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RENEWAL OF THE COVENANT IN THE PLAINS OF MOAB. (Deuteronomy 29-30.)
The first verse of this chapter is placed in the Hebrew text at the end of Deuteronomy 28:1-68; but in the LXX. and Vulgate the arrangement is as in the Authorized Version, where it appears as the title of the section that follows. In that section is contained an address to the people by Moses, in which he appeals to them to enter anew into the covenant with the Lord, which had been before concluded at Horeb; denounces apostasy as what would lead certainly to their being rejected of God; assures them at the same time of God's readiness to restore them should they sincerely repent and return to him; and once more sets before them the blessing and the curse, and adjures them to choose the blessing.
Beside the covenant which he made with them in Horeb. This was not a new covenant in addition to that made at Sinai, but simply a renewal and reaffirmation of that covenant. At Sinai the covenant was, properly speaking, made; sacrifices were then offered, and the people were sprinkled with the sacrificial blood, whereby the covenant was ratified (Exodus 24:1-18.; cf. Psalms 50:5); but on the occasion here referred to, no sacrifices were offered, for this was merely the recognition of the covenant formerly made as still subsisting.
Moses addresses the nation as such, and reminds them of their dullness to apprehend the manifestations of God's grace which had been so abundantly afforded in their past history, in order that he may arouse them to a better state of mind, and stimulate them to hearken to the voice of God in the future.
The Lord hath not given you an heart to perceive, etc. Moses says this "not to excuse their wickedness, but partly to direct them what course to take, and to whom they must have recourse for the amending of their former errors, and for a good understanding and improvement of God's works; and partly to aggravate their sin, and to intimate that, although the hearing ear and the seeing eye and the understanding heart are the workmanship of God (Proverbs 20:12), and the effects of his special grace (Deuteronomy 30:6; Jeremiah 31:33; Jeremiah 32:39, etc.), yet their want of this grace was their own fault and the just punishment of their former sins" (Poole). As they would not attend to God's word, as they had shut their eyes and their ears, that they might not see, or hear, or learn what God was teaching them by his conduct towards them, they had been left to themselves; and, as a necessary consequence, they had become as persons who had no eyes to see, or ears to hear, or heart to perceive what was set before them for their learning.
Having referred to the gracious dealing of God with them in the wilderness, Moses introduces Jehovah himself as speaking to them (cf. Deuteronomy 11:14). (On Deuteronomy 29:5 and Deuteronomy 29:6, see Deuteronomy 8:3, Deuteronomy 8:4; and on Deuteronomy 8:7 and Deuteronomy 8:8, see Deuteronomy 2:26, etc.; Deuteronomy 3:1, etc.)
That ye may prosper in all that ye do. The verb here used (הִשְׂכִּיל) means primarily to look at, to consider or attend to, hence to become intelligent, to be prudent, to act wisely, and so to have success, to prosper. It is the prosperity which comes from wise and prudent action that God commends to his people (cf. Joshua 1:7, Joshua 1:8).
Summons to enter into the covenant of the Lord with fresh ardor and cordiality.
Translate: Ye stand this day all of you before Jehovah your God, your chiefs, your tribes, your elders, and your officers, every man of Israel. The two members are parallel: the heads or chiefs are the elders and officers, the tribes are all Israel The Authorized Version follows the LXX; but against the idiom of the Hebrew. Ibn Ezra says ראשֵׁיכֵם is instead of ראֹשֵׁי, but this can hardly be.
The covenant was a national engagement, and as such included not only the adults anti existing generation, but the little ones, the strangers resident in Israel, the lowest menial servants, that is, all the elements of which the nation was composed, as well as their posterity in coming, generations. That thou shouldest enter into covenant. The expression in the Hebrew is a strong one, indicating not a mere formal engagement, but a going thoroughly into the covenant; the phrase is used of the sword going through the land (Le Deuteronomy 26:6), and of one going into the pit (Job 33:28). Into his oath. Covenants were confirmed by oath (Genesis 26:28; Hebrews 6:17); hence in Scripture the covenant of God is sometimes called his oath (Deuteronomy 29:14; 1 Chronicles 16:16; Hebrews 7:28). (On Deuteronomy 29:13, cf. Deuteronomy 28:9; Deuteronomy 27:9; Exodus 19:5, Exodus 19:6.)
The summons to renew the covenant is enforced by a fresh exposition of the evil and danger of apostasy from the Lord. This is introduced by a reference to the experience which the people already had of idolatry in Egypt, and among the nations with whom they had come in contact during their march through the wilderness, from which they must have learned the utter worthlessness of all idols, that they were no gods, but only wood and stone,
Deuteronomy 29:16, Deuteronomy 29:17
These verses are not a parenthesis, as in the Authorized Version. Deuteronomy 29:18 is connected, not with Deuteronomy 29:15, but with Deuteronomy 29:17; there should be a full stop at the end of Deuteronomy 29:15. Their idols; literally, their blocks or logs (גִלוּלִים, from גָלַל, to roll something too heavy to be carried), a term of contempt used frequently in Scripture of idols.
Lest there should be among you; rather, See that there be not among you, etc. The part. פֵן, lest, at the beginning of a sentence, sometimes implies a prohibition or dissuasion, as Job 32:13, "say not;" Isaiah 36:18," beware of saying" (Gesenius, Noldius in voc.). Gall. The Hebrew word so rendered (ראֹשׁ) is supposed by Gesenius to be the poppy plant, by Celsius to be the hemlock (it is so rendered, Hosea 10:4; Amos 6:12, and by AEdman to be colocynth. It is probably a general name for what is poisonous and bitter; for it is used of poison generally (Deuteronomy 32:32) and of the venom of asps (Deuteronomy 32:33; Job 20:16), as well as of poisonous roots and bitter fruits (see Kitto, 'Bibl. Cycl.,' 3.701). Coupled here with wormwood, it must be a plant that is referred to; and the union of the two affords "a striking image of the destructive fruit borne by idolatry" (Keil).
That he bless himself in his heart;—congratulate himself—saying, I shall have peace—i.e; all shall be well with me—though—rather, for—I walk in the imagination of mine heart; literally, in the firmness or hardness of my heart, (שְׁרִירוּת, from שָׁרַר, to twist together, to be tough or firm); the word is always used in a bad sense in Hebrew, though not in Aramaic (cf. Psalms 81:13 ; Jeremiah 3:17; Jeremiah 7:24; Jeremiah 9:13 ; Jeremiah 11:8). To add drunkenness to thirst; a proverbial expression, of which very different explanations have been given. It is now generally admitted that the verb (סְפוֹת) cannot be taken here in the sense of "add," but has its proper sense of pouring out, pouring away, destroying. The word rendered "drunkenness" (רָוֶת, from רָוָה, to be sated with moisture, to be drenched) means rather "sated, drenched, well-watered;" and the word rendered "thirst" (צְמֵאָה, from צָמֵא, to thirst) is properly thirsty, and is used of dry land (Isaiah 44:3); both are adjectives, and a substantive is to be supplied. Some supply נֶפֶשׁ, soul or person; others, אֶרֶץ, land. The former render, "The full [soul] with the thirsty" (Gesenius); or, "Them that are sated with them that are thirsty," i.e. as well those who have imbibed the poison as those who thirst for it (Knobel); or "That the sated [soul] may destroy the thirsty," i.e. that the impious one, restrained by no law and, as it were, drunk with crime, may corrupt others, also prone to evil, and bring on them destruction (Maurer). Those who supply "land," render "To destroy the well-watered [land] with the dry." This last seems the preferable rendering; but the general meaning is the same in either case, viz. that the effect of such hardness of heart would be to destroy one and all. "The Orientals are fond of such bipartite forms of expressing the whole" (Knobel; cf. Deuteronomy 32:36).
Deuteronomy 29:20, Deuteronomy 29:21
Though the sinner fancies all is well with him, and is hardened in his iniquity, and is leading others astray by his example, the Lord will not suffer him to rest in impunity, but will send on him terrible punishments. The anger of the Lord and his jealousy shall smoke, i.e. shall break forth in destructive fire (cf. Psalms 74:1 : Isaiah 65:5; Psalms 18:8). The Lord shall blot out his name from under heaven (cf. Deuteronomy 25:19; Exodus 17:14). The Lord shall separate him unto evil out of all the tribes of Israel,—so that, excluded from the covenant nation, and placed beyond the sphere over which rests the salvation of the Lord, they will be exposed to destruction—according to all the curses of the covenant that are written in this book of the law; rather, as in the margin, is written; the participle agrees with "covenant."
Future generations and foreign visitants, seeing the calamities with which the rebels had been visited, nay, all nations, should ask, in astonishment and horror, Wherefore hath the Lord done thus unto this land? what meaneth the heat of this great anger? It is evident from this that Moses contemplates, and in fact here predicts, a defection, not of individuals or families merely, but of the nation as a whole from the Lord, and the punishment which came in consequence upon the nation. The words from "when they see" (Deuteronomy 29:22) to "wrath" (Deuteronomy 29:23) are a parenthesis, in which a reason for the main thought is given in a circumstantial clause; and the "say" of Deuteronomy 29:22 is resumed by the "say" of Deuteronomy 29:24.
And that the whole land thereof is brimstone, and salt, and burning, etc.; rather, sulfur and salt, a burning the whole land thereof, it shall not be sown, etc. The words "sulfur," etc; are in apposition to the "plagues and sicknesses" of Deuteronomy 29:22, and thus so far depend on the "see." The description here is taken from the country around the Dead Sea, to which there is an express allusion in the close of the verse (cf. Genesis 19:23, etc.). As this country, which before had been as the garden of the Lord, became, when the wrath of God was poured upon it, utterly desolate and waste; so should it be with the land of Israel when the plagues and sicknesses threatened were laid on it by the Lord.
What meaneth the heat of this great anger? The reply to this question comes in what follows (Deuteronomy 29:25-28).
Gods … whom he had not given unto them (cf. Deuteronomy 4:19).
All the curses; literally, every curse, or the whole curse (cf. Daniel 9:11, etc.).
And cast them. In the Hebrew the word cast them (יַשְׁלִכֵם) has one of its letters, the ל, larger than the rest, and another letter, י which should be after the ל, is omitted; on which "Baal Hatturim noteth. There is a great lamed and a want of yod, to teach that there is no casting away like that of the ten tribes" (Ainsworth). According to Baxtorf, the large lamed represents the first letter of l'olam, forever, and the yod, the numeral 10, represents the ten tribes, whose perpetual omission from the nation of Israel is thus indicated.
By secret things, here, some understand "hidden sins," which are known only to God, and which he will punish (Targum Jon.); but the meaning rather is, things in God's purpose known only to himself: these things, it is affirmed, belong to him, are his affair, and may be left with him. On the other hand, the things revealed are the things made known by God to man in his Word, viz. his injunctions, threatenings, and promises; and with these men have to do. This verse is by some regarded as part of the answer given to the question of Deuteronomy 29:24; but others regard it as a general reflection added by Moses by way of admonition to his previous discourse. This latter view is the more probable, and the scribes may have had this in their mind when they distinguished the words, unto us and to our children, by placing over them extraordinary points (עֹ נֹוֹ וֹעֹ בָנֵיֹנֹוֹ עַֹד), in order to emphasize them, though by many this is regarded as a mere critical notation, indicating a various reading.
Witnessing without seeing.
There is an instructive note on this passage in Dr. Jameson's 'Commentary.' For nearly forty years the people had been witnesses of the extraordinary care of God in watching over them, in supplying their wants, and in conducting them through the wilderness; and yet the constant succession of mercies had had no proper effect on them. They did not read the loving-kindness of God in all as they should have done. Having eyes, they saw not; having ears, they heard not. The form, however, in which Moses here throws this is remarkable. If his words are not understood, he may seem even to cast a reflection on God, for having given them such great mercies, while at the same time he withheld the one mercy which would make blessings of all the rest. Yet we cannot for a moment think that Moses intended anything of the kind. He evidently reproaches the people for their dullness. If there had been an earnest desire to understand the deep meaning of God's dealings with them, certainly the needful light and wisdom would not have been withheld. Our subject of thought arising hence is—Spiritual stolidity; or, witnessing without seeing. The following passages of Scripture should be studied in regard to this theme:—Isaiah 6:9, Isaiah 6:10; Isaiah 63:9, Isaiah 63:10, Isaiah 63:17; Jeremiah 5:21; Ezekiel 12:2; Ezekiel 14:1-23.; Matthew 11:25; Matthew 12:24; Matthew 13:14,Matthew 13:15; Matthew 15:16; Matthew 16:9; Matthew 21:27; Mark 3:5 (Greek); Mark 5:23; Mark 6:52; Mark 8:10-13, Mark 8:21; Luke 7:29-35; Luke 12:56, Luke 12:57; Luke 19:42; John 4:33; John 7:17; John 8:31, John 8:32, John 8:47; John 9:39-41; John 14:9, Joh 14:22; 1 Corinthians 2:14; 2 Corinthians 3:14, 2 Corinthians 3:15; Psalms 25:14. Observe—
I. THERE IS A MEANING, RICH AND FULL, IN THE INCIDENTS OF LIFE. Each one's life is full of incident, from morning till evening, from the beginning of the year unto the end of it. There may not have been the succession of what is startling and striking, as there was in the case of Israel, but simply common mercies coming speedily and without pause, just as they were needed; the mercies one by one, fitting exactly into place, as if a gracious care had provided all. As if—do we say? That is it. A gracious care has provided all. That is precisely our present postulate. We should as soon think that the letters in a printing office would spontaneously arrange themselves into order for a printed book, as that the constant succession of our comforts in life should come as they do without any prearrangement.
1. Life's comforts and supplies are a constant disclosure of Divine loving-kindness. They reveal God (Psalm evil. 43).
2. They are intended to help on the culture and growth of character. Even supplies which come in the physical region, when granted to moral beings, have a moral significance in them.
3. By winning us to God, his mercies are intended to lead us to repentance, and thus to open up to us a glorious goal in character and destiny.
II. THIS DIVINE MEANING IN THE MERCIES OF LIFE IS OFTEN MISSED BY THOSE ON WHOM THOSE MERCIES ARE BESTOWED. Of how many it may still he said, "Having eyes, they see not; and having ears, they hear not!" This may arise from one or more of several causes.
1. There may be some preconceived assumption or foregone conclusion which, if indulged in, will shut out all acceptance of any thought of God's loving-kindness in common life, or anywhere else. Some "high thought" may exalt itself against the knowledge of God.
2. There may be the lack of a spirit of loyalty, so that the individual is indisposed to read aright the messages of his Father's goodness.
3. There may be a misuse or non-use of the organs and faculties by which spiritual knowledge may be acquired. See 'Candid Examination of Theism,' by Physicus, which is a striking example of total failure in this respect.
4. There may be distraction of heart and soul by the whirl and rush of life, so that the spirit has no leisure therefrom to learn of God in "secret silence of the mind."
5. There may be entire indifference concerning the higher meaning of common things. Any one of these five causes will amply account for a man failing to learn of God through the experiences of life.
III. THERE IS NO ADEQUATE REASON WHICH CAN JUSTIFY SUCH A FAILURE TO LEARN LIFE'S LESSONS. For:
1. We have a revelation of God given to us in the Book, whereby we may come at the true interpretation of life. Israel had their Law, by which they might read their life. We have both the Law and the gospel. And the preciousness of human life in the eye of God is taught us in Luke 15:1-32; and in the light of such a chapter should the mystery of human life and Divine care be studied.
2. We have a distinct disclosure to us of the one condition on which religions knowledge and certitude can be acquired (John 7:17; Psalms 25:8, Psalms 25:9, Psalms 25:14).
3. There is a direct and clear promise of wisdom to those who lack it and seek it (James 1:5-7). The promises given by our Lord are also abundant.
4. There is the testimony of the experience of such as are taught of God. They can tell of his mercies, and sing aloud of his righteousness (Psalms 34:6; Psalms 66:16). And such experience is or should be an invaluable help to those who have yet to learn "the secret of the Lord." Now, with this fourfold clue, it is altogether needless for any to misunderstand life's mystery and meaning. So that it follows—
IV. THAT TO BE AND TO REMAIN WITHOUT SPIRITUAL PERCEPTION IS MATTER FOR SERIOUS REPROACH AND REBUKE. It is not against God that the words of Luke 15:4 are spoken. He would have given them eyes to see, had they desired and sought that blessing. And so he will now. Hence there is a fivefold injustice done by us if we remain without the true knowledge of the rich meaning in our mercies.
1. There is injustice to the Word of God.
2. There is injustice to the God of the Word.
3. There is injustice to ourselves.
4. There is injustice to the mystery of life.
5. There is injury to our future and eternal destiny.
Well may we adopt for ourselves, on our own behalf, as well as on that of others, the prayers of the apostle for spiritual enlightenment (Philippians 1:9-11; Colossians 1:9, Colossians 1:10; Ephesians 1:15-18). For as we understand the mystery of God in Christ will all minor ones have the light of heaven poured upon them.
Apostasy in heart a root of bitterness.
In the midst of this paragraph there is an expression of which the writer to the Hebrews makes use as a warning. It is found in the eighteenth verse: "Lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood." In the Epistle to the Hebrews 12:10, the sacred writer says, "Looking diligently … lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled." The root bearing gall and wormwood which Moses deprecates is, Apostasy from God who has revealed his will through him. That which the New Testament writer dreads, and to ward off which his whole Epistle was written is, Apostasy from God who has revealed his will through his only begotten Son. The parallels between the two possibilities would furnish a most instructive theme for the preacher; so likewise would the contrasts. We propose now to suggest a line of thought which may "open up" and impress on the heart and conscience the truth that heart-apostasy is a root bearing gall and wormwood.
I. THE CHRISTIAN, LIKE ISRAEL OF OLD, IS SURROUNDED WITH INFLUENCES THAT ARE UNFAVORABLE TO FIDELITY TO ALL THAT HE BELIEVES AND HOPES. Israel was in the midst of other nations, who had a greatness and pomp with which they could not vie, who had a religious worship other than theirs, and a literature and learning which were greater than theirs; and it was not at all unnatural that now and then, at any rate, they should cast a longing look at them, and cherish a wish to rival them. And as their acquaintance with other nations increased in the course of the ages, it cannot be wondered at if they were tempted to depart from the simplicity of their monotheistic faith and worship. And now, the parallel between them and us is closer than ever it has been. Increasing research has brought to light much religious literature in the world, which pertains to varied religions, in which even fifty years ago our fathers thought there was nothing good. The great religions of the world—Brahmanism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Mohammedanism—were looked on by some as almost totally bad. And now, some are so elated by the features of excellence that may be traced in one and another, and so startled by some parallels between the Christian religion and others, that they are tempted to indulge the thought that our faith is but one among many—the best, perhaps, of all the varied religions in the world, but yet differing from others rather in its superior measure of excellence, than in any features altogether and absolutely unique and incomparable. Hence—
II. THERE IS A DANGER OF APOSTASY OF HEART FROM THE LORD JESUS CHRIST, ANALOGOUS TO THE PERIL WHICH BESET ISRAEL OF OLD. The peril to which Christians are now exposed is not merely the ordinary one arising from the fickleness of the human heart, and from the subtle temptations and fiery darts of the wicked one. With the larger knowledge just referred to of whatever excellence other religions may have, a new temptation is presented to the understanding, no longer to regard our Savior as the one and only Redeemer, but as simply the Highest and Best of the Religious Teachers of the world. And so far as this temptation is yielded to, there may come a defection from the faith on any one or more—or all—of the five following points:—
1. Christ may cease to be regarded as the only begotten Son of the Father.
2. His Godhead, and therefore his incarnation, may come to be denied, or at least may cease to be held as a part of the "faith once [for all] delivered to the saints."
3. His redemption, as at once furnishing us with a gospel of deliverance and a gospel of power, may be lost sight of as the distinctive feature of his work, to which no religion in the world can furnish a parallel or point of comparison. We have many religions in the world; there is but one gospel.
4. His example may come to be regarded as simply one that towers above that of other men, and as unattended with any power of lifting the world up to his own level.
5. And with all this, the dread and august majesty with which he, as the Mediator of our race, exercises all power in heaven and on earth, may be thrown into the background, and may thus cease to sway the heart and life. No one who understands the times can fail to see the reality of these dangers, and the serious proportions they are assuming. That amid the storm, the kingdom of Christ will be shaken, we have no fear whatever, but many may depart from the faith meanwhile.
III. SUCH APOSTASY WOULD BE A ROOT OF BITTERNESS. This of itself would require an entire homily to do it justice. We can but hint in outline.
1. If thus the heart loses its hold of Christ as a Redeemer, the attainment of salvation will henceforth become impossible.
2. If once the power of Christ ceases to renew, the old self will reign, and evil passions be under no adequate control. Inferior power may curb the manifestation of passion, but only Divine power can tear up its roots.
3. Such defection from the faith will "defile" many. The evil will not stop with one. It will be infectious.
4. Such dishonor done to the Son of God will bring upon those who are guilty thereof the Divine displeasure.
5. The sure effect will be the breaking up and disbanding of the Churches which are poisoned thereby. There will be no reason why Churches should hold together, if their Divine Christ is gone, and there will be no power that can keep them together, if his Spirit is grieved and departs.
IV. HENCE AGAINST SUCH A GRIEVOUS RESULT CHURCH MEMBERS SHOULD CAREFULLY GUARD. "Looking diligently lest," etc.
1. They should watch the signs of the times, in order that, as far as in them lies, they may guard the Church to which they belong from the dangers with which the changeful currents of human thought may threaten them.
2. They should seek so to quicken the zeal and inflame the fervor of piety around them, that temptations to apostatize may have no power.
3. They should cherish a loving solicitude, and fervently pray, for each other, that mutual care and prayer may be an effectual guard against the approach of disloyalty in faith or even in thought.
4. Each one should be very jealous over his own heart. In others we can discern only fruit; in ourselves we can detect the root, of evil. Hence this watchfulness over our own spirits is doubly important, since it may be doubly effective. Even in others we may perhaps lop off the evil fruit, but in ourselves we can see that even the root is plucked up. For this, the only radical, certain, and absolute preventive of apostasy, the Spirit of God can effect, and he will, if we resign ourselves to his almighty hands. He can so renew and sanctify the heart that no "root of bitterness" can find any hold. He can make the soil so receptive of truth that any living seed of righteousness will at once germinate, and yet withal so destructive of error that any seed of evil casually dropping in will perish in its fall. Happy man, whose heart is in the effectual keeping of the Holy Ghost, and who is so sanctified that no germ of ill can find even a momentary home!
Historical witnesses to the wrath of God.
The chapter preceding this is shaded, yea, dark indeed. Nevertheless, it is an exact forecast of the state of Israel at this very day. In fact, the comparison between the state of the land of Palestine and the words of the Book, suggests two lines of instructive thought.
I. HOW MANIFESTLY, IN THE DESOLATION OF THE HOLY LAND, IS SEEN THE EFFECT OF THE WRATH OF GOD! To this even Volney bears witness. He asks, "From whence proceed such melancholy revolutions? For what cause is the fortune of these countries so strikingly changed? Why are so many cities destroyed? Why is not that ancient population reproduced and perpetuated? A mysterious God exercises his incomprehensible judgments. He has doubtless pronounced a secret curse against the land. He has struck with a curse the present race of men in revenge of past generations" (quoted by Jameson, in loc.).
II. HOW IS THE ACCURACY OF THIS PART OF THE OLD BOOK THEREBY CONFIRMED! It is now a favorite canon of scientific men, that whatever cannot be verified must be relegated to the past and forgotten. To this there can be no objection, if those who insist on this negative will insist equally on the reciprocal positive, and say that whatever can be verified must be accepted. For it would be simply a proof, either of discreditable ignorance or of perversity, if men were to deny or to spurn the repeated verifications of the words of Moses in the subsequent course of history.
And it is of no use for men to declaim against the possibility of miracles, when there is the standing miracle before our eye, of some superhuman knowledge having forecast, three thousand years ago, precisely the line along which Hebrew history would move, down till the present day. While there is also this difference between miracle in mighty works, and miracle in prophetic words: The proof of the works is most clear to those who see them at the time; it may possibly diminish with the lapse of years. That of a prophetic word is nil at the time: it awaits confirmation from the lapse of years. And as long as our present historical records stand, so long will there remain the confirmation of the precision with which Israel's lawgiver, speaking in the name of Jehovah, laid down beforehand the lines along which the Jewish nation should move for thousands of years. When we put together the land and the Book, the work and the word, and see the correspondence between them, we cannot but say, "This is the finger of God!"
"Secret things belong unto the Lord our God." So says the great lawgiver. On a not dissimilar topic, Bishop Butler says, "We do not know the whole of anything." Is it not so? Who can tell all about a stone or about a blade of grass? Who can aver that the furthest star has been yet discovered, or tell us what lies beyond it? There are secrets among the minute; there are secrets among the vast.
I. LET US MAKE A DISTINCTION AS TO THE MANNER, KIND, OR DEGREE OF SECRECY.
1. Some things are secret, awaiting fuller discovery to reveal them.
2. Some things are secret, but await the unfolding of events in God's providence.
3. Some things are secret in one sense, but not in another. We often know manifestations, but not essences; phenomena, but not nomena; facts, but not modes or reasons.
4. There are some secret things which are altogether unknowable, and must long remain so; e.g. Who can give an account of the reason why sin was permitted to enter? Who can tell whether it will always exist? Who can explain the doctrine of the Trinity? Who can descry the reason why this man had such and such suffering? etc; etc. How soon, when we come to ask questions like these, are we in "a boundless deep, where all our thoughts are drowned!"
II. LET US INQUIRE, IN WHAT RESPECT DO SECRET THINGS BELONG UNTO GOD? They belong unto him:
1. To conceive them.
2. To will them.
3. To originate them.
4. To comprehend them.
5. To overrule them.
6. To conduct them to their final issue.
III. LET US ASK, WHAT EFFECT SHOULD THE FACT THAT SECRET THINGS BELONG UNTO GOD HAVE UPON US?
1. It should humble us to find out how incompetent we are to scan the Divine works and ways.
2. It is obvious that we must leave secret things with him to whom alone they belong.
3. It is manifestly right to leave them with him.
4. It should give us no uneasiness to leave them there.
5. We should be fully content to leave them there. For we have
(1) a revealed will of love;
(2) plain and straightforward duty to discharge;
(3) a full gospel of redeeming mercy; and
(4) a good hope through grace. What more can we want?
6. We should be adoringly thankful that God keeps in his own hands what we could not understand, and entrusts us only with what we can.
7. Thankfully leaving in God's hands what belongs to him, let us lovingly attend to that which belongs to us.
This verse is so full of meaning that it is not easy to do even approximate justice to it in one discourse. Hence we have reserved the latter part thereof for a suggested outline of a distinct homily: "Those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this Law." The statement here made concerning the Law of God in particular, is true of the entire Word of God as the regulator of faith and life. Three lines of thought here naturally follow on each other.
I. WITHIN THE WORD OF GOD WE HAVE THE REVEALED MIND AND WILL OF GOD.
He made known his ways unto Moses, etc. And now he hath spoken to us in his Son. The sum and substance of the Divine message is, "Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound."
II. THE MANIFEST OBJECT OF THIS REVELATION OF AND FROM GOD IS THAT WE MAY THEREBY HAVE AN ADEQUATE GUIDE FOR FAITH AND LIFE. "That we may do all the words of this Law" is the Old Testament form of setting this. The New Testament form is, "Preaching … repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ."
III. IN THIS RESPECT THE WORD OF GOD IS, EMPHATICALLY, "OURS." "Those things which are revealed belong unto us," etc.
1. They belong to us—our treasury of wealth.
2. They belong to us—our measure of responsibility.
3. They belong to us—our rule by which we shall be finally tried (Romans 2:1-16).
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
Seeing, yet not seeing.
The Israelites had seen God's mighty works (Deuteronomy 29:9), yet God had not given them a heart to perceive, nor eyes to see (Deuteronomy 29:4).
I. NATURAL SIGHT WITHOUT SPIRITUAL DISCERNMENT. Moses accuses the people of blindness to the facts of their own history. These facts included:
1. God's mighty works in Egypt; here, as in Deuteronomy 4:34; Deuteronomy 7:19, classified as temptations, signs, and wonders (Deuteronomy 7:2, Deuteronomy 7:3).
2. God's guidance of the people in the desert, which also was rife in signs and wonders (Deuteronomy 7:5, Deuteronomy 7:6), and was a course of discipline (temptation, in sense of trial) throughout.
3. The victories over Sihon and Og (Deuteronomy 7:7, Deuteronomy 7:8). No people ever saw so many miracles or passed through so extraordinary a curriculum as Israel did. Yet Moses says they had failed to apprehend the lessons of their history. Seeing, they saw not (Matthew 13:10-16). That generation may not have been so dull as the one which had preceded it, but even it had shown by recent rebellions (Numbers 20:1-29; Numbers 21:1-35.) how far it was from having laid earnestly to heart the lessons of God's dealings with it. A like veil lies on every unspiritual mind (2 Corinthians 3:13-18). The Bible is a book of riddles to it (Luke 24:25-27, Luke 24:44-46). Christ is known only after the flesh (2 Corinthians 5:16). The lines of a Divine leading in the events of life are not recognized. Warnings are scorned; prosperity is misused; adversity hardens. There is outward experience of facts, but, as in Israel's case, the Word preached does not profit, not being mixed with faith in them that hear it (Hebrews 4:2).
II. SPIRITUAL DISCERNMENT IS FROM GOD. Yet not arbitrarily given or withheld. It is given to those who feel their need of it, who seek it, and who act in faithfulness to the light already possessed (Psalms 25:9, Psalms 25:12, Psalms 25:14; Psalms 119:18; Matthew 13:10-16; John 7:17). From none such will God withhold the "heart to perceive, and eyes to see." On the other hand, Divine illumination is indispensable to the knowledge of spiritual truth (cf. John 6:45; 1 Corinthians 2:12-16; 2 Corinthians 4:6; Ephesians 1:17). As the poet's eye is needed for the discernment of the poetic suggestions and analogies of nature, so is the spiritual eye needed to penetrate "the secret of the Lord." The eye in this case, as in the other, "sees only what it brings with it the power of seeing." And to gain this seeing eye, there must, as before remarked, be prayer—prayer and obedience. Without these two golden keys, no thought, no labor, no learning, no cleverness, will enable us to force the gates of the inner sanctuary of truth. God's world, God's Word, God's providence, will be alike mysterious; if spiritual instruction is offered, the reply will be "Doth he not speak parables?" (Ezekiel 20:49).—J.O.
Temptations, signs, miracles.
(Cf. Deuteronomy 4:34; Deuteronomy 7:19.)
I. THE RELATION OF THE TERMS. "Temptations" is a wider category than "signs," and "signs" is a wider category than "miracles" or "wonders." All "wonders," however, in the kingdom of God have the moral significance of "signs;" and all "signs and wonders" are "trials" of the disposition.
II. THE APPLICATION OF THE TERMS.
1. Wonders, meaning strictly, supernatural occurrences.
2. Signs. Anything is a "sign" which indicates God's presence (Luke 11:20), which discovers a law of his working, which is a pledge of his grace, which furnishes a symbol of a spiritual reality. Miracles were "signs." Nature is a "sign" in her order, regularity, and invariableness (Genesis 1:14; Genesis 8:22; Genesis 9:13; Psalms 119:89-92; Jeremiah 33:25; Acts 14:17; Romans 1:20). Every answer to prayer, every deliverance front trouble, every indication of the Divine will in providence, every specific warning and encouragement, is a "sign."
3. Temptations, i.e. tests or trials. "Trial" is a word of wide scope, for God tries us every moment, as well by things little as by things great. Every event in providence contributes to the formation, testing, and discipline of character. Naturally, however, we give the name "trials" to the harder and more severe experiences of life—those which most throw us back on our true selves, and reveal or determine character.—J.O.
I. WAS MADE WITH THE NATION AS SUCH. National covenanting finds modern exemplifications in the Scotch covenants, and in the "Solemn League and Covenant" of 1643-44. Irrespective, however, of the particular stipulations of these covenants, the propriety of such engagements must be pronounced doubtful. The case of Israel can scarcely be pleaded as a precedent. Certainly, were God to reveal himself to any nation now as he did to that chosen race, grant it a revival of religion, give it laws and judgments, and summon it by positive command to an engagement of the kind, it would, as of old, be its duty to obey. Even then: 1. The covenant would involve a remodeling of the constitution of the State. It would be meaningless save on a theocratic basis, Church and State merging in one body, and breaches of covenant obligation being regarded and punished as crimes.
2. The arrangement would require for its successful working conditions of strictest isolation—such conditions as God in his wisdom devised for Israel. The difficulties in the way of such a covenant amount now practically to impossibility. In ancient times, the units of society were families, tribes, nations, the sense of individuality being comparatively weak; now the sense of individuality is strong, and every arrangement must take large account of the individual conscience. In Israel, again, Church and State were one, but they are so no longer, Christ's kingdom refusing to identify itself with any earthly polity. The modern state, based on popular representation, and declining to take cognizance of differences of creed, is least of all favorable to the coalescence of civil with spiritual functions. Oaths are to be deprecated in any case, save where absolutely called for. They ensnare consciences, and lead to profanation by the disregard of them by the irreligious. Large sections of the community must always be left outside of such covenants, and in so solemn a transaction, the right of the majority to bind the minority, and still more to bind posterity, must be questioned. The covenants, in Scotland especially, were the source of great religious inspirations, but the good was not unmixed with evil. On the other hand, the fact of such obligations being freely undertaken by a nation must be admitted to involve it in grave responsibility, and greatly aggravates the guilt of subsequent apostasy.
II. INCLUDED ALL CLASSES, AND HAD RESPECT TO POSTERITY.
1. It included children (Deuteronomy 29:11). Whatever may be said of national covenants, it is undoubted that, in the spiritual sphere, parents and children stand in very close relation. The act of a parent, himself in covenant with God, in dedicating his child to God—probably naming the Name of God upon it in baptism—entails on that little one the weightiest responsibilities. It is a child of the covenant, stands within its bonds, and is pledged to love, serve, and worship the God of its fathers.
2. It bound posterity. Covenanting apart, the people that is faithful to God and zealous for his glory, abounding in fruits of righteousness, may expect his blessing to distant generations; whereas the nation that forgets him, and abounds in impiety, infidelity, and wickedness, with equal certainty provokes his indignation, brings down his scourge, and bequeaths to posterity the inheritance of a curse.—J.O.
The lying hope.
We have here—
I. INEXCUSABLE UNBELIEF. (Deuteronomy 29:16-18.) The man who, turning from Jehovah, went after the gods by the nations, was doubly inexcusable.
1. The true God had been revealed to him.
2. The worthlessness of heathen idols had been demonstrated. He had the light, and could compare it with the darkness of the nations around. If not himself, a witness of God's mighty works in Egypt and in the desert, he had heard of them from his forefathers, or could read of them in his Scriptures (Deuteronomy 29:20). The existence of the nation was a proof that such things had been done.
Unbelief is not less inexcusable in us:
1. With the Bible in our hands.
2. With so large a body of evidences of Divine truth.
3. With centuries of experience of the regenerative influence of Christianity.
4. With a wide knowledge of heathen nations, discovering to us by contrast our own advantages.
Unbelief may be:
It is enough that our practice be shaped on the hypothesis of the untruth of God's Word, to constitute us unbelievers (1 Timothy 5:8).
II. GROSS SELF-DECEIT. (Deuteronomy 29:19.) The act of this wicked man is very remarkable. He blesses himself in his heart, and says, "I will have peace," at the very time that God's curses are being read out to him. Yet his case is not a solitary one. He does no more than men do every day in the teeth of the threatenings of the Bible. Satan whispers, "Ye shall not surely die" (Genesis 3:4); "Be it far from thee: this shall rot be unto thee" (Matthew 16:22); and Satan, not God, is believed. We may explain this self-deceit:
1. From want of consideration (cf. Isaiah 1:3). The wicked man does not really trouble himself about the curses. They are mere words to him. The mind makes no application, scarcely even asks the meaning, of what it hears. The oracle with which the wicked man consults is in his own heart (Psalms 36:1-5), and the "oracles of God" get no attention.
2. From want of faith. God's Word, even if attended to, could not compel belief in a heart already possessed by an opposite set of beliefs, and determined not to part with them.
3. From self-will. Will enters into the question of our beliefs; so long as it can twist evidence, resist unwelcome conclusions, find evasions and pretexts, it will not accept what is contrary to its ordinary bent. While, if the worst comes to the worst, it can cut the knot by a simple "I won't," and obstinately refuse to believe aught but what it likes. The account of the sinner's unbelief and self-deceit is therefore this:
1. He has not liked to retain God in his knowledge.
2. Unwelcome subjects have been banished from his mind.
3. Through unfamiliarity to his thoughts, the supersensual world has become less and less a reality to him.
4. He acquires the power of ignoring it, and ends by disbelief in it.
III. UNUTTERABLE FOLLY. (Deuteronomy 29:20, Deuteronomy 29:21.) Unbelief, unhappily for the sinner, cannot alter the actual state of the case. God's auger smokes against him, and will certainly destroy him. His sin, agreeable as it may appear at present, will yield at last gall and wormwood. Contending with the Almighty, he rushes on his ruin. The curses written in the Book will not fail to overtake him. It is easy for sinners to "laugh now" (Luke 6:25), but there awaits them a terrible undeceiving—a day when they shall "mourn and weep."—J.O.
The stranger's wonder.
The state of the Holy Land—
I. AN EVIDENCE OF THE TRUTH OF REVELATION. The sterility of Palestine has been urged in disproof of Bible representations of its former fruitfulness and plenty. It should rather be remembered that, were the Holy Land in a less desolate state than it is, Bible predictions would not have been fulfilled—revelation would have been discredited.
II. A WONDER TO THE STRANGER. "Great God!" exclaims Volney, the unbeliever, "from whence proceed such melancholy revolutions? For what cause is the fortune of these countries so strikingly changed? Why are so many cities destroyed? Why is not that ancient population reproduced and perpetuated?" ('Ruins,' Deuteronomy 2:1-37.)
III. A JUST RETRIBUTION FOR SIN—pointing a warning to ourselves.—J.O.
The "secret things" of this verse were the things which God had not revealed regarding Israel's future—especially the time and manner of the fulfillment of those promises and threatenings which were made contingent on their obedience or disobedience. The things which had been revealed whetted their appetite to know more (cf. Daniel 12:8; John 21:21). Moses in this verse discourages the prying of a too eager curiosity into things purposely kept secret, while directing the people to the things revealed as containing all that was necessary for the doing of their duty. The truth to be drawn from the passage is, that the Bible is primarily a Book for practical guidance, not for solution of speculative difficulties or gratification of a vain curiosity.
I. DUTY, NOT CURIOUS SPECULATION. The difficulties and mysteries inherent in the scheme of revelation are acknowledged. They may be usefully distributed into three classes.
1. Those which are not peculiar to the Bible, but inhere in all our thinking about the facts of existence. The Bible did not create, if it does not undertake to solve, the mysteries of the origin and existence of evil, of the suffering of the innocent with the guilty, of free-will and necessity, of the reconcilability of man's freedom with God's foreknowledge and foreordination. These are difficulties of all religion and philosophy, as well as of the Bible.
2. Those which are peculiar to the Bible—which emerge in connection with the scheme and process of revelation itself. Such are the doctrines of the Trinity, of the incarnation, of the atonement, of regeneration—doctrines all light and comfort to us on the practical side, and yet on the speculative side involving much that is baffling to the reason.
3. Those which arise from our imperfect apprehension of the facts revealed—from the overlaying of them with mistaken theories and false interpretations. This last class of difficulties does not concern us here. If we ask, Why should so much be left unrevealed in Scripture? the answer is:
1. There is much that cannot be revealed—would not be intelligible to us.
2. The purpose of Scripture does not require more to be revealed than suffices for our guidance.
3. The existence of unsolved difficulties acts as a moral test, and aids the development of faith—faith, viz. as a practical principle, believing and trusting in God on the strength of what is revealed, difficulties notwithstanding (John 20:29). This gives the key to our duty, in presence of these difficulties.
We do not forget:
1. That things once kept secret are now revealed (Colossians 1:26).
2. That in the course of ages God is ever making his counsels clearer.
3. That it is the privilege and duty of the Church to be always making progress in the knowledge of God's will, as far as he has chosen to reveal it (Ephesians 1:17, Ephesians 1:18; Ephesians 3:18, Ephesians 3:19; Colossians 2:2). Nevertheless, it is the condition of earthly existence that "we know" only "in part" (1 Corinthians 13:9). Our duty, therefore, plainly is, not to neglect the light we have in vain beating against the wires of the cage that confines us; but diligently to improve that light as the likeliest means of getting more. It is more important to get a fire put out than to know exactly how it originated; more important to escape from the burning building than to know exactly the course which the flames will take after we have left. We are not to forego prayer because it is mysterious to us how God can answer prayer; to forbear fleeing to Christ because we cannot frame a theory of the atonement; to renounce activity because we cannot reconcile free-will and Divine foreordination. Revelation resolves the central difficulty, how God can be just, and yet the Justifier of the ungodly; it gives light in abundance on the character of God, the way of salvation, the requirements of holiness; it makes much certain that to the natural reason must ever have remained doubtful. What folly, then, to make duty wait on the solving of speculative difficulties, many of which will probably never be solved on earth!
II. DUTY, NOT ANXIOUS PRYING INTO THE FUTURE. The "secret things" in regard to that also belong unto the Lord. His Word teaches us in a general way the issues of particular lines of conduct, but it lies with God to determine the when, how, what, and where of the actual event. His providence is a mystery unfathomable by all but himself. This, however, need not disquiet the children of God. He is their Father, and they can confidently trust their future to his wisdom and his love (Matthew 6:26-34). Of little use is it to fret ourselves with fears and cares about what may possibly befall us. Do duty, and leave the issues to him who is above. Duty, not calculations of expediency. Those who steer by expediency rather than duty, in the hope to avoid evils, split on a worse rock than the one they shun.—J.O.
HOMILIES BY D. DAVIES
The renewal of God's covenant with Israel.
Every act of obedience is a step of the soul upward. It leads us into clearer light and into purer air. The man is braced by the exercise. On the other hand, the neglect of a great occasion of blessing is an irreparable loss.
I. NOTE GOD'S GRACIOUS ACTIVITY ON BEHALF OF HIS COVENANT PEOPLE. Ancient Israel was sadly prone to forget what God had done for them. Ingratitude is base. It injures greatly the man who is guilty of it. We lose immensely by our obliviousness of God's kindness. For the Hebrews, God had exerted his power and pity in methods unprecedented. Almost every act of his for their deliverance was a miracle. The crops of Egypt were blasted in order to rescue the sons of Abraham. The firstborn of Egypt, of man and of beast, were slain to emancipate Israel. The king, his courtiers, and Egypt's military were submerged in the sea to deliver the Hebrews. For forty years they had been miraculously led and miraculously fed. For forty years their clothes had resisted all decay, and their sandals had not yielded to wear. Without ordinary bread—without wine—they had been kept alive; yea, had become robust and irresistible. Conquest over foes was already theirs, and Canaan itself was, in part, possessed. Never before—never since—has God so set aside his ordinary methods of providing for men, and revealed himself as the personal Friend of his people.
II. THIS GRACIOUS ACTIVITY CONTAINED PREGNANT PLEDGE OF HIGHER GOOD. Wondrous as were these acts of Divine kindness, they did not terminate in themselves. They were the earnests of something more—something higher. Every gift in the desert and every conquest in Canaan contained a kernel of spiritual promise. These events through which the Hebrews passed, both prosperous events and adverse, were "temptations," or tests, by which to develop their faith and fortitude. Every carnal battle was drill and discipline for spiritual conflict. Very instructively are the miraculous deliverances here called "signs" (Deuteronomy 29:3). For signs and symbols they were of realities in the spirit-realm. The redemption from Egypt was the sign of a better redemption for the soul. Sinai foreshadows Calvary. The smitten rock prefigured Christ. The desert life was a type of the earthly pilgrimage. The brazen serpent symbolized the remedy for sin. By new and singular methods was the host of God's elect daily fed, and Moses plainly indicates the gracious intention of the plan, viz. that "Ye might know that I am the Lord your God." The descending manna was an object-lesson. Every meal was a revelation of God. Within the food for the body was to be found richer food for the soul.
III. WE SEE MAN'S INSENSIBILITY TO THE GRACIOUS INTENTION OF GOD. In this address of Moses we discover an apparent contradiction. "Ye have seen," he says, "all that the Lord did" (Deuteronomy 29:2). "Yet," he adds, "the Lord hath not given you eyes to see" (Deuteronomy 29:4). But the contradiction is only on the surface. They saw, and yet they did not see. They saw the external event; they did not perceive the interior meaning. They had no eye for spiritual penetration. They had not the pureness of heart by which they might have seen God. And the blame of non-possession does not rest on God. Some gifts he bestows unasked. "He sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." But the higher gifts for the soul he grants only to the meek and the prayerful. "Ask, and ye shall receive." "Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it." The Hebrews saw the cloud, but did not see the God within the cloud. They saw the splendid coruscations of his glory, and they entreated that the vision might not be repeated. Their mouths were filled with material food, but they had no eye to discern the love which supplied it. They remained deaf to the soft whispers of the Divine voice—the voice within the human voice. They were too carnal to perceive the illustrious vocation to which they were called, or the magnificent destiny that lay in their path. Jehovah offered to be "their God."
IV. WE SEE A FRESH OPPORTUNITY FOR COMPLETE CONSECRATION. On the threshold of the Promised Land God summoned a halt. He reviews, by the mouth of Moses, their past history, reminds them of their mistakes, reproves their obtuseness of mind, and invites them to a renewal of the sacred covenant. Another chance was given them for spiritual reformation. Here was the commencement of a new epoch. Again, as in Horeb, God bids for man's allegiance. He renews his pledge to be in Canaan what he had been in the desert—their special Friend, their God. In this compact all the resources of God were secured to Israel. His power, his glory, his life, his home, were conveyed to them. All was to be theirs; but on one condition—and that condition was a necessity—that they should be loyal and true to him. What a splendid opportunity was there for a new beginning—for a fresh departure!. So ever and anon God comes near to us, and offers to make a covenant with us—to be our Friend and God forever. On the morning of every day—on every returning Sabbath—he appeals to us afresh to make consecration of ourselves. If we will be indeed his people, he will be most truly our God. We too may "enter into his oath."—D.
The government of God all-embracing.
The detective force in God's kingdom is perfect. Escape through the meshes of his Law is an impossibility. Every defaulter is within the custody of the Omniscient Eye. Arraignment, conviction, and execution proceed (sometimes leisurely) with the precision and certitude of irresistible law. In this paragraph—
I. WE LEARN THE ORGANIC UNITY OF THE NATION. Every individual is a member of the community—an integral part of the kingdom. "No man liveth unto himself." A citizen of an empire cannot demean himself as he please. He is bound to consider the well-being of the body politic. Hence Moses affirmed that the covenant made with the elders and officers present was a covenant also made with those not present. Whoever elected to share in the security and triumphs of the nation was bound to share in its obligations. We cannot belong to society and claim exemption from its laws. The individual is bound by the decisions of the nation.
II. WE LEARN THE GREAT USES OF EXPERIENCE. "Ye have seen their abominations." To a generation that had not seen the obscenities, impurities, and social corruptions of idolatry, it would be difficult to convey an adequate idea of the evil. It was, therefore, of the first importance that the experience of the Hebrews who had come up from Egypt should mold and inspire the convictions of the younger generation. Those who had seen the abominations of Egypt, felt its oppressions, and taken part in uprooting the corrupt races of Canaan, ought to have cherished a deep sense of the value of this covenant with God. The evil against which they solemnly leagued they knew to be a curse to men and an abhorrence to Jehovah. If only the treasures of experience were garnered and utilized, they would be worth more than mountains of silver and gold.
III. WE LEARN THE DECEPTIVE FLATTERIES OF SIN. "I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of mine heart."
1. The transgressor is intensely selfish. He plots for himself, and thinks only of his comfort. "I shall have peace."
2. The transgressor is essentially blind. He imagines that although all others may be detected, he shall escape. He sees no immediate danger. He vainly fancies that his evil course is sagacious, and will bring prompt returns of advantage.
3. The transgressor is a practical atheist. Because human magistrates or human witnesses may not discover his crime, he concludes that God will not. In fact, he leaves God out of the calculation. He lays his plans and carries them as if there were no God. The great sin of men is this, viz. that "God is not in all their thoughts." Sin seldom appears in its true color in this life. It is ashamed of its own fruits. It promises its dupes the fruits of righteousness. The creed of this world is that men "may gather grapes from thorns, and figs from thistles."
IV. WE LEARN THAT GOD'S DETECTIVES NEVER FAIL. "The Lord will not spare him." The secret conspiracy of the heart shall be proclaimed upon the housetops. If the culprit hide in the darkest den of a populous city, thence will Jehovah's arm drag him forth. "He besets us behind and before." If he be alone in his guilt, he is the more to blame, since he has no help or encouragement from others. All social influences have been deterrent from evil; but he has resisted them all with his obstinate folly. He has been singular in his sin; he shall be singular in his suffering. Against him the anger of Jehovah will burn with a white heat of justice. All the vials of righteous wrath shall be emptied on that guilty head. His name shall perish. He shall be "separated unto evil." The nation shall loathe him. The universe shall be banded together to punish him.
V. WE LEARN THAT THE EFFECT OF PUBLIC RETRIBUTION IS TO MAKE LUMINOUS GOD'S RIGHTEOUSNESS. God delights in earth's fertility. He finds pleasure in fruits and flowers. But his delight in the fruits and flowers of the soul is so much greater, that he will blast all the beauty and fertility of earth in order to produce in men the fruits of holiness. His police force is enormous. Pestilence and earthquake, volcanic flame and electricity, human armies and microscopic insects, execute his judicial word. And the effect upon mankind is to excite inquiry. Wherefore this demolition and curse? Some solid reason must exist for this complete reversal of former blessing. The contrast is eloquent with meaning. The flames of Sodom shed a luster on the Divine righteousness. The barren hills, with mute yet mournful tongue, declare God's faithfulness. A broken covenant explains it all! The hills shall flee; the stars shall fade; but not a word from Jehovah's lips shall ever miscarry. The sleepless sword of judicial vengeance shall pursue to the death every false thing.—D.
The purpose of Divine revelation.
Taught by God's good Spirit, Moses discerned that the purpose of Divine revelation was not to gratify intellectual curiosity, but to qualify for practical obedience.
I. REVELATION IS THE ONLY SOURCE OF SAVING KNOWLEDGE FOB GUILTY MEN, Knowledge of God, his attributes, and methods of operation may be obtained from investigation of man and nature. But the special knowledge of God's merciful dispositions and purposes respecting sinners can be acquired only from the direct revelation he is pleased to make. Whether rebellious men can be reconciled to God, and by what method; how the injured nature of man is to be renovated; whether any existence, or service, or promotion is possible beyond the grave;—these and other vital questions can be answered only by the voice from heaven.
II. REVELATION IS NOT COEXTENSIVE WITH REALITY AND FACT. There is yet a realm of the unknown which God has not disclosed to men. The class of "secret things" is in God's keeping. Such confidence have we in the benignity of the Most High, that we anticipate further revelations, yea, an unending series of disclosures; but the time and method of these gradual unveilings God has wisely reserved unto himself. One thing inspires a hope of increased knowledge: we have a Divine promise that what we know not now we shall know hereafter. Compared with the unknown, the known is a speck, an atom, an alphabet only. The universe of knowledge is still beyond us, enticing our inquiry.
III. REVELATION IS A RESPONSIBLE TRUST TO ITS POSSESSOR. The "things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever." So long as this revelation is quite external to us it cannot be said to be ours. To possess it, it must fill the understanding, move the affections, quicken the desires, cheer the conscience, mold the character. Then only does it "belong to us." Thus we are to conserve it, viz. by a wise appreciation and by practical use. It is to be handed down to our children intact; i.e. not the written scroll so much as the living belief. We are so to prize and practice this revelation that our children shall see it is our precious treasure, our anchor in trouble, our pole-star in darkness, our daily chart and guide. It belongs to us; therefore as wise men we should use it, yea, extract from it all the advantage we can. For the right improvement of the written Word we shall be counted responsible. We "are stewards of the mysteries of God."
IV. REVELATION IS MEASURED OUT FOR PRACTICAL USE. It is given to us "that we may do all the words of this Law." It possesses regal authority, for it is a "Law." In giving us this Law, God deals with us as with intelligent beings, capable of understanding his will, capable of rendering him efficient service. There is no niggardliness in any of God's gifts. As soon as we have improved to the utmost our knowledge of God's will, we shall receive more. "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him." "Then shall we know if we follow on to know the Lord." Honest obedience enlarges the capacity of knowledge; it whets the appetite for higher spiritual acquisition; it awakens expectation. To know God and his Son Jesus Christ, this is life; this is an ever-expanding life—life eternal.—D.
HOMILIES BY R.M. EDGAR
After the extensive list of curses to be recited amid the mountains, Moses proceeds to speak of the perfect providences of the pilgrimage as a loud call to obedience out of gratitude. He points out not only the miracles connected with the Exodus, but also the arrangements of, as we should say, the commissariat. They had not to manufacture bread, for the manna fell from heaven; they had not to carry with them wine or strong drink, for the pure water out of the smitten rock followed them all the way. Nor had they to concern themselves about clothing, for their clothes defied the march of time, and their shoes stood intact all the rough journey of the wilderness. We have only to consider what such an arrangement saved them, and how at the end of the forty years' march, instead of "ragged regiments," they presented themselves in bright and impressive array, to conclude that this merciful care of their clothing as well as of themselves was a crowning experience of the wilderness. It has indeed been suggested that all here implied is a providential blessing upon their ordinary endeavors and barters with the surrounding tribes; £ but we imagine there is much more in this reference to their time-defying garments. We are led to speak again of the "philosophy of clothes" (cf. Deuteronomy 22:5).
I. THE PURPOSE OF CLOTHES IS TO COVER OUR NAKEDNESS, This was shown in Eden, and as Carlyle says about his alter ego (Teufelsdrockh), "The utility of clothes is altogether apparent to him; nay, perhaps he has an insight into their more recondite and almost mystic qualities, what we might call the omnipotent virtue of clothes, such as was never before vouchsafed to any man Society, which the more I think of it astonishes me the more, is founded upon cloth." £ And into this most proper purpose of hiding our nakedness, let us observe, the Lord entered in Eden and afterwards. Man is a spirit, but it is also evident that in this present world he was meant to wear clothes and to conform to decency thereby.
II. THERE IS NO VIRTUE IN RAGGEDNESS. In fact, one of the prophets, in order to convey impressively the worthlessness in God's sight of our self-righteousness, uses this very figure: "But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away" (Isaiah 64:6). Suppose that Israel had reached the land of promise in desperate raggedness; it would have been no credit to themselves or to their God. It would, on the other hand, have made the invasion more perilous. But when, instead of "ragged regiments," they came with unworn uniforms from the wilderness, the very freshness of the appearance of the host struck terror into their adversaries.
III. THE FACT HAD EVIDENTLY FAILED TO STRIKE THE ISRAELITES AS IT OUGHT TO HAVE DONE. "Yet the Lord," says Moses, "hath net given you an heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day" (Deuteronomy 29:4). The unchanging, well-appointed host had ceased to be a marvel to itself, although it must have been a marvel to all other observers. The bright, unfading, well-kept dresses continually before their eyes failed to make adequate impression. They took God's goodness, as we are too prone to do, as a matter of course.
IV. GOD'S PROVISION FOR MAN'S BODY WAS A TYPE OF HIS PROVISION FOR MAN'S SPIRIT. The spirit of man has its hunger and thirst and nakedness, just as well as the body. And we are accustomed to see in the manna, which satisfied the hunger of the Israelites, a type of him who, as the Living Bread, came down from heaven (John 6:49, John 6:50); in the water from the smitten rock, which satisfied their thirst, a type of the Spirit, proceeding from the Son, to refresh the souls of men (John 7:37-39). And why, we ask, should we not discern in the time-defying garments, which God so wonderfully preserved, a type of that righteousness with which he clothes our spiritual nakedness, which is unto all and upon all them that believe (Romans 3:22)? Round the human spirit, as Carlyle has put it, there lies a "garment of flesh contextured in the loom of heaven … it is sky-woven, and worthy of a God;" but around it he is pleased to place another garment, of which the unworn uniforms of Israel were types, the righteousness of Jesus Christ, which is sufficient to cover all our nakedness, and which stands defiantly against the powers of time. It is in this array and panoply that, as pilgrims, we shall reach the land of eternal promise. Vicissitude and change will work no havoc in this garment of God. In contrast to all man's "shoddy" and "ragged righteousness," it stands in perennial brightness, the time-defying clothing out of the commissariat of God. May we all be arrayed in none other as we approach the Jordan!—R.M.E.
The land of promise becoming accursed.
Moses has tried the principle of gratitude with the Israelites, urging obedience from a sense of the great goodness of the Lord. And now he turns to the other principle of fear, which cannot be dispensed with in religion, £ and urges obedience out of respect for the Promised Land, since if they are disobedient it will be turned to a land accursed. The land will in such a ease become a witness to the curse of God, instead of continuing a standing evidence of his love; a beacon instead of a type; a wilderness instead of a paradise. And it is instructive to notice the exact danger Moses meets in this passage. The curses have already been pronounced; but it is just possible for some one to say that the curse is leveled at collective sin. National apostasy is contemplated, but an individual will never be noticed in his course of licentiousness. The wholesale is judged; the retail may escape. This is the idea that Moses here refutes. He shows that the individual shall be judged, and the land become accursed through the apostasy of individuals. We remark, then—
I. THE NATION APOSTATIZES THROUGH THE APOSTASY OF INDIVIDUALS. No nation as a public act apostatizes, but it gets rotten through individual action. When then a number of units, under the delusion that as units they shall escape, betake themselves to evil courses, blessing themselves in their hearts, saying, "I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of mine heart, to add drunkenness to thirst," then does rottenness enter into the state of Denmark! It is well for units not to pretend to under estimate their influence as an excuse for living as they please. The nation suffers through the deterioration of its component particles. If the individual withers, the nation withers too.
II. INDIVIDUAL WAYWARDNESS MAY WORK THE RUIN OF A LAND. When we look into the admirable work of Van Lennep, we find him ascribing the barrenness of Palestine at present to the cutting down of forests, the fall of terraces, and the consequent want of rain. £ A land thus lies at the mercy of individuals much more than we imagine. An individual may cut down the trees on his patch of freehold, and his neighbor follow his example, to carry on his self-indulgence with the proceeds, and the result may be the change of climate which turns a paradise into a waste. We have already seen that Palestine was peculiarly dependent upon bountiful provision in the shape of the early and latter rains; and if individuals, through the necessities begotten by their self-indulgence, outrage the arrangements of providence, the land becomes of necessity accursed.
III. AS A MATTER OF FACT, THE HOLY LAND IS NOW AN EMBODIMENT OF THE CURSE OF GOD. Travelers are struck with the brown and barren aspect of the whole land. Spots here and there, of course, burst into beauty through the gift of rain, but as a whole the land is no longer "with milk and honey blessed," but under the anathema of Heaven. How much longer this blight is to rest upon its bloom we cannot say, but the fact is patent to all observers.
IV. THE MUTE APPEAL OF A STRICKEN LAND SHOULD NOT BE LOST UPON THE OBSERVERS OF IT. When the question of slavery was being discussed, before God settled it by permitting the American civil war, attention was directed to the "waste lands" created by the slave-labor. It was shown that the iniquitous system made virgin and splendid soil in the course of years, through monotonous cropping, a wilderness, and that the spectacle of the deterioration of the earth should weigh with thinkers. £ And Nature is surely meant to speak to man's spirit by her deformities as well as by her beauties; by her manifest wrongs as well as by her manifold benedictions. Such a man as Ruskin, considering the question as art critics will, pleads eloquently for the natural beauty which the advancing needs of railway and of manufacture threatens with desolation. But such a wilderness as Palestine now is, such a wilderness as the slave states of America were becoming, speaks to the conscience of observers, and calls for penitence and tears. The muteness of the appeal, the golden silence, which characterizes such impressive scenes, should make each witness of the waste a penitent worshipper!
V. OBEDIENCE TO GOD WILL YET REGENERATE NATURE. We see the reverse of the disaster in Psalms 67:5, Psalms 67:6, "Let the people praise thee, O God; let all the people praise thee. Then shall the earth yield her increase." The wilderness shall yet blossom as the rose when the children of men shall learn their privilege and duty as children of God.—R.M.E.
The purpose and limits of revelation.
This passage states fairly both the purpose and limits of revelation.
I. THE PURPOSE OF REVELATION. It is not to gratify curiosity, but to secure obedience in the successive generations. In other words, it is not speculative, but practical.
1. The objections, urged against revelation largely consist in the disappointments of speculative curiosity. Because God did not inform man scientifically about the creation of the world; because he did not deliver an articulated theological system; because he did not compose a philosophical textbook;—therefore this popular, miscellaneous, and discursive Book cannot be Divine. But so far from such arguments being valid, they go to substantiate the Divine character of the Book. For—
2. It is an intensely practical Book, inculcating on parents and children obedience to God. It takes up man in the family, and urges him to obey God and try to get his children to obey him. It reveals God as a Father seeking the obedience and trust of his human children, and inviting them to the heaven of obedience to his commandments. It makes man understand sufficient about God to know the duty and the blessedness of obeying him. And here let us notice two important positions taken up by the revelation.
(1) It declares that we have been made in the Divine image. Let men make us out to be physically in the image of the beast, we are spiritually in the image of God. And
(2) it declares that for man's salvation God became incarnate. Mutual acquaintance and understanding are manifestly possible and practicable upon these terms. Man can reason upwards from his own nature, which, as Carlyle said, after Chrysostom, is "the true Shechinah;" and man can appreciate Godhead whet, revealed through a sinless human life. As a revelation, then, it is most reasonable.
II. THE LIMITS OF REVELATION. It leaves a realm of secrecy to God. That is, it does not profess to reveal God fully, for "he cannot, on account of his incomparable greatness and excellence, bring his plans and operations within the comprehension of his creatures." £ The finite cannot take in the infinite. We only know in part. But we know. To doubt the possibility of knowing God would lead us straight to universal skepticism. Agnosticism has no logical halting-ground on this side of universal doubt. £ Hence we venture not beyond the assigned limits of the knowable. We take all that God gives and use it reverentially. At the same time, we recognize a world beyond our ken, of essence and of purpose and of perception, which is God's alone. Our pride is broken; we are penitent before him, and we adore.—R.M.E.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 29". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26