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The Message of the Book of Deuteronomy
The book which lies before us is, in many ways, the most interesting and impressive of the Pentateuch. The message that this book brings us, coming as it does after the book of Numbers, is a most essential one. Numbers told us of the arrest in the deliverance of the nation; of the thirty-seven years of wandering sent as the punishment of unbelief. But it told us also how the people were brought back to obedience, and were made ready to go into and possess the land. Could anything be more fitting than that, ere they actually entered on the work, the great lawgiver should recapitulate in their hearing that law, in obedience to which lay their only hope of blessing?
I. First we have the laws which concern religion. These enjoined that only at one central sanctuary should offerings be offered. Further, all idol prophets, all who entice to idolatry, are to be destroyed, and all idolatrous practices utterly renounced. The distinction between clean and unclean animals is to be observed in the matter of food, tithes are to be paid, and the year of release and the feasts of the law are to be duly celebrated.
II. Next comes a section of laws regulating the conduct of the government and the executive. These laws define the authority of the judges and the judicial functions of the priests. They prescribe the method of demonstration in the courts of justice, they regulate the authority of the King, and exhibit the place that he is to fill in the Theocracy. They determine the position and privileges of the priests and Levites as members of the nation, and point the procedure to be followed in the case of the manslayer who flies to one of the cities of refuge. This section concludes with the chapter devoted to the laws of war, whether waged against nations generally, or specially against the inhabitants of the land.
III. From laws affecting public personages the writer passes to deal with the laws concerning the private and social life of the people. The discourse as a whole is a very remarkable one, and fitted to rebuke those who speak disparagingly of the Old Testament. Deuteronomy being a recapitulation of the law, and, in a certain sense, the summary of the preceding books, we might expect to find emphasized in it the lessons of those books; and this we do find. The Divine holiness implying 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 the standard which is to determine their conduct ever in matters secular. 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.
G. H. C. Macgregor, Message of the Old Testament, p. 59.
On this verse Prof. Harper observes: 'The worship at the High Places had led, doubtless, to belief in a multitude of local Yahvehs, who in some obscure way were yet regarded as one, just as the multitudinous shrines of the Virgin in Romanist lands lead to the adoration of our Lady of Lourdes, our Lady of Étaples, and so on, though the Church knows only one Virgin Mother. This incipient and unconscious polytheism it was our author's purpose to root out by his law of one altar; and it seems congruous, therefore, that he should sum up the first table of the Decalogue in such a way as to bring out its opposition to this great evil.'
References. VI. A. G. Mortimer, The Church's Lessons, vol. ii. p. 398. J. Johns, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xix. p. 354. J. Oswald Dykes, Sermons, p. 123; The Law of the Ten Words, p. 35. J. Vaughan, Sermons (10th Series), p. 6. VI. 4, 5. J. Budgen, Parochial Sermons, vol. ii. p. 25. VI. 6, 7. E. W. Attwood, Sermons for Clergy and Laity, p. 369. W. H. Hutchings, Sermon Sketches, p. 140. J. Budgen, Parochial Sermons, vol. ii. p. 254. VI. 6. M. Briggs, Practical Sermons on Old Testament Subjects, p. 125.
On the religious education contemplated in this passage, Prof. Harper says: 'To compensate for the restrictions which the Decalogue puts upon the natural impulses, Yahveh was to be held up to every child as an object of love, no desire after which could be excessive. Love to Yahveh, drawn out by what He had shown Himself to be, was to turn the energies of the young soul outward, away from self, and direct them to God, Who works and is the sum of all good. Obviously those upon whom such education had its perfect work would never be fettered by the material aspects of things. Their horizon could never be so darkened that the twilight gods worshipped by the Canaanites should seem to them more than dim and vanishing shadows. Every evil, incident to their circumstances as conquerors, would fall innocuous at their feet.'
Reference. VI. 10-12. Archbishop Benson, Sermons Preached in Wellington College Chapel, p. 1.
The Lamp of Memory
Dr. Johnson defined a patriot as 'one whose ruling passion is a love for his native country'. Jesus Christ showed Himself to be a profound patriot, and the Old Testament, which was His Bible, is the most patriotic book in the world.
I. The gift of memory is a strange and mysterious power which holds its seat in the very fortress and citadel of the inward man. We are persons, because we can remember. We English are anxiously unmindful of our own national past, though few people ever had such a past to be proud of and thankful for. Each green battlefield where English liberty was won, each crumbling castle and cathedral on English soil, is preaching its silent sermon, warning us, and teaching us how much God has done for us, and for our fathers.
II. 'The sense of greatness keeps a nation great.' Mr. William Watson's line comes true if 'greatness' be the greatness of our calling and election in God's will, of our high privileges by God's grace, of our sacred charge and duty to be the standard-bearers of liberty and mercy and truth in the world. But if the sense of greatness only inflates us with a conceit of ourselves and contempt for other peoples, if we use our privileges selfishly and recklessly, and boast ourselves like Nebuchadnezzar over our imperial state and power then England's decay and downfall have begun already. For that insolent temper in any nation has its root in rottenness and its blossom in the dust.
T. H. Darlow, The Upward Galling, p. 70.
References. VI. 16. H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 2178. VII. 2. M. Biggs, Practical Sermons on Old Testament Subjects, p. 134. VII. 2-4. T. Arnold, The Interpretation of Scripture, p. 24. J. Keble, Sermons for Easter to Ascension Day, p. 192.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 6". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany