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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 29

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

These are the words of the covenant, which the LORD commanded Moses to make with the children of Israel in the land of Moab, beside the covenant which he made with them in Horeb.

These are the words of the covenant. Whether this verse is considered to be a conclusion to what is contained in the preceding chapters, or a preface to what is to follow, is of no importance to determine; the discourse of Moses is continued, and the subject of that discourse was Israel's covenant with God-the privileges it conferred, and the obligations it imposed.

Besides the covenant which he made with them in Horeb. It was substantially the same; but it was renewed now in different circumstances. They had violated its conditions. Moses rehearses them; and, as he was about to die, gives them a clear and full explanation of it, that they might have a better knowledge of its conditions, and be more disposed to comply with them. But the words, "besides the covenant which he made with them at Horeb," mean something more than a simple re-publication of the law that was formerly promulgated. Renewing an old covenant is not making another 'besides it,' which is here said to be done. A covenant was therefore at that time set before them, and they were urged to enter into it, distinct from the Sinai covenant, even that covenant which God had confirmed by oath to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and which we know was no other than the Gospel obscurely revealed (Galatians 3:16-17).

It is not meant that God now unfolded the nature of the Gospel covenant to the Jews. He only gave them a general intimation of good things to come, binding them by various significant expressions in that covenant to believe and long for that season when the event should unfold the sense of these predictions, and show the spiritual veiled under the literal meaning of the law of Moses (see the notes at Deuteronomy 30:6; Deuteronomy 30:12-14: see Kurtz, 'History of the Old Covenant,' 3:, 489; Hengstenberg, 'Daniel,' p. 521, Cot).

Verse 2

And Moses called unto all Israel, and said unto them, Ye have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt unto Pharaoh, and unto all his servants, and unto all his land;

Moses called unto all Israel ... Ye have seen all that the Lord did ... This appeal to the experience of the people, though made generally, was applicable only to that portion of them who had been very young at the period of the exodus, and who remembered the marvelous transactions that preceded and followed that era.

Yet, alas, those wonderful events made no good impression upon them (Deuteronomy 29:4)! They were strangers to that grace of wisdom which is liberally given to all who ask it; and their insensibility was all the more inexcusable that so many miracles had been performed which might have led to a certain conviction of the presence and the power of God with them. The preservation of their clothes and shoes, the supply of daily food and fresh water-these, continued without interruption or diminution during so many years' sojourn in the desert, were miracles which unmistakeably proclaimed the immediate hand of God, and were performed for the express purpose of training them to a practical knowledge of, and habitual confidence in, Him.

Their experience of this extraordinary goodness and care, together with their remembrance of the brilliant successes by which, with little exertion or loss on their part, God enabled them to acquire the valuable territory on which they stood, is mentioned again, to enforce a faithful adherence to the covenant, as the direct and sure means of obtaining its promised blessings.

Several authors of note are inclined to take the statement made respecting 'the clothes and the shoes' in a figurative sense, as denoting that the Israelites were not reduced at any time to the necessity of wearing garments and shoes tattered and torn; for they never wanted the means and opportunities of having them renewed. Their own flocks would supply them with wool and leather skins (and that they possessed skill in the manufacture of textile fabrics, the works contributed to the tabernacle afford abundant evidence), or they might obtain articles of wearing apparel by purchase from the mercantile caravans, which periodically traversed the desert (Rosenmuller's 'Scholia').

Hence, those writers consider the declaration of Moses amounts simply to this, that through the special grace of God they had, during all their wanderings in the wilderness, a sufficient supply of clothes and shoes. But surely, if such necessaries were obtained from natural and ordinary sources, there was no occasion to mention the fact. The additional circumstance, however, mentioned in the parallel passage (Deuteronomy 8:4), "neither did thy foot swell," is, we think, unfavourable to this view, while the preservation of the clothes and shoes is classed here with the gift of manna, which was unquestionably miraculous. On these grounds, then, we interpret the words before us literally, as indicating a miracle, and doubtless a miracle of a most astonishing character, considering the mass of people who had to be suitably clad.

Rabbinical writers, indeed, in their endeavours to magnify the miracle, assert that the clothes and shoes grew with the growth of the individual wearer. But such fancies are superfluous, as well as groundless. Clothes among the Hebrews, as among other Oriental people, were loose, and not fitted, as ours, to the shape and dimensions of the wearer's person; so that the clothes of persons who had died would suit young members of the family when they advanced in age and stature.

The miracle, then, consisted in the habiliments which the Israelites wore at the exodus, and their stock of which was increased by the gifts of the Egyptians, as well as the spoil of the Amalekites, being, by a distinguished act of grace, preserved entire during the 40 years' sojourn in the wilderness; and Moses' appeal to the people's consciousness of the extraordinary fact could not have been effectively made sooner than at the end of that period (see Graves' 'Pentateuch,' 2:, pp. 445, 446).

Verses 3-5

The great temptations which thine eyes have seen, the signs, and those great miracles:

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 6

Ye have not eaten bread, neither have ye drunk wine or strong drink: that ye might know that I am the LORD your God.

That ye might know that I am the Lord your God. In taking a retrospect of all the way by which they had been led "these forty years" (Deuteronomy 8:2), the design of Moses was to exhort the people to obedience, by working upon their sense of gratitude, and tell them that all those wonders which were done in Egypt before their eyes, and afterward in the wilderness for their support, were in order that they might be educated to the practical knowledge of Yahweh as their God.

Verses 7-9

And when ye came unto this place, Sihon the king of Heshbon, and Og the king of Bashan, came out against us unto battle, and we smote them:

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 10

Ye stand this day all of you before the LORD your God; your captains of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, with all the men of Israel,

Ye stand this day all of you before the Lord your God. Moses had (Deuteronomy 29:2) convoked an assembly; and though, from the language of this passage, he apparently addressed the whole people of Israel, of all ages and conditions, young as well as old, menials as well as masters, naturalized strangers as well as native Israelites, yet, in reality, the convention was confined to 'the captains of the tribes' [ raa'sheeykem (H7218) shibTeeykem (H7626)]; 'your heads, your tribes' (Numbers 5:1; Numbers 17:2; Numbers 36:1) [Septuagint, hoi archifuloi humoon] - the (twelve) princes of tribes (tribes being added merely by way of illustration, as in Deuteronomy 33:5); "your elders" [ ziqneeykem (H2205) (Exodus 4:29; Exodus 12:21); the Septuagint has: hee gerousia humoon] - i:e., the 70 and other heads of distinguished families; although "elders," when no distinction is expressed, include the princes also (Deuteronomy 31:28); "and your officers" [ wªshotªreeykem (H7860) Septuagint, grammatoeisagoogeis, writers]; and from written documents being much employed in the administration of justice, magistrates, leaders (Deuteronomy 1:15; Deuteronomy 31:28; Numbers 11:16) [the Septuagint adds: kai hoi kritai humoon, and your judges (cf. Exodus 18:21; Deuteronomy 1:15; Joshua 23:2)] - the three established orders of national representatives (Deuteronomy 31:28) [constituting the `eedaah (H5712), or sometimes the qaahaal (H6951) - i:e., the congregation (Deuteronomy 31:30; Exodus 12:3; Numbers 27:2)] to whom the communication was made in the first instance, and by whom it would be repeated to all the people.

Verse 11

Your little ones, your wives, and thy stranger that is in thy camp, from the hewer of thy wood unto the drawer of thy water:

Thy stranger that is in thy camp. This term included all classes of foreign servants, whether bought with money (Exodus 12:44) or taken in war, and the children of such persons who could no longer be reckoned Gentiles, and were introduced by circumcision into the national privileges of Israel.

From the hewer of thy wood unto the drawer of thy water. The reference at so early a period to such a class of menial labourers determines them to have belonged to the Egyptians who accompanied the camp from Egypt, and though, of course, originally pagan, were now, in the appointed way, incorporated with Israel.

In enumerating all the various classes of which the Israelite population was composed, Moses begins with the 'heads of tribes' and ends with 'the hewers of wood and drawers of water,' as constituting the lowest grade in the social ladder. Water was generally drawn from the well for the daily use of each family by some member of the household, and was not always reckoned a menial employment (Genesis 24:19; Genesis 29:10; Exodus 2:17; John 4:7). A special class, we know, was organized in Canaan for providing very large and constant supplies of water, needed in the various services of the sanctuary (Joshua 9:21); and that they were considered drudges is evident from their being always associated with 'hewers of wood,' whose work is of a heavy, exhausting description.

This division of labour was found necessary at a very early period, 'because the exceptional position which the Israelites then occupied, and the special geographical features presented by the desert, required a special organization for the supply of the necessary fluid, which having, under a scorching sun, to be drawn from deep, hollow, or subterranean reservoirs, the covering of which had to be removed and again replaced, and which had occasionally to be transported long distances, must have been exceedingly fatiguing-still more so than the cutting of trees or the gathering of fire-wood' (Benisch, 'Colenso's Objections Examined,' p. 57).

All were addressed through their representatives or leaders, and called to renew the Sinaitic covenant. This is evident from Deuteronomy 29:14, where mention is expressly made of those absent as well as those present-not only of the living, but also of future generations (Deuteronomy 29:25). None of them were allowed to consider themselves as exempt from the terms of that national compact, lest any lapsing into idolatry might prove a root of bitterness, spreading its noxious seed and corrupt influence all around (cf. Hebrews 12:15).

It was of the greatest consequence thus to reach the heart and conscience of everyone; for some might delude themselves with the vain idea that, by taking the oath (Deuteronomy 29:12) by which they engaged themselves in covenant with God, they would secure its blessings; and even though they should not rigidly adhere to His worship and commands, but follow the devices and inclinations of their own hearts [ bishriruwt (H8307) libiy (H3820) 'eeleek (H1980), though I walk in the hardness or stubbornness of my heart], yet that He would wink at such liberties and not punish them.

It was of the greatest consequence to impress all with the strong and abiding conviction, that while the covenant of grace had special blessings belonging to it, it at the same time had curses in reserve for trans gressers, the infliction of which would be as certain as lasting and severe. This was the advantage contemplated in the law being rehearsed a second time.

Verses 12-21

That thou shouldest enter into covenant with the LORD thy God, and into his oath, which the LORD thy God maketh with thee this day:

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 22

So that the generation to come of your children that shall rise up after you, and the stranger that shall come from a far land, shall say, when they see the plagues of that land, and the sicknesses which the LORD hath laid upon it;

See the plagues of that land, and the sicknesses which the Lord hath laid upon it. The picture of a once rich and flourishing region blasted and doomed in consequence of the sins of its inhabitants is very striking, and calculated to awaken awe in every reflecting mind. Such is, and long has been, the desolate state of Palestine.

Verse 23

And that the whole land thereof is brimstone, and salt, and burning, that it is not sown, nor beareth, nor any grass groweth therein, like the overthrow of Sodom, and Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboim, which the LORD overthrew in his anger, and in his wrath:

The whole land thereof is brimstone, and salt, and burning, that it is not sown, nor beareth, nor any grass groweth therein. The total want of verdure, with the appearance of utter desolation in many parts of Palestine, is one of the most striking features in its present state (see the notes at Leviticus 26:32-35).

Like the overthrow of Sodom, and Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboim. [ kªmahpeekat (H4114), overthrow, and haapak (H2015), overthrew, are expressions used only in reference to the destruction of the cities of the plain, and borrowed by the later sacred writers from Genesis 19:25; Genesis 19:29: cf. Isaiah 1:7; Isaiah 13:19; Amos 4:11; Jeremiah 49:18; Jeremiah 50:40.]

Sodom and Gomorrah alone are mentioned in the narrative of the catastrophe; but Admah and Zeboim were situated in the same plain (Genesis 14:2), and were involved in the sulphurous torrent which was rained down upon the whole plain (Genesis 10:9-25). Though comparatively small and insignificant places, they are specified here in order to show the extreme desolation to which, in her little towns as well as large cities, the land of Israel would be doomed.

Verse 24

Even all nations shall say, Wherefore hath the LORD done thus unto this land? what meaneth the heat of this great anger? All nations shall say, Wherefore hath the Lord done thus unto this land? In looking at its ruined cities, its blasted coast, its naked mountains, its sterile and parched soil-all the sad and unmistakeable evidences of a land lying under a curse-numbers of travelers from Europe, America, and the Indies, 'strangers from a far country' (Deuteronomy 29:22), in the present day, see that the Lord has executed his threatening. Who can resist the conclusion, that it has been inflict because the inhabitants had forsaken the covenant of the Lord God of their fathers, and the anger of the Lord was kindled against this land, to bring upon it all the curses that are written in this book.'

The infidel Volney, 'a stranger that came from a far country expressed himself, after a survey of Palestine ('Ruins of Empires,' b. 2:), in terms which are an unconscious fulfillment of this prediction: 'From whence proceed such melancholy revolutions? For what cause, is fortune of these countries so strikingly changed? Why are so many cites destroyed? Why is not that ancient population reproduced and perpetuated?-a mysterious God exercises his incomprehensible judgments. He had doubtless pronounced a secret malediction against the land. He has struck with a curse the present race of men in revenge of past generations.'

Verses 25-28

Then men shall say, Because they have forsaken the covenant of the LORD God of their fathers, which he made with them when he brought them forth out of the land of Egypt:

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 29

The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.

The secret things belong unto the Lord. This verse has no apparent connection with the thread of discourse; and it is thought to have been said in answer to the looks of astonishment or the words of inquiry, whether the people would be ever so wicked as to deserve such punishments, or the institutions which God had established among them ever be withdrawn or subverted.

The words `ad (H5704) `owlaam (H5769) have not the extensive meaning which the Jews have always been fond of attaching to them. `Owlaam (H5769) is frequently used in a limited sense (cf. Exodus 21:6; 1 Samuel 1:22; 1 Samuel 1:28). Maimonides, and other Jewish writers answer that `owlaam (H5769) by itself may not signify eternity; yet, when preceded by `ad (H5704), unto, until, it denotes eternal duration in the most absolute sense, continuance of time admitting no end; and, in support of this assertion, appeal to Psalms 19:9, "The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever." The passage is irrelevant, because it refers to the moral, not the political the Lord is clean, enduring forever." The passage is irrelevant, because it refers to the moral, not the political nor ritual law.

The true meaning of the expressions was to distinguish the observances which were to be contiuued when the nation was settled in Canaan from the temporary enactments which had respect to their shifting condition before they reached it. Having served their purpose, however, they have ceased with the dispensation to which they belonged: though called "an everlasting covenant," "an ordinance forever," it was only "throughout their generations" The recorded history of God's providential dealings towards Israel presents a wonderful combination of goodness and severity." There is much of it involved in mystery too profound for our limited capacities to fathom; but, from the comprehensive wisdom displayed in those parts which have been made known to us, we are prepared to enter into the full spirit of the apostle's exclamation, "How unsearchable are His judgments!" (Romans 11:33.)

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 29". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/deuteronomy-29.html. 1871-8.
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