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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

Deuteronomy 16

Verses 9-12

Deuteronomy 16:9-12

Keep the feast of weeks.

The Feast of Pentecost

(a Harvest Thanksgiving sermon):--

The sacred character of the harvest. Indicated by time appointed for it--fiftieth day after Passover. As God hallowed the seventh day, so He hallowed the harvest fields of the world.

The great trouble God took to impress His people with the significance and meaning of common things. We walk along streets of gold, set with jewels, as though they were granite cubes. In the hand of Him who saw the kingdom of God everywhere and in everything, a grain of corn contained in its suggestiveness the deepest mysteries of the kingdom.

This feast was a providential mirror in which to see again all the way in which the Lord their God had led them. Happy, thrice happy, is the man who, in the land of plenty, has a wilderness history on which to look back. There is nothing more sublime to the mariner in the haven of rest than the conflicts with the tempests in mid-ocean through which he passed.

This feast was a new bond of brotherhood forged in the fires of the ever-new and never-ceasing love of God. They were to call the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. Plenty in some natures petrifies, but this is not its legitimate effect. It should enlarge the heart, and broaden and deepen the sympathies of a man.

This feast was to be a time of great moral and spiritual rectification on the part of the people. Repentance. Thanksgiving. (H. Simon, Ph. D.)

Harvest home a national festival

Harvest to the Jews was an event of great and general interest. It was the occasion of one of their grand national festivals. This feast was called by different names--the Feast of Weeks, the Feast of Harvest, and the Feast of First-fruits. From commencement to close, their harvest festivities included seven weeks.

The harvest home was a season for national gratitude. What they offered conferred no favour on God, it was His own; but it expressed the sense of their obligation and the depth of their gratitude. Three things are necessary to the very existence of gratitude towards the giver.

1. That the gift should be felt to be valuable.

2. A belief that the favour is benevolently bestowed.

3. A consciousness that the favour is undeserved.

The harvest home is a season for national rejoicing. Where there is gratitude, there is joy, will be joy; gratitude is praise, and praise is heaven. The revelation of the Creator in the harvest field may well make human hearts exult. The God of the harvest there appears, mercifully considerate of the wants of His creatures; as a loving Father, with a bountiful hand, furnishing the table with abundant supplies for His children. There He appears punctual to the fulfilment of His promise. There He appears rewarding human labour.

The harvest home is a season for national philanthropy (see Deuteronomy 24:19-21).

1. Where God gives liberally, He demands liberality.

2. The liberality demanded is to be shown to the poor. God has planted the poor amongst all peoples, in order that the benevolence of the rich may have scope for development. (Homilist.)

Rejoice before the Lord thy God.

Thanksgiving Day

We may be thankful for this day of thanksgiving, on account of its happy religious influence. It is a day which, in all its appropriate exercises and enjoyments, presents to us our life as a blessing, and our God as a Benefactor; the seasons as a circle of elemental adaptations to our comfort, and the Regulator of the seasons as the Almighty Being who takes care for our varied good; the course of our rolling days, as a series of lessons and opportunities, and the Everlasting and Uncreated One as the Friend who crowns our days with His loving kindness. Thus a great deal is done every year, by a common and hearty expression of thankfulness, to break up, or at least to modify the alliance brought about by several causes in many minds, between religion and great strictness and gloominess. We find that “it is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord; yea, a joyful and a pleasant thing it is to be thankful”; for when we dwell on the causes of thankfulness, our gratitude must needs flow naturally and spontaneously out of our bosoms, and go to swell the general stream of praise and gladness which spreads over the land. And we find that it is not at all inconsistent with thankfulness to God for the bounties of His providence, that we should enjoy those bounties freely and honestly and smilingly.

We have reason to rejoice in our feast, on account of its happy domestic influence. The day is peculiarly a domestic day; a day for the reunion of families. The houses of the land are glad on this day.

Our festival is to be honoured, on account of its happy political influence. If it exerts a happy influence on our religions sentiments and on our domestic relations, it cannot but act with a benign power on those relations which hold us all together in one community. A genial nationality is fostered by that mingling together of prayers, and common interests, and pleasant hospitalities, which occurs on this day. And so far as our nationality is brought about in this manner, there is nothing repulsive or exclusive in it. (F. W. P. Greenwood, D. D.)

Verses 13-15

Deuteronomy 16:13-15

Thou shalt observe the feast of tabernacles seven days, after that thou hast gathered in thy corn and thy wine.

Harvest home

The Feast of Tabernacles was the harvest home of Israel. Where is the antitype of the festival of Tabernacles? The vision of the “great multitude which no man could number” is a vision throughout of a heavenly Feast of Tabernacles; the harvest home of the Church triumphant.

These festivals are occasions of hospitality and of reunion. A selfish life is an unchristian life. A man might possibly remember God in solitude, a monastery has ere now fostered devotion: but there is one virtue which cannot be practised in seclusion--charity; the Gospel virtue--without which we are nothing. The very exertion which it costs some men to come out is salutary. If some are made frivolous by the love of society, some are made selfish by isolation from their kind.

Two things were especially required of the Israelites when they assembled for their three annual feasts: first, that they should not appear before the lord empty; secondly, that children and servants, the Levite and the stranger, the fatherless and widow, should be allowed to rejoice with them. The feast only becomes a blessing when it remembers God, and remembers man.

The law of God was read over, once in seven years, to the assembled Israelites at their Feast of Tabernacles. If there be a time when we remember duty, surely it should be when our hands are full of gifts. A time of feasting, nay, a time of prosperity, nay, a time of unmarked, of average sufficiency, brings its own peculiar risk of practical ungodliness.

Yet we recognise in this festival the comforting side of true religion. God’s voice never comes to make us miserable. If it condemns, it is that we may rise out of condemnation into a state altogether joyous. A harvest home is a glimpse of the love and of the peace and of the joy of the Gospel.

It is also a memento of the place of thankfulness in the Gospel. Is there any test so condemning as that which touches us on the point of gratitude? Who really gives God thanks for life, for health, for motion, for speech, for reason? Well may we have one day in the year set apart for the work of simple praise.

Recognise in this celebration the identification of the God of nature and providence with the God of revelation and of the Gospel. The things that are seen become a very sign and sacrament of the things that are not seen. The harvest of the natural world indicates to us, by its marvellous yet now familiar phenomena, the working of the same power which alone can melt the heart of stone, and impress upon a trifling soul the realities of a life and a home in heaven. VII. Finally, let the service which gives thanks for an earthly harvest carry your thoughts to that great “reaping after sowing,” which is before every one of us, in the resurrection of the body and in the eternity which is yet beyond (Matthew 13:39; Galatians 6:7-8). God grant us all a place in that ingathering, the close of a world’s labour, the inauguration of a heavenly rest! (Dean Vaughan.)

Verses 14-15

Deuteronomy 16:14-15

Set him king over thee, whom the Lord thy God shall choose.

Christ our Brother and our King

What I desire now to lay before you is the counsel of God in Christ, which is set forth to us in these words. What is contained in them is that we are to have a king over us, and that this king is to be our brother; by which is expressed the reigning of love. It is exceedingly important that we be taught to feel that our place is that of being reigned over--that it does not belong to us to be independent or to be our own masters; and again, that the control under which we are to be is one which is to govern us through the heart--that the obedience which is to be rendered is to be the obedience of the will--not an outward obedience, an obedience in word or in action, but an inward obedience, an obedience in our will. To this end it is needful that, in obeying, we should have that confidence in him whom we obey, and that understanding of the principle of his government, and that consenting to it, which will carry our hearts along with his requirements; and this our God has considered in giving us a brother to reign over us. When it is here said that God will not give us a king who is not our brother, that we are not in any wise to have a stranger to reign over us, we are taught the great truth, which is the foundation of our religion, that Christ took our very nature and became in very truth our very Brother, so that there is nothing in the whole of our human nature with which He has not personal acquaintance. The knowledge which our Creator has of us, as our Creator, is a knowledge that we cannot comprehend. But when we see Christ having our nature, then we see how He should have this knowledge of us. We might have felt as if God were a stranger--we might have said to ourselves, How very different are His circumstances from ours: He is the Creator of all things--He is independent--He is not at the mercy of any outward thing, and therefore He can have no sympathy with us--He cannot know what our situation is--this language we might have held, in our ignorance of God, were not God revealed in Christ as our Brother. God says thou mayest not set a stranger over thee which is not thy brother; and He says also, “I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt have no other god before Me.” And thus when our God says that we shall have no stranger to reign over us, and yet that He will reign over us, He teaches us that He is not a stranger--that there is no lack of interest and sympathy in His heart with all the evil of our state. I shall now occupy your attention with the acquaintance and sympathy with our condition which Christ has as our Brother. He has, in truth, no sympathy with man in his natural state, while He has a perfect understanding of our natural condition. He knows thoroughly the flesh which we have, but has no sympathy whatever with our feelings in sowing to it. But, considered as regenerate persons, contending with the flesh, then we are in the condition in which Christ not only knows our state but has perfect, sympathy with it. It is of much importance that you should see where Christ’s sympathy begins; that it is in our experience as living in the Spirit. What is the principle of our being judged by our equals? It is not needful that they should have any fellowship in that respecting which they are to judge--that they should have themselves transgressed; but that they be in a condition fairly to estimate the circumstances of those upon whom they sit in judgment, because they are their own. The acquaintance which Christ has with us, as our Brother, while it does not justify us in holding that He has any sympathy with the workings of the carnal heart, justifies us in holding that He is deeply alive to the evil of being under the power of the carnal heart--that He knows what it is, with such a knowledge as enables Him fully to estimate what an awful condition it is to be sowing to the flesh. Now this in our Lord is a source of exceeding great comfort. To show what comfort it is, I just press on you that, as truly as the will of Christ was opposed to sin in His own flesh, so truly is it opposed to sin in our flesh, because there is but one flesh--that Christ as truly wills my sanctification as He willed His own--as truly wills that I should be holy, in this body of sin and death, as He willed Himself to be holy in it. Now while this is a Source of exceeding great comfort, when we consider that it is the strength of Christ that is to give us the victory, it is also a source of exceeding great self-reproach, because it shows us how we have grieved Christ. For what must it be to Him to see in the members of His body that rebellion against the Father which He never had in Himself, while He has in Him all that is needful for us, and is longing to impart it all to us, that He should see us choosing to live in the flesh--choosing to live in sin, rather than to receive out of that full provision for holiness which we have in Him! And while we consider Christ’s understanding of our condition, for comfort in our conflict with sin, and for self-reproach in the consciousness of sinning, let us consider how His being our Brother prepares Him for being our Judge. There is ever a voice in the flesh offering to excuse sin. There is ever proceeding from the Lord a voice condemning sin--a voice declaring that sin is altogether a thing that need not be; and I beseech you consider what an entire putting down it is of all unbelief that Christ was holy in our nature. The will that Christ has as to us, in our condition of sowing to the flesh, is a holy will that we should be holy; but it is also the will of love--of love to us. It is exceedingly important that we should never lose sight of this, that the person is not forgotten. It is not the sin simply that is considered by Christ, but the person who sins. Just as it is with a good man who has a son that is a prodigal. Inasmuch as he is a righteous man, the exhibition of evil in his son is a source of pain to him; but inasmuch as he is his son, it is a peculiar source of pain to him, seeing that he has an interest in the person apart from the character altogether, and that this interest is not destroyed by the evil of the character, but that both work on him jointly. Christ’s having a personal tie to us, as well as an acquaintance with our condition, is a part of the revelation of God which is in Him; and is that first part of the truth concerning our God which addresses itself to our desire of salvation; and is therefore to be kept in the foreground, that men, convinced of God’s interest in them, may give heed to the things that the Lord has what it expresses still further. First, there is actual sympathy for us in Christ our Brother. In this word “sympathy” there is contained the idea of a person--the idea of one being feeling along with another being: and so knowing Christ’s sympathy, and ever turning to it, we learn personal communion with God, which is that which His heart longs for; for His heart has not the fulfilment of its desire for us, but in our having this personal communion with Him. Oh, be very jealous of reposing your hearts in any other bosom than that of God; be very jealous of telling your grief to any other ear than God. Oh, be very jealous for Christ, that He should have the confidential trust of every heart. But Christ’s sympathy in our conflict is the sympathy of one who can succour us. This is a part of what properly belongs to His character as King. It belongs to His character as King to be strong in us, to supply our need and sustain our weakness. I would, therefore, now consider what we are taught in this Brother’s being a King. Why is it not enough to tell us that He is our Brother? Why must we have a King? Now, this word “king,” taken along with the word “brother,” is, to my mind, what is expressed in God’s being a Father, and brings out to us the necessity that there is for our being in a subordinate place, learning the will of another, and receiving that will to be our will. Our service, to be a right service, must be a free-will service; but still, in announcing His will, God announces it as King. In short, the sceptre is held out, and we are called to bow to it; and the love is revealed in order that the heart may bow to that sceptre; but it is as a sceptre that it is held out. Now, in Christ as King, there is the provision for strength, as well as the provision for authority. Our King is one who has power, not merely to be used against us if we refuse Him to reign over us, but to be used for us in our submitting to Him. He is a King to minister to our need, to supply the wants of the poor and needy. The true king is one in respect of whom we have nothing, but to whom we are altogether debtors. And this Brother, who is to be our King, we do not see rightly as King if we see him merely as exercising a control without us. We must see Him as the fountain of power within us; one who is to act in us by His might in the conflict with that evil with which we are contending, in assurance of His sympathy. This is the influence of the knowledge that He is King, that it makes His sympathy strength, as that of one of whom we know that He has strength for us. There is another blessedness besides that of conscious dependence on God which is connected with realising the Kingship of Christ, that thus, and thus alone, can we, as intelligent beings, meditating on the wide universe, have peace as to its government. Unless we had the omniscience of God we could not have the peace of God directly; but we may have the peace of God, without the omniscience of God, indirectly: that is, we may have the peace of God through the knowledge of God, and confiding, in regard to what we know not, in the character of Him whom we know to be King. In this way there is blessedness in having a Brother as a King, in respect of ourselves and in respect of all things; for it is when we see the Lamb in the midst of the throne, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God--it is then that we can have perfect peace about all things, because then we see the character of Him who governs, and can say that all must be well. But what I am so desirous that you should seek to realise is the sweetness of being reigned over--the blessedness of having to do with a King; and that it is not the sympathy of the Brother, as reconciling to the condition of being reigned over, that you are to learn, but that while learning the character of the King in the Brother you are to learn that being reigned over is itself a blessedness. (J. M. Campbell.)

Verses 16-17

Deuteronomy 16:16-17

Three times in a year.

The command respecting festivals

We are informed by ancient writers that the Egyptians kept many stated festivals and religious assemblies in honour to the gods, and that they held no less than six every year at different places. It is probable that this custom was of great antiquity, and observed when Israel dwelt in Egypt. Therefore, when Moses went to Pharaoh, and asked leave for the Hebrews to celebrate a feast to the Lord, the Egyptians could not say that it was an unreasonable request, since they accounted it a duty to do the like. This opens to us one reason for which these festivals were appointed in the law, namely, in compliance with the inclinations of the people, who doubtless were desirous to have their feasts and assemblies, as well as the Egyptians with whom they had dwelt.

The work or action enjoined--to appear before the Lord. God condescended to take upon Him the government of the Jewish nation, and is here represented as their King; and they, as dutiful subjects, and required to come and salute Him, and present themselves before Him at certain times. The same respect which other nations showed to their princes, the Jews were to show to God, as He was their King. Thus far it was a civil or political duty. But as their King was also the Almighty, to appear before Him was a religious duty; it was to serve and worship Him in a public manner; and herein this law is moral, universal, and everlasting.

The persons who were to appear at these solemn feasts. “All thy males shall appear before the Lord.” These words are to be understood not as excluding the females from being present at these assemblies, but as giving them leave of absence, and intimating that it might sometimes be more proper for them to stay at home. The reasons for which the females had an exemption from this solemn duty seem to have been these first, the weakness of the sex, not so fit to bear the fatigue of these frequent journeys; secondly, the care of their children and families, which could not be thus wholly abandoned; and, thirdly, the dangers to which they would be exposed in such a numerous and mixed assembly. The Egyptians, when they repaired to the feasts, sailed together upon the river Nile in large companies, men and women, and many indecencies were committed, which this law seems to have been intended to prevent. Thus were they excused from these religious journeys when it was inconvenient. But at other times, and on other occasions, they frequented the places appointed for instruction and for the worship of God; as we may conclude from such examples as are recorded in Scripture, and from that piety and gratitude which are usually more observable in them than in the other sex.

The place where the men were to appear--in the place which the Lord shall choose, namely, in the place where the ark and the tabernacle of God should be, which at the first was at Shiloh, in the country of Samaria and tribe of Ephraim, and afterwards at Jerusalem in the tribe of Judah, where David erected a tabernacle, and Solomon built a magnificent temple. One reason for which these festivals were appointed, and appointed at one place, was to keep up peace and friendship and unity, both in Church and State. Nothing is more likely to conduce to this end than a religious association and intercourse, and a participation of the same sacred rites.

The time when the Jews were to meet together--it was thrice in the year; in the Feast of Unleavened Bread, in the Feast of Weeks, and in the Feast of Tabernacles. From these religious institutions it may he observed that the hallowing unto God more days in the week than one is not, as some have fancied, against the design and meaning of the Fourth Commandment. For by these three solemn feasts, which were each of them of a week’s continuance at least, it is manifest that “Six days thou shalt labour” was no commandment, but expressed only an ordinary permission of working; and to think that God would contradict His own law by a contrary ordinance is inconceivable. As, therefore, when He commanded the Jews to give Him the tenth part of their increase, He forbade not free-will offerings; so, when He enjoined them to keep holy one day in seven, this hindered not but that they might hallow unto Him other days even of the six. Hence it is concluded that the Christian Church hath likewise a power to set apart days for the more solemn service of God. But this should be done sparingly, discreetly, and cautiously; it should rather be recommended than required, and never without manifest reasons.

A particular duty required of all the people when they came to worship God at these feasts, namely, not to appear empty. It was a custom in those parts of the world when subjects came before their king, to make him a present; and even a little fruit, or a single flower, was favourably accepted from one who was not in circumstances to offer more. The Jews were commanded to bring a present; not a burnt offering or a sacrifice by fire; for these, though at the same time they were also required, yet were of another nature, and for another end; but a heave offering, a freewill offering, which was a tribute of thankfulness to God, and likewise an acknowledgment of His supreme lordship and dominion over all. (J. Jortin, D. D.)

They shall not appear before the Lord empty.

The law of gifts in the Pentateuch

Empty in one sense, empty of blessing, none of us can appear before the Lord, or our prayer has mocked Him, and our praise. Crowned with His goodness, you have come up hither; crown His goodness in return with praise.

A leading feature, the leading feature of the Old Testament revelation is, that life and all that crowns it--its crown of blessings--is the gift of a living intelligent Being, and comes to us bearing the seal of His love, The Jews were separated to this end, that God’s methods and purposes with all men might be laid bare; that for once the Hand might be clearly manifest which is busy about every life.

The motive which is pleaded for all the noblest human effort is God’s example. God has done thus and thus for you: “Go ye and do likewise” for your fellow men. It is the plea which is constantly urged in the Old Testament, which we accuse of low and material views, both of man and of God. It is the highest witness to man’s essential God-likeness which can be conceived. Man’s nature only finds free, that is joyful play, when it is doing God-like things, when it is striving to think, will, and act like God. The only complete form of man’s life is the life which is also Divine.

The exhortations of the Scripture are amply sustained by our own experience of life. There is no joy that fills man’s heart which is comparable with that which he shares with God. He who does a deed purely unselfish, who yields free play to the most generous, heavenly impulses.

Part of this God-like duty finds expression in the text. “none shall appear before the Lord empty.” The Lord has filled you with good; you are “fearfully and wonderfully made,” and in fearful and wonderful harmony with the world. Your organs, exquisitely fashioned, and all the beauty and splendour of the creation, form a concord which at once expresses God’s loving kindness, and is to you a fountain of intense delight. And there is an inner harmony which He is striving to develop by uniting your heart to fear His name, which will make this great universe a Father’s house, and the awful future all eternal home. Help God, for His great mercy’s sake, to help the world.

Another great thought of the Old Testament is the help which it is in man’s power to render to God. His ends can never be reached without us, in the way in which His wisdom has ordered the world. He might have ruled as a despot; He has chosen to seek rather to rule--as the Bishop of Argyll has happily phrased it as a constitutional king. (J. B. Brown, B. A.)

Is giving a help or a hindrance

Every individual is addressed.

1. All have been blessed; all are under obligations to recognise this fact by giving. Everyone should help. It is the mites that make the great aggregations.

2. Giving in accordance with God’s command is husbanding--it is investing. Said a great millionaire when asked, “Where can I safely invest my money?” “Give to God’s cause, where I have put uncounted thousands, and I find that the interest due is always promptly paid, and the investment is perfectly safe. I shall meet it beyond the river, laid up in heaven, and shall enjoy it forever.”

This command requires us to give as necessity requires and according to blessings received. Give, because you have received. Bless, because you have been blessed. Love, because you have been loved. Help, because you have been helped. Be liberal, because you thus glorify your Benefactor. The great giver is a great gatherer. He gathers love, power, influence, and revels in the smile of God. (J. D. Fulton, D. D.)

An offering of gratitude

One day an Indian asked Bishop Whipple to give him two one-dollar bills for a two-dollar note. The Bishop asked, “Why?” He said, “One dollar for me to give to Jesus, and one dollar for my wife to give.” The Bishop asked him if it was all the money he had. He said, “Yes.” The Bishop was about to tell him, “It is too much,” when an Indian clergyman who was standing by whispered, “It might be too much for a white man to give, but not too much for an Indian who has this year heard for the first time of the love of Jesus.”

Giving according to conscience

A minister was about to leave his own congregation for the purpose of visiting London, on what was by no means a pleasant errand--to beg on behalf of his place of worship. Previous to his departure he called together the principal persons connected with his charge, and said to them, “Now, I shall be asked whether we have conscientiously done all that we can for the removal of the debt. What answer am I to give? Brother So-and-so, can you in conscience say that you have given all you can?” “Why, sir,” he replied, “if you come to conscience, I don’t know that I can.” The same question he put to a second, and a third, and so on, and similar answers were returned, until the whole sum required was subscribed, and there was no longer any need for their pastor to wear out his soul in going to London on any such unpleasant excursion. (Christian Age.)

Verse 19

Deuteronomy 16:19

Thou shalt not respect persons, neither take a gift.

Equality before the law

Some facts and tendencies in legal administration.

1. The sentence pronounced against a poor man is often very heavy, and that against a rich man very light. In New Jersey a poor man was sentenced to five years of hard labour in prison for stealing a ham; in the same court a rich banker, who had ruined two banks and stolen the money of hundreds of people, received the same sentence.

2. After conviction rich convicts receive favours. In the case just cited the poor man and the rich man went to the same prison. But the poor man was put at hard labour; the rich man was made clerk in the prison library.

3. Rich men have an unfair advantage over poor men when brought to trial. The big fee that hires the eloquent pleader “buys out the law.”

4. Even judges are sometimes corrupt.

5. Juries are accused of taking bribes.

The perils of these forms of injustice.

1. They threaten the property and lives of the poor.

2. They weaken the spirit of obedience (Numbers 22:23).

3. They develop the communistic spirit of destruction.

4. We are all unsafe when one poor wretch is unsafe only because he lacks money or friends.

The remedies for existing evils.

1. More and better teaching, in home, school, and church, on God’s law of equality.

2. Wiser conversation on such matters when citizens meet together. It is dangerous and unpatriotic to treat the miscarriage of justice as a jest.

3. A sound public opinion should be cultivated by press, pulpit, and platform.

4. Our social power may be used to condemn a triumph over the law.

5. Seek to associate in all minds the idea of obedience to God with that of just judgment. (Homiletic Monthly.)

An upright judge

Judge Sewall, of Massachusetts, went into a hatter’s shop in order to purchase a pair of shoe brushes. The master of the shop presented him with a couple. “What is your price?” said the judge. “If they will answer your purpose,” replied the other, “you may have them and welcome.” The judge, upon hearing this, laid them down, and bowing, was leaving the shop; upon which the hatter said to him, “Pray, sir, your honour has forgotten the principal object of your visit.” “By no means,” answered the judge; “if you please to set a price, I am ready to purchase; but ever since it has fallen to my lot to occupy a seat on the bench, I have studiously avoided receiving to the value of a single copper, lest at some future period of my life it might have some kind of influence in determining my judgment.”

The acceptance of bribes discouraged

In the Soudan, he said, he had £6000 a year, as Governor, but he brought nothing out of the country when he returned to England. He spent his income in adding to the insufficient salaries of the officials, to keep them from accepting bribes, and thus to secure justice for the people at large. (Memoir of General Gordon.)

Verse 20

Deuteronomy 16:20

That which is altogether Just shalt thou follow.

Justice the decorum of the character of judges

(preached at the Assizes):--The duties which are incumbent upon us may be very properly divided into two classes--such as are incumbent upon all men, and such as are incumbent upon particular ranks of men.

Justice is immediately connected with the end of that office which magistrates, judges, and rulers bear. The exercise of justice itself is the proximate means of answering the purposes of government and judgment. One of the principal ways in which other virtues promote these purposes is by contributing to the steady and vigorous exercise of incorruptible justice. Injustice, directly and of itself, defeats these purposes, and is in every instance absolutely inconsistent with them. Other vices obstruct them sometimes very strongly, but always more remotely and indirectly, often by preparing the way to injustice.

Rulers and judges have, from their office, opportunity for many exertions of justice wholly peculiar to themselves. On this account also justice may be considered as in a special manner the virtue of their character and station. The poor man, who cannot himself resist the oppression of the great; the peaceable man, who is harassed by the encroachments of the man of violence; the orphan, whose rights are invaded by him that hath no bowels, claim the protection of the judge, and can obtain redress only by brining their cause under his cognisance. Differences arising from the ignorance or the self-partiality of persons well disposed can be determined only by the superior knowledge and unbiassed justice of the judge. When individuals are injured or the public disturbed by crimes, it is to the integrity of the judge that they must look up for help. How extensive, then, is the sphere of public justice which is peculiar to the ruler and the judge! In every instance of public justice he must make conscience of doing what is right, else he forfeits the character of a just and honest man, in the very same way as another person would forfeit it by being convicted of a transgression of private justice.

Justice may be considered as in a peculiar manner belonging to rulers, judges, and magistrates because they are under peculiar obligations to it. Every act of injustice brings positive hurt on the person who is affected by it; but an unjust judgment hurts with the cutting aggravations of its being done under form of law, and of its impeaching the person whom it injures, as if he had been injurious. Private persons are connected only with a few, and therefore only a few can be hurt by their injustice; but the injustice of a judge is of more extensive consequence, it hurts all who are subject to his jurisdiction. Private injustice may be checked or redressed by the righteousness of the judge; but if the judge be unrighteous, by whom shall his injustice be restrained? (Alex. Gerard, D. D.)

Civil justice

That which the air is in the elementary world, the sun in the celestial, the soul in the intelligible, justice is the same in the civil. It is the air which all afflicted desire to breathe; the sun which dispelleth all clouds; the soul which giveth life to all things. The unhappiness is, it is more found on the paper of writers than in the manners of the living. To be just is to be all that which an honest man may be, since justice is to give everyone what appertaineth to him. (N. Caussin.)

Justice in small things

Nouschirvan, the Persian king, having been hunting, and desirous of eating some of the venison in the field, several of his attendants went to a neighbouring village, and took away a quantity of salt to season it. The king suspecting how they had acted, ordered that they should immediately go and pay for it; then turning to his attendants, he said, “This is a small matter in itself, but a great one as it regards me: for a king ought ever to be just, because he is an example to his subjects; and if he swerves in trifles, they will become dissolute. If I cannot make all my people just in the smallest things, I can, at least, show them it is possible to be so.”

Verses 21-22

Deuteronomy 16:21-22

Thou shalt not plant thee a grove.

Idolatry forbidden

Idolatry is enticing. This on many accounts.

1. By its prevalence. In some form or other it is the most popular religion in the world. Men bow down to the idols of luxury, ambition, pleasure, and avarice. “For all people will walk everyone in the name of his god” (Micah 4:5).

2. By its use. We naturally forsake God and cling to sin. Evil inclination leads to wrong choice, and men choose darkness rather than light.

Idolatry is treason against God. God is the sum of all moral qualities, the proprietor of all resources, and the giver of all existences. What more rational than to worship Him? Nothing belies God nor degrades man like the worship of images and statues.

Idolatry must be utterly forsakes. We must neither join the worshippers nor sanction the worship. Plant no grove of trees, for truth loves light and reproves darkness. (J. Wolfendale.)

Neither shalt thou set up any image.

Images forbidden

Thus imagery is forbidden--even religious imitation and attempted reproduction of things Divine and inexpressible. We are prone to do something to show our handiwork in God’s sanctuary; it pleases us to try to add something to the circle; it delights us to run one rim of gilt around the refined gold which burns with the image and superscription of God. We are told not to interfere; we must keep our hands off everything. We must learn to stand still; sometimes to do everything by doing nothing; and we must learn to rebuke our inventive faculty and become learned in the utterance of simple prayer. God will have His altar untouched: He will have human attention undistracted by any human devices. The altar is to stand alone in its simple dignity--most adorned when unadorned. There must be no attempt to link true religion and false religion, inspired worship and idolatrous worship, groves humanly planted and altars Divinely built. The Lord will have a time for Himself, and place for Himself, a gift for Himself, an altar for Himself. Why for Himself? Because He is the Lord, and because He means to train the human mind and heart without distraction towards the highest sublimity of law. Who will not set up his reason against the altar, and delight because his religion is rational?--as well hold up a candle to the sun, because all fire is of the same quality; because there is but one fire in the universe, and that is God. The sun says, Thou shalt not light a candle in my presence. We do it, but the candle is literally of no service in the presence of the midday sun. Jesus Christ is the Light of the world--the Sun of the great firmament of the soul--and He alone can light the space that is to be illumined. Who will not throw the little flower of self-approval upon the altar, saying, I am not as other men: I fast, I pay tithes, I do not practise extortion: I am not as the publicans are? The Lord has forbidden all groves and all images and all distractions. Only one man is permitted near the altar; only one soul is heard in heaven. His name?--the broken-hearted sinner! (J. Parker, D. D.)


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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Deuteronomy 16". The Biblical Illustrator. 1905-1909. New York.