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AARON, the brother of Moses, and first high priest of the Israelites, was great-grandson of Levi, by the father's side, and grandson by the mother's. He had a considerable share in all his brother's exertions, for the deliverance of that people from the tyranny of the Egyptians; and seems only to have erred in the matter of the golden calf, which, according to some authors, he made, in compliance with the people's desire, being afraid of falling a sacrifice to their resentment. He continued in his high station, till, at a very advanced period, in the presence of the assembled people, he transferred the robes of his office to his son Eleazer, and died upon Mount Hor in the 123d year of his age, B. C. 1452.
MOSES, the son of Amram and Jochebed, was born in Egypt B. C. 1571. Pharaoh, the king of that country, perceiving that the Hebrews were becoming a powerful people, issued a mandate, under severe penalties, that every male child born of Hebrew parents should be drowned in the Nile. By the operation of this cruel edict, the monarch hoped, in time, to exterminate the whole nation of Israel. Parents were even enjoined to become the executioners of their own offspring, or at least to give such information of their birth as to enable the officers of the king to accomplish the savage act. The reason of this decree, according to Josephus, was the prediction of an Egyptian prophet, that a Hebrew child was about to be born who would hereafter diminish the power of Egypt, and increase that of the Israelites.
At the birth of Moses, it is said that the natural reluctance of his parents to obey such a decree, was increased by the loveliness of the child, though mothers, probably, always see beauty in their own little infants, which, for obvious reasons, is a very wise provision of Providence, and they ventured to keep him in concealment during the space of three months. At length, the extreme danger of a discovery which would have proved fatal to themselves as well as the infant, reduced them to the cruel necessity of exposing him. His mother took a small ark, made of the ligneous part of the papyrus, and having besmeared it with bitumen, to render it water-tight, placed the infant in it, and set it down among the rushes, on the marshy brink of the river. Anxious, however, about his fate, she placed her daughter Miriam at a certain distance, to watch the circumstances that should occur. Soon after this, the daughter of Pharaoh coming to the river, with her female attendants, in order to bathe, discovered the ark, and sent one of her maids for it. She determined to save the life of the child, and to adopt him as her own; at this moment Miriam approached the princess, and offered to bring an Hebrew nurse to suckle the child, which she ordered her to do. She accordingly brought the infant's mother, who with unspeakable joy received the child, and she was strictly enjoined to treat him as her own, under the promise of being amply rewarded for her services. About three years afterwards, the princess adopted him for her own, called his name Moses, and caused him to be diligently instructed in all the learning of the Egyptians. But his father and mother, to whom, as we have seen, he had been restored, were at great pains to instruct him in the history and religion of his country. It is highly probable that the manner in which his life had been saved led them to hope he was intended for some great work, and hence they would be doubly careful of his education; and when arrived at years of discretion, they, probably, by relating to him the secret of his birth and of the attendant circumstances, inspired him with similar notions. Many things are related by Josephus and other historians, concerning the early periods of the life of Moses. Josephus relates, that when Moses was only three years old, that is, when he was specially introduced to Pharaoh's daughter as her adopted son, no one who saw him could avoid being struck with the singular beauty of his countenance, and he adds, people about their common business would leave it to gaze at him. Philo says, that at his birth he had a more elegant and beautiful appearance than denoted an ordinary person. According to Josephus and Eusebius, Moses acted as a leader in the wars, distinguished himself, and obtained many signal victories. When he was about forty years of age he left the court of Pharaoh, and went to visit his countrymen the Hebrews, who groaned under the ill-usage and oppression of their unfeeling masters. On a time he perceived an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew; looking about and seeing no one near, he ran to the defence of the latter, and having killed the Egyptian in the struggle, he buried him in the sand. In consequence of this act, which it is difficult to justify, he was obliged to flee into the land of Midian, in Arabia, there to seek that safety which he was aware he could not expect in Egypt. Here he married Zipporah, daughter of the priest of Jethro, who bare him two sons. At this period he was employed by his father-in-law, in attending upon his flocks. As he was following this business upon Mount Horeb, he had an extraordinary vision, which occasioned his return into the land of Egypt. In this vision he saw, or thought he saw, a bush in flames, but which was not consumed, and from the midst of the flames a voice proceeded, announcing the presence of Almighty God, and commanding the shepherd to go and deliver his brethren from the state of bondage in which they had been so long involved. Moses was desirous of excusing himself from this high and very important office, till he was assured, by miraculous signs, that he should be accompanied in his mission by the divine power. Upon his return to Egypt, he, with his brother Aaron, went to the court of Pharaoh, and told the king that God commanded him to let the Hebrews depart, and go three days' journey into the desert, for the purpose of celebrating a religious festival, without giving offence to the Egyptians, by making them the witnesses of their peculiar rites and ceremonies. The monarch was deaf to their entreaties, and so far from regarding the message delivered by Moses and Aaron as one sent from a superior power, declared that he acknowledged no such power, and in contempt of them, he ordered the labours of the Israelites to be increased, instead of allowing them any relaxation of which they made a demand. In the anguish of their hearts, under an additional load of misery, the Hebrews now attributed their sufferings to Moses and Aaron, who had attempted to free them from their bondage. The want of success which had attended his first application to the king of Egypt, would have prevented Moses from appearing again before him, had not God encouraged him by fresh assurances of his determination to rescue the Israelites with a triumphant arm, and invested him with a miraculous power over Pharaoh, to be exercised in such displays of divine judgment on that proud monarch and his people, as should force him to dismiss them. Thus encouraged, Moses presented himself again before Pharaoh, and confirmed his former message by a miracle; which was followed, at different periods, by nine others, as may be seen in the books of Exodus, inflicting the most dreadful calamities upon the Egyptians, as punishments for their continued oppression of the children of Israel. The tenth and last miracle, or plague, brought upon the Egyptians, was the death of all the first born in the land, who were all cut off in one night. This dreadful calamity seems to have subdued the heart of Pharaoh, and he consented to allow the people of Israel to depart from his kingdom.
As soon as Moses had returned to Goshen, among his people, he made signals for collecting the whole body of the Israelites at a place of rendezvous, whence he began his march at their head before the break of day. They consisted of 600,000 men, besides women and children, and a multitude of strangers, who were probably proselytes of the gate, or persons who had renounced idolatry, though they were not yet circumcised, and all their flocks and herds. They proceeded till they reached the borders of the Red Sea; in the mean time Pharaoh, who had suddenly raised an immense army, pursued them and overtook them in this position. The Israelites were now hemmed in by the sea, impassable mountains, and Pharaoh's army; there was no way of escape left, and they, reduced to the utmost distress, began to reproach Moses for leading them out of Egypt to perish under the sword of their enemies. Moses comforted them with the assurance, that this would be the last time of their seeing the Egyptians; and he had no sooner dismissed them, than God commanded him to direct their march towards the sea, promising that upon his stretching out his rod over it, the waters would divide, and make way for the Israelites to go through on dry land, while Pharaoh and his mighty hosts, venturing to pursue them, should perish in the returning waves. The events having corresponded with this promise, Moses instituted a festival of seven days, in commemoration of this memorable event. Moses now entered upon the arduous task of conducting his people towards the promised land. For an account of their march we must refer to the Scriptures; it will be sufficient to observe, that the afflictions which they endured in the course of their journey, were intended to train them to a fitness for the divine blessings, to correct them of that fondness for superstition and idolatry to which they were strangely prone; to prepare them for a peculiar system of legislation which was to be formed and established among them, and which was calculated to preserve them from the corruptions of the rest of the world, and to maintain the belief, in one living and true God, before they were to enter on the promised inheritance.
They arrived at the foot of Mount Sinai, on the third day of the ninth month after their departure from Egypt. Moses having ascended several times into the Mount, received the law from the hand of God, that is, in a miraculous manner, in the midst of thunders and lightnings, and concluded the famous covenant between the Almighty and the children of Israel. When he descended from Sinai, he found that the people had fallen into the idolatrous worship of a golden calf. Moses, shocked at such an instance of ingratitude towards the Almighty, and agitated at the alarming consequences that might follow from such a dereliction of principle, let fall the tables of the law which he was carrying in his hand, and caused all those to be put to death who would persist in the idolatrous worship. After this he again ascended into the mountain, and obtained new tables of stone, on which the law was inscribed. On the descent of Moses his face shone with such brightness, that the Israelites did not dare to look upon him till he had covered himself with a veil.
The next act of Moses was to call an assembly of the people, in which he announced God's renewal of his covenant with them; enjoined the strict observance of the sabbath; declared his command which he had received, to erect a tabernacle of the most costly materials; and invited them to contribute liberally in their voluntary offerings for the completion of this undertaking. The tabernacle was finished in six months, when it was consecrated by Moses, who anointed Aaron as the high priest, and his sons as assistants in the worship, and thus commenced, in the year B. C. 1490, that pompous worship of the Deity, which was adapted to the then existing state of the Israelites, who were incapable of being affected with a purer and more spiritual one. This tabernacle served the Israelites instead of a temple till the time of Solomon.
After the camp had remained almost a year in the neighbourhood of Mount Sinai, the Israelites re-commenced their marches through the wilderness, under the immediate direction of the Most High God, who governed them immediately by means of his servant Moses, whom now he had chosen to be the interpreter of his will and the promulgator of his commands among the people, but he required all the honours belonging to their king to be paid to himself. He assumed to dwell in the tabernacle which was always in the midst of the camp, and he denounced punishments against the transgressors of his laws. This was properly the period of the theocracy, taken in its full extent, for God was not only considered as the true and proper object of religious worship, but as the sovereign to whom the honours of supreme majesty were paid. In their long journies through the wilderness, every measure both of the leader and of the people, was done by the direction of the Almighty. After Moses had regulated every thing regarding the civil administration, and the marching of the troops, he led the Israelites to the confines of Canaan, to the foot of Mount Nebo. It was from this mountain he was to take a view of the promised land, which it was not permitted him to enter. Being apprized that he was to die on the mountain, he diligently employed his few remaining days in settling the affairs of the people. His first care was to have Joshua confirmed his successor, in the most solemn manner. Moses also appointed the limits of the land which they were to conquer, and the distribution of it by lot, according to God's command, and enjoined several other regulations relative to civil and ecclesiastical affairs. He next assembled the people around him, and recapitulated to them, in a long and pathetic discourse, all that had taken place since their departure from Egypt to that time. In a subsequent assembly he caused the whole nation to ratify the covenant which their fathers had made with God in Mount Horeb, and concluded with calling heaven and earth to witness the truth of what they heard from him, the reasonableness of those laws which God had given them, and the certainty of the blessings or evils which would follow the observance, or the breach of them.
The last transaction of Moses with the Israelites, was to summon them again to receive his farewell and prophetic blessing upon the people in general, and upon each tribe in particular. As soon as he had delivered his last blessing, he went up alone to mount Nebo, and from Pisgah, its highest eminence, had a prospect of all those regions which God promised to the posterity of Abraham. Immediately afterwards Moses died, at