(1) At that time the Lord said unto me.—The forty days of intercession alluded to in the previous chapter followed this command (Exodus 34:28).
Hew thee two tables of stone . . . and make thee an ark.—The command to make the ark was given in the former period of forty days (Exodus 25:10); the command to hew the two tables was given after Moses had seen the glory of God (Exodus 33) from the cleft in the rock, but before the forty days spent in intercession. Rashi, the Jewish commentator, thinks there were two arks: one to go out to war, and the other to remain in the tabernacle. But there is no foundation for this statement. There may, of course, have been a temporary receptacle for the tables made by Moses (like the temporary tabernacle mentioned in Exodus 33:7), to receive them until the completion of the ark which Bezaleel was to make. This was not put in hand until after Moses descended with the second pair of tables. (See Exodus 35 &c.)
In the day of the assembly.—Or, in New Testament language, “the day of the Church.” The Pentecost of the Old Testament was the day when “the letter” was given; the Pentecost of the New Testament was the day of the “Spirit that giveth life.” Each of these aspects of God’s covenant produced a Church after its kind.
If the connection of these verses with the train of thought in Moses’ mind is spiritual, the difficulty may be solved. The death of the priest of Israel, whose first representative Aaron was, is spiritually identical with the destruction of the first pair of tables, the death of the first Adam and of all mankind in the person of our representative, the Lord Jesus Christ. After that death He “ariseth” as “another priest, made not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life.” Thus the incident is connected with what goes before. The separation of the tribe of Levi “to bear the ark of the covenant of the Lord,” i.e., “to bear the burden of the Law,” is the same thing in another form. It deprives them of an earthly inheritance, just as He whose representatives they were gave Himself an offering and sacrifice to God; and “His life is taken from the earth.”
Further, the names of the places themselves have in this aspect a spiritual significance. From certain “wells of water”—the wells of the children of Jaakan (crookedness)—the people of God take their journey to the scene of the high priest’s death. From thence to Hor-hagidgad, or Gudgodah, the mount of the “troop,” or “band” (Sinai is the mount of the “congregation” in the Old Testament, Zion in the New), and thence to a land of rivers of water. It is only another way of relating how from the wells of the Law we pass to the rivers of living water opened by the Gospel. But we must pass by way of the cross of Christ.
EXCURSUS ON NOTES TO DEUTERONOMY.
EXCURSUS ON Deuteronomy 10:6-7.
THESE verses have always seemed to me to present the greatest difficulty in the whole of Deuteronomy. If it were not for their beautiful spiritual connection with the context, I should not know how to account for their presence in this place at all. And even so, the difference between this allusion to Aaron’s death and the account given in Numbers, and the superficial resemblance between the four stages of the journey of Israel here mentioned, and four stages which belong to a different period (in Numbers 33:31-34)—together create a somewhat formidable perplexity. The Samaritan Pentateuch increases the confusion by introducing here the stages mentioned in Numbers 33:34-37—an obvious attempt to harmonise the accounts of two distinct things. The LXX. version of Deuteronomy 10:6-7 supports the Hebrew text. The fact that the burial of Aaron is alluded to in this place only, shows that the verses in Deuteronomy cannot have been taken from those in Numbers. The following comparison will show the difference.
In THE FOURTH PERIOD OF THE EXODUS.
IN THE FIFTH PERIOD OF THE EXODUS.
“The children of Israel journeyed from Hash-monah to Moseroth; from Moseroth to Bene-jaakan; from Bene-jaakan to Hor-hagidgad; from Hor-hagidgad to Jotbathah.”
Three other encampments—at Ebronah,Ezion-gaber, and Kadesh—intervened before their arrival at Mount Hor, where Aaron died, in the fifth period of the Exodus, on the first day of the month.
N.B.-The fourth period of the Exodus has no dates mentioned.
The fifth period begins with the death of Miriam at Kadesh in the first month of the fortieth year. Numbers 20:1.
“The children of Israel journeyed from Beeroth-bene-jaakan to Mosera, (where Aaron died and was buried), from Mosera to Gudgodah; from Gud-godah to Jotbath, a land of rivers of waters.”
Mosera is singular, Moseroth plural in form. Bene-jaakan means “the children of Jaakan”—Beeroth-bene-jaakan the wells of the children of Jaakan. Hor-hagidgad means the mount of Gid-gad, which differs from Gudgod only in the vowel pointing. Gudgodah may mean the neighbourhood of Gudgod or Gidgad, and Jotbathah may mean simply to Jotbath.
Gadgad and Etebatha are found both in Numbers and Deuteronomy in the LXX. The other names are given with some variation.
The places are not mentioned in the same order in the two passages, and the difference in the form of the words shows that neither passage is copied from the other. All four sites are at present unknown. The additional particulars given in Deuteronomy suggest a reason why Israel should re-visit two of the four places; namely, because of the water which was to be had from the wells of the children of Jaakan and in Jotbath, the “land of rivers of waters.”
The return of Israel in the last period of the Exodus to four places previously visited is in no way remarkable. We are told that they were compelled, about the time of Aaron’s death, to “journey from Mount Hor to compass the land of Edom,” which the Edomites would not permit them to cross (Numbers 21:4; Numbers 20:21). The return to these former encampments may have enhanced the weariness and annoyance of the people, so that “their soul was much discouraged because of the way,” and if they were travelling in a different direction, they may well have revisited these four places in a different order. They need not have encamped at all of them the second time. The narrative in Deuteronomy merely says “they journeyed from,” not “they encamped in.” There is no reason why the district of Mount Hor may not have been called Mosera or Moseroth. And the name “chastisement” may have been given to it by Moses, like many other significant names in the Exodus (Meribah, Kibroth-hattaavah &c), in consequence of what took place there.
Further there is some reason to believe that the number of the “goings out” of Israel in the Exodus, given in Numbers 33 is made to be 42 for a special reason, like the forty-two generations of Matthew 1, in which there are at least three evidently intentional omissions. And therefore we need not be surprised at the insertion of places elsewhere, which are not included in that list. No place is mentioned twice in Numbers 33. Yet the children of Israel were certainly twice at Kadesh (for Numbers 13:26; Numbers 20:1, cannot refer to the same time), and probably twice at many other places.
The real difficulty is not in the facts related in Deuteronomy 10:6-7, but in the question why they should be narrated there. Further, they are narrated in the third person, “the children of Israel journeyed,” but all the other portions of their journey are narrated in the first person (Deuteronomy 1:19, we went; and so Deuteronomy 2:1; Deuteronomy 2:8; Deuteronomy 2:13; Deuteronomy 3:1; Deuteronomy 3:26). A reader of Deuteronomy who was not already familiar with the earlier books, would naturally suppose that at this period of the discourse the children of Israel did journey, as the narrative says. It is only by close attention that the verses are seen to refer to a time previous to the beginning of the book, but much later than the events recapitulated in Deuteronomy 10:5; Deuteronomy 10:8.
In form, these verses correspond to what may be called the historical or editorial, as distinct from the hortatory portions of Deuteronomy; as the title, Deuteronomy 1:1-5; the parenthetical notes, Deuteronomy 2:10-12; Deuteronomy 2:20-23; Deuteronomy 3:14, and Deuteronomy 4:41-43, Deuteronomy 4:44-49; with the historical portions of the last six chapters of the book.
Upon the whole, I am disposed to think that the only reason for the insertion of these verses is the spiritual reason which I have given in the notes.
From the wells of the children of Jaakan, or perversity, the people of God removed to Mosera the place of chastisement, where their great High Priest died and was buried; and another priest arose in his stead. From thence they journeyed unto the mount of the congregation (Gudgod or Gidgad; compare Gad), and from thence to Jotbath (of which the root is good or goodness), a land of rivers of waters—the usual symbol in Scripture for the Holy Spirit given on Mount Zion, the “mount of the congregation” of Jehovah. (See John 7:37-39.)
 The following passage from the Talmudical treatise, Pirkê Aboth of Rabbi Nathan (section 34), may serve to show that the comparison between Christ and Aaron is not peculiar to the New Testament:—“These are the two sons of fresh oil who stand by the Lord of the whole earth” (Zechariah 4:14). “These are Aaron and Messiah. And I cannot say which of them is the best beloved. But when he saith (Ps. Exodus 4), Jehovah hath sworn and will not repent, Thou art priest for ever, then I know that the King Messiah is beloved above the Priest of Righteousness.”
The explanations given by the Jewish commentators are of a spiritual character, and in principle I am disposed to think them correct, though the details are far too fanciful for reproduction, or for our present acceptance.
To bear the ark of the covenant of the Lord, to stand before the Lord to minister unto him, and to bless in his name.—A recent critic has said that the writer of Deuteronomy knows no distinction between priests and Levites. (See on this point Deuteronomy 11:6.) Rashi’s note on this verse is better: “To bear the ark (He separated)—the Levites; to stand before Jehovah to minister to Him, and to bless in His name—the priests.”
(17,18) A great God, a mighty, and a terrible . . . he doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow.—“Behold (says Rashi) His might! And close beside His might thou mayest find His humility.” It is not otherwise in later passages of Scripture: “He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds. He telleth the number of the stars, and calleth them all by their names.”