Verse 23. "Moses and Aaron went into the tabernacle" - It is supposed that Moses accompanied Aaron into the tabernacle to show him how to offer the incense, prepare the lamps and the perfume, adjust the shew-bread, &c., &c.
"And the glory of the Lord appeared" - To show that every thing was done according to the Divine mind, 1. The glory of Jehovah appears unto all the people; 2. A fire came out from before the Lord, and consumed the burnt-offering. This was the proof which God gave upon extraordinary occasions of his acceptance of the sacrifice. This was done probably, 1. In the case of Hebel, Genesis iv. 4. 2. In the case of Aaron; see above, ver. 24. 3. In the case of Gideon, Judg. vi. 21. 4. In the case of Manoah and his wife. Compare Judg. xiii. 19-23. 5. In the case of David dedicating the threshing-floor of Ornan, 1 Chron. xxi. 28. 6. In the case of Solomon dedicating the temple, 2 Chron. vii. 1. 7. In the case of Elijah, 1 Kings xviii. 38. Hence to express the accepting of an offering, sacrifice, &c., the verb Źd dishshen is used, which signifies to reduce to ashes, i. e., by fire from heaven. See Psalm xx. 3. In such a case as this, it was necessary that the fire should appear to be divinely sent, and should come in such a way as to preclude the supposition that any art or deceit had been practiced on the occasion. Hence it is not intimated that Moses and Aaron brought it out of the tabernacle, professing that God had kindled it there for them, but the fire CAME OUT from BEFORE the Lord, and ALL the PEOPLE SAW it.
The victims were consumed by a fire evidently of no human kindling.
Josephus says that "a fire proceeded from the victims themselves of its own accord, which had the appearance of a flash of lightning;" ex autwn pur anhfqh automaton, kai omoion astraphv lamphdoni orwmenon th flogi? "and consumed, all that was upon the altar."-Antiq., lib. iii., c. 8, s. 6, edit. Haverc. And it is very likely that by the agency of the ethereal or electric spark, sent immediately from the Divine presence, the victims were consumed. The heathens, in order to give credit to their worship, imitated this miracle, and pretended that Jupiter testified his approbation of the sacrifices offered to him by thunder and lightning: to this VIRGIL seems to allude, though the words have been understood differently.
Audiat haec genitor, qui foedera fulmine sancit. AEn. xii., ver. 200.
"Let Jupiter hear, who sanctions covenants by his thunder." On which words Servius makes this remarkable comment: Quia cum fiunt foedera, si coruscatio fuerit, confirmantur. Vel certe quia apud majores arae non incendebantur, sed ignem divinum precibus eliciebant qui incendebant altaria. "To sanction the covenant signifies to confirm it; for when a covenant was made, if there were a flash of lightning, it was considered to be thereby confirmed: or rather because our ANCESTORS lighted no fire upon the altars, but obtained by their supplications divine fire," &c. The expression apud majores, "among our ancestors," shows that they could boast of no such divine fire then; nor could they ever before, as the whole account was borrowed from the Jews. Solinus Polyhistor gives us an account to the same effect; for, speaking of the hill of Vulcan in Sicily, he says: In quo, qui divinte rei operantur, ligna vitea super aras struunt, nec ignis apponitur in hanc congerlem: cum prosicias intulerunt, si adest deus, si sacrum probatur, sarmenta licet viridia sponte concipiunt, et nullo inflagrante halitu, ab ipso numine fit accendium, cap. v. in fine. "They who perform sacred rites in this place, put a bundle of vine-tree wood upon the altar, but put no fire to it; for when they lay the pieces of the victim upon it, if the deity be present, and he approve the sacrifice, the bundle, although of green wood, takes fire of itself, and without any other means the deity himself kindles the flame." These are remarkable instances, and show how exactly the heathen writers have borrowed from the sacred records. And in farther imitation of this miracle, they had their perpetual fire in the temple of Vesta, which they feigned to have descended at first from heaven, and which they kept with the most religious veneration.
Verse 24. "When all the people saw, they shouted, and fell on their faces." - 1. The miracle was done in such a way as gave the fullest conviction to the people of its reality. 2. They exulted in the thought that the God of almighty power and energy had taken up his abode among them. 3. They prostrated themselves in his presence, thereby intimating the deep sense they had of HIS goodness, of their unworthiness, and of the obligation they were under to live in subjection to his authority, and obedience to his will. - This celestial fire was carefully preserved among the Israelites till the time of Solomon, when it was renewed, and continued among them till the Babylonish captivity. This Divine fire was the emblem of the Holy Spirit. And as no sacrifice could be acceptable to God which was not salted, i. e., seasoned and rendered pleasing, by this fire, as our Lord says, Mark ix. 49, so no soul can offer acceptable sacrifices to God, but through the influences of the Divine Spirit. Hence the promise of the Spirit under the emblem of fire, Matt. iii. 11, and its actual descent in this similitude on the day of pentecost, Acts ii. 3, 4. THE most remarkable circumstance in this chapter is the manifestation of the presence of God, and the consuming of the victims by the miraculous fire. We have already seen that the chief design of these sacrificial rites was to obtain reconciliation to God, that the Divine Presence might dwell and be manifested among them. To encourage the people to make the necessary preparations, to offer the sacrifices in a proper spirit, and to expect especial mercies from the hand of God, Moses promises, ver. 4, that the Lord would appear unto them on the morrow, and that his glory should appear, ver. 6. In hope or expectation of this, the priest, the elders, and the people purified themselves by offering the different sacrifices which God had appointed; and when this was done God did appear, and gave the fullest proofs of his approbation, by miraculously consuming the sacrifices which were prepared on the occasion. Does not St. John evidently refer to these circumstances, 1 John iii. 2, 3: "Beloved, now are we the sons of God; and it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; and every man that hath this hope in him, purifieth himself, even as he is pure." This manifestation of God in the tabernacle was a type of his presence, first, in the Church militant on earth; and secondly, in the Church triumphant in heaven. They who expect to have the presence of God here, must propitiate his throne of justice by the only available sacrifice; they who wish to enjoy everlasting felicity, must be purified from all unrighteousness, for without holiness none can see the Lord. If we hope to see him as he is, we must resemble him. How vain is the expectation of glory, where there is no meetness for the place! And how can we enter into the holiest but by the blood of Jesus? Heb. x. 19. And of what use can this sacrifice be to those who do not properly believe in it? And can any faith, even in that sacrifice, be effectual to salvation, that does not purify the heart? Reader! earnestly pray to God that thou hold not the truth in unrighteousness.