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‘The words which Moses spake unto all Israel on this side Iordan.’
Deuteronomy being a recapitulation of the law, and in a certain sense a summary of the preceding books, we might expect to find emphasised in it the lessons of these books. And this we do find.
I. The Divine election of Israel, so prominent in Genesis, is here emphasised. Israel is bidden to remember it again and again, that by the remembrance he may be saved from the fatal sin of self-righteousness. He is taught here that not for his greatness, nor for his goodness, has the Lord chosen him, but simply of His own good pleasure.
II. The Divine deliverance of Israel, which is the principal theme of Exodus, is here celebrated. He is bidden to remember what Jehovah did to Pharaoh, and to all Egypt when He delivered him from the house of bondage, that in gratitude for this deliverance he may find a motive for obedience.
III. The divine holiness, with its correlative, the national holiness, which is the theme of Leviticus, is kept constantly in view in the book before us, and this holiness is constantly held up before the people as standard to determine their conduct, even in matters indifferent.
IV. The Divine jealousy and the Divine determination to be obeyed, which are so terribly illustrated by the narrative of Numbers, are emphasised with no less power by the awful threatenings of Deuteronomy.
V. But the message which Deuteronomy has made peculiarly its own is the message of the Divine love and bounty.—Its appeal to Israel is: ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart.’ Its reason for this appeal is because the Lord is so worthy to be loved. It is this insistence on the Divine love which makes the book bright and hopeful, notwithstanding the fearful threatenings which it contains. The book was spoken to the people as they were ready to enter the land, to fill them with enthusiasm to obey the Lord. And it was fitted to do this. For it spoke of the land which was to be possessed, and of the law as a law to be obeyed in the land. There is much retrospect in the book, but the main outlook of it is forward. Its key-word is ‘possess’; its favourite phrase ‘the land which the Lord giveth thee, to possess it.’ By this book Israel was taught that the love of his God for him was so great that He would not rest until He had seen him in possession of all the blessings promised to Abraham. It brought the same message as the psalmist brought long afterwards: ‘The Lord God is a sun and shield, the Lord will give grace and glory; no good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly.
(1) ‘Every expert student is aware that Deuteronomy is the most spiritual book of the Old Testament. It breathes the spirit of the greatest prophets.… In this book we come nearer than anywhere else in the Old Testament to the teaching of the New. And this is why our Lord loved the book and used it so wonderfully.… It is no mere “second edition of the law.” … Rather, it is one of the freshest, most original, and even singular of all the Old Testament books. Its very history is a romance.… And by its date and character it steps at once into prominence as a central book of Holy Scripture. Every book of the Old Testament takes its place as viewed in relation to Deuteronomy.… Deuteronomy becomes a sort of touchstone of Old Testament Scripture: we can trace the development of Jewish literature by the way in which it led up to Deuteronomy, or afterwards was influenced by Deuteronomy, whether in its characteristic phrases or (still more) in its significant conceptions of Israel’s relation to God. It is not too much to say that the right appreciation of the place of Deuteronomy in Jewish literature has given us a priceless key to the understanding of the origin and growth and meaning of the Old Testament books.’
(2) ‘At long length, Abraham’s descendants enter the good land and large. Why “at long length”? Why does God keep me waiting for the incorruptible inheritance? Why does he not lavish its wealth on me at once?
The delay ripens and confirms my character. Through postponement, through hopes deferred, through conflicts and storms, through the trials of the pilgrim road, I learn to trust the higher strength, to submit to the Divine will, to be strong, and of a good courage. It is good for my soul to tarry the Lord’s leisure.
And the delay conforms me to the image of God’s dear and perfect Son. He reached His glory only by the way of the Hill Difficulty and the Valley of Humiliation and the Valley of the Shadow of Death. It is well for me to tread in His steps. It is an education, an honour, a blessedness.
And the delay brings me a larger acquaintance with God’s exceeding grace. I learn more of Him.
Thus it is best for me to gain the Holy Land only in the season appointed by the King.’
‘We came to Kadesh-barnea.’
The Hebrews had a wonderful preparation that should have led to a right decision at this crisis. Cowardice and distrust turned them back when only one march would have put them in Canaan. They turned back, and only two ever came so near again.
I. Many here have all needful preparation for stepping over the line.—Christian birth and training, convinced all their lives, under great stress of conviction time and again. Now you may be at your Kadesh.
II. What prevents right decision? Nothing better than (1) moral cowardice like that of Pilate, who dared not risk being accused of lack of loyalty to Cæsar. Or (2) some sin like that which kept Herod from obeying John the Baptist, whom he heard gladly, but finally murdered. (3) Worldliness, like that of Judas, whose case shows how near a man may come to salvation and be lost. So with the Young Ruler who only lacked one thing; but lacking that, lacked all. (4) Pride, like that which so nearly carried Naaman back to Syria to die a leper, turns many the wrong way when they come to their Kadesh. Don’t dictate to God how He shall heal you. You can’t have your own way about a single thing and be a Christian. (5) Procrastination has ruined multitudes, as it did Felix. He had many another opportunity, perhaps never a better; and, mark it, we do not read that he trembled again! Sad for a vessel to go down in mid-ocean, but sadder if home and safety are just in sight. (6) Distrust, like that which led the Israelites to send in spies to see if God had told the truth. This prepared them to accept the wrong majority, instead of the right minority report. The wrong one was true as to the goodness of the land. Can you bear to go back to the desert? How many dying Hebrews, as their children bent to catch last words, urged them, if they ever came to Kadesh, to go in without waiting! (7) Some want a voice from beyond the veil. Well, we have one—that of Dives—and does it not urge immediate surrender? A more weighty—Abraham’s—declares that whoever disobeys the light he has, would not be persuaded, even though one rose from the dead. How much more you have than those brothers of Dives had! (8) Some may say, ‘I’ll wait.’ Few make their final rejection all at once. Its elements were in every previous one. Wait till this service closes? It is closing now! If you go down to death, you will remember this service—those who did take the one step to Jesus, the tender invitation of the hymns, such as ‘Jesus of Nazareth passeth by.’ He will have passed by for ever?
‘Although it was only eleven days’ journey from Horeb to Kadesh-barnea by way of Mount Seir ( Deuteronomy 1:2.), it would naturally take the Israelitish host much longer to cover the distance. Their route probably lay along the western shore of the Gulf of Akaba. In three days’ time they reached the desert of Paran—“that great and terrible wildernes s.” The exact route can no longer be traced. All we know is that they encamped first at Kibroth Hattaavah, and then at Hazçroth (possibly ‘ Ain Haderah,’ between Sinai and Akaba), as they journeyed “by way of the mountain of the Amorites” to Kadesh-barnea, the southern boundary of Canaan ( Deuteronomy 1:19).’
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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 1". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent