, that they lead skilfully; touch the hearts of the people, that they may be led willingly; that by means of this happy conduct, surely without error, and safely without danger, we may lead and be led forward, till we come to the fruition of His promise, the expectation of our blessed hope, even the eternal joys of His celestial kingdom, through Jesus Christ our Lord! To Whom, &c.