16. And they envied Moses in the camp, and Aaron the saint of Jehovah.17. The earth opened and swallowed up Dathan, and covered over the tent of Abiram.18. And a fire was kindled in their assembly, and the flame consumed the wicked.19. They made a calf in Horeb, and worshipped before the molten image.20. And they changed their glory into the likeness of an ox that eateth grass.21. They forgot God their preserver, who had done great things in Egypt; 22. And wondrous works in the land of Ham, and terrible things at the Red Sea.
16. And they envied He refers here very shortly to another transgression, and that, too, in such a way as to furnish both to himself and others ample grounds for deep consideration. For, as the people, in devising from time to time new modes of sinning, displayed so much cunning in their attempts to provoke God's anger, so we ought the more to be filled with fear on that account. Moreover, when he says that they envied Moses and Aaron, his meaning is, that, acting under the influence of diabolic pride, they had risen up against God, and were endeavoring to throw off the yoke which he had laid upon them; according as Moses also said,
|What am I, and what is Aaron, that ye murmur against us?| (Numbers 16:11)
As it was the will of God to rule the people by means of Moses and Aaron, not to submit to their rule was virtually to set themselves obstinately to resist the authority of God himself. There is therefore great importance attached to the term, envy, namely, that at the very time when God was treating the children of Israel with the utmost kindness and care, they yet were discontented with their lot, and rebelled against him. Could such madness serve any other purpose than to show, that, casting off all farther dependence upon the providence of God for their support, they aspire to rise above the very heavens? In this sense Aaron is called the saint of Jehovah, in order that we might know that both he and Moses were equally identified with God; for under the person of the one, the designation is applied to both, and in this way the prophet shows that they had been Divinely invested with that authority which they were exercising. In renouncing their authority, therefore, and, to the utmost of their power, dishonoring these saints, Dathan and Abiram were rebelling not against men, but against God.
17 The earth opened The heinousness of their sin may be seen in the magnitude of the punishment by which it was visited. But the design of the prophet was to accuse and reprove publicly the obstinacy of the people, who, so far from being bettered by their corrections, (although the vengeance of God was so terrible as almost to move the very stones,) conducted themselves the more perversely. That was surely an awfully ominous event, when the earth swallowed up alive Dathan and Abiram, and all their accomplices; and when fire coming down from heaven consumed them, according to the saying of Moses,
|If any thing common happen to these men, then believe not that God who ruleth in heaven rules over you and me; but if this new and extraordinary thing happen, namely, that the earth open her mouth and swallow them up, then indeed believe that I am sent by God,| Numbers 16:29
When the Israelites were so infatuated as to rise in rebellion against God, then did the terrible nature of their distemper appear in that it could not be cured by the stringent remedy which was applied to it. And as even hypocrites are afraid when they feel the severity of God, it was the height of folly in them to fret and quarrel with God where he was visiting their iniquities with stripes. Should any one ask why God charges the faults of a few upon the whole body of the people? the answer is obvious; for although there were only two individuals who were the principal abettors of the conspiracy, and along with them two hundred and seventy seditious persons, yet it would seem, from the murmurings and cavillings of the whole congregation, that they also were affected with the same distemper. The punishment did not extend beyond the captains and ringleaders of this wicked conspiracy, it being the design of God to mitigate it, and to spare the people at large, who nevertheless had been most desirous of innovation, seeing they could not endure the authority of Moses and Aaron.
19. They made a calf. Here he represents their rebellion as exceedingly base, in that they abandoned the true worship of God, and made to themselves a calf. For although it was their intention to worship God in this manner, yet the prophet reprehends their brutal stupidity, because they worshipped before the molten image, and represented God by the figure of an ox which eateth grass From this the prophet infers, that God had been robbed of his honor, and that all his glory had been tarnished. And surely it is so; for although the idolaters feign to serve God with great zeal, yet when, at the same time, they represent to themselves a God visible, they abandon the true God, and impiously make for themselves an idol. But he reproaches them with being guilty of still greater impiety, when he says, after the likeness of an ox that eateth grass; and contrasts with it their honor or glory. For seeing that God had clothed them with his own glory, what madness was it to substitute in place of him not only an ox, but the inanimate form of an ox, as if there were any resemblance between God who createth all kinds of food, and that stupid animal which feeds upon grass?
It is necessary, however, to observe the design of the prophet, which is to point out the blindness of men as more base and abominable, because not contenting themselves with any common form of superstition, but casting off all sham they give themselves up to the most shocking forms of worshipping God. Had the people formed for themselves a likeness of God under the likeness of a man, even that would have been impiously robbing God of his due; how much more shameful was their conduct when they assimilated God to an ox? When men preserve their life by eating and drinking, they acknowledge how frail they are, because they derive from dead creatures the means of its continuation. How much greater is the dishonor done to God when he is compared to the brutal tribes? Moreover, the comparison referred to increases the enormity of their guilt. For what credit was it for a holy people to worship the inanimate likeness of an ox instead of the true God? But God had condescended to spread out the overshadowing wings of his glory upon the children of Abraham, that he might put on them the highest honor. Therefore, in denuding themselves of this honor, they had exposed their own baseness to the derision of all the nations of the earth. And hence Moses employs the phrase of nakedness, when he is showing that crime of idolatry:
|And when Moses saw that the people were naked, (for Aaron had made them naked unto their shame among their enemies)|
Should any one be disposed to say that the ark of the covenant was a representation of God, my answer is, That that symbol was given to the children of Israel, not to engross the whole of their attention, but only for the purpose of assisting and directing them in the spiritual worship of God.
21. They forgot God The prophet again repeats that the people had sinned not simply through ignorance, but also wilfully, inasmuch as God had already given a very palpable manifestation of his power and glory. And as he makes himself known in the creation of the heavens and of the earth, the blindness of men is totally inexcusable. But far more aggravating is the sin of the children of Israel, who, after God had made himself known to them, in the most condescending manner, cast him off altogether, and gave themselves up to the practice of brutish idolatry. And God having from heaven put forth his Almighty power for their salvation, there must surely be no little importance attached to such displays of his power as proclaim the praise and honor of his great name. Had he merely given an ordinary token of his power, even that ought to have attracted so much consideration as should have kept the people in the fear and worship of God. Now, that these miracles were so very notable, or rather terrible and rare, the people acted a very base part to shut their eyes upon them, and give themselves over to idolatry. For as the darkness is dispelled by the beamy lustre of the sun, so all inventions and perverse errors should vanish before such knowledge of God.