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In examining Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, we have found what may be called an abstract typical system. That is, we see in them a number of institutions laid down by Jehovah, the pattern of which was shown in the mount. These figures Moses was inspired to give as a whole to the people, entirely apart from the question whether they were or could be carried out according to the letter while passing through the wilderness. I have called it therefore an abstract typical system; for the value of it does not at all depend on the fidelity of the people to it. It is very possible that not a single institution during that time may have been strictly enforced or obeyed among the people.
Thus we know for certain that the most fundamental requirement of all, the Levitical ritual, was not practised; and if they did not prove faithful in that which was most urgent as well as least difficult in point of means for executing it, we can hardly suppose that they carried out their obedience in what was surrounded with immense if not insuperable obstacles. Even before the law from Abraham's days there certainly was no injunction more solemn or more obligatory than the circumcision of every male child; yet we are assured that no male was circumcised during Israel's wandering for forty years through the wilderness. This fact appears to be of some importance, because notoriously difficulties have been raised, on the score of practicability, as to the various ordinances requiring sacrifices and offerings where the means did not appear. We hear of sin and trespass-offerings, peace and burnt-offerings, meat-offerings and drink-offerings, not to speak of the daily lambs and occasional victims. Men have reasoned with great detail, especially in recent years, enquiring how all this could be done in the desert by a people who found it hard enough to pass unscathed themselves, though they had Jehovah their God with them to feed them with angels' bread, and water if need were from the rock. But God, in fact, is always left out of the calculations of unbelief. For although there were flocks and herds led into the wilderness with the children of Israel at the command of Jehovah, and they may have added more from enemies they conquered, the fact just now referred to meets and removes a host of objections raised about it, and proves that the nature of these ordinances has not been understood.
The fact is that, no matter what might be the measure of carrying them out in the wilderness, God was setting forth by them the shadows of good things to come. This was their real object. It is not therefore a question of how far the offerings, etc. were then offered but of a vast body of systematically-ordered teaching by types. What God was displaying by them has now found its meaning, since Christ was revealed and the mighty work of redemption effected. It is a different thing however with the book of Deuteronomy; and this was my reason for remarking it at this point.
Deuteronomy is an eminently practical book. Types are but sparsely presented over the great bulk of the instruction which crowds its pages. We are far from being then on the ground of a mere rehearsal of what has been shown in the previous books. Deuteronomy, spite of its Septuagintal title, is no such repetition; but the Spirit of God by Moses has given us, along with special moral exhortation, such types as bear on the position of the people on the very edge of the promised land. They had marched round to the eastern side of the Jordan; they were now on that border of the land, after God's long-continued process of dealing with them in the wilderness had come to its full measure. kind this book, while it does not want allusions to what God had said in all the other books, has, no less than the rest of them, its own peculiar character. It is not then a grouping of types, whatever might be the particular scope and aim of those employed, such as we have seen in distinct forms throughout the books of Exodus, Leviticus, or Numbers; but here all that the Spirit is using, whether it be direct moral application which forms much the larger part of the book, or whether it be a selection of such shadows as fall in with its. practical object, seems to be from first to last an enforcement of obedience, grounded on the relationship between Jehovah their God and Israel, whom He was just bringing as His people into His land. Accordingly the very large introduction is an address to the people for the purpose of enforcing these claims.
There is another peculiarity in the book of Deuteronomy which it is well to present briefly before we descend to particulars; it supposes the failure of the people. It was after the golden calf, nay more than this; it was after the whole disciplinary dealings of Jehovah had now come to an end. They had had many a sight of their own hearts, and they had had ample experience of God's ways in patient and gracious government. All this was now closed. This therefore gives its tone to the book. The lawgiver, about to be taken from them, looks back on all the past; but he looks forward also to the land they were about to enter. Hence there is a tone of exceeding seriousness, as well as of chastened affection; there is a solemnity founded on the grand dealings of a God whose faithful and holy hand was now ushering them into His land. Above all the prime object is to press obedience on the people of God, but the obedience of a people who had already found what it was to have utterly broken down on their own assumed responsibility. That generation had passed away no doubt. The question was, did the present generation about to be brought into the holy land profit by the past? The aged lawgiver in these last words was led of the Holy Ghost to speak home to their souls.
This too explains why the book of Deuteronomy is made use of in the New Testament in so very striking a manner, and in circumstances so eminently critical. It is the book which our Lord quotes in His temptations with Satan. He cites from none other. In all the three occasions the Lord Jesus draws His answers from the book of Deuteronomy. Surely this is highly significant. He could have cited from any other, had any other been in all respects so suitable to the occasion. It was not necessarily, I conceive, because there were no words elsewhere admirably adapted to meet the case. May I not venture to think that other considerations entered, and that His citation of Deuteronomy only is in no way meant to disparage fitting words found elsewhere? It is not to be doubted that the words cited from Deuteronomy were the very best that they were chosen according to divine perfection. But also it would appear that the deepest wisdom lay in citing from that book, as well as its most applicable words. The book from which they were selected had itself a special appropriateness to the occasion, as we shall see: can it be doubted that the blessed Lord knew this infinitely well when He was pleased to use it?
Now wherein lay this fitness not only in the words that were cited, but in the particular book from which they were extracted? Wherein lay the superior propriety of Deuteronomy to furnish answers at that juncture for Christ, as compared with any other book of scripture? I have no hesitation in subscribing the opinion that our Lord Jesus chose them not only because they were in themselves exactly such as met and confronted Satan's temptations perfectly, but because there was a moral suitability in the fact that they were the words addressed to the people when ruin had already come in when nothing but the grace of God was afresh appealing to them before they were brought into the holy land. The Lord, by the simple fact that He quotes Deuteronomy, gives evidence that He had before His eyes the condition of the people of God, whatever might be their own insensibility. Not only did the Lord say the right thing, but the ground, the line, and the spirit of the book whence He chose His answers were such as took the becoming place under such circumstances before God. The less that Israel felt they had failed, the more Jesus felt it for them. If they betook themselves to rites and ceremonies as a means of pleasing God, Jesus gave Himself up to unreserved obedience was Himself the constant pattern of One who never sought His own will. Indeed He found His moral glory in this very fact, that He alone of all men that ever lived never in a single particular swerved from that which after all is the sweetest, loveliest, highest thing in man here below absolute devotedness to another, doing the will of His God and Father. Such was the uniform walk of Jesus.
Now Israel had totally failed in their place. The book of Deuteronomy acknowledges this failure, and takes its stand not only on the fact that it was impossible to deny, it but on the duty of confessing it. At the same time there is the gracious bringing in of God, and of what was suited to the people of God, when ruin was there. This supposes a heart that knows God; and certainly so it is with Moses. We know well that, if God made known His acts unto Israel, He made His ways known unto Moses. But Jesus knew God Himself as Moses never did, and by His use of it put honour on the book that makes plain how in a state of ruin the one saving principle is obedience. We shall find more than that before we have done with the book of Deuteronomy, though we may in this lecture not look fully at a special character of it which is presented in the latter part of the book, where it will be proved that the New Testament also uses it in a very striking manner. But inasmuch as the Lord's three answers are taken from the early portion of Deuteronomy, which comes before us on this occasion, I have at once referred to this patent fact. We never can duly understand the Old Testament unless in the light of the New; and if there is anyone who is personally and emphatically "the light," need it be said that it is Jesus? This men forget. No wonder therefore that Deuteronomy in general has been but little understood, even by the children of God; that the thoughts of expositors are comparatively vague in explaining it; and that men are apt to read it with so little insight into its bearing that the loss might seem comparatively trifling if it were not read at all. In short how could it be respected as it deserves, if regarded as an almost garrulous repetition of the law? Now, apart from the irreverence of so treating an inspired book, such an impression is as far as possible from the fact. Deuteronomy has a character of its own totally distinct from that of its predecessors, as has been already pointed out and will appear more fully.
Let us now look at the details as far as it can be done in so brief a glance as we can afford to give it at present.
The first thing introduced here is the fact that Jehovah had spoken to them in Horeb, saying, "Ye have dwelt long enough in this mount. Turn you, and take your journey, and go to the mount of the Amorites, and unto all the places nigh "hereunto, in the plain, in the hills, and in the vale, and in the south, and by the sea side, to the land of the Canaanites, and unto Lebanon, unto the great river, the river Euphrates. Behold, I have set the land before you: go in and possess the land which Jehovah sware unto your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give unto them and to their seed after them. And I spake unto you at that time, saying, I am not able to bear you myself alone: Jehovah your God hath multiplied you, and, behold, ye are this day as the stars of heaven for multitude.'' Moses reminds them how he had shared the burden of care for them with others. "Take you wise men, and understanding, and known among your tribes, and I will make them rulers over you." So it was done; but it is added that, when they did depart from Horeb and went through the wilderness, "which ye saw by the way of the mountain of the Amorites, I said unto you, Ye are come unto the mountain of the Amorites, which Jehovah our God doth give unto us. Behold, Jehovah thy God hath set the land before thee: go up and possess it, as Jehovah God of thy fathers hath said unto thee; fear not, neither be discouraged."
Then comes (ver. 21 et seqq.) the relation of the inner motives for the sending of the spies.* This it is well to note, as we should not have discovered it from the Book of Numbers. What we have here is not a repetition; it leads us into things secret what wrought in the people and hindered their blessing. The chief point to observe is that there was not a spirit of obedience in the people, and this they lacked because there was no faith in God. This is clearly shown. Consequently it is not an isolated fact that they wished spies, or that Jehovah acceded to their desire to have them (this we have already seen), but here "Ye came near unto me every one of you, and said, We will send men before us, and they shall search us out the land, and bring us word again by what way we must go up, and into what cities we shall come." Moses mentions how the saying pleased him: here things are stated exactly as they were. He may not at all have understood at the moment what was working in the people; but all is told out. "The saying pleased me well, and I took twelve men of you, one of a tribe: and they turned and went up into the mountain, and came unto the valley of Eschol, and searched it out. And they took of the fruit of the land in their hands, and brought it down unto us, and brought us word again, and said, It is a good land which Jehovah our God doth give us. Notwithstanding ye would not go up, but rebelled against the commandment of Jehovah your God: and ye murmured in your tents, and said, Because Jehovah hated us." Was this their trust? "Because Jehovah hated us, he hath brought us forth out of Egypt." Was it not the pettishness of disobedient children, if ever there were such? "Because Jehovah hated us, he hath brought us forth out of the land of Egypt, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us. Whither shall we go up? our brethren have discouraged our heart, saying, The people is greater and taller than we."
*Dr. Davidson (Introd. O. T. i. p. 235) ventures to set portions of this chapter in juxtaposition with two from elsewhere, in order to show that God's speaking to the inspired writer was simply his own mind and conscience enlightened from on high. He and other sacred authors are to be regarded as nothing more than representatives of the intelligence of their age in relation to the Deity. "The Deuteronomist, writing at a later period of the same arrangement [the mission of the spies in Numbers], represents the people proposing the measure to Moses, who on consideration resolved to execute it, because it approved itself to his heart and conscience: 'Ye came near unto me every one of you, and said, We will send men before us, and they shall search us out the land; and the saying pleased me well: and I took twelve men of you, one of a tribe.' (Deuteronomy 1:22-23) In the same manner an important social arrangement is declared to have been made by Moses at the suggestion of Jethro his father-in-law, who says in prophesying, 'If thou shalt do this thing, and God command thee so, then thou shalt be able,' etc. (Exodus 18:23) But inDeuteronomy 1:9; Deuteronomy 1:9, etc., Moses speaks of the same institution as his own without any reference to Jethro, or the divine command of which Jethro spoke." Such is the sceptic's puny effort to lower the character and credit of scripture. But the believer sees wisdom and grace in comparing the first historical statement with the solemn use the legislator makes to the generation about to enter the land, and the added information is of grave import.
Numbers 13:1-33 gives the fact when God warranted Moses to send the spies; Deuteronomy supplies the motives which wrought in the people to desire them. For he had himself told them to go up into the land; but they begged spies to search it first. The wish emanated neither from God nor His servant but from the people, though Moses, at God's command, did send them to the ruin of that generation, as it turned out And it has been well remarked on the one hand, that he graciously omits to repeat God's offer to make himself a fresh stock after their destruction but for his intercession; while on the other he confesses how he, no less than their fathers, had grieved Jehovah, so that he was not to lead them into the land any more than they, but to give that place of honour to Joshua. Conceive the state of mind which could say that "in Deuteronomy Moses repeatedly lays the blame of his expulsion on the people (Deuteronomy 1:37; Deuteronomy 3:26; Deuteronomy 4:21); but according toNumbers 20:12; Numbers 20:12 God punished him thus for not believing Him, while inNumbers 27:14; Numbers 27:14 his punishment was occasioned by the legislator's own disobedience"! (Dr. D.'s Introd. O. T. i. 367.)
Again, what can be more simple and appropriate than that Moses at the close should omit the name and counsel of Jethro, and bring the people into greater prominence than himself in the choice of rulers? This he had fully shown in the history. Now he dwells chiefly on their part in the matter, confessing his own inability to cope with their great increase, which ho touchingly entreats God to swell a thousand times, but withal urges on the rulers to judge righteously.
Such was the genuine result of sending the spies. "The people is greater and taller than we; the cities are great and walled up to heaven; and moreover we have seen the sons of the Anakims there. Then I said unto you, Dread not, neither be afraid of them. Jehovah your God which goeth before you, he shall fight for you, according to all that he did for you in Egypt before your eyes; and in the wilderness, where thou hast seen how that Jehovah thy God bare thee, as a man doth bear his son, in all the way that ye went, until ye came into this place. Yet in this thing ye did not believe Jehovah your God, who went in the way before you, to search you out a place to pitch your tents in, in fire by night, to show you by what way ye should go, and in a cloud by day." Then the bitter consequences came. "Jehovah heard the voice of your words and was wroth, and sware saying, Surely there shall not one of these men of this evil generation see that good land which I sware to give unto your fathers."
These were solemn words to bring before the minds of Israel just about to enter into the good land. We may without difficulty see the admirable appropriateness of such an introduction. They were about to enter it by special grace; for it is of importance to bear in mind that it was not by the covenant which was made at Horeb that the children of Israel entered the land at all. If God had held to the terms of that covenant, never could the people have found their way into Canaan; but God was pleased to bring in fresh terms by a way which will be shown before we have done with this sketch of Deuteronomy; and it was simply and solely because of those fresh terms of mercy which God Himself brought in of His own grace that Israel entered there. At the same time Moses, though well aware of this, reminds them of the real source of their misery, and of the judgment that had fallen on them from God.
It is evident therefore, that this book has the most sensible difference from all that preceded it. Its moral turns on this the only possible way of maintaining relationship with God, namely, obedience; what the nature of that obedience is, and how it is modified; how God graciously takes into account the weakness of those brought into this relationship, and how He provides for His own glory in it. At all events, whatever may be His grace, whatever His ways with His people, obedience is that with which He cannot dispense. Hence therefore we see why it is that the first circumstance in their history brought before them was that God told them not to go up to the mountain of the Amorites; but they would go up in self-will and self-confidence, and utterly failed before their enemies. The land was straight before them, and they might, as far as that was concerned, have gone in and taken possession of it at once. Why did they not? The book of Deuteronomy discloses it. Because they had not a particle of confidence in God. Therefore it was that, when God told them to go up, they refused and suffered the consequence of their disobedience.
This then is the crucial test, so to speak, which Moses applies throughout; this is the homily; for indeed Deuteronomy we may call a book of divine homilies in this respect. It consists of moral addresses, and appeals in a tone quite unexampled in all the five books of Moses. Need one point out how suited all this is for the last words of one who was just about to depart? They possess that inimitable solemnity which cannot be so much uttered in words as felt in the general bearing of the book. Moses himself had the deepest sense of the situation, but in no way as one who distrusted Jehovah, for he had well learned to count on His love. He knew fully that Jehovah was doing nothing but what was for His own glory; how could His servant then find fault? There were reasons due to God's character why Moses should not bring the people into the laud. He had compromised Him at a critical occasion, and could not but feel that so it was. Not that this made the smallest cloud between Master and servant. As God loved Moses, so Moses confided in God. Nevertheless the circumstance that he too had failed to sanctify Jehovah their God in his heart as he ought that even he had misrepresented Him when it was above all due to God that His grace should be clearly seen, all this added gravity to the appeals and style of the departing man of God.
Thus then the circumstances of Moses, as well as of the people, were precisely those suited to impress the lesson of obedience. For a people in relationship with God such is the only possible way, either of pleasing Him, or of tasting that joy of the Lord which is the strength of His people.
Obedience is the real spring of blessing, as disobedience is the sure pathway of ruin. Such is the fertile topic which we find throughout the book.
Hence the story of the Amorites, as we saw, is given. Hence, while he fails not to show that Jehovah was with himself, and how Joshua was to displace him, he does not hesitate to set before all the story of his own shame, so to speak. What love there was in this, if by any means he might impress obedience on the people that were just going into the land! How good are the ways and the words of God! So it is that the New Testament gives us the failure of the apostle Peter, not merely at the beginning but in the very midst of his career. So it is that it does not withhold from us the over-heatedness of a Paul, as well as the weakness of a Barnabas; that it tells out the stumbling both of Thomas and of Mark: all is openly communicated for our instruction. The prime duty for every creature, whether Jew or Christian, is obedience. This then is the leading truth of Deuteronomy. So, after it has been brought before us from the first, we find their failure to trust Jehovah leads to a fresh command. They are no longer to go up and take possession of the land, but to turn back and take their journey into the wilderness. With this they did not at all like to comply; and thus the same spirit which declined to go up in obedience to Jehovah refuses to go back in submission to Him.
"Then ye answered and said unto me, We have sinned" "we have sinned against Jehovah: we will go up and fight." Ah! it is an easy thing to say, "We have sinned;" but how often we have to learn that it is not the quick abrupt confession of sin which affords evidence that sin is felt! It is rather a proof of hardness of heart. The conscience feels that a certain act of confessing the sin is necessary, but perhaps there is hardly anything which more hardens the heart than the habit of confessing sin without feeling it. This, I believe, is one of the great snares of Christendom from of old and now that is, the stereotyped acknowledgment of sin, the mere habit of hurrying through a formula of confession to God. I dare say we have almost all done so, without referring to any particular mode; for alas! there is formality enough, and without having written forms, the heart may frame forms of its own, as we may have observed, if not known it in our own experience, without finding fault with other people, For notoriously, in a legal state of mind people are apt to get through the acknowledgment of sin in what they know has grieved the Lord; but even then there is a want of bowing to His will. Here then we have all laid bare. The Israelites thought to settle the whole matter with God by saying, "We have sinned;" but then they proved that there was nothing settled, nothing right; because what really pleases God is this the acceptance of His good will, whatever it be. Faith leads to obedience: first of all the acceptance of His word brings and secures blessing by faith for our souls; and then, having received it, we surrender ourselves to His will. For what are we here but to please God? The Israelites realized nothing of the kind. The spring of obedience was wanting. This is what Moses is enforcing by every possible kind of declaration and motive; by his own example and by theirs, as well as the example of their fathers. All this is made to converge on the children. He wanted to leave them his blessing nay, he wanted them to have the best blessing that God could give them. Next to having Christ Himself is the following in His steps. What better blessing after all can be on earth, except Christ Himself, if indeed it be not a part of Christ, than that life of Christ which walks in obedience?
This is then what he was pressing. But their fathers would not obey at that time. They would not go up when Jehovah bid them, and when He commanded them to turn back, they wished to go forward. They said, "We have sinned against Jehovah: we will go up and fight according to all that Jehovah our God commanded us."
This is a solemn lesson that there may be a thorough spirit of disobedience at the very time that people talk of doing whatever God is pleased to command. And it is obvious, beloved friends, obedience depends on this that we really do what God commands us now that we are doing what is suitable to our present position and state. What God lays on one He does not necessarily enjoin on another. For instance, it is not everybody that is called to serve God in a public way; nor is everyone called to take a particular step or course which might involve him in trouble and persecution. We have to consider whether we are undertaking it out of some human desire of heroism. How many one has known who would have liked much to be martyrs! I do not regard this as evincing the spirit of obedience, but rather a spice of self-confidence. When such a death is really before one in service, then perhaps the difficulties would be incomparably more felt; for the Lord does not call to such a course or end to gratify human nature, or to give an opportunity for glorifying man, but always for His own glory. In such a case there is no room for will, nor sparing of the heart. Every step in really obeying God puts the man morally to the test, and is more or less attended with severe trial. Where the world or the flesh governs, the trial is not felt. The man who said, "Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest," had no faith at all. The other whom Jesus called thought about his father and mother; he would like to see them first. So it habitually is where the faith is real; but nature is not yet judged root and branch. The heart may be made up to follow the Lord, but the difficulties are still felt keenly; whereas the man who only theorises is ready in his own conceit, in word at least, to do anything; but there is no seriousness of spirit: he does not know himself yet. No matter what it may cost, he assumes that he will at once go through with the will of the Lord. It is exactly so here.
Such then is the early and remarkably striking introduction to the book.
Next we see what was the fact when they did go up spite of the warning of God to fight the Amorites. "Jehovah said unto me, Say unto them, Go not up, neither fight; for I am not among you; lest ye be smitten before your enemies. So I spake unto you; and ye would not hear, but rebelled against the commandment of Jehovah, and went presumptuously up into the hilt And the Amorites, which dwelt in that mountain, came out against you, and chased you, as bees do," there was a most ignominious flight "and destroyed you in Seir, even unto Hormah And ye returned and wept before Jehovah; but Jehovah would not hearken to your voice, nor give ear unto you. So ye abode in Kadesh many days, according unto the days that ye abode there." I am afraid there was not much more in the weeping than in the acknowledgment of the sin.
Then in Deuteronomy 2:1-37 the law-giver reminds them how they took their weary journey. But what wonderful grace! Jehovah went along with them; and of course the faithful turned back just as much as the unfaithful. How good is the Lord! This is now developed. Moses says, "We turned," not "Ye," merely. "We turned, and took our journey into the wilderness by the way of the Red Sea, as Jehovah spake unto me; and we compassed Mount Seir many days. And Jehovah spake unto me, saying, Ye have compassed this mountain long enough: turn you northward. And command thou the people, saying, Ye are to pass through the coast of your brethren the children of Esau, which dwell in Seir; and they shall be afraid of you: take ye good heed unto yourselves therefore: meddle not with them; for I will not give you of their land; no, not so much as a foot breadth; because I have given Mount Seir unto Esau for a possession." Thus Jehovah from the very first was teaching them that they were not called out on an errand of indiscriminate conquest. It was not in His mind to offer men His law or the sword. They could take possession of no lands whatever of their own will. Jehovah gave them no such license as the right to slay, burn, or plunder others as they liked. It was simply a question of subjection to God and obeying Him, who had from the first a plan for the nations round Israel as their centre. "When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel."
It is the same principle here again as elsewhere. Man must not presume to choose. Israel was called in everything to confide in Jehovah and obey. Is there anything so wholesome! I am persuaded that above all the Christian, who has a still nearer relationship with God, is the very last person who ought to exercise a choice in self-will. How great the blessing of one who walks, as Christ walked, in dependence on God, not consulting Him only if constrained, but of a ready mind, and assured that by His Spirit, through the written word, He deigns to guide every step of your way where self is judged, and to give you to take the right path with a simplicity incomparably better than all the wisdom the world could muster, if one sought in independence to choose for oneself!
This seems to me put to the test in the question of the land of Edom. There was no doubt whatever that Esau had behaved so ill that the children of Israel were not likely to forget it. We know how these traditions linger among men, particularly in the East. But no, God would not have them to meddle. "I will not give you of their land." Jehovah was most careful exactly where He had least sympathy. The fact of Esau's pride and contempt of Israel gave them no license to take their land. "I have given Mount Seir unto Esau for a possession." God always holds to His own principles, and He teaches us to respect them in others. "Ye shall buy meat of them for money, that ye may eat; and ye shall also buy water of them for money, that ye may drink. For Jehovah thy God blessed thee in all the works of thy hand: he knoweth thy walking through this great wilderness: these forty years Jehovah thy God hath been with thee; thou hast lacked nothing." Why should they covet? They must learn not to seek what God would not give them. That is the point to do God's will. Jehovah had blessed Israel, and would have them content and thankful instead of coveting their neighbour's goods. He too it was who had given the Mount to Esau: that was enough. And Israel bow to the will of their God. "And when we passed by from our brethren the children of Esau, which dwelt in Seir, through the way of the plain from Elath, and from Ezion-gaber, we turned and passed by the way of the wilderness of Moab."
Then comes out another instance. Were they to lay hands on the Moabites who were not so near of kin as the Edomites? Not so. "Distress not the Moabites, neither contend with them in battle: for I will not give thee of their land for a possession; because I have given Ar unto the children of Lot for a possession." Thus, we see, the second exhortation contains a lesson about other people, as the first was the danger of disobedience on their own part. What we find here is a warning not to yield to the sight of their eyes or the violence of their hands, guarding against a covetous spirit which pays slight regard to that which God had assigned to others. It is ever the same duty of submission to God's will. The first chapter takes cognizance of themselves; the second chapter puts them to the test in the presence of other people. It did not alter their duty, if the antecedent history of Moab and Ammon, just as much as that of Esau, was far from good. We know the profanity of Esau; we know the solemn circumstances of Moab and Ammon from their very origin; but for all that God would not permit His people to indulge in what did not become Himself as represented however feebly in and by Israel. This is the plain gist of the book. It is the due conduct of a people in relationship with Jehovah; no longer the bringing out of typical institutions, but the development of the moral ways which become the people with whom Jehovah had a present connection and intercourse on earth. The grand duty and safeguard is evermore to heed His word, and the consulting Him not only for their own path but in respect to others. The same principle is steadily pursued on all sides.
They were tried after this by another case of forbearance. "So it came to pass when all the men of war were consumed from among the people, that Jehovah spake unto me, saying, Thou art to pass over through Ar, the coast of Moab, this day: and when thou comest nigh over against the children of Ammon, distress them not, nor meddle with them." But the same duty abides for them. We see from this that it is mere ignorance to suppose that there is not a divine system in the book; and this is more remarkable, I think, in Deuteronomy, if possible, than in the preceding books. We can all understand an orderly arrangement where there are types all arranged in a consecutive manner; but here in these moral exhortations it is, though in another way, just as sensible. In this case too we have the fact that there had been a great deal of fighting in previous days. The children of Moab had had their wars. Was there any reason in this why the children of Israel should have wars with them now? And as for the children of Ammon, they too had passed through similar experience. Giants had dwelt there in times past, and the Ammonites called them Zamzummims. They were "a people great, and many, and tall, as the Anakims; but Jehovah destroyed them before them; and they succeeded them, and dwelt in their stead." But this was no reason why they were to expect Jehovah to destroy the Ammonites now. Both were powerful motives not to dread the Canaanite races, who were destined to extirpation.
Thus was kept up a thorough sense of discipline in the people, and above all dependence on and confidence in Jehovah. They were to be guided simply not by what Jehovah had done in providence by Ammon, Moab, or Esau, but by His will as to themselves. This was a lesson for Israel of prime moment. May we not forget it ourselves! Covenant favour would surely do as much for Israel as providence had done for Moab and Ammon!
All this then precedes another lesson. It is well to remark here that verse 24 is exactly parallel with verse 13; that it is not Moses in verse 13, but Jehovah who commands to "rise up," etc., in both; and that verses 10-12 are a parenthesis of instructive past history for moral profit like verses 20-23. "Rise ye up, take your journey, and pass over the river Arnon." Now comes another promise: "Behold," says He, "I have given into thine hand Sihon the Amorite." Here then they are called to action. It will be observed that first of all in this chapter, it was not activity but subjection. It might be, and no doubt was, trying enough for Israel to take quietly the unfriendliness of the Edomites, Ammonites, and Moabites; but no matter what the provocation given, no matter how they might be insulted by them (and they were), a hand of Israel must not be lifted up against their brethren; for Jehovah reminds them of the connection, and gives those races the closest name possible their brethren. Edomites or Moabites or Ammonites, unfeeling and disposed to injure Israel, still God would educate His people in remembering whatever bond of nature there was: if blows came, God would not forget the delinquent. Meanwhile they were not to meddle with their kindred, even though jealous and unkind.
But Israel is called to action. "Rise ye up, take your journey, and pass over the river Arnon: behold, I have given into thine hand Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his land: begin to possess it, and contend with him in battle. This day will I begin to put the dread of thee and the fear of thee upon the nations that are under the whole heaven, who shall hear report of thee, and shall tremble, and be in anguish because of thee. And I sent messengers out of the wilderness of Kedemoth unto Sihon king of Heshbon with words of peace." Is not this very notable? What a difference between God's conduct of His people, and man's corruption of it! When we compare, for instance, the way in which Moses, under the direction of God, was to lead on the Israelites, and the way in which Mahomet perverted the word into a fable for ambitious ends, and allowance of human lusts and passions, who cannot see the difference? In the one case there was the thorough sifting and scrutiny of God with whom most? With the enemies? Not at all, but His own people. In His dealings with them He applied a higher standard, and far more severity. There was incomparably greater strictness of judgment with the children of Israel than with all their enemies put together. Mark the very fact here set before us: not a single man of the congregation of Jehovah that left Egypt passed into the holy land save two individuals, who identified themselves by faith from the very first with the glory of Jehovah. Where else can be found such jealous care as this? It is granted that they did not all perish in the same way, but they all fell in the wilderness. Whatever then the blows which fell on Sihon, or on Og, or on any of the others; whatever the ways of God with Moab and Ammon afterwards, or even with Egypt, there never was seen such unsparing strictness as with Israel.
When man builds up a society, when he founds a religion or any other scheme, how wholly different his course! What gentle censures, if any, what palpable favouritism towards his own party, where they most deserve reproof and rebuke or perhaps still more stringent measures! On the other hand, there is no mercy but ruthless severity always served out to those who refuse to fraternise, not to speak of ceaseless enmity to those who condemn and oppose. But in Israel's case God enforced a far more thorough and searching discipline in all their ways. No compulsion was used to the nations outside. In special instances judgment to the full took its course. Was anything like this the rule where man even took up the Bible for his own ends? It was otherwise with Mahomet. He might not grant such a liberal concession to others as he left to himself. I do not dwell on this. We all know that it is natural to wretched, wilful man. But there never was a system that more thoroughly pandered to the evil heart of man, and gratified it in its violence against others, and in its corrupt lusts for itself, than that frightful imposture. Whereas, even in God's dealings with a nation after the flesh (and such is the truth as to Israel here), there was an admirable check on man and witness of divine government, though the law made nothing perfect. It was not yet Christ manifested, but man under trial of the law and its ordinances and restraints, dealt with as living in the world, and instructed in view of this present life. Yet for all that, even though it was but the governmental display of God with a nation (not fully as with Christ, but provisionally by Moses), there is not a fragment of it that does not, when candidly examined, prove the goodness and the holiness of God, as much as it illustrates also on the other side the rebelliousness of man, chosen man, even the people of God.
In this case let us see the principles of Jehovah's discipline. Did He warrant Israel to coerce Sihon with threats of vengeance or win by cajolery? Did He offer him the book of the law with the one hand or the sword with the other? Nothing of the sort. Look at the way in which Jehovah treated even these enemies of Israel. "Let me pass through thy land: I will go along by the highway, I will neither turn unto the right hand nor to the left. Thou shalt sell me meat for money, that I may eat; and give me water for money, that I may drink: only I will pass through on my feet." "But Sihon," it is said, "king of Heshbon, would not let us pass by him: for Jehovah thy God hardened his spirit, and made his heart obstinate, that he might deliver him into thy hand, as appeareth this day. And Jehovah said unto me, Behold, I have begun to give Sihon and his land before thee: begin to possess that thou mayest inherit his land. Then Sihon came out against us, he and all his people, to fight at Jahaz. And Jehovah our God delivered him before us; and we smote him, and his sons, and all his people." Israel kept the path of right and courtesy. Sihon rushed on them to his own ruin; and only so did Israel smite and dispossess the king of Heshbon.
In Deuteronomy 3:1-29 it is substantially similar with Bashan. Og the king came out, and as with Heshbon, so with Bashan. "Jehovah said unto me, Fear not: for I will deliver him, and all his people, and his land, into thy hand; and thou shalt do unto him as thou didst unto Sihon king of the Amorites, which dwelt at Heshbon. So Jehovah our God delivered into our hands Og also, the king of Bashan, and all his people." All this is brought out to Israel as the fruit of obeying Jehovah.
Deuteronomy 1:1-46 lets us see the end of disobedience; Deuteronomy 2:1-37; Deuteronomy 2:1-37; Deuteronomy 3:1-29 give us to know as clearly the result of obedience. Nothing can be more manifest than the moral groundwork which Moses is preparing for all the rest of the book that follows.
In Deuteronomy 4:1-49 we find another line of things. The law-giver sets before them the manner in which the law dealt with themselves, in one feature particularly, which he presses on them. "Now therefore hearken, O Israel." It appears to be a fresh discourse to a certain extent. "Now therefore hearken, O Israel, unto the statutes and unto the judgments which I teach you, for to do them, that ye may live, and go in and possess the land which the Jehovah God of your fathers giveth you. Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of Jehovah your God which I command you." Surely this again makes it too plain to call for many words of ours to demonstrate what Moses, or rather God Himself, has in view in all these chapters. It is obedience. "Your eyes have seen what Jehovah did because of Baal-peor: for all the men that followed Baal-peor, Jehovah thy God hath destroyed them from among you. But ye that did cleave unto Jehovah your God are alive every one of you this day." So this fact also is used. Jehovah had cut down the former generation for their disobedience. "Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as Jehovah my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it. Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people."
Next, he presses their singular privilege in His presence with them. What nation had such a wonder as God Himself in their midst God Himself near the least of them? "For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as Jehovah our God is in all things that we call upon him for? And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day." It was not merely a sight of God, but One who deigned to take the liveliest and most intimate interest in His people Israel. "Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons' sons."
The point urged here is, that when they came and stood, as far as any then could stand, in the presence of God, they had seen no similitude of Jehovah. What a guard this was against the misuse of outward forms! God Himself did not disclose Himself by an external creature-shape. Jehovah their God did not make Himself visible to them by a similitude. Consequently there is here a heavy blow struck at the tendency towards idolatry. For when severed from Christ then those ordinances only became a snare to men. Still more since Christ: misused ordinances are practically the same thing in principle, asGalatians 4:1-31; Galatians 4:1-31 teaches. This was guarded against from the first by the fact that no similitude of God was vouchsafed. "Ye came near and stood under the mountain; and the mountain burned with fire in the midst of heaven, with darkness, clouds, and thick darkness. And Jehovah spake unto you out of the midst of the fire: ye heard the voice of the words" because they were called to obey "but saw no similitude; only ye heard a voice. And he declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even ten commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone." And then comes the exhortation to beware of corrupting themselves by idolatries, by the likeness of any creature. This is pursued to the end of the chapter, with the institution of the cities where the manslayer might find refuge.
In Deuteronomy 5:1-33 we come to still closer quarters. "And Moses called all Israel, and said unto them, Hear, O Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your ears this day, that ye may learn them, and keep and do them." Obedience is the claim. "Jehovah our God made a covenant with us at Horeb." We shall find a fresh one made in the land of Moab, but first of all they are reminded of the Sinaitic covenant. "Jehovah made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day Jehovah talked with you face to face in the Mount out of the midst of the fire. (I stood between Jehovah and you at that time, to show you the word of Jehovah: for ye were afraid by reason of the fire, and went not up into the Mount.)" Then is laid down the memorial that Jehovah, who gave them His law, was the same who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They were a people brought into relationship with God, and the object of His words was to guard them from practical inconsistency with that relationship.
It is remarkable that, even though in this connection Moses gives them what are called the ten commandments, there is nevertheless an express and manifest difference in the form as compared with Exodus; so little is Deuteronomy a mere rehearsal of the earlier books.* It is a familiar point to many, but may claim a brief notice here, especially as all do not see its bearing in by no means the least striking of the ten words; I speak of the law of the sabbath. Some wonder why it should be joined with the other commandments; but the sabbath is so much the more important here, because it is not strictly a moral command. This makes the principle at stake to be felt the more. The sabbath law rests entirely on the word of God Himself. It was a question of His authority, not of that which a man might intrinsically discern. What is meant by a moral law is that which one can pronounce on from within even without a prescription from God. For instance, a man knows perfectly well that he has no right to steal. If a person takes what does not belong to him, every man, even a heathen, can judge it. There may be lands where everything morally is at the lowest point, and where therefore a wrong is less severely estimated than elsewhere. But where is the savage even who does not know the wrongness of stealing? For although he may allow himself a dispensation to take from others, let a man steal from him, and it will soon be seen whether he does not condemn the wrong. Plainly then the savage knows quite well that it is unjustifiable to steal. But nobody knows about the sabbath-day unless Jehovah command it. Yet He joins its observance with prohibitions of evil which man could himself judge. It is therefore the strongest assertion of His authority.
*It is distressing that any man bearing the Christian name should write as does Dr. Davidson. (Introd. O. T. i. pp. 226-228.) "On comparing the decalogue as recorded inExodus 20:2-17; Exodus 20:2-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21, it will be observed
"1. That it is said of both, " God spake all these words." (Exodus 20:1; Deuteronomy 5:22.)
"2 Notwithstanding such express declaration, the following diversities occur. In Deuteronomy 5:12 the term keep corresponds to remember in Exodus 20:8, and the last clause of the former verse, 'as the Lord thy God hath commanded,' is wanting in Exodus. In Deuteronomy 5:14 is the addition, 'thine ox nor thine ass,' as well as the clause, 'that thy man-servant and thy maid-servant may rest as well as thou.' Again, in Deuteronomy 5:16 two new clauses are supplied, 'and that it may go well with thee,' and 'as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee.' The copulative conjunction is prefixed to the last four commandments in Deuteronomy. In the ninth and tenth the terms 'falsehood' and 'covet' are not the same as in Exodus. The tenth has also the first two clauses in a different order from that in Exodus, and adds 'his field.'
"3. The above diversities show that the ipsissima verba spoken by God cannot be in both, because both do not exactly agree.
"4. It is possible, however, that the ipsissima verba may be in one or other. Accordingly the majority of expositors take the record in Exodus for the exact one, supposing that, as Moses was speaking to the people in the latter case, he recited from memory, not from the tables of stone, and therefore there is some variation of terms. A few, however, think that the record in Deuteronomy is the more exact, because when Moses recorded the words in Exodus he had heard the decalogue pronounced; whereas, when he repeated it in Deuteronomy, it was in his hands, inscribed in permanent letters.
"5. If the rigidly literal meaning of the phrase 'God spake these words' is not adhered to in the case of the one record, it need not in the case of the other. Or, if the cognate clause used in both books, 'that God wrote them on two tables of stone,' be not literally pressed in one case, there is no necessity for doing so in the other. It seems probable to us that the record in Exodus is the more exact. That in Deuteronomy has an amplification corresponding to the style of the book.
"6. We suppose that the record in Exodus is the older one. Yet it would be hazardous to assert that it is the exact original. It is very improbable that both proceeded from one and the same writer, because on the principle of strict literality of language he contradicts himself. Both are substantially the decalogue; but Moses did not write both. Indeed he could not have written either in its present form, because that in Exodus is Jehovistic, and older than the record in Deuteronomy. If we have," &c.
In the same sceptical spirit follows Dr. Colenso. (The Pent. pt. ii., pp. 364-366.)
Now I affirm that on the face of the scriptures no candid person can deny that Exodus is professedly given as the history of the matter; Deuteronomy as a subsequent recital to the people, without the least aim at reiterating the words, which would have been the easiest thing in the world; for even these free thinkers do not pretend that the Deuteronomist did not possess Exodus. Hence, if darkness had not veiled their eyes, they would have seen that the latter clause of Deuteronomy 5:12 cited could not be in Exodus, and that its existence in Deuteronomy proves that we have here a grave and instructive reference to the commandments formally given in the second book of Moses. Such moral motives as are added are therefore as appropriate in Deuteronomy as they could not, ought not to, be in Exodus. The remembrance of their own estate as slaves in Egypt till delivered by Jehovah is most suitable in verse 15; but it is certain that this is an appeal to their hearts, not the ground stated by God in promulgating the fourth commandment. All is perfect in its own place, and the imputation of self-contradiction as baseless as it is malicious and irreverent. But one must only expect this from men whose aim is to reduce the inspired writers to their own level, and who think that piety can co-exist with fraud, yea, with fraudulent falsehood about God.
This is constantly forgotten when men talk about the moral law. One of the most weighty duties is not properly a moral question at all, but depends simply on the commandment of God. Not that I doubt the sabbath-day to be of the deepest possible moment, and so lasting in its claims that, when the millennium comes, that day of rest will be in full force again. It is not correct therefore that the sabbath-day is done with: many people in Christendom think so; but I take the liberty of having a stronger view about the sabbath than even those who think themselves strongest. Many count it buried in Christ's grave, but it is not. Far from being done with, we know from the word of God that He will maintain the sabbatical rest strictly, and enforce it in the days of the kingdom; so that, if a man does not bow to His authority, he will assuredly come under divine judgment: so much does Jehovah make of it in itself, and so much will He make of it for the obedience of others in the day that is coming.
We however are not under law but grace. The law of the sabbath is not given to Christians. Grace has brought us out of the condition of a nation in the flesh or of men in the earth. The Christian is not a mere man, nor is he a Jew. If one were simply a man, one must have to do with the place and state of Adam fallen. For a Jew no doubt there is the law of Moses. But for the Christian a very essential feature of his standing is that he is delivered from the status of man or Israel, and called to Christ and heavenly things. His death to the law is not therefore to weaken the authority of the law, but because of the principles of divine grace which are now brought out in Christ risen from the dead, founded on His death, manifested in His resurrection, and maintained by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. Such is the reason why a Christian even now on earth passes into a new state of things altogether. Consequently, when Christianity began, the first day of the week was made the distinguishing mark, the Lord's-day, and not the sabbath. For we must remember that the sabbath does not mean a seventh day, as some persons (I am sorry to say) equivocate; but the seventh day and no other. This is so decided that in the millennial age there will be a strict maintenance of that day with all the authority of God Himself, vested in and exercised by the Messiah governing Israel and the earth.
Let me just refer to this for a moment longer, lest there should be any mistake about what appears to me to be the truth about it. In the commandment to keep it Jehovah the God of Israel speaks to this effect: "Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is the sabbath of Jehovah thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work." But the motive here is not because God rested upon that day, but because they were to remember that they were servants in the land of Egypt, and that Jehovah had brought them out through a mighty hand, and by a stretched out arm: "Therefore Jehovah thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath-day." Surely this is very significant, and points out a manifest difference in the character and scope and design of the book of Deuteronomy as compared with Exodus. In the one case there was a remembrance of creation; in this case, of symbolic redemption, the bringing out of Egypt. The fact is that redemption, even in type, is a stronger motive to obedience than creation itself. This seems the reason why it is brought in here, as the time was long past; whereas all was fresh in Exodus, which is the main display of that truth. If we have seen the object of all this part of Deuteronomy to be the enforcement of obedience, there is nothing which maintains obedience so much as redemption; and if that were the case when it was only an outward deliverance, how much more when it is eternal?
It is freely allowed that the ten words have a specific character of the deepest moment for man on earth, as distinguished from what was judicial and ceremonial. Hence Moses says, "These words Jehovah spake unto all your assembly in the mount out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness, with a great voice: and he added no more. And he wrote them in two tables of stone, and delivered them unto me."
Next follows the account of their fear before God's solemn words, their promise to obey, and the mediatorial place which the people desired and God sanctioned for Moses.
In Deuteronomy 6:1-25 we find the first of those texts which our Lord quotes. Hence, I need not say, there is peculiar solemnity in its character. The passage insists on the unity of the true God. This was a truth which Israel was most prone to disregard. The very point of faith, for which we are especially responsible, is what we are in most danger of forgetting under pressure or carelessness. Whatever we are called out for is what Satan endeavours to destroy. By whom? Our adversaries? No, not merely so, but by ourselves. To apply what now occupies us here, give me the chief, fundamental, and most salient points of Christianity, and I will show you that these are the very truths that Christians are most in danger of forgetting. What is it that characterises Christianity? Redemption accomplished; Christ the head of the church above; the Holy Ghost sent down here below; and all this borne witness to in the worship and in the ways of Christians and the church. Is this what you feel? Is this what you read? Is this what you hear? Nothing less. The hardest thing to find now in a Christian is real intelligence about Christianity. Commonly indeed we see that Christians understand a great deal better what the Jews ought to have done, than what they themselves ought to be doing. In short, whatever it be to which God summons us is precisely what the devil endeavours to obscure, and so to hinder our testimony.
The point then for the Jew was the one true God. "Jehovah God that hath brought thee out of the land of Egypt" He was the only God. To what were they always inclined? Setting up other gods in the wilderness. Accordingly this is the solemn and central truth that is brought in here. "Hear, O Israel." They were about to go into the land to enjoy it; but "Hear, O Israel: Jehovah our God is one. And thou shalt love Jehovah thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart. And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children;" and they were to bind them for a sign; they were to make much of them at all points outside the house and inside, and always. And this is enforced in the very words which our Saviour employed. "Thou shalt fear Jehovah thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name." It was to be a real fealty: it was not merely a dogma pure and simple, but to be known as a fact. It was revealed as the great operative truth, continually impressed on Israel their one true God.
It seems needless to say that this is altogether short of Christianity; and as we have referred to the difference of a Jew and a Christian as to the sabbath-day and the first day of the week, so as to this. The essential revelation of God to us is the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost the Father displayed by the Son, and made known by the Spirit. This is just as characteristic a truth for us as the one Jehovah was for a Jew. Now notoriously as a dogma it is acknowledged everywhere in Christendom except by heretics; but the moment it is appropriated as a practical fact, people stand back and begin to qualify and mutilate. "Is He then indeed your Father?" "Can you call Him Father?" "Oh, this might be dangerous, and that were presumptuous;" and so men talk on that is, the moment it becomes a real living truth, and not words on paper. The acknowledgment in a creed is all well; but when it comes to be the truth for one's own soul, stamping its value on our communion and also on our ways, men at once retreat back into some "dim religious light," where it is all forgotten and lost, merely owned verbally, but without power for the heart and life.
Before we pass to the next chapter, it would be well to observe for a moment the second answer of our Lord "Ye shalt not tempt Jehovah your God." What was meant by this? Not any ordinary fleshly sin on our part, as many suppose. Tempting God was to doubt Him, as many, all of us, are apt to do. Satan took advantage of the scripture that said that He should not dash His foot against a stone. He quotes accordinglyPsalms 91:1-16; Psalms 91:1-16, intimating to Jesus that, if He were the Son of God, all He had to do was to throw Himself from the pinnacle of the temple; and all must endorse His claims. Was not this a positive promise? God would "give his angels charge concerning him;" and what a fine proof it would be that He was the true Messiah, if He threw Himself down from such a height, and withal the angels preserved Him! But Satan as usual tampered with the plain written word, alike with its letter and its spirit; for after "to keep thee" he omitted "in all thy ways." This he tried to conceal from One, all whose ways were obedience, venturing to insinuate what a noble demonstration of His Messiahship it would be. And what was the Lord's answer? "Thou shalt not tempt Jehovah thy God." The true Israelite does not require to put God to the test. If you suspect a rogue is in your employment, you may test him by marking a piece of money to see whether he steals or not: am I then going to mark something for God to see whether He will keep His word or not? I know God will do it; I do not require to put Him to the proof. This is the meaning of it, and such is precisely the path of duty. He that believes may calmly confide in God under all circumstances. His Father will take care of him. Is not this in wonderful harmony with the rest, following on the confession of the one true God of Israel?
Deuteronomy 7:1-26 one may sum up in a very few words. We have the consecration of the people to God. This is the grand pith of the chapter as it appears to me. It is the people repudiating the ways of the heathen, and consecrated to God. And this characterizes the book of Deuteronomy. It is not at all a people or a class kept at a distance by intervening priests. Of course it is a fact that the priests are there; but one of the peculiar features of this book is that, although sacerdotalism existed, the priests are designedly swamped with the Levites, as the whole of the people are gathered round Jehovah. Thus it is not a book which defines strict canonical usage in these matters. The object is quite different. The other had its place when God was giving the book of Leviticus. There He assigned this as the portion of the high priest and his sons, that of the Levites, this again of the people. But in Deuteronomy the point is to centralize them all around Jehovah Himself. The consequence is that, though all have their place, these distinctions may here seem small indeed. If it is a question of access to God in His sanctuary, priests are definitely brought out, and the proper book for this is Leviticus; but there is a larger truth than this that God has a people whom He puts in a place of consecration to Himself. Such is the point here in the seventh chapter. We shall find how thoroughly this applies all through the book to the perplexity of poor proud rationalism, but in itself a simple yet very important truth indeed.* So difficult is it to unbelief that some take the ground of making Deuteronomy belong to an older age when the distinction of priests from Levites was not yet brought in. Still more take the opposite hypothesis and contend that its legislation is of a later character than that of the preceding book. The truth is that the difference is due to moral development of Israel according to Jehovah's wisdom on the eve of introducing His people into the land, and the more settled and social habits He would have them cultivate there. But the tone, mind, and heart of Moses are nowhere more characteristically apparent than in these his last words to the people of Jehovah whom he loved.
*Nothing can be weaker than the harping on the phrase "the priests the Levites," as in the writings of Davidson and Colenso (following the superficial scepticism of foreign authors, who themselves followed the old Deists of our own country). The broader character of the book, with its aim of bringing forward the people, and consequently the tribal divisions, rather than particular families, fully accounts for this. Lad the phrase been inverted to "the Levites the priests" (which never occurs), there would have been some force in the argument: as it is, there is none. The priests were Levites. It is the design of the book which governs the description in each case.
In Deuteronomy 8:1-20 we have quite a different character. It is not the people's consecration to God, but their discipline, the trial of heart, and exercise by the way to which Jehovah subjected the people; and a most instructive section it is in this point of view.
And this is another chapter from which our Lord quotes when tempted, to which we may refer in passing. "And thou shalt remember all the way which Jehovah thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no." We see that what has been remarked is just what is expressed in this verse: "And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only," (what exercise of faith was there in that?) "but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of Jehovah doth man live." This is precisely what does put man to the proof morally. The word of God tests whether he submits to it, whether he lives on it, whether he delights in it, whether his meat is to do the will of God as the Lord Jesus proved His meat was.
It was by this Scripture that the Lord, as we know, repelled the first temptation of the adversary. None ever honoured God's word as Christ did.
We need not dilate on the beautiful detail but at the same time simple truth of this chapter. Clearly it traces the discipline of Jehovah by the way.
In Deuteronomy 9:1-29 another topic is prominent. It is not the Jewish people in the school of Jehovah to manifest what was in their heart, and what He was towards them; but the people strengthened by Jehovah in presence of a power mightier than their own. It was because of this very truth: Jehovah was with them. What did it matter about all others? They might be greater, stronger, wiser, more than the Israelites; but what of Jehovah? This was their boast. Could they match with Him? Certainly they could not; this Jehovah spreads in the most forcible manner before His people for their cheer and stay.
But we must not overlook another part of the chapter not the Lord strengthening the people against the mightiest of adversaries, but Israel reminded of their rebellious heart even under such circumstances against Jehovah.
In Deuteronomy 10:1-22 we find the provision of Jehovah's goodness is stated in a very striking way. Thus when the story of their rebellion is mentioned, it leads Moses to go back and to trace how this spirit betrayed itself even so early as at Horeb; for when it is a question of rebellion, we must go to the root of it. We are also shown the astonishing patience of Jehovah, and with that which might be difficult to understand if we did not look to the moral scope of the book the destruction of the first tables, the writing out of fresh ones, and the place in which they were to be kept. At the same time we are told how the tribe of Levi was separated, after having brought in (in an episodical way) an allusion to Aaron's death. It seems just a parenthesis, and not a question of chronology.*
*Dr. D. (Introd. O. T. p. 65) says: "From Deuteronomy 10:8 it is plain that the Levites were not appointed at Sinai but later; whereas we learn fromNumbers 8:1-26; Numbers 8:1-26. that their institution took place at Sinai." A disgraceful perversion; for Deuteronomy 10:6-7 is manifestly a parenthesis. Bearing this in mind, any reader can see that "at that time" in verse 8 really coalesces with "at that time" in verses 1-6, and therefore is in perfect accord withNumbers 8:1-26; Numbers 8:1-26; and yet is it repeated in p. 336.
A fair question arises for those who honour the divine word, why events so long severed in time are thus introduced seemingly together. No doubt the malicious mind of the sceptic takes occasion from it to turn what he does not seek to understand to the disparagement of inspiration. But there is no discrepancy whatever, nor confusion of Aaron's death in the last year of the wilderness sojourn with the separation of Levi some thirty-eight years before. The truth is that the solemn circumstances appear to recall to the mind of Moses the awful lapse of Israel when "they made the calf which Aaron made," and Levi, of odd perfidious to the stranger for a sister's sake, consecrated themselves to Jehovah in the blood of their idolatrous brethren; and Moses hews at Jehovah's command tables of stone like the first, and put them, written as before, in the ark which he had made. It was not then and there that Aaron died, as he alas! deserved. The intercession of Moses prevailed so far for his brother and the people, that the one lived till near the end of the wanderings in the desert, and the others, instead of perishing as a whole at once, lived to take their journey from a land of wells (Beeroth) to Mosera where Aaron died at Mount Hor, and thence to Gudgodah, and to Jotbath, "a land of rivers of waters:" such was the patient goodness of God to both, as the long interval made the more marked.*
*See Dr. Lightfoot's Works, ii. p. 136 (Pitman's Edition).
In Deuteronomy 11:1-32 is given the summing up of the whole matter, the practical conclusion which the lawgiver keeps before their eyes. They were to remember what rebellion must end in. Hence it is that he alludes to the fate of Dathan and Abiram whom the earth swallowed up in consequence of their flagrant apostasy and fighting against God. "Your eyes have seen all the great acts of Jehovah which he did. Therefore shall ye keep all the commandments which I command you this day, that ye may be strong, and go in and possess the land whither ye go to possess it; and that ye may prolong your days in the land which Jehovah sware unto your fathers to give unto them and to their seed, a land that floweth with milk and honey" (ver. 7-9). To the end of the chapter follow the most earnest warnings, as well as bright promises: disobedience or obedience would be the turning point in the land. The mount of blessing and the mount of curse were there on the other side Jordan.
This closes the first part of Deuteronomy. A few words on the next few chapters will suffice for the present.
In Deuteronomy 12:1-32 we have statutes and judgments. Thus we come to what might be called the direct charges, having done with all the introductory part. All the previous part prepares the way. Now we find what would test their obedience. "These are the statutes and judgments, which ye shall observe to do in the land, which Jehovah God of thy fathers giveth thee to possess it, all the days that ye live upon the earth." In the very first place is laid down utter destruction of the high places. The reason is obvious. The first of all rights, and the highest of our duties, is that God should have His rights. With this then most fittingly He begins. It is no use talking about Israel: the first object is God. If therefore God was dishonoured by the high places, they must all come down. Besides, if these high places had been dedicated to heathen gods, Israel must not dare to consecrate them to the true God. Such conversion does not suit God, who must have His own.
God must and does choose for Himself a simple yet most important consideration (ver. 5, 11, 14, 18, 21, 26). Will-worship is intolerable. It ought most of all to shock the Christian. If it were merely a question of man, nobody would think of choosing for another. Nobody likes this. If people like to choose for themselves, as mere men, what an awful delusion it is to be choosing for God to be really governed by your own will in matters of religion! We can all see how very bad it was in Israel; but do we feel that it is still worse in the Christian? He has given no title to adopt doctrines, practices, ways, government, or any one thing that is not His expressed will for His children. Some there are, no doubt, who assume that God has not in these things expressed any will of His, own. I do not envy them the thought that God has not revealed His mind about what is nearest to Himself, and what most of all is bound up with His glory! It is making God less than a man; for if he could not be content without it, how much less the living God?
Here we see that God had a most deliberate choice in the smallest matters as well as in the greatest; but He begins with what most nearly touches His presence. He sets Himself against the high places; He will not have them. He chose to have a place where He would put His name. This becomes the centre for all; and the book of Deuteronomy is founded on that fact, Israel being on the Point of entering into the land. Consequently it is an anticipation of what was before them. It is not a book for the wilderness, except for their hearts to look back on whilst on the borders before they entered the land.
And the grand principle too we may just notice in passing: Jehovah reminds them by Moses that He had allowed much while they were in the wilderness which could not be tolerated now (ver. 8). If they were going to possess the land, let them remember it was God's land, not theirs. He might and would give it to them, but still He always kept His place. It was "the land which Jehovah thy God giveth thee." In fact He acted as the landlord. They were only tenants, and had to pay Him rent. This was the substantial meaning of the tithes and other requisitions (ver. 11). They were the dues He demanded in virtue of His position as landlord of the people in the land. Therefore we can understand it as if He said, When you were in the strange country, when you left it in haste to wander here and there in the wilderness, there were great difficulties and many irregularities which cannot be allowed now. The greater the blessing of God, the more thoroughly you are put on the ground that God has given you, the more He insists on thorough and constant obedience. This is the point here, and thus we see the connection with all that has gone before.
Then in Deuteronomy 13:1-18 there is a similar line, all these early injunctions being what we may call religious statutes. We shall meet with others ere long, we shall come to civil ones, but we are not going beyond the religious charges at present. It is evident that they are somehow or another connected with God, and touch matters of religion, as men would say. Israel must not slight God's claims in common things. For instance, as they must not trifle with blood, because it belonged to God (Deuteronomy 12:16-25), the dreamer must be guarded against a dream (Deuteronomy 13:1-5). It might belong to the true God; but "Thou shalt not hearken" if there was the smallest risk of going after other gods. Power supernatural has not the smallest value, nay, is to be shunned rigorously, if it weakens consciences as to the true God. The same Spirit which has the power of miracle is the Spirit of truth and the Holy Spirit. If truth be abandoned, it indicates the power of Satan as the source, and not the true God. Such is the principle: no sparing friends, relatives, "wife of thy bosom," could be tolerated.
There is then (verses 12-18) pointed out the way to deal with a city guilty of idolatry. "Then shalt thou enquire, and make search, and ask diligently; and, behold, if it be truth, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought among you; thou shalt surely smite the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, destroying it utterly, and all that is therein, and the cattle thereof, with the edge of the sword," the small things as well as great. To have confidence in God is one of the important points here, to cherish full confidence that whatever He gives us is the very best thing for us. It is as true for us as for them, though not shown in the same legal way or outward manner.
Deuteronomy 14:1-29 insists on what became the children of Jehovah their God in abstaining from unseemly maimings or disfigurements for the dead, as well as from any food which He, who knew better than they, pronounced abominable. They are then shown what may or may not be eaten, whether beasts, fishes, or fowls. A people holy to Jehovah must not eat anything that dies of itself, nor accustom itself to an uncomely act, were it with a dumb and dead kid and the milk of its dam.
But there is another point peculiar to this book. Beside the tithe of their increase truly rendered from corn, wine, oil, with the firstlings, which, if distant from the place Jehovah would choose for His centre of worship, might be turned into money, and there spent before Him with a joyful household and the Levite not forsaken, there was to be a tithe at the end of three years, mentioned in the 28th and 29th verses: "At the end of three years thou shalt bring forth all the tithe of thine increase the same year, and shalt lay it up within thy gates." They were not compelled to take this to the one place that God had consecrated. It had more of the family character; but a beautiful feature is connected with it: "And the Levite (because he hath no part nor inheritance with thee), and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, which are within thy gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that Jehovah thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hand which thou doest." Even in the very witness of domestic blessing there must be the largeness of heart that goes out to those who have no friends to care for them. How good is our God, and what a witness of His grace! We know well how the family is apt to trench on generous feeling, and how it is apt to shut itself up to no more or better than a refined selfishness. It is not so where God governs. There, even were it the family gathered in such a sort as this within their gates, the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, all have their part. Why should they not rejoice? It was God who made the family rejoice, and they were to go out to those that were strangers to it. Is it not a beautiful indication of what the true God is, even in His least institutions? *
*The effort of rationalists to show that "the Deuteronomist" wrote long after Israel were in the land of Palestine is mere ill-will and want of depth. At the same time it is in no way opposed to the strictest views of inspiration to hold that the law was edited by an inspired man, whether Ezra (according to the Jews, as Josephus, etc.) Jeremiah, or any other prophet. The inspired editor may have given later names, and added "as it is in this day," or explanatory remarks.
In Deuteronomy 15:1-23 we find a similar principle as to the year of release. On this we need not particularly dwell, but they are reminded of their own place. They had been bondmen themselves; and if they had been delivered of God, they should cultivate the same spirit as He had shown. This was their point of imitating God.
In Deuteronomy 16:1-17 (where I now stop) we have the winding up of all this part the termination of the statutes which had to do with religion. Let me ask, Why were there these three feasts, and these three only? For a reason given already. These feasts made an appeal to a male Israelite which none besides could make. Others might be optional, but these feasts were obligatory. It is a call to obedience. The book of Deuteronomy throughout pre-eminently brings in the authority of God over a people in relationship with Himself, displayed and proved in obedience. What did not so much manifest obedience is left out, though it might have an important spiritual meaning in its place; for certainly other feasts (as the feast of atonement, for instance) had. But it was not a question here of truth or its forms, but of obedience: this is ever in view. It is not the tabernacle, nor the priest, not the wilderness, but obeying God as His people in the land.
There is another remark to be made. The obedience spoken of in this chapter, which called every male of Israel up to remember Jehovah at these three feasts, gathered them to the place which Jehovah their God would choose. Then again we have what is always brought out in the book of Deuteronomy. It is Jehovah gathering the people round Himself. In the delight of His people He delights. He would have them happy in Himself, and enjoying all He had given them to enjoy. Consequently we have these three feasts, which set forth particularly Jehovah providing to fill the heart of His people with peace and joy to overflowing
Yet at the first of these feasts Israel were not told to rejoice. In a certain sense it might be a season too good and deep for joy. The character of it was so solemn as scarce to admit of this. It represented that death which befell the Lamb, and arrested the judgment of God which had gone out against us because of sin. We may rejoice in the God that has so dealt with us, but is it becoming that Christ's death should be a call to transports? There are deeper feelings in the heart than joy. Times we know when the sense of what we have been, of what we are, and of God's putting all our evil away for ever by the death of His own Son, is too deep for joy if not for tears. I do not mean that there should not be the profoundest feeling of gratitude, and the fullest expression of thanksgiving to God. Still it is too solemn to admit of what is so buoyant, which has its own proper exercise. But God is very careful, in the face of the passover, that there should not be a forgetfulness of that escape which brought them out together then. Hence, in the first feast, we find they were to eat unleavened bread. "Thou shalt eat no leavened bread with it; seven days shalt thou eat unleavened bread therewith, even the bread of affliction; for thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt in haste: that thou mayest remember the day when thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt all the days of thy life." Then they are told not to celebrate the feast indiscriminately where and as they please. "Thou mayest not sacrifice the passover in any of thy gates, which Jehovah thy God giveth thee: but at the place which Jehovah thy God shall choose to place his name in, there thou shalt sacrifice the passover at even, at the going down of the sun, at the season that thou camest forth out of Egypt. And thou shalt roast and eat it in the place which Jehovah thy God shall choose; and thou shalt turn in the morning, and go unto thy tents."
But the second feast brings out joy in a very distinct and delightful manner. "Seven weeks shalt thou number unto thee: begin to number the seven weeks from such time as thou beginnest to put the sickle to the corn. And thou shalt keep the feast of weeks unto Jehovah thy God with a tribute of a freewill offering of thine hand, which thou shalt give unto Jehovah thy God, according as Jehovah thy God hath blessed thee: and thou shalt rejoice before Jehovah thy God, thou, and thy son." It is not the death of Christ with all its solemn, however blessed, issues. It is founded on the life of Christ in resurrection, when the Holy Ghost brings us into the power of enjoyment. It is pentecost. Consequently it is that great feast which finds its answer in Christianity more particularly (the passover being of course the foundation); but this is pre-eminently its character as a present fact. And mark this; that it is not only joy in the Lord, but calling others to joy (ver. 11). Besides, "Thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in Egypt: and thou shalt observe and do these statutes." We were bondmen, and are not. We are to observe the statutes and to do them. Once more obedience is pre-eminently the matter, and this too as delivered men once bondslaves, but now free to obey (ver. 12).
There is a third feast, that of tabernacles. It is not the liberty of grace, which the feast of pentecost is, but rather the epoch in type when the liberty of glory shall arrive. Mark how very strikingly this is shown. "Thou shalt observe the feast of tabernacles seven days, after that thou hast gathered in thy corn and thy wine." Undoubtedly the gatherings in of the corn and the wine (that is, the harvest and the vintage) are the well known types of God's final dealings: the harvest when He separates the wheat from the chaff, or at any rate from that which is not wheat; and the vintage when He executes unsparing judgment upon the vine of the earth upon all religion that is vain and denies heaven. There is no mercy shown in the vintage. In the harvest there is the gathering in of the good and the extinction of the evil; but the vintage knows nothing but vengeance from God. It is after this will come the full time of joy for the earth. Blessing for the world is after God has thus cleared the scene: in the prospect of this the Christian is called to rejoice to have the joy not only of liberty now but of the glory that is about to displace the oppression, the sorrow, the wretchedness, the sin, of this poor long-groaning earth, when all shall be put under the only One who is competent to bear the burden and to govern it to the glory of God. Hence the language differs most sensibly even from the joyous scene of blessing of which the feast of weeks was so redolent. It is not merely "thou shalt keep the feast of weeks unto Jehovah thy God with a tribute of free-will offering of thine hand, which thou shalt give, according as Jehovah thy God hath blessed thee," but "seven days shalt thou keep a solemn feast unto Jehovah thy God in the place which Jehovah shall choose: because Jehovah thy God shall bless thee in all thine increase, and in all the increase of thine hands; therefore thou shalt surely rejoice."
May the Lord give us hearts to rejoice in all His, grace and truth and glory!
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Kelly, William. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 5". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://studylight.org/
the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany