« PreviousContinue »
and afterwards from among the descendants of Emmor the father, or son, of Sychem, they were laid in the sepulchre which Abraham bought for a sum of money.' This agrees with the account which Josephus (Ant. 1. ii. c. 8.) gives of the Patriarchs; that they were carried out of Egypt, first to Sychem, and then to Hebron, where they were buried.*
Acts vii. 43. "Yea, ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of your god Remphan, figures which ye made to worship them: and I will carry you away beyond Babylon." In the passage of Amos, (ch. 5. 27.) to which St. Stephen refers, it is beyond Damascus ; but as Assyria and Media, to which they were carried, was not only beyond Damascus, but beyond Babylon itself, he states that fact, and thus fixes more precisely the place of their captivity.*
6. From the multitude of Miracles, which nothing but the infinite power of God could effect.
As, however, erroneous notions have obtained respecting miracles, I beg leave to present the excellent definition, and explanation of their nature nearly in the language of Professor Lee. "A miracle is an event such as to exceed the power of man to effect, brought about either for the purpose of fulfilling something predicted in a former revelation, or for furthering its objects and ends in one way or other."
"These additional restrictions have been given for the following reasons: first, Miracles do not appear to have been afforded, except in cases where they were absolutely wanted, that is to say, either for the purpose of furnishing man with a revelation at the first, or of fulfilling such parts of it as consisted of predictions, and stood in need of such fulfilment, and thus to make it binding upon all."
"Another reason for these restrictions is: God cannot be inconsistent with himself. Every thing, therefore, laying claim to the authority of a miracle, but tending in any degree to thwart or contradict the declarations of a prior revelation, must be false; and in this case too, of whatever date such pretended miracle might be, we can have no possible doubt that it was an imposture."
"It will be necessary here to show in what respects the usual definition of miracles appears to be defective, in order to justify the proposal of another. If then we define a miracle by saying, That it is something which must suspend or contravene the ordinary operations or laws of nature, we shall lay down a condition which will prove useless in a great variety of cases, and inapplicable in many others. We have, for example, numerous predictions and other revelations made in the Bible, in which not so much as one law or operation of nature has either been suspended or contravened. Such are all or most of the prophecies delivered; and the same may be said of many of the miraculous events
brought about: such as the Babylonian captivity, with its termination and the restoration of the Jews to Palestine, the fall of the Jewish polity, &c. which, taken in connection with their several circumstances, were truly miraculous; but in which, nevertheless, none of the general laws or operations of nature were either suspended or in any way contravened. Besides, it may be justly doubted, whether we have knowledge enough to determine, in a great variety of cases, when the ordinary laws of nature are suspended or not: and, although we may lay claim to some general knowledge on this head, yet it will never be in our power to affirm, whether many of those things which appear to us to have been thus brought about, do in truth contravene or suspend any of the primary laws, under which it has pleased the Almighty to place this system of things. But we can determine with sufficient accuracy and certainty, how far the exertion of human powers, properly so called, will go: we may, therefore, safely rest our question on these grounds."
In addition to the miraculous displays of divine power already detailed, (see pp. 53-60, 104-114 supra) the following may be more particularly adduced in this place.
(1.) The miraculous destruction of Sodom and the cities of the plain. In perfect accordance with the annunciation of this event by the Lord to Abraham, (Gen. xviii.) and Lot, (Gen. xix. 1—23.) the sacred historian relates, ver. 24, 25; "Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven; and he overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground." The word rendered brimstone,' (q. d. brennestone, or brinnestone, id est, burning-stone,) is always rendered by the LXX. ' sulphur,' and seems to denote a meteorous inflammable matter. 'We may safely suppose,' says Dr. A. Clarke, 'that a shower of nitrous particles might have been precipitated from the atmosphere, here, as in many other places, called heaven, which by the action of fire, or the electric fluid, would be immediately ignited, and so consume the cities.'+
The Psalmist, describing the providence and justice of God, (Ps. xi. 6.) says, "Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup." The word snares, □, pachim, Bp. Lowth (Prælect. xii.), explains by balls of fire, bolides, (Pliny, 1. xi. 26.), or simply lightning. This is a manifest allusion to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.†
(2.) The miraculous change of Lot's wife into a pillar of salt. The command of the Lord was: "Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed," (ver. 17.) But, in total disregard of this merciful warning, Lot's "wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt." Tarrying too long in the plain, she was, most probably, struck dead with
+ Comprehensive Bible, Notes in locis.
Six Sermons, &c. p. lxxxviii, &c.
lightning, and stiffened in the place where she stood; while the nitro-sulphureous matter which descended, or the asphaltus, which abounds in the plains, encrusted her, and being, as it were embalmed, she became a salsobituminous mass or pillar.*
(3.) The flourishing of Aaron's rod, Num. xvii. 6-8. "And Moses spake unto the children of Israel, and every one of their princes gave him a rod apiece, for each prince one, according to their fathers' houses, even twelve rods and the rod of Aaron was among their rods. And Moses laid up the rods before the Lord in the tabernacle of witness. And it came to pass, that on the morrow Moses went into the tabernacle of witness; and, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and brought forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds." This fact was so unquestionably miraculous, that no doubt could remain on the minds of the people, or the envious chiefs, of the divine appointinent of Aaron. A sceptre or staff of office, resuming its vegetative life was considered an absolute impossibility among the ancients; and as they were accustomed to swear by their sceptres, this circumstance was added to establish and confirm the oath. A remarkable instance of this we have in Homer, (Il. i. v. 233, et seq.) where Achilles, in his rage against Agamemnon, swears, Ναι μα τοδε σκηπτρον, το μεν ουποτε φυλλα και οζους φυσει, επειδη πρωτα τομην εν ορεσσι λελοιπεν ουδ' αναθηλήσει· 4 By this sceptre which shall never bud, nor boughs bring forth, nor yet grow green again, since having left its trunk on the mountains.' Virgil (Æn. 1. xii. v. 206, et seq.) represents king Latinus swearing in the same way, to confirm his covenant with Æneas. Huet, bishop of Avranches is of opinion, (Quest. Alnet. 1. ii. c. 12.) that this miracle gave rise to the Greek tradition of the club of Hercules, which sprouted again when put into the earth. (Pausanias, l. ii. c. 31. § 13.)*
(4.) The destruction of the first-born of Egypt, Exod. xii. 29, 39. "And it came to pass, that at midnight, the Lord smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle. And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry there was not a house where there was not one dead." When God mirain Egypt; for culously destroyed all the firstborn of the Egyptians, he spared those of the Israelites; and, in commemoration of that event, he was pleased to appoint that all the firstborn males should be set apart unto himself." (Ex. xiii. 12, 16.) God was, (Num. iii. 12.) pleased to relinquish this claim, and to appoint the whole tribe of Levi to attend his immediate ser vice in their stead. The reason generally assigned, why God should give this honour to the Levites in preference to the other tribes, is because of the extraordinary zeal they manifested against idolatry in the case of the golden calf. (Ex. xxxii. 26-28. De. xxxiii. 9.) See also pp. 57, 99, supra.*
(5.) The speaking of Balaam's ass, Num. xxii. 25. "And the Lord opened the mouth of the ass, and she said unto Balaam, What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these three times?" And where is the wonder of all this? If the ass had opened her own mouth, and reproved the rash prophet, we might well be astonished; but when God opens the mouth, an ass can speak as well as a man. It is to no purpose to speak of the construction of the ass's mouth, of the formation of the tongue and jaws being unfit for speaking; for an adequate cause is assigned for this wonderful effect-The Lord opened the mouth of the ass;' and no one who believes in a God, can doubt of His power to do this and much more. Even the heathen did not think such things beyond the power of their deities. Of animate and inanimate things receiving for a short time the gift of speech the heathen mythology is full. Witness the ass of Silenus; the ram of Phryxus; the bull of Europa; the lamb in Egypt, in the reign of Boccaris; the elephant of Porus; and the horses of Achilles and Adrastus. See Bochart, Hieroz. P. I. l. ii. c. 14. Huet, Alnet. Quæst. l. ii. c. 12. n. 26. Universal Hist. vol. ii. b. 1. c. 3. n. 1. and Homer, ii. l. xvii. 426. xix. 405.*
(6.) The preservation of the Israelites' raiment in the wilderness, Deut. viii. 4. "Thy raiment waxed not old upon thee, neither did thy foot swell, these forty years." Many have supposed the meaning of this text to be, that God so amply provided for them all the necessaries of life, that they never were obliged to wear tattered garments, nor were their feet injured for lack of shoes or sandals.' Now, though the Israelites doubtless brought out of Egypt more raiment than what they had upon them; and they might manufacture the fleeces of their flocks in the wilderness, and also might be favoured by Providence with other supplies from the neighbouring nations or travelling hordes of Arabs; yet, when we consider their immense numbers, their situation and long continuance in the wilderness, and the very strong expressions made use of in the text, there seems no reason to question the extraordinary and miraculous interposition of God in this respect, as well as in others, not less stupendous in their nature, or constant in their supply.*
(7.) The miraculous passage of the Jordan, Joshua iii. 15-17. And as they that bare the ark were come unto Jordan, and the feet of the priests that bare the ark were dipped in the brim of the water, (for Jordan overfloweth all his banks all the time of harvest,) that the waters which came down from above stood and rose up upon an heap very far from the city Adam, that is beside Zaretan: and those that came down toward the sea of the plain, even the salt sea, failed, and were cut off; and the people passed over right against Jericho. And the priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the midst of Jordan, and all the Israelites passed over on dry ground, until all the people were passed clean over Jordan." The ordinary current of the Jor
• Comprehensive Bible, Notes in locis.
dan, near where the Israelites crossed, is said, by Maundrell, to be about 20 yards across, deeper than a man's height, and so rapid, as there is no swimming against it. It has, however, two banks; the first, or inner one, is that of the river in its natural state, and the second, or outer one, about a furlong distant, is that of its overflowings, which it does when the summer's sun has melted the snow on mount Lebanon and Hermon, in the months of March and April. And this was the time which God chose that the Israelites should pass over it; that a miraculous interposition might be necessary; and that, by the miracle, they might be convinced of his omnipotence. There are two obvious natural causes,' says Mr. King, (Morsels of Crit. vol. iii. p. 285.), 'by which the effect here described might be produced; though most certainly the bringing either one or both of them to act, on the precise occasion, and so very powerfully, could only be the immediate command of God, the great Creator of all those powers in nature. The one might be an earthquake. The other cause might be a strong south, or south-west wind, which might drive back, and retard the flowing of the waters above Jericho; whilst those below more easily found their way to the Dead Sea, and left a fordable passage at the appointed place. Either or both these causes might operate. We are by no means without experience, of instances of such natural causes sometimes producing similar effects, in what is called the natural course of things. We find on record, that in the year 1645, there arose, in the morning, so furious a wind at Geneva, that it laid dry the bed of the impetuous Rhone above the bridge; insomuch that many crossed quite over it dry, on foot; and the son of M. D'Aubigny even picked up some ancient medals therein; the passage continuing free during an hour's time. This, and the other miraculous events attendant on the journey of the Israelites from Egypt, the Psalmist depicts in energetic and sublime language in Ps. 114; on which Mr. Addison properly observes, (Spect. 461.) that the author of this Psalm designedly works for effect, in pointing out the miraculous effects, without mentioning an agent; till, at last, when the sea is seen rapidly retiring from the shore, Jordan retreating to its source, and the mountains and hills running away like a flock of affrighted sheep, that the passage of the Israelites might be every way uninterrupted; then the Cause of all is suddenly introduced, and the presence of God in his grandeur solves every difficulty.*
(8.) The miraculous taking of Jericho, which strictly accorded with the prediction, Josh. vi. 3—5. "And ye shall compass the city, all ye men of war, and go round about the city once. Thus shalt thou do six days. And seven priests shall bear before the ark seven trumpets of rams' horns: and the seventh day ye shall compass the city seven times, and the priests shall blow with the trumpets. And it shall come to pass, that when they make a long blast with the ram's horn, and when ye hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall