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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 8

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


This chapter recounts God’s care of Israel during the wilderness wanderings as a warning for Israel not to forget God after they have come into the wealth and prosperity of Canaan. How necessary is such a warning, and how many there are who need it, and how few there seem to be who heed it! Any minister of the gospel could supply dozens or scores of examples of persons, both men and women, who, while they were poor, even receiving help from the congregation in some cases, living in cheap or modest houses, and hard-pressed to make a living, were faithful to the Lord, attended worship regularly, and in many instances were trusted with some responsibility in the church (such as the office of elder, or deacon, or teacher of a class), but who, as soon as prosperity came, wealth was inherited, or business success or promotions brought affluence or even wealth, forsook religion of every name, bought two Cadillacs and a yacht and went to hell in all directions!

It was this writer’s privilege to minister for a large church in Houston, Texas, during the years of 1938-1951. Those were boom years! World War II with its high wages in the war industries, making it possible for many people to earn more money in four or five days than they had previously earned in a month, supplied the occasion for many people to forsake God and go their own way.

The chapter has two divisions:

(1) A recital of many of the events of the deliverance and the forty years’ wanderings for the purpose of persuading Israel to be unwavering in their loyalty and obedience to God (Deuteronomy 8:1-17), and

(2) The warning that if they are not faithful to God, they will certainly be destroyed and cast out of Canaan as were the nations Israel was about to thrust out. “The focal point of this chapter is Deuteronomy 8:17. with its picture of a future Israel at ease in Canaan, basking in self-congratulation.”(F1)

The design of the previous verses is to remind Israel of their need of God and the necessity for depending upon God always and not relying upon themselves.

Keil’s chapter heading here is: “Review of the Guidance of God, and their Humiliation in the Desert, as a Warning against High-mindedness and Forgetfulness of God.”(F2)

We cannot progress very far in Deuteronomy without becoming aware of the tremendous amount of repetition contained in it, and, “These may seem unnecessary until we realize that, in spite of them, the people strayed away from God. Some truths are so important, and human memories are so weak, that they need to be stated over and over again.”(F3) It must be remembered in this connection that one of the great features of the teachings of the Master was the extensive REPETITION. All of the parables of the kingdom are repetitions in their major feature, and what some of the scholars call “doublets” are nothing at all except examples of how Jesus returned again and again to the same thought, repeating his teachings in slightly variable form. There were two sermons: (1) one on the mount, and (2) the other on the plain,” so much alike that the thoughtless sometimes think of them as “variations” of the same sermon. The same is true of the two accounts of the Lord’s prayer.

Verses 1-5

“All the commandment which I commanded thee this day shall ye observe to do, that ye may live, and multiply, and go in and possess the land which Jehovah sware unto your fathers. And thou shalt remember all the way which Jehovah thy God hath led thee these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble thee, to prove thee, to know what was in thy heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or not. 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, but by everything that proceedeth out of the mouth of Jehovah doth man live. Thy raiment waxed not old upon thee, neither did thy foot swell, these forty years. And thou shalt consider in thy heart, as a man chasteneth his son, so Jehovah thy God chasteneth thee.”

The teaching of this paragraph is that God deliberately brought hardships upon the people in order to teach them to rely upon the Lord. Such things as hunger and thirst were used to challenge the people and to discipline them and to train them to look to God for the solution of all their problems. This is exactly the teaching of Hebrews 12:5-11. (The student interested in the subject of “The Lord’s Chastening” will find additional material under those verses in our N.T. series of commentaries, Vol. 10.)

The purpose of this chastening was beneficent toward man, “That men, humbled so as to see their own weakness, chastised out of all self-conceit by affliction, are taught to submit to God, to hear and obey Him, and in grateful acknowledgment of his grace and mercy, yield themselves lovingly to serve Him.”(F4)

These verses cast a brilliant illumination upon all the misfortunes and hardships of life. They are not merely adversities; they are opportunities; and, “They are all examples of God’s providence.”(F5)

Harrison was impressed with the choice of the events related in Deuteronomy, especially some of those in this chapter, saying, “The way in which these incidents are described, and their correspondence with those events most likely to impress Moses himself, furnish striking evidence of authenticity.”(F6)

“Man shall not live by bread only” (Deuteronomy 8:3). This, of course, was quoted by the Son of God himself in his encounter with the prince of evil. The truth here is a many-faceted thing - true, no matter how one regards it. Physical food is not enough; the spiritual dimension is absolutely necessary for any kind of an abundant life. Chaplain (Major) Branham of the U.S. Army was pastor of a small Christian church in Missouri, where the pay was very low. He entered the chaplaincy, and one of his old elders asked him why he did so. He replied, “Man shall not live by bread alone!” We doubt, of course, that anything like that is meant here.

In Jesus’ quotation of this place, what did he mean by it? It appears to us that Keil was correct in his analysis of this. “Jesus was not saying to Satan that the Messiah lives not by material bread only but by doing God’s will. Jesus was saying, I leave it to God to care for my life; and God is able to sustain life in extraordinary ways.”(F7) It was indeed by extraordinary means that God preserved the life of Jesus in this situation. An angel came and ministered unto him. The lesson taught here is that, “It is not nature than nourishes man, but the Creator nourishes man through nature.”(F8) Another statement of the same view is this: “Jesus means to say, `I leave it with God to care for the sustenance of my life, and I will not arbitrarily, and for selfish ends help myself by a miracle.’“(F9)

“The raiment waxed not old upon thee” Here we encounter radically different views on the part of faithful scholars, and of course they cannot both be correct. Despite this, we do not have the key for any dogmatic solution. Adam Clarke thought that this meant, merely, that God so abundantly cared for Israel in the wilderness that they never had to wear old and tattered garments. He pointed out that they had artisans of the highest quality, as attested by the tabernacle. They knew how to weave. They had thousands of sheep for wool. They had plenty of time to make their own clothes and plenty of material with which to do it. The meaning therefore is, “That God so amply provided for them all the necessities of life, that they were never obliged to wear tattered garments.”(F10) An objection to this view is that God does not here say merely that “Israel did not have to wear tattered garments,” but that, “their raiment waxed not old!”

“The other view is that, “The strong and pointed terms which Moses here uses (See also Deuteronomy 29:5) indicate a special or miraculous interposition of their loving Guardian in preserving them amid the wear and tear of their nomadic life in the desert.”(F11) Luther, Calvin, and Kline also took this view. However, many recent able and dependable scholars support the other view that, “The reference here is not literal, but poetical and rhetorical.”(F12) Oberst took a middle of the road view, writing: “While we need not overlook the natural supplies, or the presence of human agency in part, it is clear that these natural supplies (both the manna and the clothing) were supplemented by some special and miraculous exercise of divine power.”(F13)

Many of the ancient writers, Justin Martyr in particular, and the Jewish rabbis magnified this miracle tremendously, maintaining, not only that their clothes did not wear out, but that, “As the younger generation grew up, their clothes also grew upon their backs, like the shells of snails.”(F14) Based upon the truth revealed in the Bible that God never performed any unnecessary miracles, we favor the view of Dummelow; but, of course, the literalists could be correct.

Verses 6-10

“And thou shalt keep the commandments of Jehovah thy God, to walk in his ways, and to fear him. For Jehovah thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing forth in valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, and vines and fig-trees and pomegranates; a land of olive trees and honey; a land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness, thou shalt not lack anything in it; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills thou mayest dig copper. And thou shalt eat and be full, and thou shalt bless Jehovah thy God for the good land which he hath given thee.”

The picture here is that of an agricultural Paradise loaded with every good and delightful thing. There is hardly any use to comment on the various products mentioned here, since most of them have been the staples of human consumption for ages. One surprising entry is “pomegranates,” but Clarke explained this on the basis that the fruit “is very valuable in the Middle East, especially for its aid in making cooling drinks, much as we use lemons.”(F15)

“Copper” (Deuteronomy 8:9). In the old versions, this is rendered brass. “Brass was the old name for copper; the alloy known as brass “was unknown in that time.”(F16) The Bible has no account of Jews working mines in Canaan, but, “The writer of the Book of Job was acquainted with mining operations, and gives a graphic description of the process in Deuteronomy 28.”(F17)

“Thou shalt eat and be full” (Deuteronomy 8:10). This description of the anticipated life for Israel in the promised land makes it clear enough, as Cousins said, “That negative puritanism had no place in the Biblical view of the righteous life.”(F18)

Verses 11-16

“Beware lest thou forget Jehovah thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his ordinances, and his statutes, which I command thee this day: lest, when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein; and when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied; then thy heart be lifted up, and thou forget Jehovah thy God, who brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; and who led thee through the great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents and scorpions, and thirsty ground where was no water; who brought thee forth water out of the rock of flint; who fed thee in the wilderness with manna, which thy fathers knew not; that he might humble thee, and that he might prove thee, to do thee good at thy latter end.”

“Beware lest thou forget Jehovah thy God” (Deuteronomy 8:11). (See under Deuteronomy 6:12 for discussion of this warning, a warning which occurs several times in Deuteronomy. The warning in this paragraph is, “that luxury and ease could blunt the edge of Israel’s awareness of God.(F19) “Wealth is likely to engender in the possessor a spirit of self-gratulations and pride.”(F20)

Concerning wealth which is very much in view here, the Saviour himself called it wicked. “Make unto yourselves friends, using Mammon, wicked as it is, that when you fail, they may receive you into the eternal habitations” (Luke 16:9). Moffatt rendered this verse: “Use mammon, dishonest as it is, to make friends for yourselves, so that when you die, they may welcome you to the eternal abodes.” The teaching leaves no doubt of the wickedness of wealth. What is the meaning of this? It cannot mean that the people who are wealthy came into it by dishonest or unrighteous means. It does not even mean that people with money are wicked. Why is wealth dishonest and wicked?.

1. It tempts us to believe that it belongs to us, whereas we are merely stewards, and that for only a little while.

2. It strongly tempts us to trust in riches.

3. It promises the owner happiness, but it is a lie.

4. It promises to solve every problem, but instead it becomes a greater problem than any it can solve.

5. It estranges him from earthly friends.

6. It surrounds him with false friends.

7. It is a constant hazard to spirituality.

“To do thee good at thy latter end” (Deuteronomy 8:16). The object of all of God requirements for his human children is their welfare. “Thy latter end” here is not a reference to the life after death, but “to that state of existence which Israel contemplated upon the termination of their period of discipline and hardship.”(F21)

What is actually wrong with the human pride that so readily follows prosperity and wealth? Wright observed that such pride is “terrible and insidious, because it flouts the plainest facts and asserts the virtual deity of self!”(F22) It results in the old failure of Adam’s race, the deification of self, or man worshipping himself, in other words, humanism. Then again, “One cannot forget God and maintain an objective neutrality. Forgetting means that lesser gods will be worshipped.”(F23)

Verses 17-20

“And lest thou say in thy heart. My power, and the might of my hand hath gotten me this wealth. But thou shalt remember Jehovah thy God, for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth; that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as at this day. And it shall be, if thou shalt forget Jehovah thy God, and walk after other gods, and serve them, and worship them, I testify against you this day that ye shall surely perish. As the nations that Jehovah maketh to perish, before you, so shall ye perish; because ye would not hearken unto the voice of Jehovah your God.”

Daniel 4:28 has a remarkable statement of the conceited pride that comes to men of great wealth. Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, was congratulating himself upon what he had done:

“He was walking in the royal palace of Babylon. The king spake and said, Is not this great Babylon, which I have built for the royal dwelling-place, by the might of my power, and for the glory of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:28).

Of course, in that very hour of Nebuchadnezzar’s conceited self-congratulations, he began that seven years’ sojourn with the beasts of the field as God had warned him through Daniel. Scott pointed out that this stern warning from Moses against high-mindedness and arrogant conceit is more and more urgent today than ever before. “The very generosity of God in the growing wealth of civilization may have its end defeated by blindness of heart.”(F24)

In the form of such conveniences as electricity, the average family today has the equivalent of what would have been half a dozen full-time servants just a few decades ago, but is this increased wealth and leisure time used in the worship and service of God? Certainly not! America this very day is in the process of doing the very thing that ruined ancient Israel. “They are forgetting God.” It is our prayer that America will do what God warned Israel here to do: “REMEMBER!” Remember the hardships and dangers of the colonial period. Remember the heart-breaking sufferings of the Revolution. Remember the agonies of a Civil War. Remember the wars we have won, and that it has always (for us) been the other fellow’s land and cities that were devastated. And remember that arrogant conceit will have the same result for us that it has always produced in every people who ever indulged it.

Lord God of hosts, be with us yet;
Lest we forget; lest we forget!

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 8". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/deuteronomy-8.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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