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Deuteronomy 4:2 . Ye shall not add unto the word. This would be to debase revelation, and treat the divine law as a defective production of man, that needed additions and retrenchments. Solon, the Athenian lawgiver, obtained an oath from the principal officers of the senate to observe his laws inviolate for ten years, till he should return from his travels. Besides, the tabernacle being a type of heaven, would utterly be gaited and marred by the fanciful rituals devised by men. Yet many things were added, as the feast of purim, in Esther, and additional altars when Solomon dedicated the temple.
Deuteronomy 4:7 . What nation hath God so nigh? Moses here reaches the true sublime of instruction. Will the Lord indeed dwell with man, in all the promised glory and grace of his covenant? The gentile mythology can bear no comparison with the glory of the Hebrew ritual.
Deuteronomy 4:15 . Ye saw no similitude. It is not a statue, nor even the glory of the heavens, that can adequately represent the Theotes or Divinity. Yet the fine paintings of scripture histories hung up in churches, did very much contribute to instruct the ignorant, and impress the heart.
Deuteronomy 4:19 . Lest when thou seest the sun, the moon, and the stars. This is the Sabian worship, strongly abhorred by Job, in Job 31:26; a worship which overspread the world, and still subsists in the east. The sun is called the king of heaven, or Baal, the lord or ruler of the day. The moon (Juno, or the queen of heaven, Jeremiah 7:18) is called Baala, or lady, ruling the night; which Baala is called by Abedenus, βηλτις . In Philo, we find the word Baaltis. The Jews worship the moon with baking cakes, and by consequence with fire.
General Vallancey has written on the antiquities of the Irish language; and supposes Ireland to be the ancient Thule, and to have derived their worship from the Carthaginians, whose presiding deity was Baal. He supports his theory by the fires which they used to kindle, mi Baal tienne, in Baal’s month; that is, on the first of May. On that day, the children scatter fire in the fields, and cry, Baal tienne fires. See on Job 1:5.
Herodotus gives us, book 7., an example how Xerxes worshipped the rising sun, before he set out on his most unfortunate expedition against the Greeks. “Awaiting the rising of the sun, they poured on the bridge all kinds of sweet odours, and scattered on all the road, branches of myrtle. Immediately when it was day, Xerxes with a golden phial poured a libation into the sea, and prayed the sun to turn away whatever might obstruct his subjugation of all Europe.” In this disastrous expedition, the stars did not hear him.
Moses, now commencing the improvements of the preseding history, stands, so to speak, on the high mountains of vast age, and looks back on the wilderness of life, with all the advantages of wisdom and experience. Hence all his words are weighty, all his conclusions just, and all his injunctions worthy of the spirit which inspired the venerable ruler. The leading fact he adduces to enforce future obedience is, that all the daring men who had followed Baal were destroyed; but that all those who had stedfastly adhered to the covenant of God were alive to that day. Surely here is a particular providence; surely from the beginning God had realized the blessings and curses of the covenant. What a school is the theocracy of Israel for the christian church; what a school of terror for the infidel age.
From the presence and glory of God resident in Israel; from the purity of his precepts, and the glory of the ceremonial service, he infers the duties of gratitude and fidelity. And how much more forcible is this inference, when applied to the christian church. For God who spake to the fathers from the cloud, and by the prophets, hath in these last days familiarly spoken to us face to face, the Son being veiled in human flesh. He has made us his sons and daughters, and called us to sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. Let us charge ourselves and our children to devote our whole heart and life a grateful sacrifice, entirely to his glory.
The grand object of the strong and impressive language in this chapter is, a firm caution against idolatry; a caution it was needful often to repeat; for the idolatrous priests, daily availing themselves of the errors of superstition, and rendering the devotion of their altars almost enchanting to the carnal crowd, a firm barrier was requisite to stem the torrent. And oh that the christian world were properly apprized of the snares which the enemy, in this view, lays for their feet. Oh that they knew that by idolizing giddy pleasures, by indulging voluptuous habits, or devoting themselves to sordid gain, they leave the Lord and do homage to Satan. All these, he says, will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. All inordinate attachments to the riches and pleasures of the age are as fatal to the soul as the worship of Baal.
From the divine fervour with which Moses addressed the Israelites; from the vast variety of arguments and motives here urged; and in particular, from his calling heaven and earth to witness the vengeance which should follow, if either they or their children departed from the covenant of the Lord, when they stood before Sinai; in him, christian ministers have a model of the wisdom and unction which should distinguish their sermons. What, have we frequently one or two thousand people listening to our voice? Have they every one an immortal soul? Have all these people neighbours, children, and connections at home? And are they all in danger of idols? Are we all in danger of losing the gospel candlestick by apostasy from the essentials of christianity, and the spirit of our religion? What an eloquence should inspire our hearts; what language should distinguish our addresses; what tears should water our words, divinely to impress the people with the importance of what we urge! But seeing like Moses we are about to die, the old and worthy saints are about to follow, and a worse generation may ensue, let us make our final appeal to God. Let us take heaven and earth to record; they shall survive; they shall tell our sermons to a future age, and attest that apostates from the christian faith shall be afflicted with greater calamities than those which have repeatedly fallen on the apostate Hebrews. It is enough let all men fear. God hath said, I will avenge the quarrel of any covenant.
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Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 4". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13