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CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES.—
I. Biographical. Sihon. סִיחן (Slkhôn). LXX. Σηών. Joseph. Σιχών. King of the Amorites when the Israelites reached the borders of Canaan,—a man of courage and audacity. Shortly before the appearance of Israel, he had dispossessed Moab of a splendid territory. He did not temporise, like Balak, but fought at once … Og. עוֹנ. Ὤγ. The Amoritish king of Bashan, who ruled sixty cities (cf. Joshua 13:12). One of the last of the Rephaim. According to tradition, he escaped from the flood by wading beside the Ark (Sale’s Koran, Note, Deuteronomy 5:0.) He was supposed to be the largest of the sons of Anak, and descended from Ad: said to have lived 3000 years, and refused the warning of Jethro, sent to him and his people as a prophet … Caleb. כָּלֵב (Câlçbh). LXX. Χάλεβ. Son of Jephunneh, a Kenezite (cf. Numbers 32:12; Joshua 14:6; Joshua 14:14). He was a ruler or prince, and a head in the tribe of Judah. Apparently he was brave, conscientious, outspoken … Jephunneh. יְפֻנֶּה phŭnnĕh. LXX. Ἰεφοννὴ. Father of Caleb, probably of an Edomite tribe, called Kenezites, from Kenaz, their founder, who was a son of Eliphuz, the son of Esau (cf. Genesis 36:15; Genesis 36:42; 1 Chronicles 1:53; Joshua 14:14 … Joshua. יהוֹשֻעַ Y’hoshua. LXX. Ιησοῦς = whose help is in Jehovah (Gesenius): God the Saviour (Pearson). Son of Nun, tribe of Ephraim (1 Chronicles 7:27). Born about the time Moses fled to Midian. The future captain was at first a slave. Mentioned first in the fight against Amalek at Rephidim, where he led Israel. When Moses ascended Sinai, Joshua accompanied him. He was one of the twelve chiefs sent to spy out the land. He evidently was one of the natural leaders of Israel, and therefore a man of character, force, and energy … Nun. נוּן Nun. In Syriac and Arabic = a fish. LXX. Ναυή. Nothing is known of him.
II. Historical Allusions and Contemporary History. “Amorite.” אֱמֹרֹי Emôrî. The dwellers on the summits—mountaineers; one of the chief nations who possessed the land of Canaan before its conquest by the Israelites. As “Highlanders” they contrast with the “Canaanites,” who were “Lowlanders.” As children of the hills they were a bold, hardy race. From the days of Abram to the time of Joshua this people fully maintained their character of the “warrior.” After the conquest of Canaan, nothing is heard of them in the Bible, except in the usual formula where the early inhabitants are occasionally referred to … Anakim. עְנָקִים Anâkîm. A race of giants, so called either from their stature or strength. They were descendants of Arba, and dwelt in the southern part of Canaan. The race appears to have been divided into three families. Their chief city was Hebron … Of contemporary history it is impossible to speak definitely,—it is one vast chaos, where the mind is lost in the wild confusion of conflicting theories. In our limited space we dare not venture on more than, Egypt was; Assyria was possibly throwing out the rootlets of the future tree of her empire; Greece was the habitation of scattered tribes; Phonecia probably was sending forth her fleets to plough the ocean; but so uncertain are the records, silence is esteemed better than what might be shown a baseless theory.
III. Natural History. Deuteronomy 1:1. Red Sea. Heb. Suph, lit. “reeds,” seaweed, sedge, river-grass, rushes: specially of the thick and strong rushes on the banks of the Nile, and of the sedges of the Red Sea, from which this latter receives its name of Yam Suph. The word in this verse gives name to some place in the district of the wanderings. Deuteronomy 1:25. “Fruit of the land.” “The Hebrews had three generic terms, designating three great classes of the fruits of the land, closely corresponding to what may be expressed in English as
(1.) Corn-fruit or field produce;
(2.) Vintage fruit;
(3.) Orchard fruit. The principal fruits are grapes, olives, figs; those less common are pomegranate, apricot, walnut, almond, apple, quince, mulberry, date, orange, lemon, citron, banana, and prickly pear. Deuteronomy 1:44. “As bees do.” Of bees in general we say nothing, for there are so many handbooks on these busy little creatures. For the force of the reference, see quotation from “Park’s Travels.”
IV. Manners and Customs. The tone of the chapter, apart from such direct references as the dwelling in tents, and moving from place to place, indicates a primitive people. Moses is the father to them: they each bring their little troubles to him—“he carries” as a father his child—his words are authoritative. Deuteronomy 1:11. A complimentary wish. In early stages of society, when life is simple, large families are a blessing. It is only in highly organised and artificial forms of life that families become an extravagance. Deuteronomy 1:13. The people lived in families and tribes. Kinship, rather than geographical bounds, made divisions for the nation. The tribal relations were long kept up. Deuteronomy 1:28. “Walled cities,” Warfare was of a personal kind, the chief weapons being those by which a man could inflict injury on a man. With the exception of the hattering ram, the ancients had few means of assaulting fortifications. A wall, though useless now, was of the utmost importance then. For the same reason, the “great” and “tall” men were a terror to their foes. A giant was a “somebody” in those days. Deuteronomy 1:39. “Little ones … a prey.” The conquerors took captive the living. The men who survived were generally put to death, sometimes the women too; but the latter, for the most part, with the children, were made into slaves. This fact exemplifies the statement in note on Deuteronomy 1:11; children were valuable. Deuteronomy 1:27. “Murmured in your tents”. As a roving and pastoral people they had no fixed habitation. Houses were unknown. Their temple was only a fabric of skins and linen cloth and rope—a Tabernacle.
V. Chronology. The chronology of this Book, like that in all the post-Exodus, dates from the escape from Egypt, when the people entered on their real life of freedom (cf. Exodus 12:1-2.12.2); the date in Deuteronomy 1:3 is, therefore, the eleventh month of the fortieth year from their leaving Egypt.
VI. Literary Criticism. “On this side Jordan,” render, beyond Jordan. The Hebrew word = “this side,” “other side” (cf. Gesenius). “The phrase b’eber hay-yarden, means literally, ‘at the side or passage of Jordan’ ” (Speaker’s Commentary). “In the plain” בָּעְֽרָבָה Bâ-ă-râ-bâh. Gesenius connects the word with one which means “burnt up,” “waste,” therefore “sterile” = desert. But besides this general meaning there is a special significance, according to Gesenius, which the writer in “Smith’s Dictionary” accepts, when the word is used with the article as in the present instance: the word then is a proper name, and was applied to the country between the Dead Sea and the Elenitic Gulph (cf. Geographical Notes). “Red Sea,” render, “over against Suph” (Speaker’s Commentary). “Flags” (Benisch). “It is impossible that our translators can here be correct in rendering Suph, the Red Sea: (a) because that is invariably called ‘Yam Suph’ = sea of Suph; and (b) because Moses and the people were at this time on the eastern side of Jordan (Deuteronomy 1:5), and, consequently, far enough from the Red Sea” (Carpenter). “Dizahab.” דִּי זָדָב Dl Zâbâb. The word should be separated as it is in Hebrew. As zahab means gold, the LXX. rendered it καταχρύσεα, and the Vulgate ubi auri est plurimum. It is probably the name of a place. Deuteronomy 1:2. For position of the verse cf. infra. Deuteronomy 1:5. Moses speaks in the third person of himself. This need be no difficulty. It was frequently done by ancient writers, both religious and profane: cf. John’s “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” and Cæsar’s Commentary, the writer always speaks of himself in the third person … “Began,” better, “undertook.” Deuteronomy 1:6. “Dwelt long enough,” “sitten much” (Ainsworth). Deuteronomy 1:7. “Nigh thereunto,” Hebrew, “his neighbours.” Deuteronomy 1:8. “Set,” Hebrew, “given” (Benisch). Deuteronomy 1:13. “Take,” Hebrew, “give,” “put,” (Benisch). Deuteronomy 1:15. “Made,” Hebrew, “gave” (Speaker’s Commentary). Deuteronomy 1:17. “Respect persons,” Hebrew, “acknowledge faces,” “recognise a face” (Benisch, cf. Gesenius). Deuteronomy 1:22. “Search,” Hebrew, “dig.” They were to uncover what was concealed. Deuteronomy 1:23. “The thing pleased me well, Hebrew, “was good in my eyes.” Deuteronomy 1:25. “Brought,” “restored” (Benisch). Deuteronomy 1:26. “Commandment,” Hebrew, “mouth.” According to a common figure of speech in Hebrew, the instrument is used for the thing accomplished by that instrument. Deuteronomy 1:28. “Discouraged,” Hebrew, “melt.” Deuteronomy 1:27. “Murmured,” Hebrew, “vituperated” (Benisch). Deuteronomy 1:41. “Weapons of war,” or armour … “Ye were ready to go up.” Rather, perhaps, “ye made light of going up;” i.e., “ye were ready to attempt it as a trifling undertaking.” For further comments on this much-discussed verse, vide Speaker’s Commentary. Deuteronomy 1:44. “In Seir,” “from” Seir (Clapham). “As bees do,” the same comparison in Iliad 16:259, &c.
VII. Geographical. Jordan. יַרְדֵּן Yărdçn = to descend. LXX. Ιορδάνης. Vul. Jordanis, called now by the Arabs Esh-Sheriah = the watering-place. Has two sources: one rises at the western base of a hill where Dan once stood, and gushes forth a great fountain, the largest in Syria, and, mingling with the waters of another fountain which springs up under an immense oak close by, forms the Leddan (ancient Dan). Four miles east, on a terrace of Hermon, at the foot of a limestone cliff, is the second source, which bursts forth from a yawning abyss in a gloomy cavern. Uniting, these two streams form the Jordan, which flows very rapidly through a deep valley all its length till it is lost in the Dead Sea. Length about 200 miles … The Arabah (cf. “Critical Notes,” “Literary Criticism”). “This is a name given to the deep, low lying plain on both sides of the Jordan, which runs from the Lake of Gennesaret to the Dead Sea, and stretches southward from the Dead Sea to Aila, at the northern extremity of the Red Sea, as we may very clearly see from Deuteronomy 2:8, where the way which the Israelites took past Edom to Aila is called the way of the Arabah, and also from the fact that the Dead Sea is called the sea of the Arabah (Deuteronomy 3:17; Deuteronomy 4:49). At present the name Arabah is simply attached to the southern half of this valley, between the Dead Sea and Red Sea; whilst the northern part, between the Dead Sea and Sea of Galilee, is called El Ghor, though several Arabic geographers extend the name Ghor from the Sea of Galilee to Aila” (Keil and Delitzsch) … Red Sea. סוּף. Suph. (cf. “Critical Notes,” “Literary Criticism”). Keil and Delitzsch make Suph to be the Red Sea. “Some reedy place out of Palestine” (Fürst). “Suph, probably a district on the frontier of Moab. Ptolemy mentions a people called Sophonites, who dwelt in Arabia Petræa, and who have been thought to take their name from this place” (Carpenter) … Paran. פָארָן Pâ-rân = white. LXX. and Josh, Φαράν; (a.) A desert = et-Tih; (b.) A mountain near Seir (Deuteronomy 33:2; Habakkuk 3:3); (c.) Probably a town (Smith’s Dictionary). “Paran may either be mount Paran of Deuteronomy 33:2, or a city mentioned by Eusebius, Jerome, and several modern geographers near the mount” (Speaker’s Commentary … Tophgl. תפָל Tŏphĕl = plaster, mortar. Probably identical with Tufileh (Robinson); and “a locality so called from the chalk-beds there” (Fürst). “It is still a considerable place, some little distance south-east of the Dead Sea” (Speaker’s Commentary). “Numerous springs and rivulets (ninety-nine according to the Arabs), the waters of which unite below, render the town very agreeable. It is surrounded by a large plantation of fruit-trees—apples, apricots, figs, pomegranates, &c.” (Buckhardt) … Laban לָבָן Labia. Identical with Libnah, this latter being the feminine form of the word; but whether the place mentioned here can be identified with that mentioned Numbers 33:20, remains to be seen … Hazeroth. חֲצֵרוֹת Khătzçrôth = “enclosures,” “hamlets.” In Numbers 11:35; Numbers 12:16; Numbers 33:17, the LXX. renders it Ἀσηρώθ, but here Αὐλὼν. Though identified with a station of the Israelites (Numbers 11:35), yet on insufficient evidence. Nothing is known for certain of the place … Dizahab (cf. “Literary Notes”) … “Horeb.” חֹרֵב Khôrçb. LXX. Χωρὴβ. “A top of Sinai, on which the Mosaic law was announced, now G’ibl Mûsȃ. Formerly Horeb was the general name, and Sinai the more restricted” (Fürst). On the question of the peculiar and contradictory use of “Horeb” in Deuteronomy, see Note in Kitto’s Family Bible, and the articles “Horeb,” “Sinai,” in the various Dictionaries. “The fixed use of the name Horeb, to designate the mountain group in general, instead of the special name Sinai, which is given to the particular peak whereon the law was given, is in keeping with the rhetorical style of the Book” (Keil and Delitzsch, cf. &c.)
Kadesh Barnea., קָדֵשׁ ברְנֵע. Kâdçsh Bârnçâ Κάδης Βανή. Sometimes written Kadesh. It is probable that the term “Kadesh,” though applied to a city, had also a wider application, and referred to a region, in which Kadesh-Meribah certainly, and Kadesh Barnea probably, indicates a precise spot … The nearest approximation, then, which can be given to a site for the city of Kadesh, may be probably attained by drawing a circle from the pass Es-Sŭfa, at the radius of about a day’s journey; its south-western quadrant will intersect the “wilderness of Paran” or Et-Tith, which is there overhung by the superimposed plateau of the mountain of the Amorites; while its south-eastern one will cross what has been designated the “wilderness of Zin.” This seems to satisfy all the conditions of the passages of Genesis, Numbers, and Deuteronomy which refer to it. The nearest site in harmony with this view which has yet been suggested is undoubtedly the “Ain-el-Weibeh” (cf. Smith’s Dictionary) … Seir. שֵעִיר = “rough” or “rugged.” Σηείρ. There is a “land” of and “mount” Seir (cf. Genesis 32:3; Genesis 36:30; Genesis 14:6; and Deuteronomy 1:2). Apparently they are the same. The original name of the mountain ridge extended along the east side of the valley of the Arabah from the Dead Sea to the Elanitic Gulph. The name was derived either from Seir, the Horite (Genesis 36:20), or, more probably, from the rough aspect of the whole country. The sharp and serrated ridges, the jagged rocks and cliffs, the straggling bushes and stunted trees, give the whole scene a sternness and ruggedness almost unparalleled. Mount Seir was originally inhabited by the Horites, who were doubtless the excavators of those singular rock dwellings with which the district abounds. They were dispossessed by the posterity of Esau (Deuteronomy 2:12). The mount was the subject of a terrible prophetic curse (Ezekiel 35:0) … Heshbon. חָשׁבּוֹן Khĕshbôn = stronghold. LXX. Ἐσεβών. The capital city of Sihon, king of the Amorites (Numbers 21:26). It stands on the boundary line between Reuben and Gad. The ruins of Heshbon, twenty miles east of Jordan, mark the site of the ancient city. Chiefly celebrated from its connection with Sihon. After the captivity it fell into the hands of the Moabites. In the fourth century it was a place of note, but now desolate. The ruins of Heshbon stand on a low hill rising out of the great plateau, and are more than a mile in circuit, but not a building is entire. One remarkable structure remains with the workmanship of the different ages visible—the massive stones of the Jewish period, the sculptured cornice of the Roman, the light arch of the Saracenic. Many cisterns and a large reservoir remain … Bashan. הַבָּשַׁן Hăb-Bâshăn, almost invariably written with the article before it = the basalt land. A district on the east of Jordan. It extended from the borders of Gilead on the south to Mount Hermon on the north; and from the Arabah or Jordan valley on the west to Salcah on the east. At the conquest it was bestowed on the half tribe of Manasseh, and was proverbial for its oaks and bulls. Astaroth. עַשְׁתָּרֹת Ashtârôh. LXX. Ἀσταρώθ. A city on the east of Jordan in Bashan, in the kingdom of Og, doubtless so called from being a seat of the worship of the goddess of the same name. For the fortunes of A., cf. Joshua 13:31; 1 Chronicles 6:71. It subsequently passes from history. Jerome tells us it was about six miles from Ada, which was twenty-five from Bostra. The only trace of the name that modern research has discovered is Tell Ashterah (Ritter, Porter, &c.) Edrei אֶדְרֶעִי. Edreĭ. Ἐδρατν There are two towns of this name: one in the north of Palestine, the other to the east of Jordan. It is with the latter that we have to deal. In Scripture it is only mentioned in connection with the victory of Israel over the Amorites under Og. It was one of the two capitals of Bashan (Numbers 21:33; Deuteronomy 1:4; Joshua 12:4), and continued to be a large and important city till the seventh century A.D, though no further reference to it is made in Scripture. The ruins of an ancient city, still bearing the name of Edr’a, stand on a rocky promontory, which projects from the south-west corner of the Lejah. The site a strange one—without water, without access, except most difficult, seems to have been chosen for its strength and security. The identity of this site with the Edrei of Scripture has been challenged, but see “Smith’s Dictionary” for full particulars … Lebanon. לְבָנוֹן L’bhânôn. Αιβανος. A mountain range in the north of Palestine. The name Lebanon means “white,” and was applied on account of the snow which covers it for the greater part of the year, or on account of the white colour of its limestone rocks, cliffs, and peaks. There are two ranges parallel, named Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon, or Lebanon toward the sun-rising, i.e., Eastern L. It was from the western range Solomon obtained his timber. The snow remains in patches the whole year on the summits of Lebanon. There is a very good article on “Lebanon” in “Smith’s Dictionary,” so too in Kitto … Euphrates. פְרָת P’rath. Εὐφράτης. Probably a word of Arian origin; and if so, means “the good and abounding river.” The Euphrates is the largest, longest, and most important river in Western Asia. Its two chief sources are in the Armenian mountains. These two streams flow on, one 270, the other 400 miles, till they meet at Kebban-Maden, where a river is formed 120 yards wide, very deep and rapid. This flows nearly south in a tortuous course, forcing a way through the ranges of Taurus and Anti-Taurus, as if it would break into the Mediterranean, but, opposed by the ranges of Amanus and Lebanon, it turns south-east, and in this direction proceeds 1000 miles into the Persian Gulph. The length is 1780 miles, of which 1200 are navigable for boats and small steamers. The greatest width of the river is at a distance of 700 or 800 miles from its mouth, while much lower down it is nearly 300 yards narrower, and not so deep by six feet. The causes of this singular phenomenon are the entire absence of tributaries below the Khabour, and the employment of water in irrigation … Eshcol. אֶשְׁכֹּל Eshcôl. Ἐσχώλ. A wady in the neighbourhood of Hebron, explored by the spies sent by Moses from Kadesh Barnea. From this fruitful valley was brought a large cluster of grapes, which, from the meaning of the word in Hebrew, explained to the spies the name of the place (Numbers 13:23-4.13.24). But it may be instructive to remember that, when Abraham dwelt in this locality, the names of the three chiefs of the Amorites, his neighbours, were Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; and possibly the name of one may have attached itself to one of the fertile valleys near their home, when the name would be Amoritic, not Hebrew … Hormah. חָרְמָה Khǒrmâh was the chief town of a Canaanitish tribe on the south of Palestine, reduced by Joshua. Its ancient name was Zephath (Judges 1:17). It became subsequently a city of Judah, though apparently belonging to Simeon, whose territory is reckoned part of the former.
SAURIN’S DISSERTATION ON DEUTERONOMY, CHAP. 1
Moses, being about to die, recapitulates the laws of God in the presence of all Israel. When Moses was about to die, he made a last effort to stamp on the mind of Israel the law he had already given. The speeches made on that occasion form the Book of Deuteronomy—the second law. These discourses were not given all at once, on one day, but on several occasions.
I. He briefly relates to the people the most memorable events that befell them from the time they left Mount Horeb.
(1.) The order they received to make the windings toward the mountains of the Amorites, &c. &c.
(2.) The sending of the spies; their report; the murmurings and punishment of the people; the dreadful oath of God that none should enter the Promised Land.
(3.) The divers tours made by them.
(4.) The victories gained over Sihon and Og; the distribution of the country of the heathen.
(5.) The prayer of Moses for the revocation of God’s sentence on himself.
(6.) The plagues and miracles.
II. Moses recapitulated all the laws—moral, ceremonial, political, and military.
III. Moses above all presses most home to the people the law which the Israelites stood in the greatest need of, i.e., that which was calculated to restrain their boundless inclination towards idolatry, and which caused them so often to relapse into it (cf. Deuteronomy 4:15; Deuteronomy 13:6; &c., Deuteronomy 17:2, &c.
IV. Moses established the necessity of knowing the law of God, and of making it the object of perpetual meditation. All must read it: the young has no excuse in his weakness, nor the old in his infirmities (cf. Deuteronomy 6:6-5.6.7, &c.)
V. Moses set before the eyes of the Israelites the great reasons which ought to induce them to make the laws of God the rule of their behaviour.
(1.) All these laws terminated in the love of God as their centre (Deuteronomy 10:12-5.10.13).
(2.) These laws are of themselves sufficient to accumulate glory and happiness both on nations and private persons if they observe them religiously (cf. Deuteronomy 4:5-5.4.6).
(3.) These laws were made by a Being which had dealt out His wonders and profuseness to a people for whom He had made them (Deuteronomy 4:32).
(4.) These laws draw down numberless blessings upon those who follow them, and as many misfortunes on those that break them (Deuteronomy 11:26).
(5.) These laws are endued with intrinsic justice (Deuteronomy 4:8).
(6.) These laws are adapted to the faculties and understandings of those for whom they were made (Deuteronomy 30:11).
VI. Moses sharply reproaches the children of Israel for their ingratitude. This is why the Targum calls the book the Book of Reproaches (cf. Deuteronomy 32:5-5.32.6; Deuteronomy 15:18; Deuteronomy 29:29).
VII. Moses foretells the catastrophe into which the people should fall through their rebellions (cf. Deuteronomy 28:62, &c., Deuteronomy 31:1, &c.)
After that Moses had taken all the care his wisdom and prudence could suggest to engage the Israelites to be faithful to God, he concludes in lamenting the little success all these remonstrances were likely to produce.—Epitome of Saurin’s lxviii. Dissertation.
Deuteronomy 1:1. “On this side,” or, on the outside, i.e., beyond Jordan, as the Greek translateth. This word (בְעֵבֶר b’çbĕr) signifieth both sides, and by circumstance of place is to be understood. To those out of Canaan, it was on this side; to the Israelites in Canaan, it was beyond, or the outside of Jordan, where Moses spake these things.—Ainsworth.
“On this side.” To those on the east, it was this; to those on the west of Jordan, the other side.
“The plain:” to wit, of Moab’s land, as Deuteronomy 1:5; see Numbers 22:1. There Moses spake these things and died (Deuteronomy 34:5). Chald. saith Moses rebuked them, “because they had provoked God in the plain.”—Ainsworth
“Which Moses spake to ALL.” An objection raised by some to these words, and thence to the value of the book, is that all Israel could not hear. In answer to this, it is said Whitefield was heard distinctly half a mile off. In Australia the “coey” can be heard at a distance of two, or even three miles. Where the air is clear and elastic, as it is in some localities, sound is heard a very long way off. That such was the case in the Sinaitic peninsula seems almost certain from a passage in Dean Stanley’s “Sinai and Palestine:” “Among the characteristics of Sinai, one must not be omitted—the deep stillness, and consequent reverberations of the human voice. From the highest point of Rás Sasàfeh to its lowest peak, a distance of sixty feet, the page of a book, distinctly but not loudly read, was perfectly audible; and every remark of the various groups of travellers, descending from the heights of the same point, rose clearly to those immediately above them. It was the belief of the Arabs who conducted Niebuhr, that they could make themselves heard across the Gulf of Akaba; a belief doubtless exaggerated, yet probably originated or fostered by the great distance to which, in these regions, the voice can actually be carried.”
A question sometimes raised with regard to these early books of the Bible is, how were they preserved? The following may assist some in the presence of this difficulty:—
“Various doubts have sometimes been thrown out as to the existence of writings at this period. Waiving the evidence of the Mosaic records, we may remark that hieroglyphical inscriptions were known upon stone in Egypt at least as early as the fourth dynasty, or B. C. 2450; that inscribed bricks were common in Babylonia about two centuries later, and that writing upon papyruses, both in the hieroglyphics and the hieratic characters, was familiar to the Egyptians under the 18th and 19th dynasties, which is exactly the time to which the Mosaic records would belong. It seems certain that Moses, if educated by a daughter of one of the Ramesséde kings, would be well acquainted with the Egyptian method of writing with ink upon the papyrus; while it is also probable that Abraham, who emigrated not earlier than the 19th century before our era from the great Chaldean capital Ur, would have brought with and transmitted to his descendants the alphabetic system with which the Chaldeans of his day were acquainted. There is thus every reason to suppose that writing was familiar to the Jews when they quitted Egypt; and the mention of it as a common practice in the books of Moses is in perfect accordance with what we know of the condition of the world at the time from other sources.
“Some writers urge that the Jews could not have learned alphabetic writing from the Egyptians, since “the mode of representing ideas to the eye, which the Egypt ans employed till a period long subsequently, was widely different from the alphabetic writing of the Hebrews.” But the difference was not really very great. It is a mistake to suppose that the Egyptian writing was, except to a very small extent, symbolical. Both in the hieroglyphic and the hieratic, as a general rule, the words are spelt phonetically first, and are then followed by a symbol or symbols.”—Rawlinson’s “Bampton Lectures.”
Deuteronomy 1:2. “This verse seems misplaced; it should come in between Deuteronomy 1:19-5.1.20.”—Horsley; cf. also Dr. Wall, Kennicott, &c.
“Transcribers are apt to transpose letters, words, or sentences … Transposition of verses may be found in Lamentations 2:3,
“Eleven days’ journey.” “So many days’ march for a foot army; but Philo, the Jew, saith a horseman might do it in three days (triduo confici potuit).”—Trapp.
“If it be objected that they spent more days in that journey (Numbers 11-13), we answer that Moses might mean there only the days in which they were upon the march. For according to Adrichomius, who had been upon the spot, the journey itself was too short to take eleven days. However, no wonder they were eleven days going it, considering the great number of their flocks, and the bulk and weight of their carriage.”—Bibliotheca Biblica.
“The way was plain, and known between Horeb, whither God brought them on purpose to serve Him, and Kadesh Barnea, which was the beginning of an habitable country (cf. Numbers 13:26; Numbers 20:16).”—Maimonides.
“There is another route, not along the plain of the Arabah and by Mount Seir, but over the high ground to the west.”—Annotated Paragraph Bible.
“Kadesh is named as the southern point of the Promised Land. In this verse, as in the first, the mind of the reader seems directed to the past history. It was but eleven days’ journey from the Mountain of the Covenant to the Promised Land, yet in the fortieth year the chosen people were still in the wilderness.”—Speaker’s Commentary.
“Eleven days’ journey from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea;” and yet, in God’s providence, the people required forty years to accomplish it. What takes the shortest time is not alway the best path. Desert wandering was a preparation for the destined goal. However diversified the opinions of men in religion, all are agreed that the end and aim of life is not here. Life is but a preparation. Man’s true destiny is immortality. Two things necessary for the man who would reach his true destiny—
I. That we may reach our true destiny, Christ must take hold of us. Several forces in society are laying hold of men—ambition, avarice, lust, pleasure, pride, superstition. One or more, perhaps all, grasp and hold men. They extend around him like some dense poisoning fog, robbing the man of both light and strength. While environed with such, or indeed any form of sin, Christ would break His way into us with help. “I came not to call the righteous but sinners” (cf. similar texts; cf. also 1 Timothy 1:14; 1 Timothy 1:16; 1 Peter 2:3; Acts 10:36; Acts 13:38-44.13.39; Colossians 2:13).
II. That we may reach our true destiny. we must take hold of Christ.
(a.) We take hold of Christ by faith in Him.
(b.) We show our faith in Him as well as our love to Him by keeping His commandments (John 14:15; John 15:10; James 2:17-59.2.18; Galatians 5:6).
(c.) We also take hold of Christ by taking refuge in His atonement.
“In the East there is a tree which is a non-conductor of electricity. The people know it, and, when a storm comes, they flee to it for safety. Beautiful picture of the Saviour! Beautiful emblem of Calvary! It is a non-conductor of wrath. Get underneath it, and you are safe for ever.”—Thomas Jones.
Deuteronomy 1:3. “Fortieth year” of Israel’s coming out of Egypt. In the first month of this year, Mary (Miriam), Moses’s sister, died (Numbers 20:1). In the first day of the fifth month thereof, Aaron, his brother, died (Numbers 33:38); and now, at the end of the year, Moses himself dieth, when he had repeated the law, and renewed the covenant between God and His people Israel—Ainsworth.
Moses spoke what the Lord had commanded him; in other words, Moses gave the people what God had given him (cf. Acts 3:6). Though the words were Moses’s, the thing uttered was of God. Some speak according to the wisdom of the world: they can tell much about its craft, villany, rottenness, hollowness; and they preach selfishness, more or less refined, as a means of personal defence, and the true source of success. Some speak according to one thing; others according to something else: Moses spoke according to what God had given him. He therefore spoke God’s truth.
I. Because Moses spoke God’s truth he uttered what would be advantageous to the people. The path of happiness is the way of wisdom. Wisdom is happiness as well as pleasant (Proverbs 8:0). True wisdom is the fear of God (Job 28:28). The man who declares God’s truth instructs in wisdom and leads men to happiness. Happiness is what men are seeking. Those who conduct others into happiness meet an universal want. Blessed is the man who supplies widespread demands! He gives bread to the hungry.
“The happy have whole days, and these they use;
The unhappy have but hours, and those they lose.”—Dryden.
“True happiness (if understood)
Consists alone in doing good.”
“No man is blest by accident or guess;
True wisdom is the price of happiness.”
“The only happiness a brave man ever troubles himself with asking much about is the happiness to get his work done. Not ‘I can’t eat!’ but ‘I can’t work!’—that was the burden of all wise complaining among men.”—T. Carlyle.
“Happiness is no other than soundness and perfection of mind.”—Antoninus.
“Happiness … the inward complacence we find in acting reasonably.”—Atterbury.
“There are two ways of being happy: we may either diminish our wants or augment our means; either will do; the result is the same. It is for each man to decide for himself, and do what happens to be the easier. If you are idle, or sick, or poor, however hard it may be to diminish your wants, it will be harder to augment your means. If you are active and prosperous, or young and in good health, it may be easier for you to augment your means than diminish your wants. But if you are wise, you will do both at the same time, … and if you are very wise, you will do both in such a way as to augment the general happiness of society.”—B. Franklin.
“Religion directs us rather to secure inward peace than outward ease.”—Tillotson.
“The happiness of life consists, like the day, not in single flashes (of light), but in one continuous mild serenity. The most beautiful period of the heart’s existence is in this calm, equable light, even though it be only moonlight or twilight. Now the mind alone can obtain for us this heavenly cheerfulness and peace.”—Richter.
II. Because Moses spoke what God gave him, he could speak—
(a.) With courage.
(b.) With power.
(a.) With courage—God on his side.
“He holds no parley with unmanly fears;
Where duty bids, he confidently steers,
Faces a thousand dangers at her call,
And, trusting in his God, aurmounts them all.”—Cowper.
“Courage consists, not in blindly overlooking danger, but in seeing it and conquering it.”—Richter.
“A great deal of talent is lost in the world for the want of a little courage. Every day sends to their graves a number of obscure men, who have remained in obscurity because their timidity has prevented them from making a first effort; and who, if they could have been induced to begin, would in all probability have gone great lengths in the career of fame.”—Sidney Smith.
“The truest courage is always mixed with circumspection; this being the quality which distinguishes the courage of the wise from the hardiness of the rash and foolish.”—Jones of Naylands.
“Courage mounteth with occasion.”—Shakespeare.
An example of courage.—Henry III., king of France, one day said to Palissy the potter, who was a Calvinist, that “he would be compelled to give him (Palissy) up to his enemies unless he changed his religion.” “You have often said to me, sire,” was the undaunted reply of Palissy, “that you pitied me; but as for me, I pity you, who have given utterance to such words as, ‘I shall be compelled.’ These are unkingly words; and I say to you, in royal phrase, that neither the Guises, nor all your people, nor yourself, are able to compel a humble manufacturer of earthenware to bend his knee to statues.”
(b.) With power: he would speak as one having authority, and not as the scribes (cf. Matthew 7:29). His words were not the echoes of another man’s experience: the words spoken represent things real and living in his own heart.
“There is no keeping back the power we have;
He hath no power who hath no power to use.”—Bailey.
“Power shows the man.”—Pittachus.
“He speaks with power, because as strong as heaven’s heat, and as its brightness clear” (Hill); or “as the rock of ocean, that stems a thousand wild waves on the shore.”—Campbell.
III. Because Moses spoke what God gave him to speak, he relieved himself of a great responsibility.
(a.) Commissions are sometimes intrusted to men by God which they are afraid to execute. They thereby entail calamity upon themselves and all connected with them (cf. Jonah).
(b.) Duties imposed by God, if neglected, bring desolation on the man and his family (cf. Achan, Judges 7:0).
(c.) Knowledge, wisdom, visions of the Divine glory, are vouchsafed to men to be used for the improvement of the world, the upholding of the Church, and the honour of God. If misused, the consequences will be terrible (cf. Balaam, Solomon, our own Lord Byron).
(d.) Money, influence, opportunity, is intrusted to many in these days. Such is not to be lavished on ourselves. God gave it: He expects it to be used in His service. Moses recognised this. His power, his thoughts, came from God, he used them for God, and therefore spoke what God gave him to speak. He thus relieved himself of a great responsibility. To all are intrusted “talents”—five, two, one. If we hide, or misuse, or waste, God will punish, and take from us even what we have (cf. Shakespeare’s “Julius Cæsar,” iv:3—
“There is a tide in the affairs of men,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our venture.”
“Opportunity has hair in front, behind she is bald; if you seize her by the forelock you may hold her, but, if suffered to escape, not Jupiter himself can catch her again.”
“Miss not the occasion; by the forelock take
That subtle power, the never-halting Time,
Lest a mere moment’s putting off should make
Mischance almost as heavy as a crime.”
“All men, if they work not as in a Great Taskmaster’s eye, will work wrong, work unhappily for themselves, and for you.”—Carlyle.
“Thousands of men breathe, move, and live, pass off the stage of life, and are heard of no more. Why? They do not partake of good in the world, and none were blessed by them; none could point to them as the means of their redemption; not a line they wrote, not a word they spoke, could be recalled, and so they perished; their light went out in darkness, and they were not remembered more than the insects of yesterday. Will you thus live and die, O man immortal? Live for something. Do good, and leave behind you a monument of virtue.”—Chalmers.
“No man is born unto himself alone.
Who lives unto himself, he lives to none:
The world’s a body, each man a member is,
To add some measure to the public bliss.
Where much is given, there much shall be required.”—Quarles.
Deuteronomy 1:4. “After he had slain Sihon.”
If Samson had not turned aside to see the lion that not long before he had slain, he had not found the honey in the carcass (Judges 14:8). So if we recognise not our dangers, deliverances, and achievements, we shall neither taste how sweet the Lord is nor return Him His due praise. So true thankfulness is required.
III. Retribution (cf. Psalms 116:3; Psalms 116:7; Psalms 116:12.—Trapp.
The slaughter of Sihon and Og was an encouragement to Israel for their after wars, and an argument to move them unto thankful obedience to the law now repeated.—Ainsworth.
“Sihon, the king of the Amorites, which dwelt in Heshbon.”
For situation of Heshbon, cf. “Critical Notes.” Meaning of Heshbon is “stronghold.” Sihon dwelt in a stronghold. Here was shelter and safety. In doing this he showed his wisdom. But the wisest is sometimes unwise. Sihon betrayed his humanity. He left his stronghold, and so was guilty of two foolish things: he left a stronghold, and he joined the heathen to fight against God and His people. These words are fraught with instruction, for they bring Sihon before us as an example and warning.
I. Sihon as an example. He did well to dwell in a stronghold.
(a.) A stronghold is a place fortified by nature or art: it is made strong by God or man. It is a place of security. The soul needs a place of security where to flee from spiritual foes. The Psalmist frequently spoke of God as his fortress (cf. Psalms 11:2; Psalms 31:3; Psalms 71:3; Psalms 91:2; Psalms 144:2).
Shakespeare has well said—
“God is our fortress, in whose conquering name
Let us resolve to scale their flinty bulwarks.”
To which we may add from the same writer—
“It is a forted residence the tooth of Time,
And rasure of Oblivion.”
To the Christian, God in Christ is the stronghold. Though the imagery for the most part (Christ as a Rock) is that of a foundation (Matthew 7:24; Romans 9:33; 1 Peter 2:8), yet the metaphor is open in other places for other interpretation (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:4). Christ as a rock is a rock to be made use of by man. Man is to use Christ as a foundation to build upon. Christ will be to men now what the rock was to Israel in the desert: that whence flows the stream of spiritual life. Men are to drink of this water or build on this foundation—it matters not which metaphor is used—by faith (cf. Acts 16:31; 1 Corinthians 3:10-46.3.16; John 16:7).
(b.) Where a man has security he has peace. Because the Christian feels secure in Christ he rests. Dwell on the power of faith in producing a sense of security and rest (cf. Binney’s Pract Nat. of Faith).
II. Sihon as a warning. He left the stronghold where he had enjoyed peace and protection to join the enemies of God. No better warning for the young. If we forsake God, God will forsake us. “Those that honour me I will honour.” “Those that seek shall find.” There are two sources of temptation to the inexperienced: inquisitiveness and pleasure.
(a.) Inquisitiveness has not infrequently tempted the young to leave the safe shelter of faith in Christ to dabble in the muddy currents of scientific and philosophic speculation, and to rush into the storms raised by supposed discoveries of unbelief. Such have quickly found they trod a path beset with thorns. To such Sihon is a warning.
(b.) Pleasure has induced men to forsake the garden about the Cross, where Rest, Joy, Safety, and Peace lingered, notwithstanding the transverse shadows upon the ground, to taste fruits of trees that grew beyond. They were not satisfied with what Christ gave. The angels’ food sickens. They lust for the things of Egypt (cf. Eve in the garden). The Bible is thrown aside for the novel. The prayer-meeting is exchanged for the play. Virtue sometimes even is lost (cf. Samson). Contrast the choice of Hercules in Xenophon’s “Memorabilia.”
“To what gulphs
A single deviation from the track
Of human duties lead.”—Byron.
(c.) Gain and worldly reward have induced some to forsake God and His Church (cf. conduct of Balaam, Judas; Numbers 23:10; Numbers 31:8; Numbers 31:16; Micah 6:5; 2 Peter 2:15; Jude 1:11).
Men in the present day desire the “wages of unrighteousness” and “the pleasures of sin,” and for them pay the price, “unrighteousness,” “sin,” the DEATH of their soul: they betray “the Lord of life and glory,” “crucify Him afresh, and put Him to an open shame.” Let such take warning of Sihon, king of the Amorites, who forsook his stronghold to join the enemies of God.
Deuteronomy 1:5. “In the end of this fortieth year, in the beginning of the month Shebat, Moses called the people together, saying, The time of my death draweth nigh; if any one therefore hath forgot anything that I have delivered, let him come and receive it; or, if anything seem dubious, let him come that I may explain it. And so they say in Siphri, If any one have forgotten any constitution, let him come and hear it the second time; if he need to have anything unfolded, let him come and hear the explanation of it”—Maimonides on this verse.
“Began Moses to declare.” “Explain.”—Patrick.
He “began,” or, better perhaps, “undertook,” to “declare the law,” i.e., explain and elucidate it. Such is the force of the Hebrew verb בֵאֵר (bççr), a word implying the pre-existence of the matter on which the process is employed, and so the substantial identity of the Deuteronomic legislation with that of the previous books. LXX. διασαφῆσαι: Vul. explanare.—Speaker’s Commentary.
“Began.” Willingly took upon him, for the word implies willingness and contentedness (cf. Genesis 18:27). So all ministers should feed their flocks “willingly and of a ready mind” (1 Peter 5:2). Moses began to declare as Jesus (cf. Luke 12:1; Matthew 16:6). “Disciples began to pluck,” &c. (Matthew 12:1).
“To declare.” To make plain, clearly manifest to the understanding of the people, as in Habakkuk 2:2. A thing is said to be made plain in writing that he may run that readeth it.—Ainsworth.
הוֹאִול = to be willing, not began. In Genesis 18:27, this word is rendered by “I have taken upon me” (Exodus 2:21). “Moses was content.”—Delgado.
The best inheritance that a rich man can leave to his children is Christian instruction in the discipline and admonition of the Lord, and thorough education in the arts and sciences.—Geier.
He who really fears God will say nothing concerning Him but that which proceeds from his innermost heart, and vow nothing but what he is resolved inviolably to keep.—Hengstenberg.
“Declare.” The Hebrew word means properly to engrave, to hew in stone: which is there used of the deeper impressing and imprinting on the heart by means of exhortation and explanation.—Gerlach.
The address of Moses is in perfect harmony with his situation. He speaks like a dying father to his children. The words are earnest, inspired, impressive. He looks back over the whole of the forty years of their wandering in the desert, reminds the people of all the blessings they have received, of the ingratitude with which they have so often repaid them, and of the judgments of God, and the love that continually broke forth behind them; he explains the laws again and again, and adds what is necessary to complete them, and is never weary of urging obedience to them in the warmest and most emphatic words, because the very life of the nation was bound up with this; he surveys all the storms and the conflicts which they have passed through, and, beholding the future in the past—viz., apostasy, punishment, and pardon—continue to repeat themselves in the future also.—Hengstenberg.
“On this side Jordan,” &c., &c.
Moses repeated the law as soon as he had opportunity, and circumstances required it. He did not wait till the promised land was entered. The work of to-day was not delayed till the morrow. It was done at once. He did it where he was—in the land of the Gentiles—surrounded with heathen—in the country of foes. (Cf. here Carlyle’s words “America is here or nowhere.”) Trapp with no little humour remarks on these words, “And he was not long about it. A ready heart makes a riddance of God’s work, for being oiled with the Spirit, it becomes lithe and nimble and quick of despatch.” Three practical hints—
I. What is to be done do at once. Moses on this side of Jordan began to speak. Had Moses been a boy at school, he would not have put off his prayers till he got home where there were no school-fellows to chaff. He would have said them then and there.
“Let us take the instant by the forward lip.”
“Shun delays, they breed remorse;
Take thy time while time is lent thee;
Creeping snails have weakest force;
Fly their faults, lest thou repent thee.
Good is best when soonest wrought;
Lingering labours come to nought.”
“At thirty man suspects himself a fool;
Knows it at forty, and reforms his plans;
At fifty ohides his infamous delay,
Pushes his prudent purpose to resolve;
In all the magnanimity of thought
Besolves: and re-resolves: then dies the same.”
“We find out some excuse or other for deferring good resolutions.”—Addison.
“There is no moment like the present.”—Maria Edgeworth.
Thou art a passenger, and thy ship hath put into harbour for a few hours. The tide and the wind serve, and the pilot calls thee to depart, and thou art amusing thyself and gathering shells and pebbles on the shore till they set sail without thee. So every Christian who, being on his voyage to a happy eternity, delays and loiters, and thinks and acts as if he were to dwell here for ever.—Jortin.
II. Do not think that there will be a more propitious time than the present.
(1.) Dallying with duties does not diminish difficulties.
(2.) Delay positively increases difficulties. Power unused decreases. If duty is deferred a day, we are a day’s wasted strength the weaker.
(3.) We know what is to be done now: to-morrow it may be forgotten. Cares of life will usurp attentions. The duties are pushed aside—choked down—killed. Weeds grow faster than corn (cf. parable of the sower). Cares and duties come quicker than time.
“Conviction, were it never so excellent, is worthless till it convert itself into conduct. Nay, properly, conviction is not possible till then, inasmuch as all speculation is by nature endless, formless, a vortex amid vortices: only by a felt indubitable certainty of experience does it find any centre to revolve round, and so fashion itself into a system. Most true is it, as a wise man teaches us, that “doubt of any sort cannot be removed except by action. On which ground, too, let him who gropes painfully in darkness or uncertain light, and prays vehemently that the dawn may ripen into day, lay this other precept well to heart, which to me was of invaluable service: ‘Do the duty which lies nearest thee,’ which thou knowest to be a duty! Thy second duty will already have become clearer.”—Carlyle.
III. Do some good things in this life—in the desert, so called, on this side Jordan. Do not wait till heaven is reached, that angels alone may be witness of your good deeds. Moses did not defer till the promised land was reached. He did what he was able out of the promised land. It was well he did. He never reached Canaan. Had he put off all till then, nothing would have been done. Perhaps you may never reach heaven: probably you will not if there is so little of the spirit of Christ in you as to permit an utterly indolent life. Remember Dives! Do something worth remembering, that you may have one pleasant memory to carry into hell with you: perhaps a sufficiency of such reminiscences may so brighten the gloom of those infernal regions as to make the hell a heaven.
“How dangerous to defer those moments which conscience is solemnly preaching to the heart! If they are neglected, the difficulty and indisposition are increasing every month.”—John Foster.
Deuteronomy 1:6. The first and introductory address of Moses to the people is here commenced. It extends to ch. Deuteronomy 4:40, and is divided from the second discourse by Deuteronomy 1:41-5.1.46, which are obviously of a different character from those which precede and follow them. Addressing the people on the very threshold of the promised land, Moses summarily recalls to them the manifold proofs they had experienced of the care and faithfulness of God toward them, and the manifold instances of their own perverseness and rebellion. These their sins had shut them out during a whole generation from the inheritance covenanted to be given to their fathers. The warning is thus most effectively pointed—that they should not by new transgressions debar themselves from those blessings which even now lay before their eyes; and the way is appropriately prepared for that recapitulation and reinforcement of the law of the covenant which it is the main purpose of Deuteronomy to convey.—Speaker’s Commentary.
“Dwelt long enough.” “From the third month of the first year (Exodus 19:1) to twentieth day of the second year after they came out of Egypt (Numbers 10:11), they stayed at Mount Sinai, which is the same with Horeb, they being only two tops of the same mountain, one of them something higher than the other, as they are described by those who have taken a view of them.”—Patrick.
Ainsworth more correctly says: “They came to that mount in the third month after their departure out of Egypt (Exodus 12:1-2.12.2), and removed from the mount ‘the twentieth of the second month in the second year’ (Numbers 10:11-4.10.12); so they remained there almost a year, where they received the law, or Old Testament, and had made a Tabernacle for God to dwell among them: from thence God called them by word and sign, the cloud removing (Numbers 10:11; Numbers 10:13; Numbers 10:33); to journey toward Canaan, the land promised to Abraham, the figure of their heavenly inheritance by faith in Christ. The law is not for man to continue under, but for a time, till they be fitted and brought unto Christ (see Galatians 3:16-48.3.18; Galatians 4:1-48.4.5; Hebrews 3:18-58.3.19; Hebrews 4:6-58.4.11.”
“The great Primate of Ireland thinks that Moses spoke from here to Deuteronomy 4:40 on February 20, and on the Sabbath day.”—Bibliotheca Biblica.
“In Horeb.” It has been remarked as a discrepancy that Sinai of the other books is alway called Horeb in Deuteronomy. But this is met by the note in Exodus 19:2, where it is shown that Horeb is the general name of the whole mountain, and Sinai is the special name of a particular part of it. This distinction is scrupulously observed everywhere in the Pentateuch. The name Sinai is, however, not wanting in the book, for we find it in Deuteronomy 33:2 (cf. long note on Exodus 19:2, “Kitto’s Family Bible,” Sinai, in Dic.—Kitto.
Humbled they must be, and hammered for a season: sense of misery goes before a sense of mercy.—Trapp.
Dr. Wright says “by Horeb,” but I know not his reason, as they were “in Horeb.”—Delgado.
“Dwelt long enough” implies that the purpose for which Israel was taken to Horeb had been answered, i.e., they had been furnished with laws and ordinances requisite for the fulfilment of the covenant, and could now remove to Canaan to take possession of the promised Laud. The word of Jehovah mentioned here is not found in this form in the previous history; but, as a matter of fact, it is contained in the Divine instructions that were preparatory to their removal (Numbers 1:4; Numbers 9:15; Numbers 10:20), and the rising of the cloud from the Tabernacle, which followed immediately afterwards (Numbers 10:1). The fixed used of the name Horeb to designate the mountain group in general, instead of the special name Sinai, which is given to the particular mountain upon which the law was given, is in keeping with the rhetorical style of the book.—Keil and Delitzsch.
“Dwelt.” “Sitten much.”—Ainsworth.
“The Lord our God spake unto us” Benisch renders the verse—“The Eternal our God,” &c. These words are powerfully suggestive of fellowship with the unseen universe. Contact with the verse is like wandering in the depth of some virgin forest, dark, boundless, at midnight the twinkling stars above only revealing the intense, mysterious darkness, and the hidden terror. Whether this speech was audible or silent, whether heard by the sense of the imagination, matters very little. The word God spoke was heard somehow, and to the hearer the word was real, as well as the speaker. Two thoughts suggested here—
I. Man has a capacity to hold communion with God.
(a.) This is done by means of a special and peculiar faculty. As the eye sees, and the heart loves; so the spirit that is in man communes with the Spirit that is in God.
(b.) This faculty may be alive or dead. “In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (cf. Gen.).
II. Man’s power of hearing God depends upon his relationship with God. When Christ heard His Father speak, the people said it “thundered.” When Paul heard the voice of Christ by the way, those with him heard it not (Acts 22:9). When the Spirit descended upon Jesus as a dove, John the Baptist and Jesus beheld it, but we do not know that the people saw it.
“Communion with God will, even in this life, greatly increase our conformity to Him; the truth of this of this is confirmed by common observation. Assimilation is always a consequence of association with others. There is in man a natural aptness and tendency to imitate those who are his most constant companions. If two persons very dissimilar in disposition, habits, and manner of expression, were for a few days only to associate together, they would visibly approximate each other. Just so the praying soul, by conversing with God, is in some measure assimilated to His likeness. The object of worship will in some measure always be the object of imitation. God is the standard of moral excellence, and by contemplating His perfections our corruptions are counteracted, His image is enstamped upon us, and our minds are raised above their natural level. Thus the exercise of fervent prayer elevates, strengthens, purifies, comforts, and enriches the believing soul. They who would be rich in grace must be much in prayer to God: He will beautify them with the beams of His holiness, as Moses’s face shone when he returned from the mount; ‘beholding in the exercise of faith and prayer the glory of the Lord, they are changed into the same image from glory to glory.’ And herein the work of prayer on earth resembles that of praise in heaven; for which more exalted worship it is, no doubt, intended ultimately to prepare us.”—Christian Family’s Assistant.
Anything lower than a life of communion with God in Christ is repudiated by the Christian idea as an imperfect and sinful life. It may possess much that the world calls virtue—it may be honest, industrious, and self-sacrificing—it may even show a strength and consistent manliness that some manifestations of the Christian life are found to fail in; but, nevertheless, it is of an inferior quality. It not merely comes short of it, but it does not really touch the Christian ideal; for it is impossible to separate the life of man from God without fatal injury to that life. If God is, and if we are His creatures, our being cannot grow into any healthy or perfect form while we remain divorced in spirit and in love from Him. Certain elements of character may flourish in us, but certain others, and still more important, elements must be wanting.—Dr. Tulloch.
“You will find it more difficult to walk closely with Jesus in a calm than in a storm, in easy circumstances than in straits, A Christian never falls asleep in the fire or in the water, but grows drowsy in the sunshine.”—John Berridge.
Communion with heaven—
“When one who holds communion with the skies
Has filled his urn where the pure waters rise,
And once more mingles with us meaner things,
‘Tis even as an angel shook his wings;
Immortal fragrance fills the circuit wide.”
Deuteronomy 1:7. “Turn you, take your journey,” i.e., “Resume the journey long intermitted.”—Patrick.
“The Amorites, as the most warlike and powerful people, stand here for all the Canaanites.”—Gerlach.
“Mount of the Amorites,” i.e., to the mountain district occupied by the Amorites, reaching into the Negeb, and part of the territory assigned to the tribe of Judah. The Amorites, as the leading people of Canaan, here stand for the nations of that country generally (see Deuteronomy 1:44); and “the mountain of the Amorites, and the places nigh thereunto (or more literally, “All its neighbours”), denote the whole district, which is more particularly specified in the concluding part of the verse.”—Speaker’s Commentary.
“Canaan was naturally divided, according to the character of the ground, into the Arabah, the modern Ghor; the mountain, the subsequent mountains of Judah and Ephraim; the lowlands (sh’phéláh), i.e., the low flat country lying between the mountains of Judah and the Mediterranean Sea, and stretching from the promontory of Carmel down to Gaza, which is intersected by only small undulations and ranges of hills, and generally includes the hill country which formed the transition from the mountains to the plains, though the two are distinguished in Joshua 10:40; Joshua 12:8; the south land (nĕgĕb), lit. dryness, aridity, from ננב, to be dry or arid. Hence the dry, parched land, in contrast to the well-watered country (Joshua 15:19; Judges 1:15), was the name given to the southern district of Canaan, which forms the transition from the desert to the strictly cultivated land, and bears for the most part the character of a steppe, in which tracts of sand and heath are intermixed with shrubs, grass, and vegetables, whilst here and there corn is also cultivated; a district, therefore, which was better fitted for grazing than for agriculture, though it contained a number of towns and villages (cf. Joshua 15:21-6.15.23); and the sea-shore, i.e., the generally narrow strip of coast running along by the Mediterranean Sea from Joppa to the Tyrian Ladder, or Râs el Abiad, just below Tyre. The special mention of Lebanon in connection with the land of the Canaanites, and the enumeration of the separate parts of the land, as well as the extension of the eastern frontier as far as the Euphrates, are to be attributed to the rhetorical fulness of the style.”—Keil and Delitzsch.
Deuteronomy 1:5-5.1.8. Subject: God’s address to His people. “The Lord our God spake.” (Deuteronomy 1:6). The words were spoken to Israel. Israel in a special and preeminent sense was God’s people (Exodus 3:7; Exodus 5:1; cf. “My people” in Concordance). They were the covenant people as far as the covenant then extended. Though the grace and truth came by Jesus Christ, yet the Law was given by Moses. The Jew had an earnest of the future greater gift. Of this fact we are in a measure reminded by the sketch of their history given in the chapter, as likewise by the relation of Moses to their history. He was the prophet. The prophet is the mouthpiece of God. Moses spoke and acted only for God: he was but the vicegerent: God was the true King of Israel. His glory was displayed to Israel in miracle and providential protection. But even more specially and pre-eminently than the Jew is the Christian Church the people of God. To such this passage, in is spiritual application, is full of instruction.
I. God in His address to His people enjoins action. “Not slothful” is the apostolic command. “Ye have dwelt” (Ainsworth: ‘sitten much’) “long enough.” The time of inactivity is over. “Turn you, take your journey.” God enjoins on His people to be like Himself. He is ever active. The whole seven days round His energies are going forth in creating and blessing. For six days He creates: on the seventh He is active in blessing (cf. Genesis 2:1; Genesis 2:3). Not less active than the Father is the Son. Week-day and Sabbath He exerted Himself to make man happier and the world brighter. His reason for this He gives in John 5:17. It is not unnatural, therefore, that God seeks in His people qualities so largely developed in Himself. God does not want idlers in His vineyard. Man was put into the garden of the world to work (cf. Genesis 2:15). In the parable, too, the men had to go and labour who received the penny (cf. Matthew 20:8). “Call the labourers”.
However, God permits some rest. Life is not all work. Storm and calm, battle and peace, make history.
But still the law of life and growth is, the more we do within certain limits the more we are able to do. This is true both physically and spiritually. People of impaired health by proper exercise become strong. The morally weak are strengthened by the exercise of trial. It was on this account that Paul “gloried in tribulation.” It made him spiritually greater. So men find now. The more kind a man tries to be, the more he is. So with faith, patience, hope. Cf. Abraham’s faith and its growth: first he leaves home; then he offers his son in obedience to the Divine injunction uttered in his heart. It is easier to leave home than sacrifice one’s own child. But Abraham was led up to this latter. God speaks both in the words of Scripture and in the voice of life’s circumstances and conditions, ever eloquent, saying, “Turn you, take your journey.” In other words, “Do something.” As children of God, be like your fathers. Let what energies you possess go forth in activity, and thus by the action of to-day prepare for greater activity on the morrow.
II. God advises with regard to the nature, direction, and extent of this action.
(a.) Nature of the action. Let it be action with a purpose in view. Some people are always beating the air. Much energy is spent in noise and flurry, but no work is done. Have an aim in life. “Go to the mount of the Amorites.”
(b.) Direction of the action. Two hints with regard to that—
(1.) Let it go forth. It does not do for a man’s action to turn in on himself. Uniform selfishness is as injurious as constant introspection; and ceaseless introspection is as ruinous as unmixed selfishness. Live for others as well as self: work for others.
(2.) This is modified by another hint. Go to what is near first. In kindly thought for the universe, a man is not to forget his own. Cf. 1 Timothy 5:8. Jesus when dying for the world did not forget His own mother at His feet.
(c.) Extent of the action. Though we are to begin with what is near, though what is at hand is of primary import, we are not to restrict our thoughts nor our actions to our own. Begin at the near, then proceed to what is more remote, till the whole world is affected by your life: e.g.—
(1.) First to the plain. Read part of the Bible easily understood and applied. Interpret providence as far as you can trace a Father’s hands. What cannot be understood leave for a future day and clearer lights.
(2.) After this go to the hill. Do not mind a difficulty sometimes. A little adversity strengthens the soul. Trust is perfected in suffering. Many a seed has matured into a noble plant when cast down into the earth.
(3.) Now you may proceed to the vale. Reverently step where the long, deep shadows fall. There is the “valley of the shadow of death”—“the valley of humiliation”—“the valley of vision.” Here the soul is quickened and brought into that region of experience that Paul designates as being “hidden with Christ in God.”
(4.) Thus prepared with “the whole armour of God,” go to the “south.” Here were hills infested with foes. So the Christian, after mounting the Hill of Transfiguration with Christ, where for a moment the Divine glory is manifested, has to go back again to a world where man has to contend with demons (cf. Matthew 17:14-40.17.18)—where he has to grapple with many a spiritual foe, wolves in sheep’s clothing, the lion that seeks to devour, the subtle serpent. But go to the “south.” God “has not called us to bondage”—the bondage of the cloister: or to linger in dim-lighted religious cell, as if life was to be consumed in feeling. “Fight the good fight of faith.” Go where the enemy awaits.
(5.) Then comes the reward. Having gone to the “south,” the people might turn aside to the sea. Here an entirely new field of experience was to break upon their vision. Hitherto they had wandered amid arid sands and rocky wastes. Now they come to the sea, where the beauty and glory of the heavens would be reflected in the silent depths of the waters, grace and mystery being added (cf. Psalms 107:23-19.107.24). So does God bring the Christian after long and hard toil to gaze into those depths of love and grace which are as oceans mirroring the midnight skies.
(6.) After such revelation of God’s glory and power, the people of God can go forth to war with the Canaanite. The kingdom of Christ is extended to Lebanon (the far north)—to the river (the far east). The whole world is filled with the glory of the Lord.
Such are the various stages of Christian experience and work. From what is simple to what is complex, from the near to the distant, the soul lives and labours till all be complete.
III. God, in His address, points out how rightly-directed action will bring its own reward. “Behold, I have set (Heb. ‘given’) the land before you: go in and possess.”
(a.) True work is sure to bring recompense of some kind.
“If little labour, little are our gains;
Man’s fortunes are according to his pains.”
It, first, brings external reward. A day’s work brings the day’s wages. The sowings of spring are followed by the harvests of autumn.
It, secondly, brings an internal reward in a man’s own nature and being.
“Service shall with steeled sinews toil,
And labour shall refresh itself with hope.”
“Moderate labour of the body conduces to the preservation of health, and cures many initial diseases.”—Dr. W. Harvey.
“Excellence is never granted to man but as the reward of labour.”—Sir J. Reynolds.
(b.) Show what work is. Distinguish work from pleasure. Pleasure is the expending of energy without any end or purpose save the sensations caused by the act of waste, whereby pleasure has been defined as “dissipating enjoyments;” work is energy expended for a purpose. In its idea it is conservative. Work is action to get a return for the energy so spent, both to recuperate and increase the power thus employed. Pleasure seeks nothing save the sensation; work demands a recompense. God promises to work its recompense. “Go in and possess.”
Deuteronomy 1:9. “I am not able.” “Political and ecclesiastical labours are very great.”—Luther.
“None have so hard a tug of it as magistrates and ministers.”—Trapp.
“If we had not business and cares and fears above all private persons, we should be equal to the gods.”—Dio. Cassius.
“Moses constrained to this not only by the consciousness of his own inability, but by the advice of Jethro and the command of God (cf. Exodus 18:14; Exodus 18:18-2.18.19; Exodus 18:21; Exodus 18:23).”—Ainsworth.
“I am not able.” “We do not read before now that Moses spake thus; but Jethro spoke thus, Exodus 18:0, and gave advice (Exodus 18:21) to get help, which Moses took (Deuteronomy 1:24), and then told the people what Jethro said.”—Patrick.
“At that time.” After the giving of the law.—Selden.
“I spake unto you,” &c. “It seems that in the following account two histories are comprised in one; the appointment of the judges at the advice of Jethro (Exodus 18:0) and the installing of the seventy elders by the communication of the Spirit to them (Numbers 11:16). The first institution, which was of man’s origin, received its consecration by the latter act. The division of the whole people into corporations under heads, also inspired by the Spirit of God as Moses, made the whole unformed mass into one people.”—Gerlach.
“I am not able,” &c.
I. His was work entirely beyond social help. Such labour becomes more difficult from the loneliness of the worker. Many a minister feels his work hard through his solitude.
II. Such work often entails more self-denial than mortal man can endure. God’s grace goes a long way. Still man has the weakness of the flesh to sap his energies. “It is not good for man to be alone.”
III. It was work involving self-denial for the very people who caused him all his troubles and anxieties.
The character of Moses.
“The ancients are full of it … His piety, his meekness, his patience and self-denial, his magnanimity, his impartiality, his public spirit and tender love to his nation, his wisdom and judgment, his learning, and all those adorning qualities and happy accomplishments that distinguished this great and excellent man (not even the gracefulness of his person omitted), are there mentioned with such handsome simplicity and plainness of style and narration, as is nowhere else to be found, and perhaps cannot be imitated; such as at once recommends the pattern of the man and vouches the truth of the story.”—Bibliotheca Biblica.
“I am not able to bear you,” &c. A tone of suffering and weariness is in these words. The true leaders of men are not infrequently compelled to go counter to the prejudice, vice, and sin of their age. Every age has repeated the past and foreshadowed the future in that particular. Moses was true to his vocation. Sorely he suffered.
I. The depravity of his age.
(a.) The people a horde of barbarians.
(b.) Coarse, selfish, idolatrous.
(c.) Almost blind to the spiritual.
II. The magnanimity of his character.
(a.) True antidote of an evil generation is a magnanimous leader. More is done by example than by precept.
(b.) The burdens of life make a truly great character greater.
Compare with this the effect of the pure, magnanimous life of Jesus Christ on His generation—the Centurion, &c.
Deuteronomy 1:10. The Lord God had multiplied the people. Their increase was not owing simply to a power in themselves. God is the actor.
“As the stars.” “A greater number than can be told.”—Clapham Patrick.
“The Lord our God hath multiplied you.”
When Moses said this, it was with the impression that he had said one of the most inspiriting and congratulatory things that he could say. Compare Psalms 127:5. “Happy is the man that has his quiver full.” In no way could Moses have expressed his idea of God’s beneficence more than this. The subject suggested to us here is the benignity of God. Three facts might well be considered in conjunction with this subject—
I. God’s benignity is a fact ever before the eye of man’s investigating intellect. Adduce Plato’s: “God is beauty and love itself”—an outburst of adoration caused by His purified intellect gazing on the outspread universe in this genial atmosphere and refined light of grace.
What was it but this led Bishop Horne to exclaim, “When we rise fresh and vigorous in the morning, the world seems fresh too, and we think we shall never be tired of business or pleasure; but by the time the evening is come, we find ourselves heartily so; we quit all our enjoyments readily and gladly; we retire willingly into a little cell; we lie down in darkness, and resign ourselves to the arms of sleep with perfect satisfaction and complacency.”
Or take again that beautiful passage of Emerson’s—
“The method of nature: who could ever analyse it? That rushing stream will not fail to be observed. We can never surprise nature in a corner; never find the end of a thread; never tell where to set the first stone. The bird hastes to lay her egg; the egg hastens to be a bird. The wholeness we admire in the order of the world is the result of infinite distribution. Its smoothness is the smoothness of the pitch of the cataract. Its permanence is a perpetual inchoation. Every natural fact is an emanation also, and from every emanation is a new emanation. If anything could stand still, it would be crushed and dissipated by the torrent it resisted; and if it were a mind, would be crazed as insane persons are—those who hold fast one thought, and do not flow with the course of nature;—not the cause, but an ever-novel effect. Nature descends always from above. It is unbroken obedience. The beauty of these fair objects is imported into them from a metaphysical and eternal spring.”
II. God’s benignity is a fact ever impressing our general consciousness. Not only has the intellect its special sphere of observation, of means to end, and adjustment of cause to effect; but the whole consciousness has that pressing upon it which makes the subject of it cry out in a wild rapture, “God is indeed good!”
III. God’s benignity is a fact ever appealing to our faith. What is more startling than to be told that God is good. God is good! and we think of the earthquake where thirty thousands went into the mystery of the shadows in a moment. The benign God! and the storm and the shipwreck loom up as some phantom to haunt our peace. We think of widows: we hear the sob of the orphan. The maiden’s love is blasted, and a weary soul goes on its solitary course for years, hoping that there may be a future, and that the spirit of the loved one hovers near.
But God shows His benignity by drawing near in sympathy. Hearts are not left to sigh alone. There is still a voice to be heard when “the thorn” is most painful, “My grace is sufficient.”
It is in this profounder and tenderer way God’s benignity constantly appeals unto our heart, and our heart’s deepest faith.
Deuteronomy 1:11. “The Lord God of your fathers make you a thousand times so many more as ye are, and bless you, as He hath promised you.”
Subject: The prosperity of Zion desired. Not to exert ourselves for those committed to us argues a want of love for them, but there is a bound to man’s power. The care of the people devolving upon Moses proved too much for him. He therefore retired from the whole duty, and dealt only with the chief cases, relegating the remainder to magistrates. He had now arrived at the borders of Jordan and the last month of his life, and was enjoined by God to make a farewell memorial; so the generation immediately coming after him, having the history of their fathers so deeply stamped upon them, might serve God with more fidelity than their fathers had. It was in this farewell he felt called upon to make a reference to the act instigated by Jethro—the appointing of magistrates—lest there might be any feeling on the part of the people at his so doing; and, to show his zeal in their service, he concludes with this blessing: “The Lord God of your fathers,” &c.
This benevolent wish of his will lead me to consider the prosperity of God’s Israel—
1. As a matter of promise. To the promises of God relating to this subject Moses refers: “The Lord bless you, as He hath promised you!” God has promised innumerable blessings to those who are of Israel according to the flesh. Cf. Genesis 15:5; Jeremiah 33:22; Deuteronomy 30:5; Amos 9:11-30.9.15; Zechariah 8:3-38.8.8; Zechariah 8:13, Zechariah 8:18-38.8.23; Jeremiah 30:19. Innumerable blessings, too, has God promised to His spiritual Israel. That these are included in the wish of Moses there can be no doubt. Cf. Genesis 22:17-1.22.18; Galatians 3:7-48.3.9; Galatians 3:13-48.3.14
Let us, then, consider the prosperity of Israel—
II. As an object of desire. “Oh, that the Lord God of our fathers would multiply His people a thousandfold, and bless them as He hath promised them!” If any of you need a stimulus to concur in this wish, reflect on—
(1.) The benefit that will accrue to every converted soul.
[Were we to contemplate a soul actually taken out of hell, and translated to a throne of glory in heaven, we should say indeed that such an one had reason to rejoice. Yet, what is it less than this that is done for every child of God? Are we not doomed to perdition? Is there any child of man that is not” by nature a child of wrath” I consequently, if delivered from condemnation, “is he not a brand plucked out of the fire”? Is he not at the very time that he is turned from darkness to light turned also “from the power of Satan unto God”? Does he not actually “pass from death unto life”? And is he not “delivered from the power of darkness, and translated into the kingdom of God’s dear Son”? Reflect then on this, as done for only one soul, and there is reason, abundant reason, for every benevolent person in the universe to pant for it. But consider it as extended to thousands and millions, yea, millions of millions, even the whole human race, and who should not pant and pray for that? See what commotion is produced in heaven even by the conversion of one soul; for “there is joy among the angels in the very presence of God over one sinner that repenteth.” And what must we be who feel so indifferent about the conversion and salvation of the whole world? Verily we have need to blush and be confounded before God for the coldness with which we contemplate His promised blessings.]
(2.) The honour that will redound to God.
[Behold our fallen race! Who is there amongst them that bears any measure of resemblance to the image in which man was created? Who regards God? Who does not practically say to God, “Depart from me; I desire not the knowledge of Thy ways”? But let a soul be apprehended by Divine grace, and converted to the faith of Christ, and what a different aspect does he then bear! Verily, the whole work of creation does not so brightly exhibit the glory of God as does this new created being. Brilliant as are the rays of the noonday sun, they do not display even the natural perfections, and still less the moral perfections of the Deity, as he, the new-born soul, who, from the image of “his father the devil,” is transformed into the image of God Himself in “righteousness and true holiness.” Now, too, he begins to live unto his God, and by every possible means to exalt His glory in the world, acknowledging Him in all things, serving Him in all things, glorifying Him in all things. Is there a man that is in any respect sensible of his obligations to God, and not desirous that such converts should be multiplied? Did David “shed rivers of tears for those who kept not God’s law,” and shall not we weep and pray that such persons may be converted to God and made monuments of His saving grace? But conceive of this whole world that is in rebellion against God converted thus, and God’s will done on earth as it is done in heaven; and shall this be to us no object of desire? Verily, we should take no rest to ourselves, nor give any rest to God, till He accomplish this blessed work, and till “all the kingdoms of the world become the kingdoms of His christ.”]
(3.) The happiness that will arise to the whole world.
[Every soul that is converted to God becomes “as a light” to those around him, and “salt,” to keep, as it were, from utter putrefaction the neighbourhood in which he dwells. In proportion, then, as these are multiplied, the very world itself assumes a different aspect. “Instead of the brier there grows up the fir-tree, and instead of the thorn there grows up the myrtle-tree,” till at last “the whole wilderness shall blossom as the rose,” and this “desert become as the garden of the Lord.” I need say no more. The wish of Moses is, I think, the wish of every one amongst you; and you are all Saying with David, “Blessed be God’s glorious name for ever; and let the whole earth be filled with His glory.” Amen and amen.]
You will ask, then, What shall we do to accelerate this glorious event? God works by means. Learn a lesson from Moses’s act. He received assistance. Let the zeal of the Church be fanned into life. Let the Church help the clergy. Then will God’s kingdom come. [Abridged.]—Simeon.
Deuteronomy 1:11. In this book Moses repeats the chief laws to the people. This he does because the generations that first heard them had passed away: a new one was in its place. Much that had taken place he therefore repeats. This led him to refer to their trying and quarrelsome disposition, and the appointment of magistrates to deal with their several cases. The subject, to be considered thoroughly, would afford three ample heads of discourse, viz.:—
I. The qualifications required in those that were to be appointed rulers over the people. They were to be wise men, and understanding, and known among their tribes.
II. The persons to whom the election or choice is referred, which were the several tribes over whom they were to rule: Take ye, or, give ye, as it is in the original, i.e., choose ye, as the word signifies.
III. The person who deputed them to their office, and invested them with their authority: and that was Moses himself, their chief leader; he who was appointed over them by God, and under God on earth supreme. “Take ye wise men, &c., and I will make them rulers over you.”
The first only is dealt with on this occasion, i.e., this qualification of a ruler. “Choose wise men,” &c. In speaking to which I shall—
(1.) Explain the terms in which these qualifications are expressed.
(2.) Show how necessary those qualifications are to form a good magistrate.
(3.) Set forth the great benefits and advantages which such magistrates are—(a.) to their sovereign, (b.) to the people ruled, and (c.) the honour they bring to themselves.—Condensed from Wheatly on this passage.
Deuteronomy 1:11. “The Lord God of your fathers make you a thousand times so many more than ye are, and bless you, as He hath promised you.” There was but one thought on this subject in the mind of both Moses and the Psalmist. “Happy is the man that hath his quiver full:” and, “Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is His reward.” Such a view of a social problem, which is now such a difficult one to some of the most thoughtful, could only be taken by men who had a strong and living faith in the providence of God, and who lived in times and countries where food was more easily procured than it is now in civilised countries, and where the habits of the people were very simple. Still, if men were content to be more simple in habit and life, the same sentiment might be expressed to-day as was sung as a joyful song by Moses and the Psalmist. The words read in such a spirit as characterised these two writers suggest these two considerations—
I. That children ought to be esteemed blessings, and that he who has a numerous offspring ought to be thankful to God for them: for children are the heritage of the Lord.
II. That God is the sole Author and Disposer of these blessings: “The Lord God … make, &c., and bless as He hath promised.”
I. Children ought to be esteemed blessings, &c. It is a blessed thing to be the parent of a numerous offspring. For
(1.) Such a man is a public blessing to the kingdom in which he lives; for the riches of a kingdom consists in the number and multitude of its inhabitants. Cf. the conduct of the Romans, famed for the wisdom of their laws and prudence of politics, which was guided by this maxim from the first foundation of their government, and who endeavoured by all means in their power to augment the numbers of their people, and rather chose to make their city the asylum of the worst of men than want inhabitants. To this end they framed so many honorary laws, and granted so many and great privileges to the parents of many children.
(2.) A numerous offspring is a valuable blessing with respect to private families, and that mutual comfort and support which those who came originally out of the same loins yield to one another. These bonds are inseparable when the same interest are bound by natural affection.
(3.) A numerous offspring is a valuable blessing to the parent himself. The Jew looked forward to the Messiah being born of his family: the Christian can see a new heir of righteousness. There is joy in their birth: there is pleasure in their after-life if the child is trained aright.
II. God is the sole Author and Disposer of these blessings. Cf. Psalms 127:3. This blessing is called an heritage. An heritage is an estate got by ancestors, and descends to us lineally without our painstaking. God is our Ancestor, from whom we enjoy all favours.
Three lessons are gathered from the subject of this verse—
(a.) Let those who have no children learn from hence to wait with patience the Divine pleasure, to continue in prayer and alms-deeds, and to be fruitful in good works; and if they have not children after the flesh, they will have a multitude who will call them blessed, and who in the endless ages of eternity will be to them as children.
(b.) Let those who have a numerous family of children be thankful to God for bestowing these blessings on them, and use their utmost endeavour to make them blessings indeed, by grounding them in the principles of religion and bringing them up soberly and virtuously to some lawful calling.
(c.) Those who have had children and are deprived of them, either by natural death, or, which is worse, by any unfortunate accident, may hence learn to resign themselves to the will of God, and entirely to depend on His good providence.—Abstract of Sermon by Lewis Atterbury.
“I know he’s coming by this sign,—
That baby’s almost wild!
See how he laughs and crows and starts,—
Heaven bless the merry child!
He’s father’s self in face and limb,
And father’s heart is strong in him.
Shout, baby, shout! and clap thy hands,
For father on the threshold stands.”
“I love these little people; and it is not a slight thing when they, who are so fresh from God, love us.”—Dickens.
“Good Christian people! here lies for you an inestimable loan: take all heed thereof; in all carefulness employ it: with high recompense, or else with heavy penalty, will it one day be required back.”—Carlyle.
“Be ever gentle with the children God has given you; watch over them constantly; reprove them earnestly, but not in anger. In the forcible language of Scripture, ‘Be not bitter against them.’ ‘Yes, they are good boys,’ I once heard a kind father say. ‘I talk to them very much, but do not like to beat my children—the world will beat them.’ It was a beautiful thought, though not elegantly expressed. Yes; there is not one child in the circle round the table, healthful and happy as they look now, on whose head, if long enough spared, the storm will not beat. Adversity may wither them, sickness may fade, a cold world may frown on them, but amidst all, let memory carry them back to a home where the law of kindness reigned, where the mother’s reproving eye was moistened with a tear and the father frowned ‘more in sorrow than in anger.’ ”—E. Burritt.
“Call not that man wretched who, whatever ills he suffers, has a child to love.”—Southey.
“Of all sights which can soften and humanise the heart of man, there is none that ought so surely to reach it as that of innocent children enjoying the happiness which is their proper and natural portions.”—Southey.
“I am fond of children. I think them the poetry of the world, the fresh flowers of our hearths and homes; little jurors, with their ‘natural magic,’ evoking by their spells what delights and enriches all ranks and equalises the different classes of society. Often as they bring with them anxieties and cares, and live to occasion sorrow and grief, we should get on very badly without them. Only think if there was never anything anywhere to be seen but great grown-up men and women! How we should long for the sight of a little child! Every infant comes into the world like a delegated prophet, the harbinger and herald of good tidings, whose office it is ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and to draw ‘the disobedient to the wisdom of the just.’ A child softens and purifies the heart, warming and melting it by its gentle presence; it enriches the soul by new feelings, and awakens within it what is favourable to virtue. It is a beam of light, a fountain of love, a teacher whose lessons few can resist. Infants recall us from much that engenders and encourages selfishness, that freezes the affections, roughens the manners, indurates the heart; they brighten the home, deepen love, invigorate exertion, infuse courage, and vivify and sustain the charities of life. It would be a terrible world, I do think, if it was not embellished by little children.”—Binney.
“Unless you court the privacy of the domestic circle, you will find that you are losing that intimate acquaintance with those who compose it, which is its chief charm and the source of all its advantage. In your family alone can there be that intercourse of heart with heart which falls like refreshing dew on the soul, when it is withered and parched by the heats of business and the intense selfishness which you must hourly meet in public life. Unless your affections are sheltered in that sanctuary, they cannot long resist the blighting influence of a constant repression of their development, and a compulsory substitution of calculation in their stead. Domestic privacy is necessary, not only to your happiness, but even to your efficiency; it gives the rest necessary to your active powers of judgment and discrimination; it keeps unclosed those well-springs of the heart whose flow is necessary to float onwards the determination of the head. It is not enough that the indulgence of these affections should fill up the casual chinks of your time; they must have their allotted portion of it, with which nothing but urgent necessity should be allowed to interfere.”—W. C. Taylor.
Deuteronomy 1:10-5.1.11. Moses here beautifully recalls to the nation’s mind memories of the past, in which mercies received at the hand of God are very prominent. To this is added a prayer that the future may be as the past, but fuller. In connection with this subject are two thoughts, more or less impressive to various hearers, according to the experience of their lives.
I. Man stands in a continued relation to the past. No moment in the present or future can ever be wholly separated from the past. The feelings indulged in and sentiments expressed yesterday will influence life through all after years. A heart is more closely attached to you or deliberately alienated. Your whole after career will be more or less influenced by that one act.
It is highly necessary, while by each present we are making our past which is so to influence our future, that we consider this. The past becomes a man’s life. The present very often is nothing. It is but the dividing line between that just done and what we are about to do. The past stretches through long years. From it comes all a man’s knowledge, feeling, experience. It is his life; we would almost say himself. He was made by that past.
II. The past gives form to the hopes and aspirations of the future.
“It is necessary to look forward as well as backward, as some think it always necessary to regulate their conduct by things that have been done of old times; but that past which is so presumptuously brought forward as a precedent for the present, was itself founded on an alteration of some past that went before it.”—Madame de Stael.
“As the pleasures of the future will be spiritual and pure, the object of a good and wise man in this transitory state of existence should be to fit himself for a better by controlling the unworthy propensities of his nature and improving all his better aspirations, to do his duty, first to God, then to his neighbour; to promote the happiness and welfare of those who are dependent upon him, or whom he has the means of assisting; never wantonly to injure the meanest thing that lives; to encourage, as far as he may have the power, whatever is useful and tends to refine and exalt humanity; to store his mind with such knowledge as it is fitted to receive and he is able to attain; and so to employ the talents committed to his care that, when the account is required, he may hope to have the stewardship approved.”—Southey.
On the knowledge of the past we reason for the future. From the past comes experience. Experience tells what is good. That a wise man desires.
Deuteronomy 1:12. Moses found the work too much for himself alone, he therefore sought assistance. This is but a local application of the principle laid down in Genesis: “It is not good that man should be alone.” Man for the most part needs help, sympathy, and encouragement in his work. A few proud natures wander lion-like, alone through the world; but their life is hard, unnatural, solitary. “The solitary,” God has taken and “set in families.”
“Hear your complaints, remedy your grievances, determine your controversies.”—Clapham.
Deuteronomy 1:12. “How can I bear you alone?” The anguish cry of the fathers has provided language for the children. The sufferings of one age have provided the vehicle of expression for the sufferings of the next. Thus Moses in this moment of trial has done a service for after-ages. Two lessons—
I. The most honoured men are put into situations of extreme difficulty and suffering.
II. Great faith has great trials.
“Examination and trial of a good scholar hurts him not, either in his learning or in his credit; nay, it advanceth him much in both; his very examination rubs up his learning, puts much upon him, and sends him away with the approbation of others. And thus in the trial of faith there is an exercise of faith; faith examined and tried prove a faith strengthened and increased. Some things sometimes prove the worse, and suffer loss by trial; but the more faith is tried the more faith is enlarged.”—Things New and Old.
Deuteronomy 1:12. “How can I bear you alone!” The interrogative form of statement is sometimes the most emphatic mode of statement. Moses does not distinctly state that he was severely tried. But his words imply that much. The words of Moses are echoed by a million hearts, who are crying, How shall I bear this burden, this circumstance, this strife, this loss, this sorrow?
I. Trial is the heritage of every life.
“Trials must and will befall.”
All would gladly flee them. It is impossible. The necessity of life, and still more of growth in spiritual life, is trial.
II. Distinguish between trial and the effect of transgression. They may both be forms of suffering; indeed, the same form. They may tend to have the same effect upon our spirit, “of life unto life or death unto death;” but there is this vital difference—the one can be escaped, avoided; the other cannot. A man can avoid losing his friend by his own temper: he cannot at all times restrain the whim and temper of his friend, which also rob him of hallowed friendship. Trials come from without: the effects of our transgressions from within. By care, grace, self-restraint, many of the so-called trials of life might be lessened, for the majority are only the effects of transgression of some kind, and rest entirely with ourselves.
III. Though there may be real trials from without which we cannot, avert, and though much of the suffering which we endure might be averted, and the causes lie in ourselves, still the whole may be cheerfully met, and received as a discipline at the hand of God; for suffering of all kind, no matter whence the cause, if permitted to have the right effect, tends to chasten and purify the spirit.
IV. In trials of all kinds, whether they come through the body in the guise of pain, or whether they directly attack the emotions dressed as anguish, the most efficacious way of dealing with them is a humble and prayerful committal of ourselves to the care and providence of God.
V. Prayer for help, trust in God, the hope of either removal or supporting grace according to the trial, is the true way to commit ourselves to God. To fret only wears out. Complaint embitters. Resignation to the Divine will, memories of brighter pasts, hopes of happier futures, enweave around the storms of life a halo of light and glory given by the Sun of Righteousness, Himself shining from where we cannot see Him.
Deuteronomy 1:13. “Bring ye unto me wise and understanding men, and esteemed throughout your tribes”—Delgado.
“Known among their tribes.” Their several tribes were to approve of them and to vouch for their character. These were in this respect a sort of figure of the College of Bishops, of whose ordination, St. Cyprian tells us, such care was and ought to be taken, that it was a great irregularity and omission in their ordination if the neighbouring Bishops of the province did not come together to the people of the diocese over which the Bishop to be ordained was to preside, and if he was not elected in the presence of the people, as who should be perfectly well acquainted with his whole life and conversation (Ep. 67:172). See Origen, Comm. on Leviticus 8:5, quoted in Bib. Bib.
In Deuteronomy 1:9-5.1.13, Moses is represented as having proposed the appointment of these judges to the people himself, which, it is said in the text, was suggested and proposed to him by his father-in-law, Jethro—a circumstance which has been considered as involving a considerable difficulty. One would almost think that the way in which we have stated the fact was in itself enough to show that there is in reality no discrepancy between the two passages; but to avoid all misconception of the matter, we transcribe the following from Dr. Greaves:—
“There is a great and striking difference between those statements, but there is no contradiction. Jethro suggested to Moses the appointment; he probably, after consulting God, as Jethro intimates, ‘If God shall thus command thee’ (Deuteronomy 1:23), referred the whole matter to the people, and assigned the choice of individuals to them. The persons thus selected he admitted to share his authority as subordinate judges. Thus the two statements are perfectly consistent. But this is not all: their difference is most natural. In first recording the event, it was natural Moses should dwell on the first cause which led to it, and pass by the appeal to the people as a subordinate and less material part of the transaction; but in addressing the people, it was natural to notice the part they themselves had in the selection of those judges, in order to conciliate their regard and obedience. How naturally, also, does the pious legislator, in his public address, dwell on every circumstance which could improve his hearers in piety and virtue! The multitude of the people was the cause of the appointment of the judges; how beautifully is this increase of the nation turned to an argument of gratitude to God! How affectionate is the blessing with which the pious speaker interrupts the narrative, imploring God that the multitude of the people may increase a thousandfold! How admirably does he take occasion, from mentioning the judges, to inculcate the eternal principles of justice and piety, which should control their decisions! How remote is all this from art, forgery, and imposture! Surely here, if anywhere, we can trace the dictates of nature, truth, and piety.”—Carpenter, An Examination of Scrip. Diff.
“Wise men.” “Rulers’ actions exemplary. If the mountains overflow with water, the valleys are the better; and if the head be full of ill humours, the whole body fares the worse. The actions of rulers are most commonly rules for the people’s actions, and their example passeth as current as their coin. If a peasant meet luxury in a scarlet robe, he dares be such, having so fair a cloak for it. The common people are like tempered wax, easily receiving impressions from the seals of great men’s vices; they care not to sin by prescription, and damn themselves with authority. And it is the unhappy privilege of greatness to warrant by example as well others’ as its own sins; whilst the unadvised vulgar take up crimes on trust and perish by credit.”—Things New and Old.
“Known.” “Public men must have public spirit. Plutarch records an excellent speech of Pelopidas when going out of his house to the wars; his wife came to take her leave of him, and with tears in her eyes prays him to look to himself. ‘O my good wife!’ said he, ‘it is for private soldiers to be careful of themselves, not for those in public place; they must have an eye to save other men’s lives.” Such a spirit becomes every man in public place; flesh and blood will be apt to prompt a man that it is good to sleep in a whole skin: why should a man hazard himself and bring himself into danger? But let such know that men in public places are to have public spirits, and to take notice that though there be more danger by standing in the gap than getting behind the hedge, yet it is best to be where God looks for them to be.”—Things New and Old.
“Get you wise men,” &c. Moses was not unwilling to share his honours with others. He is an old man. Much of the ambition of youth is dying out. The pressure of anxiety and care is great. With the justice characteristic of his noble nature he did not ask men to share his labours without sharing his honours. A few homiletical points are—
I. No unworthy or selfish ambition to be cherished. Share your honour with those who divide with you your care and toil. How different would many a wife’s life have been had all husbands been governed by this principle! Both the rich and the poor daily give us examples. Too many arise like him of whom Milton says—
“One shall rise
Of proud ambitious heart, who, not content
With fair equality, fraternal state,
Will arrogate dominion undeserved
Over his brethren, and quite dispossess
Concord and law of nature from the earth.”
II. Contrast with this picture the action of Moses. No merely nominal superiority to be coveted. Position may be had sometimes by theft. Thrones are sometimes stolen as well as trinkets from a lady’s table. Place is sometimes gained by flattery. But what is such nominal superiority? True position is power.
“The true ambition there alone resides
Where justice vindicates and wisdom guides,
Where inward dignity joins outward state,
Our purpose good, as our achievement great;
Where public blessings public praise attend,
Where glory is our motive and our end:
Would’st thou be famed? Have those high acts in view
Brave men would act though scandal would ensue.”
Position of every kind is always a tacit acknowledgment of willingness for service, for the possessor of place is ever proclaiming his power to work. And as soon as a man cannot work it is his duty to retire from office. Moses shows his true manhood in his act. He spurned nominal superiority. He preferred abdication, which his act virtually is, to holding of the reins of steeds of which he no longer had control.
III. The most actively fraternal spirit to be cultivated. Sir Walter Scott ably and earnestly advocated this principle when he said, “The race of mankind would perish did they cease to aid each other. From the time that the mother binds the child’s head, till the moment that some kind assistant wipes the death-damp from the brow of the dying, we cannot exist without mutual help. All, therefore, that need aid have a right to ask it from their fellow-mortals; no one who holds the power of granting can refuse it without guilt.”
“A happy bit hame this auld world would be
If men when they’re here could mak’ shift to agree,
An’ ilk said to his neighbour, in cottage an’ ha’,
‘Come, gi’e me your hand—we be brethren a’.
I ken na why ane wi’ anither should fight,
When to’ gree would make a’ body cosio an’ right;
When man meets wi’ man, ’tis the best way ava
To say, ‘Gi’e me your hand—we are brethren a’.”
IV. This spirit easily cultivated by those who walk with God as Moses did. The secret of every truly great life lies in that fact, “He walked with God.” Enoch needed not to see death, for he walked with God. Those who walk with God have God dwelling in them.” “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy: for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” (1 Corinthians 3:16-46.3.17). “Secret things belong unto the Lord,” said the author of Deuteronomy; to which the Psalmist is able to add, “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him.” God lights that subtle fire in the heart of the believer by the gift of the Holy Spirit, so that all the dross of evil is consumed away and the pure gold of Being alone left. Moses was one of those long in the furnace of affliction. And beautiful was he when the snows of a hundred and twenty winters whitened his head. By the same process, by the same spirit, by the same cultivation, may men to-day become as the man Moses was some five and thirty centuries ago
Ambition proves its own ruin. “The poisonous aconite, so much desired of the panther, is purposely hung up by the hunters in vessels above their reach, whereof they are so greedy, that they never leave leaping and straining thereat till they burst and kill themselves, and so are taken. Thus do men aim at honour and greatness too high for their reach, and too great oftentimes for their merit; for an ambitious heart overgrown with this rank aconite neither admits of the beams of grace to mollify its hardness nor the bounds of nature to restrain the swelling; but is unnaturally carried to wrong those of his own blood that are living, and to blemish the honourable fame of his predecessors that are departed. Such tyrants may bear themselves up for a time, but in the end they shall find that, though Divine justice hath leaden feet, she hath iron hands; though slow in coming, yet she strikes home.”—Sir R. Dallington.
The poisonous nature of ambition, “As poison is of such force that it corrupteth both blood and spirit, besieging, seizing, and infecting the heart with venomous contagion thereof, quite altering the complexion and condition of the man that hath drunk it, so the pestiferous desire of sovereignty, though it seize on a mind of mild and mansuet disposition, yet it is of such forcible operation, as it not only altereth man’s nature, but maketh man unnatural.”—Sir R. Dallington.
Deuteronomy 1:15. Cf. “Critical Notes.”
“Chief of your tribes.” “They were the fitter for this high employment because men of quality. They were less liable to be corrupted by bribery, from which Moses took such care that all judges should be so free that he expressly required they should be men hating covetousness (Exodus 18:21).”—Bibliotheca Biblica,
In the oath administered to judges, Solon put in a special clause to prevent bribery, which is quoted in Demosthenes’ oration against Timocrates. “I will receive no gift upon the account of my sentence: neither I myself, nor anybody else for me; nor another with my knowledge, by any artifice or devise whatsoever.”—Vide Patrick on Pass.
“Officers.” שֹׁטְרִים, Shotérim, cf. “Biblical Treasury,” vol. i. p. 158, a long note found in Michaelis on Shotérim.
Shotérim, one set over a thing, an overseer, arranger, administrator, mentioned with judges, Deuteronomy 16:18, with elders, Deuteronomy 31:28, with elders and judges, Joshua 8:33, with elders, judges, and heads, Joshua 23:2, with guide and ruler, Proverbs 6:7. They were chosen from people, Numbers 11:16. They had to make commands known to the people, Joshua 1:10. To conduct the levies of soldiers, Deuteronomy 20:5. They were officers in cities, 1 Chronicles 23:4; 1 Chronicles 26:29; sometimes filled higher dignities, 2 Chronicles 26:11. They also regulated affairs in the camp, Joshua 8:33. The translation γραμματευς, scribe, LXX. sofro, Syr., does not sult.—Fürst’s Lex.
“Wise men and known”—in other words, true men. Two kinds of men in the world. Men of the world—imitations of the true thing, counterfeits of immortality; and true men—men full of the spirit of wisdom, full of the Holy Ghost, Acts 2:4; Acts 4:8; Acts 6:3; Acts 7:55; Acts 11:24, &c.—known men—men known of God and man; known of God because of the truth of their life; known of men because of the power of their life—men of Christ.
I. Men of the world. These follow the course of expediency. They adopt a corrupt worldly religion. Their God is a golden calf. They worship prosperity, know only what is seen, drop the unfortunate, are entirely ignorant of the religious principles taught by James (cf. James 1:27). Widows, poor, afflicted, unfortunate, too troublesome, too expensive.
II. Men of Christ. What a contrast these men present! As different as Hezekiah and Manasseh. These true men of Christ have distinctive principles in their life. Conduct governed by the law of their Master (Matthew 5:44; John 15:12; Luke 6:31).
(a.) These men will eventually succeed (1 Samuel 2:30).
(b.) These men always strong (Jeremiah 1:19; Matthew 28:20).
(c.) Though such have their season of gloom, a light yet arises on their path.
“Sometimes a light surprises
The Christian while he sings;
It is the Lord, who rises
With healing in His wings.”
Magistrates to be men of understanding. Heraclitus being sick, examined his physician concerning the cause of his sickness; but finding that he was ignorant thereof, he would take none of his physic, saying, “If he be not able to show me the cause, he is less able to take away the cause of my disease.” Thus there are many sores and sicknesses in a commonwealth, a thousand ways of cheating. The generality of men is, as Ovid said of Autolycus, “furtum ingeniosus ad omne,” witty in all kinds of wickedness; indeed the world is set upon wickedness (1 John 5:19). And such is the subtilty, too, of offenders, that the trim tale of Tertullus (Acts 24:0) goes current till the Apostle comes after him and unstarches it. How easy is a fair glove drawn upon a foul hand,—a bad cause smoothed over with goodly pretences! So cunning, so wary, and so wise are the many, that, as Cæsar said of the Scythians, it is harder to find them than to foil them; like the cuttlefish, they can hide themselves in their own ink-floods, they cover themselves with their own devices. The magistrate, that physician of the body politic, had need of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding that he may keep that one ear open for the innocent, whether plaintiff or defendant: he must be a man of experience, industry, and judgment to catch all the guilty with the hook of justice, who are crafty and slippery to avoid them, that he may be able to put away the very causes of corruption.
Magistrates must be examples. It is said in the praise of Moses that he was a mighty man both in word and deed (Acts 7:22); not mighty in word only, as many governors are, to command strongly, but mighty also in deed, to do it accordingly. As Tully reports of Julius Cæsar that he was never heard saying to his soldiers Ite illuc, “Go ye thither,” as if they should go into service and he stay behind in the tent; but Venite huc, “Come hither; let us give the onset, and adventure our lives together;” a great encouragement for the soldier to follow when he sees his captain march before! Thus it is that if the magistrate will persuade the people to anything, he must show the experience of it first in himself; or if he will command the people anything, he must do it first himself and by himself; otherwise, if he exact one thing, and do another, it will be said that he is like a waterman, who rows one way and looks another. (cf. Sermon preached 1622, before Prince Charles at St. James’s.)
“Made them heads.” “A good magistrate or minister is the support of the place where he lives. Men use to fence and defend, to keep watch and ward over their cornfields whilst the corn and fruit are in them unreaped, ungathered; but when the corn is inned and safe in the barn, then is open-tide, as they say; they lay all open, throw in the fence, and let in beasts of all kind; nay, sometimes they set fire on the stubble. Thus every zealous magistrate, every godly minister, every good Christian is, as it were, a fence, a hedge to that place, that parish where they live; and when they are once plucked up, when they are taken away by death, or otherwise removed, that kingdom, that place, that parish lies open to all manner of ruin and destruction.”—Things New and Old.
Deuteronomy 1:9-5.1.15. This appointment of the “captains” (cf. Exodus 18:21 sqq.) must not be confounded with that of the elders in Numbers 11:16 sqq. The former would number 78, 600; the latter were seventy only. The time and place, and indeed the transactions themselves, were quite different. The only common point between the two lies in the complaint of Moses, Deuteronomy 1:12, which bears some verbal resemblance to Numbers 11:14-4.11.17. But, as in both cases, the grievance Moses had was of the same kind, there is no reason why he should not express it in the like terms. It is, in fact, a characteristic of the speech of early times, and one exemplified in every ancient record, to employ the same or similar combinations of words for like occasions, instead of inventing new combinations for each. Such similarities afford no proof whatever of the writers having other like passages in view. Very ancient languages had not that variety and flexibility of expression which belongs to the modern languages of Western Europe.
“It has been observed that in Exodus the appointment of the captains is described as made before the giving of the law at Sinai; here it seems to be placed immediately before the people departed from Horeb, i.e., a year later. But it is obvious that Moses is only touching on certain parts of the whole history, and with a special purpose. God had given them a promise, and willed them to enter on the enjoyment of it. Moses too had done his part, and had provided for the good government and organisation of their greatly increased multitude. All was ready for the full accomplishment of the promises before the camp broke up from Horeb. The order of statement is here rather suggested by the purposes of the speaker than by the facts. But it is nevertheless quite correct in the main point, which is that this important arrangement for the good government of the people took place before they quitted Horeb to march direct to the Promised Land. This fact sets more clearly before us the perverseness and ingratitude of the people, to which the orator next passes, and shows, what he was anxious to impress, that the fault of the forty years’ delay rested only with themselves.”—Speaker’s Comm.
Deuteronomy 1:16. A good charge. Those that are advanced to honour must know that they are charged with business, and most give account another day of their charge.
I. He charges them to be diligent and patient. “Hear the causes.” Hear both sides, here them fully, hear them carefully; for nature has provided us with two ears, and he that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame to him. The ear of the learner is necessary to the tongue of the learned (Isaiah 50:4).
II. To be just and impartial. “Judge righteously.” Judgment must be given according to the merits of the case, without regard to the qualities of the parties. The native must not be suffered to abuse the stranger, nor the great the small. No faces known in judgment.
III. To be resolute and courageous. “Ye shall not be afraid of the face of man.” Be not overawed to do an ill thing, either by the clamours of the crowd or by the menaces of those possessing power.
IV. He gave a good reason to enforce this charge. “The judgment is God’s.” You act for God—act like Him. His representatives, if you judge unrighteously you misrepresent Him.—M. Henry.
Cf. Solon’s oath. “I will hear the accuser and the defender both alike.”—Quoted by Patrick.
Deuteronomy 1:16. “As their person and endowments made them considerable, they were therefore designated with the honourable title Schofetim “(Shoph’tim)” and were also called Elders, a title of honour among the Jews and other nations.”—Patrick.
Cf. Alderman = Elderman.
Deuteronomy 1:15-5.1.16. Subject: Organisation.
There is nothing clearer in history than that men stand in relation to one another of superior and inferior. That very fact necessitates gradations of position; all cannot be first, all cannot be last. The point to be determined is every man’s faculty, and his adaptation for a particular sphere. The narrative before us provides us with the abstract principle concreted into a tangible form. Moses—chiefs of tribes—captains—officers.
Society could not exist without organisation. Organisation would break up without leaders (cf. various epochs in history when society has been shattered for want of able leaders). Natural history as well as the history of humanity enforces this truth. The bee has its queen; a flock of sheep, a herd of deer their leader.
Three things about true leaders—
I. They must be chosen of God. Moses was thus appointed; so Joshua. These subordinate rulers were chosen by the same, though in a subordinate manner. Moses as God’s vicegerent selected them from those who had God’s stamp upon them—ability and acknowledged position. To him that has shall be given.
II. Being chosen by God, they must walk according to the Divine counsels. “The book of the law of the Lord shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein; for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous,” &c. (Joshua 1:8). God never endows man with independence. He is raised high, but is ever subject to God. It was because Satan overlooked this, according to our great poet, that he fell from his high estate. However that may be, man quickly learns that he who lives without God soon finds that God can live without him.
III. In proportion as leaders acknowledge God, so He prospers them (cf. Joshua 1:8); “for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.” “They that honour Me will I honour.”
Four thoughts on organisation—
I. Organisation facilitates the development of individual talent.
II. Organisation consolidates Christian society assembled in one place.
III. Organisation presents most formidable front to the enemy.
IV. Organisation promotes healthful spiritual development.—Dr. Parker.
“Judge righteously.” It was a shame for Cæsar to confess, “Meliorcausa Cassii, sed denegare Bruto nihil possum” (The case of Cassius was the better, but I am unable to deny Brutus anything); and Henry the Emperor (the seventh of that name) is much taxed in story for that, being appealed unto by a couple of lawyers, who contended about the sovereignty of the empire, they first making agreement betwixt themselves that he for whom the Emperor should give sentence should win a horse of his fellow-lawyer: now the Emperor fairly pronounced truth to be on his side that spake most for his power and authority, whereupon this proverb was taken up, “Alter respondet æquum, sed alter habet equum” (The one hath the right on his side, but the other rides the horse). Thus it is that partiality perverteth right and corrupteth judgment, whereas the law is plain. “You shall have no respect of person in judgment,” &c. And the Apostle’s charge unto Timothy is, that he do nothing κατὰ πρόσκλισιν, by tilting the balance on one side.
Magistrates should be men of courage. ‘Elvidius Priscus, being commanded by Vespasian either not to come into the senate, or being there, to speak nothing but what he directed, made answer, that being a senator, it was fit he should go into the senate; and being there, it was his duty to speak in his conscience what he thought to be true; and then being threatened, if he did so, he should die, further added, “That he never as yet told him that he was immortal; and therefore,” said he, “do what you will, I will do what I ought; and as it is in your power to put me unjustly to death, so it is in my power to die resolvedly for the truth.” Here now was a brave-spirited heathen, fit for Christian imitation; for he can never be a faithful man that is afraid to speak his mind. Men of public employment for the people’s good must and ought to stand up for the truth, to be men of courage, men of resolution, not fearing the frown of any whatsoever; not echoing out the dictates of others, but freely speaking their own thoughts without any fear at all.”—Things New and Old.
Magistrates to be impartial in justice. Selucus, that impartial lawgiver of the Locrians, made a law against adulterers, that whosoever should be found guilty thereof should have his eyes put out. It so happened that his son proved the first offender. Sentence was pronounced, execution ready to be done; whereupon the people earnestly entreated the judge his father that he would pardon the fact, who, upon serious deliberation, put out one of his own eyes and one of his son’s, and so showed himself a godly father and an upright judge together. Thus it is that magistrates, like the earth, should be immovable, though the winds should blow at once from all points of the compass; not to favour friends, nor fear the frowns of enemies, but to proceed impartially according to the merits of the cause that is before them (Proverbs 18:5).
Deuteronomy 1:17. Duty of magistrates. Part of Moses’s solemn charge to the judges of Israel. Jehoshaphat in substance said the same (cf. 2 Chronicles 19:6). Charge was necessary then—now—as long as men are subject to weakness, negligence, corruption, or passion. The words imply—
I. The judgment is God’s.
II. Ye shall not fear man.
III. The subject may see the sin and danger of opposing, disobeying, and vilifying magistrates.—T. Wilson.
Deuteronomy 1:17. The authority of magistrates. “For the judgment is God’s.” Moses here enforces the charge given to the judges of Israel. He repeats (cf. Leviticus 19:15) it to procure reverence for the judges, and to encourage the judges to be fearless. Moses had done as much as he was able to procure the faithful execution of so high a trust: he “took the chief of the tribes, wise men” (cf. Deuteronomy 1:15). To the natural character of the men he adds the support of a good reason why they should do what was right: “The judgment is God’s.” First they derive authority from Him, the fountain of power (cf. Proverbs 8:15); secondly, they judge in His cause, and assert the honour of Him that loveth righteousness” (cf. Psalms 11:7). Work of righteous judgment—dividing between good and evil, subduing the violent, detecting villainy, punishing the guilty, shielding the innocent, restraining the vindictive, protesting against all flattery. Considering that the judgment is God’s, it becomes imperative that we do right. Two lines of thought—
I. What regard is due to the person that judges for God.
II. What obligations are laid upon him.
Deuteronomy 1:17. Those who act for God as His vicegerents must act like Him. He will protect them in doing right, and call them to account if they do wrong.—Tract Soc. Com.
“Be not afraid of any man.”—Delgado.
“He shall not respect persons.” “Not look to the face,” &c. Cf. Crit. Notes. Cf. also the ancient custom of painting and sculpturing Justice with her eyes veiled.—Bib. Bib.
The Thebans painted their magistrates without hands, and the chief of them without eyes, to put them in mind that they were not in any degree to be swayed by favour or bribe.—Bib. Bib.
Cf. Homer’s description of Ulysses, Obadiah 1:4
“Ulysses let no partial favours fall;
The people’s parent, he protected all.”
“Ye shall hear small as well as great.” “Be equally disposed patiently to attend to the cause of a poor man as of a great, and to do him as speedy and impartial justice. (See Leviticus 19:15.) And here the Hebrew doctors tell us of some singular practices in their courts to preserve the dispensation of exact justice; for if one of the contending parties came into them richly clothed and the other poorly, they would not hear him till both were clothed alike. Nor would they suffer one of them to sit and the other to stand, but both of them either sat or stood. And if they sat, one of them was not permitted to sit higher than the other, but they sat by each other’s side.”—Patrick.
“Courage and undaunted resolution are altogether necessary qualities for a judge.”—Patrick.
Deuteronomy 1:17. In this verse, in a most undisguised manner, we have most emphatically enforced a social virtue—justice. God never taught that religion might be divorced from morality. When Moses spake thus: when the author of the Proverbs says—“A false balance is an abomination to the Lord:” Isaiah—“Thus saith the Lord, Keep judgment and do justice, for My salvation is near to come and My righteousness to be revealed:” Amos—“Let judgment run down as waters and righteousness as a mighty stream:” Jeremiah—“He judged the cause of the poor and needy, then it was well with him: was not this to know Me? saith the Lord” (cf. the endorsement of Jesus across these passages, Matthew 5:17-40.5.20): Paul—(Romans 2:13; Philippians 4:8; Colossians 4:1; Romans 6:1): and James”—Pure religion and undefiled before God the Father is this, … to keep one’s self unspotted from the world,” &c. &c., to Deuteronomy 2:10 : we have, from Moses to James, divinely inspired men proclaiming there is no divorce between religion and morality; and to the man who pretends to a religious life while he ignores moral and social duties let there be but the one word—“What God has joined together let no man put asunder.”
In the fulness of this verse we have the various steps of injustice referred to; and placed in startling juxtaposition is a fact that should be as a barrier to obstruct all such evil courses. Let us observe—
I. That the first step towards evil is a playing with it in our own mind. The inspired penman knew what he was saying when he warned against “respecting.” What is admired is loved—is imitated. The mind silently is brought into harmony with it. What was it the young man did whose later life was marked with some of the most terrible vices of manhood? It was so simple a thing as yielding to impure thought—permitting unchaste images to take a lodgment in his fancy. How was it that the young woman whose life was darkened with scenes no woman should have beheld took the first step? Was it not by respecting certain friends whom she ought not to have respected? The voice of the charmer should have been recognised. In her own thoughts she cherished him.
II. We cannot indulge in the thought without its becoming incarnate in some form, which is action. Moses knew that men could not rest content with simply respecting. If the great were respected the small would be ignored: indeed, not only would the small be ignored, there was a danger of their being silenced in their pleadings, and justice, which was their right, being taken from them. In like manner we cannot afford for a moment to think evil of God. If we give place to such a thought, the mind takes an attitude which soon becomes open rebellion.
III. We cannot play with evil without enervating our moral nature. The man who respects the great and ignores his duties to the small loses the “fear of God,” and in its place enthrones the fear of man. “Ye shall not stand in awe of the face of man.”
IV. The barrier that God would raise up around every man to restrain his feet from wandering is the fact of His presence—His sovereignty: “The judgment is God’s.” The most impressive comment that can be offered here is what was spoken to Saul on the way to Damascus: “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.”
Deuteronomy 1:17. This is part of a solemn charge which Moses gave to the judges of Israel. The same in effect did Jehoshaphat give to his judges (2 Chronicles 19:6). If such was necessary then, now, and will be as long as men shall be as they now are—subject to weakness, negligence, corruption, passion. The words of the text suppose this. The words, though few, imply much instruction.
I. “The judgment is God’s.” Why, then, the magistrate’s power and authority is from God.
II. “Ye shall not be afraid of the face of man.” This teaches the magistrate his duty, i.e., that he is not to pervert justice for any worldly consideration; no, not for the fear of death.
III. The subject may here see the sin and danger of opposing, of disobeying, of vilifying the magistrate in the due execution of his office. He is God’s minister; his judgment, if just, is the very judgment of God; God is with him in judgment, and will certainly avenge him if he is despised.—T. Wilson’s Sermons.
Deuteronomy 1:17. “The judgment is God’s.”
In these words Moses enforces that solemn charge which he gave to the judges. He repeats it to procure veneration for their character, to remind them of their own dignity, to raise them above the power of fear, prejudice, and interest. Here was a forcible reason for faithfulness in executing their high trust. Their authority was from God; the work was God’s. It concerns the judge to know whose authority he has that he may be righteous: it concerns the people that they may be obedient, I shall therefore show—
I. What regard is due to the persons that judge for God.
(a.) They are to be treated with tender regard.
(b.) The nature of their office requires more than ordinary veneration; for unless we preserve a just notion of the sacred authority that is vested in the ministers of judgment, they will scarcely be a terror to evil-doers—they will bear the sword in vain.
(c.) For the sake of those in public station we should endeavour to suppress all pernicious principles.
II. What obligations are laid upon them.
(a.) No sordid hopes of advantage, no fear, partiality, or pity, must be allowed to pervert.
(b.) “Let no man despise you.” You must retain a just value of yourselves and support your character.
(c.) Judges must check vice.
(d.) Justice and mercy should go hand in hand.—T. Newlin.
Deuteronomy 1:16-5.1.17. “I charged,” &c. The parts of this charge are—
I. Patience to hear causes.
II. Justice in judging righteously (John 7:24).
III. Courage (Leviticus 19:15; Deuteronomy 16:19; 1 Samuel 16:7; Proverbs 14:23).
IV. Prudence. The cause too hard you bring to me.—Kidder.
Deuteronomy 1:16-5.1.17. Subject: Not to abuse entrusted power. All power is entrusted. Though men apparently make their own position in the world, yet what they acquire is in accordance with ability given by God. We have many cases of abused power. Achan is an instance. He had the power of serving God by destroying what he found. He kept it. Power abused. Herod is another instance of one who abused power.
I. Power may be abused by not using it at all. Cf. Saul with Agag.
II. Power may be abused by using it in a wrong direction. Herod (cf. Matthew 14:1-40.14.13). Here is an example of power used in a wrong direction.
(a.) It injured his own moral nature.
(b.) It encouraged others to wrong.
(c.) It brought injury to the upright.
In warning the judges against the abuse of power, Moses thought of all this and much more.
Deuteronomy 1:19. “That great and terrible wilderness” (cf. Deuteronomy 8:15). This language is by no means applicable to the whole peninsula of Sinai, even in its present deteriorated state. It is, however, quite such as men would employ after having passed with toil and suffering through the worst parts of it, the southern half of the Arabah; and more especially when they had but recently rested from their marches in the plain of Shittim, the largest and richest oasis in the whole district.—Speaker’s Commentary.
“The Divine blessing has not bestowed the same degree of fruitfulness on every part of Caanan. This fertile country is surrounded by deserts of immense extent, exhibiting a dreary waste of loose and barren sand, on which the skill and industry of man are able to make no impression. The only vegetable production which occasionally meets the eye of the traveller in these frightful solitudes are a coarse sickly grass thinly sprinkled on the sand, a plot of senna or other saline or bitter herb, or an occasional acacia bush. Even these but rarely present themselves to his notice, and afford him but little satisfaction when they do, because they warn him that he is far distant from a place of abundance and repose. Moses, who knew these deserts well, calls them ‘great’ and ‘terrible,’ ‘a desert land,’ the ‘waste howling wilderness.’ But the completest picture of the sandy desert is drawn by the pencil of Jeremiah, in which, with surprising force and beauty, he has exhibited every circumstance of terror which the modern traveller details with so much pathos and minuteness—‘Neither say they, Where is the Lord that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, that led us through the wilderness, through a land of deserts and of pits, through a land of droughts and of the shadow of death, through a land that no man passeth through, and where no man dwelt.’ ”—Paxton.
“That great and terrible wilderness.” To those familiar with the reality of which the seen and temporal are but shadows, these words are very suggestive of another desert, and the way by which God’s people travel through it. Souls are born in a spiritual Egypt. Life is a kind of desert wandering of trial, “great,” “terrible” at times. But there is a way through it; for unto the redeemed One has said in the heart’s mystic silence, “I am the Way:” “Lo!
I am with you.”
I. The way of the redeemed.
(3.) Sometimes apparently lonely.
(4.) A desert way.
II. The rectitude of that way. It is a right way, for
(1.) It is the Divine way. God led them along it by a cloud and fire.
(2.) It is the way to the promised reward.
Salt deserts. In traversing the region between Egypt and Ghuzzeh, the Gaza of the Bible, my course, during most of the forenoon, lay through a succession of basins or valleys, where the surface of the ground was moist, and covered with a thin incrustation of salt. It was so slippery here that the camels could with difficulty keep erect; one of them actually fell at full length with a groan which it was piteous to hear. We were not far at this time from the Mediterranean, of which we had glimpses now and then. It is quite possible that a strong wind from the west causes the sea occasionally to overflow the entire tract, and on its receding, the water left in the low places evaporates and encrusts the earth with salt. There are other deserts, or parts of deserts, in the East, as travellers inform us, which present a similar peculiarity, though the salt may be formed, in those cases, in a different manner. Perhaps the most remarkable among these is the region south of the Dead Sea. A soil of this nature must, of course, be unproductive. Nothing grows there, and the means of supporting life are wanting. It may be to this feature of an Eastern desert, aggravating so much its other evils, and rendering it unfit to be the abode of men, that the prophet Jeremiah refers when he says of the ungodly man, “He shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land and not inhabited.”—Professor Hackett.
The deserts. “Few who have not visited Eastern lands can form any adequate idea of the nature of a desert. In those wide-spread plains the hand of man is powerless. Nature holds sway as on the morning of creation; in primeval wildness she displays her terrors and her magnificence, and art and science sink down helpless and appalled before the barriers which she has erected. As the traveller recedes from the habitation of man, and the tokens of civilisation begin to disappear, the scene becomes wilder and more desolate; a few stunted patches of parched and scanty herbage here and there meet the eye; vast blocks of stone are scattered over the sand; no cooling streams, no refreshing groves, break the monotony of the prospect; the sun pours down a flood of burning and dazzling light, and the distant mountains glow in the hot and dusky horizon. The strength of man seems to melt away within him, and the camel, ‘the ship of the desert,’ paces onward with languid step. By night the piercing winds are scarcely less endurable than the heat by day. The mountainous portions of the desert afford some of the most awfully sublime scenery that the world can exhibit; and here the terrors of the plains are mitigated by shade and water. Such was the wilderness where the children of Israel wandered for forty years.”—H.Christmas.
Deuteronomy 1:21. The journeyings of the Israelites in the wilderness afford an inexhaustible fund of instruction to us. The history of their deliverance from Egypt, their trials and supports, and their final entrance into the land of Canaan, so exactly corresponds with the experience of believers in their journey heavenward, that we are never at a loss for an illustration of that which is invisible from that which actually took place amongst God’s ancient people.
The Israelites, after one year spent in the wilderness, were now arrived on the very confines of Canaan, and the exhortation which I have now read to you was part of the address of Moses to them encouraging them to go up and take possession of the land. And assuming (what I need not now stand to prove) the justness of the parallel between their state and ours, the words before us contain—
I. The command given us in reference to the Promised Land. There is for us, as there was for Israel, “a rest” prepared (Hebrews 4:8-58.4.9), and we are bidden to take possession of it.
(1.) By right, as the gift of God.
[Canaan was given to Abraham and his seed by God Himself. God had a right to give it to whom He would. The former possessors were but tenants at will; if God saw fit to dispossess them, no wrong done them. This is said to satisfy the mind of those who feel repugnance to the transfer of the land from the Canaanites to Israel.
In relation to the land we are called to possess no such feeling can exist. Heaven is the free gift of God to Abraham’s spiritual seed, as Canaan was to the natural. It is given to them in Christ Jesus (Titus 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:9).
This command do we give, in the name of Almighty God, to every one of you who believe in Christ, “Go up and possess the land,” which the Sovereign of the universe, of His own love and mercy, has given to you.]
(2.) By conflict, as the fruit of victory.
[Though the land was given to them, they were yet to gain it by the sword. We also have enemies to fight. The world, the flesh, and the devil obstruct. All must be vanquished before we can sit down to the promised inheritance. Nor let it be thought that heaven is less a gift on this account; for though we fight, it is not our own sword that gets us the victory. It was “God Himself who drove out the inhabitants” of the earthly Canaan, and it is through God alone that our weapons produce any effect in subduing our enemies before us (cf. John 6:27; Psalms 115:1).]
Together with this command we are taught—
II. The way in which we should address ourselves to the performance of it. The command of God to us is positive, as that to them also was; and
(1.) Our obedience to Him should be prompt.
[I am persuaded they would have done well if they had never thought of sending spies to search out the land, and to tell them against what cities they should direct their first efforts. It was a carnal expedient, as the event proved. True, “Moses was well pleased” with the proposal; but he would not have been well pleased if he had clearly seen from whence it issued and what would be the result of it. He saw in it only a determination to go up; he discerned not the mixture of unbelief. What need had they to search when God had searched and was about to lead them? (cf. Deuteronomy 1:33). Had they said to Moses, ‘Pray to God for us to direct us, and we are ready to go,’ they would have done well; but, by trusting to an arm of flesh they fell.
In like manner we should obey the Divine mandate without delay. We should “not confer with flesh and blood;” we should not be consulting how we may avoid the trials which God has taught us to expect; but should look simply to the Captain of our salvation, and follow implicitly His commands, regarding no word in comparison of His, nor ever dreaming of a more convenient season than the present. What He calls us to do we should “do” instantly, and “with all our might.”]
(2.) Our confidence in Him should be entire.
[They were bidden “not to fear or be discouraged.” So neither should we “fear” any dangers that may threaten us, or “be discouraged” under any trial we may be called to endure. As for “Anakims” or cities “walled up to heaven,” what are they to us? Is not “He greater that is in us than any that can be in them”? If Jehovah be on our side, what have we to fear? We may say of all our enemies, as Joshua did of those he was called to encounter, “They are bread for us;” and shall not only be devoured as easily as a morsel of bread, but they and all that they have shall be our very support, invigorating our souls by the energies they call forth, and augmenting the happiness which they labour to destroy. Whatever may occur, we should never stagger at the promise through unbelief, but “be strong in faith, giving glory to God.” We should go forward in the spirit of the holy Apostle, “If God be for us, who can be against us?”]
III. Hear then, believers, and follow my advice.
(1.) Survey the land.
[See whether it be not the glory of all lands, “a land flowing with milk and honey.” “Come up to Pisgah, and look down upon it.” I would rather say, Come up to Zion, and behold its length and breadth. See it. Taste its fruits. Take in your hand “the grapes of Eshcol.” “Not one of its inhabitants ever says, I am sick.” “No sorrow there, no sighing, no pain, no death” (cf. Isaiah 33:24; Revelation 21:4; Revelation 21:23; Romans 8:18). Tell me, is it not worth the conflict? Only keep that glorious object in view, and you will never sheath your sword till you have gained the victory.]
(2.) Perform your duty.
[Gird on your swords. Go forward against the enemy. Make no account of any obstacles. Think neither of the strength nor the number of your enemies. Say not, “Shall the prey be taken from the mighty,”&c., &c. (Isaiah 49:24-23.49.25). Be not discouraged by a sense of your own weakness. Go on simply depending upon God (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:9-47.12.10; Isaiah 41:10). With confidence do I address you thus; for the Lord Jesus Himself has said, “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Only “fight the good fight of faith,” and you shall be “more than conquerors through Him that loved you.”]—Simeon (Abridged).
Deuteronomy 1:21. In this verse we have a mind at home with God opening itself to the gaze of the world. What simple trust—reverent faith—holy dependence sparkle in the words! Among the many suggestions of this verse, let us notice—
I. That it indicates the bent of a good man’s mind. It is Godwards. God is in all his thoughts. The arrangement of life is of God: the past full of God: the present is blessed by Him: the future swayed by Him. Three characteristics of the good man—
(1.) He is of an earnest spirit.
(2.) He is humble.
(3.) He is devout.
II. It delineates the power of a good man’s faith.
(1.) His confidence. “The Lord thy God hath set the land before thee,” &c. “Nothing but innocency and knowledge can give sound confidence to the heart.”—Bishop Hall. “Confidence in one’s self is the best nurse of magnanimity.”—Sir Philip Sidney.
(2.) His perseverance. “Go up and possess.” “Persevere is applied only to matters of some importance which demand a steady purpose of the mind; persist is used in respect to the ordinary business of life, as well as on more important occasions. A learner perseveres in his studies: a child may persist in making a request until he has obtained the object of his desires.”—Crabb, Synonyms.
“Great effects come of industry and perseverance.”—Lord Bacon.
“Those who attain any excellence commonly spend life in one common pursuit; for excellence is not often gained upon easier terms.”—Dr. Johnson.
“He plies her hard, and much rain wears the marble.”—Shakespeare.
“If there be one thing on earth truly admirable, it is to see God’s wisdom blessing an inferiority of natural powers where they have been honestly, truly, and zealously cultivated.”—Dr. Arnold.
(3.) His hope. “Fear not, neither be discouraged.”
“It is said of Abraham that he believed in hope against hope. What is the meaning of these words? The passage intends to express that Divine hope overcame human hope. This is the hope which redounds to the glory of God, because it is an act of homage rendered to His omnipotence. He that is destitute of such hope can have no pretence to saving faith, and not to believe in the promises which God has made to us is an evidence that our souls are altogether fixed upon the toys and vanities of earth. That which the world calls wisdom is nothing more than foolishness in the sight of God, and disbelief in His word argues a stupid indifference allied to the brute. Faith and hope repose upon the same foundation—the Word of God. The Christian believes in spite of the evidence of his senses, and he hopes for blessings which cannot yet be discerned by the senses. There is no faith where there is doubt and uncertainty; there is no hope where there is hesitation.”—Chrysostom.
“Reflected on the lake, I love
To see the stars of evening glow,
So tranquil in the heavens above,
So restless in the wave below.
Thus heavenly hope is all serene;
But earthly hope, how bright so e’er,
Still flutters o’er this changing scene,
As false, as fleeting as ’tis fair.”
“Cease every joy to glimmer on my mind,
But leave—oh! leave the light of Hope behind!”
“A man cannot drown so long as his head is above water; hope lifts up the head and looks up to the redemption and salvation that is to come in another world in its fulness and perfection.”—Polhill.
III. It reveals the source of a good man’s power. “Behold, the Lord thy God hath set,” &c. Think of Moses speaking thus after a hundred and twenty years of life. Some grow tired of life and distrustful of God before they are thirty. For a hundred and twenty years Moses had lived near to God—he had so lived that God could bless him—God was therefore in all his thoughts.
(1.) God imparts strength to the good for the performance of the most arduous duties.
(2.) The resources of infinite strength always within the reach of the good man.
(3.) The method by which to realise this power is prayer.
There is an excellent story of a young man who was at sea in a mighty raging tempest, and when all the passengers were at their wits’ end for fear, he only was merry; and when he was asked the reason of his mirth, answered, “That the pilot of the ship was his father, and he knew that his father would have a care of him.”—Pulpit Illustrations.
Necessity of Perseverance. “The philosopher being asked in his old age why he did not give over his practice and take his ease, answered, ‘When a man is to run a race of forty furlongs, would you have him sit down in the nine and thirtieth and so lose the prize?’ We do not keep a good fire all day, and let it go out in the evening when it is coldest, but then rather lay on more fuel, that we may go warm to bed. Thus he that stakes the heat of zeal in his age will go cold to bed, and in a worse case to his grave. To continue in giving glory to Christ is no less requisite than to begin; though the beginning be more than half, yet the end is more than all. The God of all perfection looks that our ultimatum vitœ should be His optimum gloriœ, that our last works should be our best works, that we should persevere in goodness to the end.”—Things New and Old.
Goodness. “The parts and signs of goodness are many. If a man be gracious and courteous to strangers, it shows he is a citizen of the world, and that his heart is no island cut off from other lands, but a continent that joins to them; if he be compassionate towards the afflictions of others, it shows that his heart is like the noble tree that is wounded itself when it gives the balm; if he easily pardons and remits offences, it shows that his, mind is planted above injuries, so that he cannot be shot; if he be thankful for small benefits, it shows that he weighs men’s minds, and not their trash; but, above all, if he have St. Paul’s perfection, that he would wish to be an anathema from Christ for the salvation of his brethren, it shows much of a Divine nature and a kind of conformity with Christ Himself.”—Lord Bacon.
God the fountain source of all our blessings. It is said of Hadrian VI., that having built a stately college at Lovain, he set this inscription over the front in golden letters, “Trajectum plantavit, Lovanium rigavit, sed Cæsar dedit incrementum” (Utrecht planted me, for there he was born; Lovain watered me, for there he was bred; but Cæsar gave the increase, who from the ferula brought him to the crosier, of a schoolmaster made him Pope of Rome). A witty passenger, reproving his folly, under-wrote, “Here was no room for God to do anything.” Thus God may be said not to be in all the thoughts of self-seeking men: they do not, with those ancients, preface to their words, “Theos, Theos,” but intervert a great part of the price with that ill couple, turning God’s glory into shame, loving vanity, seeking after lies, such as, in the original, will deceive their expectations; of which sort, by a speciality, is that smoke of popular applause, which, the higher it mounts, the sooner it vanishes and comes to nothing.—Pulpit Illustrations.
Reward of perseverance. “I recollect in Queen’s County to have seen a Mr. Clerk, who had been a working carpenter, and when making a bench for the session’s justices at the court-house, was laughed at for taking peculiar pains in planing and smoothing the seat of it. He smilingly observed that he did so to make it easy for himself, as he was resolved he would never die till he had a right to sit thereupon; and he kept his word. He was an industrious man—honest, respectable, and kind-hearted. He succeeded in all his efforts to accumulate an independence; he did accumulate it, and rightly. His character kept pace with the increase of his property, and he lived to sit as a magistrate on that very bench which he sawed and planed.”—Sir Jonah Barrington.
Deuteronomy 1:22-5.1.23, (cf. Numbers 13:1-4.13.2). There is no real discrepancy between these passages. The plan of sending the spies originated with the people, and, as in itself a reasonable one, it approved itself to Moses; was submitted to God and sanctioned by Him; and carried out under special Divine direction. The orator’s purpose in this chapter is to bring before the people emphatically their own responsibilities and behaviour. It is, therefore, important to remind them that the sending of the spies, which led immediately to their murmuring and rebellion, was their own suggestion.
It is frivolous to object that the generation which had sinned thus was dead, and that Moses was addressing men who had had no concern in the events to which he is referring. That this fact was present to the speaker’s mind is clear from Deuteronomy 1:34-5.1.35; nay, it was the very aim he had in view, to warn the present generation not to follow their fathers in their perversity, and so defraud themselves of the promised blessing, as their fathers had done. It is but natural that Moses, who had been the leader of the congregation all along, should, when addressing it collectively, treat it as the same which he had brought forth from Egypt, and had now for the second time conducted to the Promised Land.
The following verses to the end of the chapter give a condensed statement, the fuller account being in Numbers 13:14, of the occurrences which led to the banishment of the people for forty years into the wilderness. The facts are treated with freedom, as by one familiar with them, addressing those no less so, yet in consistency with the more strictly historical record of Numbers.—Speaker’s Commentary.
Deuteronomy 1:22; Deuteronomy 1:28. What a contrast these two verses present. The first brings before us the people, with commendable prudence, arranging for carrying out a great plan; the second presents the most pitiful, contemptible picture one can imagine—the same people, because difficulty presented itself in the way of the purpose being conducted to success, cowardly crying out as the veriest abjects. Well might the words of Job 17:11 be quoted in connection with Deuteronomy 1:28 : “My purposes are broken off.” The world is full of broken purposes. Every heart is filled with its tombstones raised over dead intentions and desires. The true cemetery is the human heart. Look at it—full of dreams of youth—early ambitions—grand schemes of self-profit, or national benefit, or boundless philanthropy. All dead. Two thoughts—
I. All men have, and have had, purposes. The thought makes one shudder. The conflict of feeling too intense to endure. There were purposes of wealth, the present reality is poverty—the very want of a dinner. Recall Johnson’s plans, purposes, and poverty.
“He told Sir Joshua Reynolds that, one night in particular, when Savage and he walked round St. James’s Square for want of a lodging, they were not at all depressed by their situation; but, in high spirits and brimful of patriotism, traversed the square for several hours, inveighed against the minister, and ‘resolved they would stand by their country.’ ”—Boswell’s Life of Johnson.
“The longer! live the more I am certain that the great difference between men—between the feeble and the powerful, the great and the insignificant—is energy, invincible determination—a purpose once fixed, and then death or victory! That quality will do anything that can be done in this world; and no talent, no circumstances, no opportunities, will make a two-legged creature a man without it.”
II. All men can tell us something about purposes. One can tell us of purposes carried into effect. Another looks to the earth and points to something lying there snapped as a broken spear, and with a deep-drawn moan groans out—“my purpose.”
Both these men can instruct. The successful man can show how his success was realised; the unsuccessful can reveal the causes of his failure. Both are governed by a law, if we only knew it.
What is the law of success? The law varies with the sphere in which the success is to be attained, and the nature of the success sought; if the success be earthly merely, then the law of success is in selfishness and ability, or, as one has expressed the idea on its optimist side, “success is the child of cheerfulness and courage;” if, however, the success sought is heavenly, then the law that governs it will be faith in God, and a heart inspired by God’s Spirit to do right at any cost. In the one case success is in the possession of a thing; in the other in what one is.
“Failures are with heroic minds the stepping-stones to success.”—
“It is far from true, in the progress of knowledge, that after every failure we must recommence from the beginning. Every failure is a step to success; every detection of what is false directs us to what is true; every trial exhausts some tempting form of error. Not only so, but scarcely any attempt is entirely a failure; scarcely any theory, the result of steady thought, is altogether false; no tempting form of error is without some latent charm derived from truth.”—Whewell.
“If you wish success in life, make perseverance your bosom friend, experience your wise counsellor, caution your elder brother, and hope your guardian genius.”
“So Jotham became mighty, because he prepared his ways before the Lord his God.”—Hebrew Chronicles.
“The talent of success is nothing more than doing what you can do well, and doing well whatever you do, without a thought of fame.”—Longfellow.
“I confess,” says a thoughtful writer, “that increasing years bring with them an increasing respect for men who do not succeed in life, as those words are commonly used. Ill success sometimes arises from a conscience too sensitive, a taste too fastidious, a self-forgetfulness too romantic, a modesty too retiring. I will not go so far as to say, with a living poet, that the world knows nothing of its greatest men; but there are forms of greatness, or at least of excellence, which ‘die and make no sign;’ there are martyrs that miss the palm, but not the stake; heroes without the laurel, and conquerors without the triumph.”
“Whosoever will live altogether out of himself, and study other men’s humours, shall never be unfortunate.”—Sir W. Raleigh.
“Those who believe in a future state of rewards and punishments act very absurdly if they form their opinion of a man’s merits from his successes. But certainly, if I thought the whole circle of our being was included between our births and deaths, I should think a man’s good fortune the measure and standard of his real merit, since Providence would have no opportunity of rewarding his virtue and perfections but in the present life. A virtuous unbeliever, who lies under the pressure of misfortune, has reason to cry out, as they say Brutus did a little before his death, ‘O virtue, I have worshipped thee as a substantial good, but I find thou art an empty name.’ ” —Addison.
“Had I miscarried, I had been a villain;
For men judge actions alway by events:
But when we manage by a just foresight,
Success is prudence, and possession right.”
“To judge by the event is an error all abuse, and all commit; for in every instance, courage, if crowned with success, is heroism; if clouded by defeat, temerity. When Nelson fought his battle in the Sound, it was the result alone that decided whether he was to kiss a hand at a court, or a rod at a court-martial.”—Colton.
Deuteronomy 1:24. “Came unto the valley of Eshcol.” In Numbers 13:22-4.13.24, we have a full account of this visit, likewise the meaning of the word Eshcol given. It means “bunch” or “cluster” of grapes (Numbers 13:24).—Fürst. The grapes must have been a welcome sight to the desert—worn travellers. Dr. Livingstone tells us something of this feeling: “In latitude 18° we were rewarded with a sight which we had not enjoyed for a year before—large patches of grape—bearing vines. There they stood before my eyes. The sight was so entirely unexpected that I stood for some time gazing at the clusters of grapes with which they were loaded, with no more thought of plucking than if I had been beholding them in a dream.”
“A cluster of grapes of Eshcol, the magnificent richness and size of which may be judged from the circumstance of its being carried on a pole, supported on the shoulders of two men. Eshcol still retains its celebrity for the produce of grapes. Sir M. Montefoire lately got a bunch a yard long.”—Jamieson.
Deuteronomy 1:25. “It is a good land which the Lord our God doth give us.”
These words were spoken primarily with regard to the Land of Promise: but much that was spoken of that promised land, the natural Canaan, may be applied with great propriety and equal force to that promised inheritance of the saints—the spiritual Canaan of the soul. It matters little what image be used for representing that gift (cf. Romans 6:23) of God, for which among the millions of men’s words no one word has been found adequate for its expression, whether we compare it to the “promised land” of Palestine, or to “wisdom;” for in qualifying the expression of the idea we simply follow the leadings of the metaphor, and, whether we say that “it is a good land which the Lord our God doth give us,” or, “wisdom’s ways are ways of pleasantness,” we in the end say the same thing though by different terms, just as we say one half or two-quarters or five-tenths. The Christian heritage of a holy and perfected life, through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, is a “good land” full of richness and fatness, a land of milk and honey; it is also very “pleasant.” It is pleasant because good: it is good because pleasant. Though the pleasantness of religion is always difficult of recognition to the young disciple, it is only so because the Cross of Christ has to be carried by the flesh before that Cross can lose its weight, and its material be woven into a crown. Religion is believed to be good because possessed by the best of men: the assurance of its pleasantness comes by the experience of its power. “That pleasure is, in the nature of it, a relative thing, and so imparts a peculiar relation and correspondence to the state and condition of the person to whom it is a pleasure”—South. Religion is “good” or “pleasant” from its own inherent nature.
I. Because it is the proper pleasure of that part of man which is the largest and most comprehensive of pleasure, i.e., his mind: a substance of a boundless comprehension.
1. In reference to speculation, as it sustains the name of understanding.
2. In reference to practice, as it sustains the name of conscience.
II. Because it is such a pleasure as never satiates or wearies; for it properly affects the spirit, and a spirit feels no weariness, as being privileged from the causes of it.
The pleasures of the table pall; the pleasures of exercise grow into weariness; but in fulfilled duty is a pleasure (cf. work and its joy). How much more in religion! As much as religion is nobler than work.
III. Because it is such as to be in no one’s power to take from us, but only in his who has it; so that he who has the property is also sure of its perpetuity. This can be said of no other form of enjoyment. All pass in the using, or are taken away by time. We are at the mercy of men. But though men take away our life they cannot take away that joy of our religion.
“There is nothing that can raise a man to that generous absoluteness of condition, as neither to cringe, to fawn, or to depend meanly; but that which gives him that happiness within himself, for which men depend upon others. For surely I need salute no great man’s threshold, sneak to none of his friends or servants, to speak a good word for me to my conscience. It is a noble and a sure defiance of a great malice, backed with a great interest; which yet can have no advantage of a man but from his own expectations of something that is without himself. But if I can make my duty my delight; if I can feast, and please, and caress my mind with the pleasures of worthy speculations or virtuous practices; let greatness and malice vex and abridge me if they can: my pleasures are as free as my will; no more to be controlled than my choice, or the unlimited range of my thoughts and my desires.”—South.
“Took of the fruit,” &c.
I. Notice the idea of the text as applied to the land. It was fruitful. Eshcol was noted for its fruit. As fruit was gathered from the land, the land was therefore good. It had received God’s gift of capability. God’s gift is not the effect of man’s labour: though man’s apprehension is necessary for the grasping of what God holds out.
II. Notice the idea of the text in its moral bearings. The caterpillar ever encases the butterfly. So physical facts inwrap a moral truth.
(a.) Fruit is the result of cultivation. True in their native state, when wild and uncultivated trees bear some fruit; but such fruit is not to be compared with that produced by care and cultivation. The best fruit is the product of art. God works by means.
(b.) Suggests inquiries with regard to our own fruitfulness. “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith,” was an apostolic injunction, and one that no man can dispense with.
Deuteronomy 1:25-5.1.26. “A good land which the Lord our God doth give us: notwithstanding ye would not go up.” God gives bountifully, but the devil strews impediments in the path that leads to possession. The brave, faithful, hopeful, and strong trample over them and realise success; the cowardly, faithless, hopeless, and weak are terrified by these lions in the way, and die ignoble deaths in the presence of what might have been rich possessions. Here we have plainly that though God gives a kingdom—a goodly land—we fail to possess it, because we refuse, through our fears and on account of impediments, to enter upon it.
I. Our animal appetites come into collision with spiritual progress.
“It is reported of the hedgehog that he goes to a pile of apples, and gathers up as many as he can upon his prickles, and when he comes to his hole, he goes in with his prickles but leaves his apples behind him. Thus how many there are who have wallowed in the apples of their pleasures, with many a prick and twinge of conscience, who when they shall descend, as shortly they must, to their holes of darkness, shall be compelled to leave all their sweets of false delight behind them, and carry with them nothing but the stings and soars of a wounded conscience.”
There will be no spiritual fruit there.
In the pursuit of gross pleasure, the spirit is killed.
II. The lower in man, which belongs to the seen and temporal, urges to the sacrifice of the higher and spiritual. In every life there is a Job’s wife saying, “Curse God, and die.” No man is free from the voice that whispered in the ear of Judas; some there are who sell the Christ for a paltry few pieces of silver. Adam did that. He bought the present at the cost of the whole future. So Esau; a birthright, for a mess of pottage. It is foolish: more so, criminal.
III. When this is done retribution begins here. God does not wait till man comes into the sphere and region of the eternal to punish. Punishment follows quick upon the sin, in many cases, in this world. Israel was turned back into the desert. David was punished by “the sword” that never left his house (cf. 2 Samuel 12:10). Character is lost. Health departs. Friends are alienated. The heart grows cold and is hardened. Sin slays sympathy with what is divine. Saul had his kingdom taken from him.
Beware of the lusts of the flesh.—“When the oyster opens himself to the sun, being tickled with the warmth thereof, then his enemy, the crab-fish, stealeth behind him, and thrusteth in his claw, and will not suffer him to shut again, and so devoureth him. The like is written of the crocodile, that being so strong a serpent as he is, and impregnable, yet, when he is gaping, to have his teeth picked by the little bird called trochil, his enemy, the ichneumon creepeth into his body, and ceaseth not to gnaw upon his entrails, till he hath destroyed them. Think upon the urchin and the snail: whilst the urchin keeps himself close in the bottom of the hedge, he is either not espied or contemned; but when he creeps forth to suck the cow, he is dogged and chopped in. So the snail, when he lies close, with his house on his head, is esteemed for a dead thing and not looked after; but when in liquorishness to feed upon the dews that lie upon the grass, or upon the sweetness of the rose-bush, he will be perking abroad, that the gardener findeth and smashes him. The lesson is: we must not yield to the sweet baits of the flesh, but we must mortify our members upon the earth, and ever beware that we seek not our death in the error of our life: otherwise if we wilfully offer ourselves to be led as an ox to the slaughter, and as a sheep to the shambles, what marvel if we have our throat cut, or be led captive of Satan at his will.”
The danger of fleshly lusts.—“It is said of the torpedo, a kind of dangerous sea-fish, that it is of so venomous a nature, that if it chance to touch but the line of him that angles, the poison is thereby imparted to the rod, and thence to the hand of him that holds it; whereupon the party is so benumbed and stupefied on a sudden that he loses the use of his limbs. Even so, when enchanting lusts insinuate themselves into, or indeed but barely touch upon, voluptuous minds, they grow, with the companions of Ullysses not only brutish, but withal so senseless, that they have not the power to think a good thought, or to do a good action.”—Things New and Old.
“For there is no doubt but a man, while he resigns himself up to the brutish guidance of sense and appetite, has no relish at all for the spiritual, refined delights of a soul clarified by grace and virtue. The pleasures of an angel can never be the pleasures of a hog. But this is the thing that we contend for; that a man, having once advanced himself to a state of superiority over the control of his inferior appetites, finds an infinitely more solid and sublime pleasure in the delights proper to his reason, than the same person had ever conveyed to him by the bare ministry of his senses. His taste is absolutely changed, and therefore that which pleased him formerly becomes flat and insipid to his appetite, now grown more masculine and severe.”—South.
The character of the profligate George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, is well known to all who are acquainted with the reign of Charles II. “He was,” as said the Earl of Clarendon in his history, “a man of noble presence; he had great liveliness of wit, and a peculiar faculty of turning serious things into ridicule. He had no principles of religion, virtue, or friendship. Pleasure, frolic, and extravagant diversion, were all he regarded. He had no steadiness of conduct; he could never fix his thought nor govern his estate, though it was at one time the greatest in England. He was bred about the king, and for many years had a great ascendancy over him; but at length he drew a lasting disgrace upon himself, and ruined both body and mind, fortune and reputation. The madness of vice appeared in him in very eminent instances; and at last he became contemptible and poor, sickly, and sunk in all respects, so that his conversation was as much avoided as ever it had been courted.” His own state of mind can be best learned from his letter to Dr. Barrow: “Oh what a prodigal have I been of the most valuable of all possessions—time. I have squandered it with a profusion unparalleled; and now, when the enjoyment of a few days would be worth the world, I cannot flatter myself with the prospect of half a dozen hours. How despicable, my dear friend, is that man who never prays to God but in the hour of distress! In what manner can he supplicate that Omnipotent Being in his afflictions, whom, in the time of his prosperity, he never remembered with reverence. Do not brand me with infidelity, when I tell you that I am almost ashamed to offer up my petitions at the throne of grace, or to implore that Divine mercy in the next world which I have scandalously abused in this. Shall ingratitude to man be looked upon as the blackest of crimes, and not ingratitude to God? Shall an insult offered to the king be looked upon in the most offensive light, and yet no notice be taken when the King of kings is treated with indignity and disrespect?… I am forsaken by all my acquaintances: utterly neglected by the friends of my bosom and the dependants of my bounty; but no matter; I am not fit to converse with the former, and have no abilities to serve the latter. Let me not be wholly cast off by the good. Favour me with a visit as soon as possible. Writing to you gives me some ease, especially on a subject I could talk of for ever. I am of opinion this is the last visit I shall ever solicit from you; my distemper is powerful. Come and pray for the departing spirit of the poor unhappy
In Cunningham’s “Lives of Eminent and Illustrious Englishmen,” we have the following concerning the same man. “About the period of Charles’s death, his own health became so much affected that he was reluctantly compelled to retire into the country to recruit himself. The spot which he made choice of with this view was his own manor of Helmeasley, in Yorkshire. Here he generally passed his time betwixt the sports of the chase and the pleasures of the table. An ague and fever, which he caught by sitting on the ground after a long hunt, terminated his life. The attack was so sudden and violent that he could not be removed to his own house, but was conducted to a wretched village inn, where, after languishing three days, he expired, unregretted, and almost unattended. He had lived the life of a profligate, and he died the death of an outcast. It is impossible to say anything favourable of such a man as Villiers, whose sole aim throughout life seems to have been self-gratification, and who scrupled not to commit any crime in the pursuit of this single object.”
The death of Voltaire.—“In the midst of his triumphs, a violent hemorrhage raised apprehensions for his life:—D’Alembert, Diderot, and Marmontel, hastened to support his resolution in his last moments, but were only witnesses to their mutual ignominy, as well as to his own. Here let not the historian fear exaggeration. Rage, remorse, reproach, and blasphemy, all accompany and characterise the long agony of the dying atheist. His death, the most terrible ever recorded to have stricken the impious man, will not be denied by his companions in impiety. Their silence, however much they may wish to deny it, is the least of those corroborative proofs which might be adduced. Not one of those sophisters has ever dared to mention any sign of resolution or tranquillity evinced by their ‘great chief’ during the space of three months, which elapsed from the time he was crowned in the theatre until his decease. Such a silence expresses how great was their humiliation in his death!…
“The conspirators had strained every nerve to hinder their chief from consummating his recantation; and every avenue was shut to the priests whom Voltaire himself had sent for. The demons haunted every access; rage succeeded to fury, and fury to rage again, during the remainder of his life. Then it was that D’Alembert, Diderot, and about twenty others of the conspirators, who had beset his apartment, never approached him but to witness their own ignominy; and often he would curse them, and exclaim—’Retire! It is you who have brought me to my present state! Begone! I could have done without you all; but you could not exist without me! And what a wretched glory you have procured me!’ Then would succeed the horrid remembrance of his conspiracy. They could hear him the prey of anguish and dread, alternately supplicating or blaspheming that God against whom he had conspired; and in plaintive accents he would cry out, ‘O Christ! O Jesus Christ!’ and then complain that he was abandoned by God and man. The hand that had traced, in ancient writ, the sentence of an impious and reviling king, seemed to trace before his eyes the horrid blasphemies which he had so often uttered. In vain he turned his head away; the time was coming apace when he was to appear before the tribunal of Him whom he had insulted; and his physicians, particularly M. Tronchin, calling in to administer relief, thunderstruck, retired, declaring ‘that the death of the impious man was terrible indeed.’ The pride of the conspirators would willingly have suppressed these declarations, but it was in vain. The Mareschal de Richelieu fled from his bedside, declaring ‘it to be a sight too terrible to be sustained;’ and M. Tronchin, ‘that the furies of Orestes could give but a faint idea of those of Voltaire.’ ”—Abbe Barruel, quoted in “The Christian’s Sketch Book.”
Deuteronomy 1:21; Deuteronomy 1:26. “Go up.” … “Ye would not.”
What is this but unbelief on the part of Israel? Though God had promised to give the land, the people had refused to take it. Why? Because a few cowardly spies said, “It will be hard work.” And the work became harder to the minds of this people because they had no faith in God, who helps in the accomplishment of all work. If they had believed God, difficulty would have been nothing.
I. God might have abstained from all interferences in the life and action of Israel. But He was pleased to identify Himself with His people (cf. Hebrews 11:23-58.11.27).
II. God continues that interest spiritually. Those who believe He helps. Those who believe not are condemned, powerless, ruined (John 3:18).
III. When salvation is provided, the anger of God will be great if it be refused (cf. Pharaoh). Israel hardened his neck. “He that hardens his heart is suddenly cut off.”
IV. Help is provided for the sinner, but many will not accept it. “Ye would not go up.”
(a.) Its necessity—man is dead.
(b.) Nature of the help—life (cf. John 10:10).
(c.) Its completeness (cf. work of Christ).
Deuteronomy 1:26-5.1.30. Pictures presented here:
1. A calm righteous man, Deuteronomy 1:26; Deuteronomy 1:29
2. Impotent rage, Deuteronomy 1:27-5.1.28
3. Perfect confidence in personal destiny, Deuteronomy 1:29-5.1.30.
Deuteronomy 1:26-5.1.36. There is something very brave and outspoken in these words. Picture a man standing up before an infuriated people with the calmness that the tone of this passage implies. (cf. a great political leader rebuking a Hyde Park or Trafalgar Square popular demonstration.) The Christian minister is at times in such position. He must preach a truth unsavoury to the natural man. Let there be the same calm, brave outspokenness, and force of dignity. Moses’ power in the God who was speaking through him. Four points—
I. His entire self-possession.
II. A co-operator with God.
III. His power to adapt himself to great crises.
IV. He could rebuke, because he knew much and loved much. His position among the people the result of his identifying himself with them in their need (Hebrews 11:23-58.11.27).
Deuteronomy 1:26. “Ye would not go up,” &c. “Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft,” said a later oracle. Calm reflection compels one almost to say that rebellion against God is insanity. No good, ultimately, is gained by it.
I. All trifling with the Divine law involves at least the degradation of him who trifles with it (cf. Deuteronomy 1:33-5.1.34). Sometimes his accomplices (cf. Ananias and Sapphira). Sometimes his friends, even though they be innocent (cf. Achan). “Sin of father visited upon children,” &c.
II. All honour of the law secures exaltation in the kingdom of heaven (cf. 36–38). “They that honour Me will I honour.”
(a.) Law of God in harmony with man’s constitution.
(b.) God’s law is God’s advice for man to act by.
III. Man is to regulate his conduct by divine law, and not by human standards. “Act from a maxim at all times fit for law universal.”—Kant. He who walks at noon lighted by a taper will be held guilty for all the consequences of such act. These men had to suffer all the effects possible on one act of folly and wrong.
IV. There is one characteristic in which the law of Christ is one with the law of Moses. Obedience to it is necessary. “If ye love Me, keep My commandments” (cf. John 14:21). “If a man love Me, he will keep My words,” said Christ, “and My Father will love him.” The Father’s love consequent on the keeping of the words.
V. Let us take warning, and be careful how we treat the law of Christ, lest, through unbelief and consequent failure of purpose, we be shut out of a better country (cf. all the early chapters of Epistle to the Hebrews).
“Ye rebelled,” &c.
Human conduct is affected by the religious life of the community. We cannot live without God without losing spiritual life (cf. John 16:4-43.16.17). Such alienation acts most ruinously upon the heart life, which is the centre of being and the source of our activities.
I. God’s covenant forsaken.
II. This means entering into covenant with the devil. He that is not for, is against.
III. Man becomes blinded to right.
IV. His blindness prevents his seeing the precipice of ruin on which he stands.
“Ye would not,” &c.
Here are people who knew the will and command of God, yet would not obey. “Ye would not go up. From the words we may infer—
I. The possibility of knowing the law, but obstinately and persistently transgressing it (cf. Judas, Byron, Voltaire). These all knew what was right.
II. The possibility of having the law of God enforced upon us by a divinely-inspired and appointed prophet without it affecting us. How many hearers every Sunday murmur at preachers, men of God and true! Moses spoke: the people heedless. They would be the same if one spoke from the dead (Luke 19:29-42.19.31).
III. The law of God must be obeyed whether it meet our approbation or not. It is God’s law; that is sufficient.
(a.) Show it is God’s law.
(b.) God’s law may be known from its harmoniousness with the highest principles of right in our being; and from its meeting the necessary requirements of man’s nature.
(c.) No command of God contrary to the law of the universe (cf. teaching of Christ—nature was the language of His thoughts).
The inconsiderate multitude.
“We see by experience that dogs do alway bark at those they know not;
and that it is their nature to accompany one another in those clamours: and so it is with the inconsiderate multitude, who, wanting that virtue which we call honesty in all men, and that especial gift of God which we call charity in Christian men, condemn without hearing, and wound without offence given.—Sir Walter Raleigh.
“Notwithstanding.” Although God had done so much, this was their only return. Nothing is more strongly marked in some dispositions than ingratitude.
“On adamant our wrongs we all engrave,
But write our benefits upon the wave.”
“Ingratitude! thou marble-hearted friend;
More hideous, when thou showest thee in a child,
Than the sea monster.”—Shakespeare.
“We seldom find people ungrateful as long as we are in a condition to render them services.”—Rochefoucauld.
Of such it may be said, “Gratitude is a sense of favours yet to come.”
“Ingratitude is abhorred of God and man.”—L’ Estrange.
“He that calls a man ungrateful sums up all the evil that a man can be guilty” of.—Swift.
“One ungrateful man does an injury to all who stand in need of aid.”—Publius Syrus.
“An empty bucket that is let down into a well doth, as it were, open its mouth to receive the water; but being drawn up full showeth his bottom only to the well that gave it. The sea receives her moisture from heaven, sweet and pleasant, but returns it salt and brackish. The clouds by the power of the sun-beams are exhaled from the earth; but, being once mounted, they darken that air and obscure that sun that raised them. The frozen snake in the fable stingeth him that refreshed it. Thus it is with all unthankful men, men ungrateful to God; He ladeth daily with benefits and blessings, and they lade Him with sins and trespasses.”—Things New and Old.
“Athenæus reporteth of Milesius that having, brought a dolphin alive, and letting him go again into the sea; afterwards, himself being cast away by shipwreck, and ready to perish in the midst of the waters, the dolphin took him and carried him safely to shore … It is more than beastly ingratitude for any man to reward evil for good.”—Things Nat and Old.
Deuteronomy 1:27. “Ye murmured.” “And you took your sons and daughters into your bosoms.”—Targum of Jonathan.
“Because the Lord hates,” &c. “This evil saying Moses would not have his enemies say (Deuteronomy 9:28). It shows the height of their sin which imputed that to hatred wherein God manifested His love (Deuteronomy 4:37; Deuteronomy 7:8). “—Ainsworth.
“Lord God hated us.” An instance of how men rush to conclusions from insufficient premises. For homiletic purposes we might notice—
I. The impossibility of correctly educing ultimate principles and formulating doctrines thereon from a limited number of facts.
II. The danger of permitting feeling to usurp where judgment should rule.
III. The temptation to exaggerate extraordinary circumstances into utterly false facts.
IV. The danger of determining the will and nature of God by human wisdom and experience alone.
IV. The necessity of knowing God (cf. passages in. New Testament where knowing God is referred to) before affirming anything of Him. Moses knew God. How differently would he have interpreted His providence. Could God but speak to every man, much of the mystery and mercy in many lives would instantly disappear. Read Scripture. They testify of God.
“Ye murmured in your tents.”
It must have been a stirring sight to see the thousands of Israel standing in the doors of their tents:—A wild horde of semi-barbarians, fierce in their rage, and almost ungovernable. What a picture of a sinful world, where all men are uncultivated in the ways of holiness and submission—a frantic host of moral and spiritual maniacs. More than once had Moses such an experience. No penitence; no submission; no hope: rage on every face.
I. The sorrow of this people had reference to the loss of what they esteemed valuable. Things are not valuable to the multitude for what they are in themselves, but according to people’s ideas of them. (cf. Bear robbed of her whelps.) Fierce! The whelps precious to the bear. There is real worth—a something valuable in itself.
“Greatness and goodness are not means, but ends:
Hath he not alway treasures, alway friends,
The good great man? Three treasures,—Love and Light,
And calm Thoughts, regular as infant’s breath;
And three firm friends, more sure than day or night,—
Himself, his Maker, and the Angel Death.”—Coleridge.
“Sorrow being the natural and direct offspring of sin, that which first brought sin into the world must, by necessary consequence, bring in sorrow too”—South.
Man has a true cause for sorrow when he loses his soul, as he does by sin, for he loses something really valuable. For such many are satisfied, with very quiet, well-behaved sorrow indeed.
II. This sorrow was more passionate and all-absorbing, because of the unexpectedness of its cause. This grief came as a sudden pain. It was acute, not chronic. Long pains deaden.
“The violence of sorrow is not at the first to be striven withal; being, like a mighty beast, sooner tamed with following than overthrown by understanding.”—Sir. P. Sydney.
Enmity to God.—“It profits us nothing to be peaceful toward all men if we be at war with God; it is no good to us if all men approve, and the Lord be offended; neither is there any danger, though all shun and hate us, if with God we find acceptance and love.”—Chrysostom.
“No man can certainly conclude God’s love or hatred to any person from what befalls him in this world”—Tillotson.
“From the instant of our birth we experience the benignity of Heaven, and the malignity of corrupt nature”—Trusler.
Deuteronomy 1:24-5.1.28. The spies report and its effect.
The beginning of any line of conduct usually enables an attentive observer to form a just anticipation of the manner in which it will be pursued. If the beginning is right, the end is right. If the end is a failure, a something wrong is implied in the beginning. The people proposed to send spies. So artfully were their guilty motives concealed, that Moses failed to see them and was even pleased with the proposal. The result, however, reveals all. A voice of warning is meant to reach our conscience from the page of Jewish history (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:11). The fact and its lessons may be considered under three heads:—
I. The conduct of the unfaithful spies.
II. The conduct of Caleb and Joshua.
III. The conduct of the guilty nation.
1. The conduct of the unfaithful spies.
1. Men of position.
2. Their commission clearly defined (Numbers 13:18-4.13.20).
3. They accomplished their work safely.
4. God showed Himself with them. Thus far, well. But they were men of sight, not faith. All that God had revealed went for nothing. They saw only difficulties. They overlooked what God had done for them. They discouraged the people.
II. “As there is no society free from some corruption, so it is hard, if in a community of men there be not some faithfulness.” Such fidelity was shown by Joshua and Caleb. They form a contrast with the ten. But Israel would not hear them. The world will ever hear its own prophets; and stone those who speak in the name of God.
III. The conduct of the guilty nation. If experience had been of any use to Israel they would surely have listened to Caleb and Joshua: but with such experience is thrown away.
1. The unfaithful spies and guilty multitude represent a class;—the timid and desponding professors of religion who need to be warned of their SIN.
2. “There are many, however, who possess a portion of that flame which glowed in the hearts of Caleb and Joshua; men gifted with courage for the warfare of life, and zealous for their God.”—Buddicom.
Deuteronomy 1:28. “Walled up to heaven.” An hyperbole. Contrast hyperbole with reality: reality with hyperbole. Hyperbole, a figure in rhetoric by which anything is increased or diminished beyond exact truth, e.g., “he runs faster than lightning.”—Latham. Reality is opposed to shadows, types, pictures.—Whately. What is, not what merely seems.—Latham.
“A bird carries the voice” (Ecclesiastes 10:20); “Amorites whose height was height of cedars” (Amos 3:9) are hyperboles. “Length of bedstead of Og reality, no hyperbole.”—Maimonides.
(See also “Quintilian Instit.,” book viii. c. 6, and Patrick on this passage).
“Walled up to heaven.” “This description of the cities as ‘high and walled up to heaven,’ though a strong hyperbole, answers the description of most Eastern cities whose walls are smooth, very lofty, and difficult to be scaled. The walls were of mud or of stone; and as the people were unacquainted with scaling ladders, whenever they had surrounded their cities with walls too high for man to climb over, they considered their security established. The same simple expedient is resorted to by the Arabs who live in the very wilderness in which Israel wandered, and who are far more inured to warlike enterprises than that people were. The great monastery of St. Catherine at Mount Sinai is built of freestone, with high smooth walls. On the east side there is a window by which those that are within draw up pilgrims into the monastery with a basket, which they let down by a rope that runs through a pulley to be seen above at the window, and the pilgrims go into it one after another. These walls are so high that they cannot be scaled, and without cannon the place cannot be taken.”—Thevenot.
“Whither shall we go up?” Agreeably to the nature of interrogative particles, whither sometimes including a negative, may be resolved into nowhere.—Fürst. This suggests that we may interpret the verse:—“What is the use of struggling and toiling? We have nowhere to go. We may as well give up at once.”
“Our brethren discouraged our hearts” (cf. “Crit. Notes”). The Bible is full of human nature. Man is to-day as he was 3000 years ago. Godless men had no courage for themselves, and, dog-in-the-manger like, would not let others have it. They took away what little the people had. We have here old types of a modern class. Two facts about them—
I. They see the difficulty of life, but no God to help them in it.
II. The difficulties seen, cause fear, and then fears magnify the difficulties.
Deuteronomy 1:29. “Dread not.” To deliver them from fear Moses adds two powerful arguments. He gives reasons for what he bids them do—
I. A promise of Divine assurance:—“The Lord … He shall fight,” Deuteronomy 1:30
II. The experience of past mercies:—“God bare thee,” &c., Deuteronomy 1:31 (cf. His dealings with them in Egypt, wilderness, &c.); (cf. Isaiah 49:22 with Exodus 19:4).
Compare John 14:1, Luther’s trans. Christ gives two reasons for disciples’ faith. Ye believe in God—-ye believe in Christ:—therefore no reason to fear.
Deuteronomy 1:28-5.1.29. Contrast by comparison of these two verses the character of the people and the character of Moses. Moses, strong: people, weak. In life of Moses a firm, clear, strong purpose; the nation swayed by every wind that blew. The character of Moses, as opposed to that of the people, might aptly illustrate the character of the Christian who has truly laid his foundation on the Rock, in contrast with that of a worldling who is tossed as a straw upon the waters. The true Christian is essentially and pre-eminently a religious man. Has fixed principles and purpose in life. Religion means harmony with God.
I. Religion is a reality.
II. Religion is a reality in the soul.
III. Religion is a vital reality in the soul.
IV. Religion is a vital reality in the soul, ever discernible. True religion is known.
(a.) In its essence.
(c.) By its fruits.
Deuteronomy 1:28-5.1.29. Contrast Moses and the spies. Moses encouraged; the spies discouraged. Here, extremes of character; courage, cowardice. Many such antitheses of character in Scripture. Hezekiah and Manasseh; Jacob, Esau; Jesus, Judas; Judas, the residence of Satan; Jesus, the residence of all the godhead bodily. But watch the influence of the bad; it undoes all the good accomplished. The people discouraged; the Son of God sold, &c. A few lessons may be gathered from these facts:—
I. Too intimate connection between the Church and world may prove injurious to the Church. “Man cannot handle pitch,” &c. The people discouraged though they had a Moses.
“It is better, safer I am sure it is, to ride alone, than to have a thief’s company. And such is a wicked man, who will rob thee of precious time, if he do thee no more mischief. The Nazarites, who might drink no wine, were also forbidden to eat grapes, whereof wine is made (Numbers 6:3). So we must not only avoid sin itself, but also the causes and occasions thereof, amongst which, bad company—the lime-twigs of the devil—is the chiefest, especially to catch those natures which, like the good-fellow-planet Mercury, are most swayed by others.”—T. Fuller.
II. Hypocrites are more injurious to the Church than non-professors. The people had not been affected by foes quite as terrible in the wilderness as those in Canaan. Opinions of enemies do not affect: it is the thought of a friend that influences. These spies were supposed to be friends: they were in service of Israel; the hypocrite is often in the service of the Church: the acknowledged friend. The Church is identified with him.
(a.) The world depends upon him for its opposition to religion.
(b.) Hypocrites become the leader of the enemy after leaving Christ (cf. Judas. He led the band, &c.).
(c.) They know the failures of Christian brethren, because taken into confidence as friends.
(Explain what a hypocrite is, ὑποκριτής = one who plays upon the stage. An actor—feigner. Therefore a false pretender to virtue or piety).
III. Feeble moral characters injurious to the Church. But remember two facts with regard to the Church—
(a.) It is an hospital for souls’ disease, as well as (b.) the home of the strong in Christ. Be tender to the weak, but restrain them from the positions of the tried and strong.
IV. The world’s joy and the Church’s grief. If the heathen had known what grief there was in Israel, their heart doubtless rejoiced. Often what is death to one is pleasure to another (cf. fable of boys and frogs). Death of Christ, the life of the world (cf. John 11:50). “One man’s loss another’s gain.”
Deuteronomy 1:29. “Dread not,” &c. Encouragement.
I. Every good work is sure to meet with opposition. In every journey there will necessarily be rough places.
II. Christians are not required to go anywhere where their Captain has not gone before.
III. The Christian is not to wait till all difficulties are removed. His action will sometimes remove difficulties. “Go forward,” &c. (cf. Joshua 3:15).
Faithful discharge of duty in everyday life is doing God’s work: the promise of the following verse applies to the removal of difficulties, &c., and the fighting for us in the warfare of daily experience, business, family, &c.
Man’s need, God’s opportunity.—“Philo, the Jew, being employed as an ambassador or messenger to Caius Caligula, the emperor of Rome, his entertainment was but slight, for he had no sooner spoken on the behalf of his country, but he was commanded to depart the court; whereupon he told his people that he was verily persuaded that God would now do something for them, because the emperor was so earnestly bent against them”—Pulpit Illustrations.
Deuteronomy 1:29-5.1.30. Dread not, &c.
The desponding encouraged. Much in life to depress. Opposition quickly rises. Success dependent on courage. Conquest wavers with the wavering heart. Napoleon lost a battle through a bilious fit. Strongest, coolest, bravest, have seasons when they need encouragement. Three ways in which Moses encouraged—
I. By appeal to the fact of God’s presence. “The Lord God which goeth before you.”
II. By appeal to the success of the past (cf. Deuteronomy 1:31). “In the wilderness
… where God bare thee,” &c.
III. By appeal to future success, Deuteronomy 1:30. “He shall fight.”
Success in undertakings is not infrequently the result of very unlikely and small beginnings. The following incident from the battle between Marcellus the Roman, and Hannibal the Carthaginian, cited from Plutarch, well illustrates the point:—
“Both armies then engaged, and Hannibal, seeing no advantage gained by either, ordered his elephants to be brought forward into the first line, and to be pushed against the Romans. The shock caused great confusion at first in the Roman front; but Flavius, a tribune, snatching an ensign staff from one of the companies, advanced, and with the point of it wounded the foremost elephant. The beast upon this turned back, and ran upon the second, the second upon the next that followed, and so on till they were all put in great disorder. Marcellus observing this, ordered his horse to fall furiously upon the enemy, and, taking advantage of the confusion already made, to rout them entirely. Accordingly, they charged with extraordinary vigour, and drove the Carthaginians to their entrenchments. The slaughter was dreadful; and the fall of the killed, and the plunging of the wounded elephants, contributed greatly to it. It is said that more than 8000 Carthaginians fell in this battle; of the Romans not above 3000 were slain”. All this success, in a measure, was owing to a man wounding an elephant with an ensign staff.”
“Success may be delayed for a time. Failure may seem to attend our work. There may be no blossoms or fruit now; but it will come. Our judgment is often rash and premature. The sailor predicts storms; there is a great calm: the merchant a panic; there is a rich harvest: the minister barrenness; there is an abundant blessing.” The spies said the land is full of big men: Moses said God will help us. It matters not who is against, if God is only for us.
Faith produces Confidence.—“In the midst of a tumultuous sea the modes of the compass remain immovable, because they govern themselves, not according to the winds, but according to the influence of the heavens. So the faith of the faithful remaineth firm amongst the rude agitations and distracted variations of the world, because it governeth itself, not according to the instability of the affairs of this world, but according to the promises of God, which are from all eternity.”—Pulpit Illustrations.
Power of Faith.—“When Toxaris saw his countryman Anacharsis in Athens, he said unto him, I will show thee all the wonders of Greece: in seeing Solon thou seest all, even Athens itself, and the whole glory of the Greeks. Tell me, Christian, hast thou faith and assured trust in the Lord? then thou hast more than all the wonders of Greece, upon the point all the wonderful gifts of grace; for faith is the mother virtue from which all others spring, and without faith all the best of our actions are no better than sin.”—Things New and Old.
Deuteronomy 1:30. “The Lord your God … goeth before you.” We need to read side by side with these words those of the apostle: “Because greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4). When a man is tenanted by God, be has not much reason to fear, for he becomes an inheritor of the visions and experience of Elisha (cf. 2 Kings 6:16-12.6.18).
I. Show wherein God is with us.
(a.) God with a man by his faith. Paradoxical though it sounds, yet true. To believe in God is to realise the emotions of the Divine presence. Such feelings strengthen. Faith in the Almighty calls forth enthusiasm and courage. For so long as there is faith, hope burns. The soldiers who had faith in Napoleon had his courage in their heart. They conquered.
(b.) God with a man by His word. One way to communicate ourselves to others is to speak to them. Sometimes the written word suffices. A word from a distant friend gives us the man even more than his bodily presence would without the word. So God sends His word to men. There is the word spoken by the prophet. There is the Living Word, Jesus Christ; the expression of the Father’s heart.
(c.) God is with a man by His Spirit. “Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?” “Know ye not that the love of God is shed abroad in our heart by the Holy Ghost given unto us!”
II. Show how the Divine Presence bears upon the soul.
(a.) The power is in us by which to gain fully the world of our hopes. “To as many as received Him, to them gave He ἐξουσιαν” (not merely capability—δυναμιν Lücke,—still less privilege or prerogative (Chrysostom and others),—but power, De Wette; involving all the actions and states needful to them so becoming and removing all the obstacles in their way, e.g., the wrath of God and the guilt of sin, Alford) “to become the children of God—to those which believe in His name.”
(b.) By this power man is superior to the world (cf. 1 John 5:4-62.5.5).
(c.) This power gives moral and spiritual advancement in life.
“Cherished with hope, and fed with joy, it grows;
In cheerful buds their opening bloom disclose,
And round the happy soil diffusive odours flows.”—Pope.
Deuteronomy 1:29-5.1.30. “Be not afraid …
God fights for you.”
Here in all the light and shade of historic life is a picture of the soul that is in Christ Jesus—a spirit with God fighting for it, on its side (cf. Romans 8:1-45.8.17). The natural man is apart from God; he has to fight for himself. The man who like ancient Israel has entered into covenant with God, has passed from Death—alienation, into Life—co-operation with God, and he has God fighting his battles for him. The past becomes an earnest of the future. The grace given a deposit of the whole amount to be given in the Spirit’s subsequent developments.
I. Man in Christ is freed from sin. He has escaped from the slavery of him or that which is opposed to the divine will. He lives and works with God: God with him.
II. By this man is advanced in moral and spiritual excellence. He is no longer a slave. He is Christ’s free man. The true idea of Divine holiness is realised. The man knows daily from joy-filled triumph, and experience, that God is on his side, overcoming evil in his nature, harmonising discord, and restoring him, the man, to the likeness of a Son of God.
III. Man in Christ is destined for future glorification. (Beniseh translate Deuteronomy 1:30, “The Eternal your God,” &c.) What an Eternal Being does is worthy of Eternity. The glory of man must have a larger arena than the confined amphitheatre of Time.
IV. He is destined to enjoy the glory which belongs to Christ Himself (cf. John 17:20-43.17.23).
Deuteronomy 1:30. “He shall fight for you,” &c. The Helper of His people. If God were only an idea, then the utterance of such a thought would be the cruellest act that demon-spirit could prompt, for hopes of the most sensitive nature would be raised only to be dashed down again. But because God is not an idea but a living person—the Hearer and Answerer of prayer—the sympathetic Friend—the Giver of grace for bearing sorrow—the thought of a Helping God is one of the most encouraging to which man is legatee.
I. God’s people often placed in circumstances of great difficulty. There are foes in the flesh; weakness and discord in the spirit; difficulties of many kinds without. All these have to be met. A man cannot at all times fight them for himself.
II. Help is given far superior not only to that of the strongest moments of a man’s own natural power, but superior to that power which impedes his course.
III. This help only recognised by God’s own people. Their eyes alone see the spiritual forms at hand to aid (cf. Elisha and his servant). Having eyes, they see.
IV. This sight requires the supernatural agency of Christ. He alone gives sight to the blind that they may see. The world is filled with God’s glory could man but look upon it. Moses could see the power of God at hand to help even though the people were entirely ignorant of it.
Deuteronomy 1:30. “The Lord your God shall fight,” &c.
Though this passage in its primary and historical sense refers to Israel’s conflict with the enemies who kept him from the promised land, yet the Christian, with his spiritual age illumined with the light of glory, may see beyond the letter into the mysterious import of the spirit; for he deals with the truth which the word enshrines. The Christian has his battle to fight. We might notice—
I. That the battle is for a dominion: Israel fought for a promised land, the Christian for a promised crown of life. Satan offered all the kingdoms of the world to Christ, but His one crown was more to Him than they all.
II. The battle in which the Christian is engaged is won by faith. Israel lost because he did not believe God. The Christian fails when his faith is weak (cf. Peter on the water. The disciples in the storm. Victory of faith, &c).
III. The Christian’s battle is sure to result in victory (cf. John 16:33). (Cf. the whole of Christ’s promise of help in His last great speech, John 14-18)
Deuteronomy 1:31. “As a man doth bear his son” (cf. Numbers 11:12). “A simile suggested by his sojourn in the desert of Midian with Jethro.”—Keil and Delitzsh.
“Supplying you with water out of the rock, sending bread from heaven, defending you from the wild beasts and fiercer enemies, and bearing with your numerous provocations.”—Clapham.
“I, said (God), who was a father, became nurse, and My little one I Myself carried in My arms, lest it should be hurt in the wilderness, and lest it should be frightened by the heat or darkness; in the day I was a cloud, by night a pillar of fire.”—Jerome.
It is the realisation in one’s own heart of this presence by day and night that makes the true child of God courageous. While God is Father and nurse man has not much to fear. There is a story told of St. Basil that well illustrates this. The emperor sent to him to subscribe to the Arian heresy. The messenger at first used good language, and promised great perferment if he would turn Arian; to which Basil replied, “Alas! their speeches are fit to catch little children who seek such things, but we that are nourished and taught by the Holy Scriptures are readier to suffer a thousand deaths than suffer one syllable a little of the Scriptures to be altered.” The messenger told him he was mad. He replied, “I wish I were for ever thus mad.” It matters not whether it be Apostle, Father, or Reformer. All are alike. Paul, Basil, Luther, each had the same presence—each had the same courage.
We have this beautifully exemplified in the life of one who perished by shipwreck only a few years ago, the Rev. J. Mackenzie:—“In the brief interval, which elapsed between the vessel’s striking and her going down, an attempt was made by some of the passengers to lower the two quarter-boats; but both were instantly swamped, and about a dozen lives were lost in them. Mr. Mackenzie, meanwhile, had got on deck, but though a good swimmer, he appears to have made no effort to save himself. When last seen by one of the few survivors, he was engaged in prayer on the quarter-deck. ‘I heard,’ he says, ‘the minister who was on board call to those around him that, as there was no hope of safety, they should engage in prayer. He then began to pray, the rest of the passengers kneeling around him. He was as cool and as collected as I am now, and the others were praying too; but his voice was raised above the rest’. And thus with the great Father’s name upon his lips, and the great Father’s love warm in his dauntless heart, did this noble Christian man go down into the cold, bleak, midnight sea, to find his Father’s bosom there.”—Pulpit Analyst.
Deuteronomy 1:32. “Ye did not believe.”
Unbelief is spiritual death, and the desolation of manhood. In order to see this more fully, it may be observed that—
I. Unbelief imprisons or confines manhood. The feelings and aspirations, the longings and the hopes of man’s higher nature, would go beyond the present and the visible, and faith alone can secure their fitting exercise; but unbelief holds them back, limits them, confines them to earth, and to things that are seen and temporal. It cramps the energies of being, and restrains the healthy outgoings of the soul. Such imprisonment of the spiritual powers much tend to desolation and decay.
II. Unbelief starves manhood; man needs truth to live upon as well as bread; but, as we have seen, he cannot of himself know all the truth; there must be faith as the means of the highest knowledge. God has come down to reveal Himself to us, and to supply this knowledge as the true and healthy aliment of our spiritual being. Christ is the “bread of life,” the true bread that came down from heaven; but unbelief refuses it,—will not partake of it, so that the soul is starved; and surely this tends to spiritual destruction.
III. Unbelief outrages manhood; it does it injury and violence. We say that man was formed for truth; hence to indulge in falsehood violates his true nature. Man was formed for reason, and to act irrationally is a violation of the true law of our being; so man was formed for faith, and to refuse faith where faith is due, where faith is essential, and where God Himself comes down to woe it and to gain it, is an outrage upon manhood. Such moral violence must tend to desolation and abiding darkness.—Rev. James Spence, M.A.
Deuteronomy 1:32. “Ye did not believe the Lord your God.” The truth wrapped up here is as important to the Christian as to the Jew—to-day, as when Moses uttered it. Here is implied, even if not definitely taught, the power of faith. By comparison with the context is discerned the fact that faith on the part of the people would have enabled God to have conquered their enemies (cf. Binney’s book: “Practical Nature of Faith).”
Deuteronomy 1:32. “Yet in this ye did not believe.” Not a small portion of the chapter is taken up with reminding the people of God’s special intervention in their behalf. Though their whole history is full of divine action for them, God’s mercies are quickly forgotten. They are ever ready to disobey His law, or to give allegiance to idols. Chastisements intended for repentance were not heeded. Such being ineffectual, God becomes angry and casts them off. There are three matters for consideration suggested by these words—
I. The possibility of dishonouring the great memories of life. “In this they did not believe God,” even though they had had so many reasons why they should. Who could forget Egyptian bondage—the passage of the sea—the manna—cloud—fire, &c.? Who could forget the joy of deliverance—the rapture of ecstacy when God had revealed Himself, and had worked for them? Yet this people did! Though God had done so much, they did not believe His promise. Memories of life can be dishonoured—frequently are.
II. The possibility of underestimating the interposition of God. Look at the case suggested by the chapter (cf. Jeremiah 2:5-24.2.6). They had come through a terrible wilderness—land of desert and pits—of drought—a land where no man passed—no man dwelt—the shadow of death. Viewed prospectively, men shrink from such difficulties; viewed retrospectively, many of the terrors are forgotten. Though God had led through all this, all is forgotten. That such could have been forgotten is a revolting illustration of the soul’s depravity. But human nature is such that the highest offices rendered by God and man can be lightly esteemed by it, and even the blood of the Covenant be trodden under foot.
III. The possibility of the leading minds of the Church being darkened and perverted. It seems that the whole nation, chiefs and people, were alike unmindful of the heavenly calling (cf. Jeremiah 2:8). History of Israel at the time of Elijah. Epochs in the life of the Church, e.g., the Reformation.
The Hebrew proverb said, “As priest as people.” The saying may be reversed. As people so leaders; for the leader is often but the adroit follower. When he should stand up with a protest, too frequently such an one truckles to the popular cry. He worships the crowd, and leaves Truth and Right to take care of themselves. It behoves, therefore—
1. That such men should watch themselves with constant jealousy.
2. Such should never be forgotten by those who pray.
Deuteronomy 1:32. “Yet in this ye did not believe,” &c.
A charge of infidelity. This is quickly followed with the chastisement of infidelity. The wise learn by the woes of others. If the unfaithful be punished, it is not unreasonable to expect that the faithful are rewarded. From other Scripture we know that it is so (cf. Revelation 2:10). Let us apply this in its Christian bearings.
I. Christ’s religion requires faithfulness.
(a.) The Christian should make use of all his powers on behalf of religion.
(b.) The Christian should make use of all his powers for the religious circle wherein he lives.
(c.) The Christian should make use of all his powers according to the will of God.
II. Christ’s religion requires personal fidelity. It mattered not that “Moses was faithful in all his house.” God judged the people for what they were.
(a.) Every Christian has a personal work to accomplish.
(b.) Every Christian is endowed with power to accomplish his own work.
(c.) Every Christian is under a personal obligation to be faithful.
III. Christ’s religion requires continual faithfulness. It must not be fitful. “Watch” was Christ’s command.
(a.) Because the work is great.
(b.) Because the time is short.
IV. Christ’s religion rewards faithfulness.
(a.) Religious reward is precious.
(b.) Religious reward is glorious,
(c.) Religious reward is durable.
(d.) Religious reward is personal.
Folly of Infidelity.—“And is it possible that you (Paine) should think so highly of your performance, as to believe that you have thereby demolished the authority of a book, which Newton himself esteemed the most authentic of all histories? Which by its celestial light illumines the darkest ages of antiquity; which is the touchstone whereby we are enabled to distinguish between true and fabulous theology; between the God of Israel, holy, just, and good, and the impious rabble of heathen Balaam; which has been thought by competent judges to have afforded matter for the laws of Solon, and a foundation for the philosophy of Plato; which has been illustrated by the labour of learning in all ages and in all countries, and been admired and venerated for its piety, its sublimity, and its veracity, by all who were able to read and understand it. Nor have you gone, indeed, through the word with the best intention in the world to cut it down; but you have busied yourself merely in exposing to vulgar contempt a few unsightly shrubs, which good men had wisely concealed from public view. You have entangled yourself in thickets of thorn and briar; you have lost your way on the mountains of Lebanon, the goodly cedar trees whereof, lamenting the madness, and pitying the blindness of your rage against them, have scorned the blunt edge and the base temper of your axe, and laughed unhurt at the feebleness of your stroke. The Bible has withstood the learning of Porphyry, and the power of Julian, to say nothing of the Manichean Faustus. It has resisted the genius of Bolingbroke, and the wit of Voltaire, to say nothing of a numerous berd of inferior assailants; and it will not fall by your force. You have barbed anew the blunted arrows of former adversaries; you have feathered them with blasphemy and ridicule; dipped them in your deadliest poison; aimed them with your utmost skill; shot them against the shield of truth with your utmost vigour; but, like the feeble javelin of the aged Priam, they will scarcely reach the mark—will fall to the ground without a stroke.”—Watson.
Infidelity barren of virtue.
“This system is a soil as barren of great and sublime virtue as it is prolific in crimes.” … “As well might you expect exalted sentiments of justice from a professed gamester as look for noble principles in the man whose hopes and fears are all suspended on the present moment, and who stakes the whole happiness of his being on the events of this vain and fleeting life.” … “In affirming that infidelity is unfavourable to the higher class of virtues, we are supported as well by facts as by reasoning. We should be sorry to load our adversaries with unmerited reproach; but to what history, to what record, will they appeal, for any traits of moral greatness, any sacrifice of interest or life, any instances of daring heroic virtues exhibited by their disciples? Where shall we look for the trophies of infidel magnanimity or atheistical virtue? Not that we mean to accuse them of inactivity: they have recently filled the world with the fame of their exploits; exploits of a very different kind indeed, but of imperishable memory and disastrous lustre.”—R. Hall.
God’s goodness, man’s ingratitude.
“It is storied of a certain king that, fighting a desperate battle for the recovery of his daughter stolen from him, he found but ill success, and the day utterly against him, till by the valour of a strange prince, disguised in the habit of a mean soldier (that pitied his loss and bore love to his daughter), he recovered both her and victory. Not long after, this prince received a wrong, which he brought to the king, that he might receive justice. The king handed him over to a judge. The prince replied, ‘Know this, O king, when thou wast lost, I stood betwixt thee and danger, and did not bid another save thee, but saved thee myself; behold the scars of those wounds I bore to free thee and thy state from ruin inevitable, and now my suit is before thee dost thou shuffle me off to another?’ Such was our case; Satan had stolen our dear daughter the soul,—in vain we laboured a recovery; principalities and powers were against us,—weakness and wretchedness on our side. Christ the Son of God took pity on us. Clad as a menial He stood between us and death. Yet, how frequently we bid Him stand by when He comes!”—(Cf. Pulpit Illustrations.)
Unbelief unmans a man.
“Take a dog, and mark what a generosity and courage he will put on when he is maintained by a man who is to him instead of a God, or at least melior natura; whereby it is manifest that the poor creature, without the confidence of a better nature than his own, could never be so courageous. Thus it is with man, when he rolleth himself upon God, and resteth on His divine perfection, then he gathers a force and ability which human nature itself could never attain; but when, with the fool, he says, there is “no God” [in other words, when he has lost all faith in God], then he destroys the nobility of man; for man is akin to the beasts by his body; and if he is not akin to God by his soul, he is a base and ignoble creature. Atheism will unman any man, and deject anything that is the advantagement of human nature.”—Gabriel Inchinus, quoted in Things New and Old.
Deuteronomy 1:32-5.1.34. “He did not believe.” … “God was angry.” … “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”
“Of all the virgins presented to Ahasuerus none was so pleasing as Esther. “Let the maiden that pleaseth the king be queen instead of Vashti.” When that decree was published, what strife, what emulation (may we think), was among the Persian damsels, that either were or thought themselves fair, every one hoped to be queen! But so incomparable was the beauty of that Jewess that she was not only taken into the Persian Court as one of the selected virgins, but had the most honourable place in all the seraglio allotted unto her. The other virgins pass their probation unregarded. When Esther’s turn came, though she brought the same face and demeanour that nature had cast upon her, no eye saw her without admiration. The king was so delighted with her beauty, that, contemning all the other vulgar forms, his choice was fully fixed upon her. Thus faith is that Esther to which God holds out His golden sceptre. He is pleased with all graces: hot zeal and cool patience please Him; cheerful thankfulness and weeping repentance please Him; charity in the height, and humility in the dust, please Him; but none of them are welcome to Him without faith in Christ Jesus.”
Power of faith in the heart.
“The philosopher, when he would persuade the king to settle his court and place of residence in the heart of his dominion, laid before him a bull’s hide, ready tanned, upon which when he stood upon any one side of it, and so kept that down, the other side would rise up; when he removed to this side, that rose up and kept that down, then the side he came from would rise up; but when he stood in the middle he kept down all alike.” Faith is this king. When faith sits in the heart, then it keeps in check every passion—swamps every emotion—strengthens will—reins lust—in fine, cleaneth, invigorates, and rightens the whole man.
Deuteronomy 1:33. We are told by a writer of world-wide fame, that a truly great man does not ask of another, is he great in some particular, but is he great? True self-greatness is a goal worthy of all. “Greater is he that ruleth himself than he that taketh a city.” Ancient and modern concur. But a man is only great as he has divinity in his nature. Greatness of character is divinity humanised. And the man who is anything is what he is by the help of God. “By the grace of God I am what I am.” He is the man who has God ever before him, and round about him, and behind, to open, prepare, and close the way. He has God as a light by night—a cloud by day. Eminently does the principle in the text work itself out in the Christian life. For—
I. The Christian is one pressing forward to the truest greatness man can know—the perfect man in Christ.
1. He is possessed of the faith that energises and supplies the weakest man with the grace that eventuates in success.
2. He shows the reality of his faith in his life by the manifestations of Christian character and disposition.
3. Such a life sheds so much light upon the path he has to travel, that in his heart is a perennial spring of hope.
II. Moses, as well as the apostle, recognises God as the source of all real strength and power in life.
1. By God’s help they had overcome their foes.
2. God is with them in cloud and fire.
3. God would ultimately bring them into the promised land.
4. The result of life is not simply the product of natural causes. It is Christ that lives within; God who works through us.
III. The consciousness of this fact becomes an abiding help.
1. Natural energy is not abiding. We are liable to lose it any moment.
A fever robs the brain of knowledge. Heat impairs strength. The flesh has ever been felt to be an enemy of the spirit.
2. The grace of God is present in all changes. Paul felt it when the thorn pierced him; it was abundant in the prison, and burst forth as music in his heart; it nerved him in the presence of foes, judges, and even Cæsar. To individual Christians it is powerful to hold back from sin when tempted—restrains fear—aids in pressing forward.
“Went before us in the way.” (Compare Deuteronomy 1:30-5.1.33 with Psalms 46:1-19.46.3.) Deuteronomy 1:1 of Psalms 46:0, might well be used as strophe, and Deuteronomy 1:2 as ante-strophe, of Moses’ song of his faith and triumph. Deal with the spiritual bearings of the text.
I. The circumambient God is to the Christian a refuge—strength—help.
1. God a refuge.
(a.) Refuge in the Mediator—Christ.
(b.) Refuge in the gospel of His love.
(c.) Refuge for eternity.
2. God as strength.
(a.) By His Spirit.
(b.) By promise and encouragement.
(c.) By means of grace.
3. God a help.
(a.) A Father to provide, (b.) A searcher of life’s way.
II. The confidence of the believer in God as his Preparer and Provider.
1. God prepares the way.
2. God provides what is necessary.
3. Past supplies an earnest of future.
4. The sense of Providence strengthens.
Deuteronomy 1:33. “Night.” Subjects in connection with night.
Night a revealer of God.
(a.) The day with its earthy light reveals the world.
(b.) The darkness of night shuts out the world.
(c.) The mind in its restlessness seeks other fields of knowledge.
(d.) In its reachings away from the world the heart has at times found its God.
The joys of night.
(a.) It brings sleep.
(b.) Sleep shuts out care.
(c.) Sorrow once removed by sleep has had a fang extracted.
Terrors of night. Songs of night. Night lost in day. (Cf. G. Gilfillan’s poem, “Night.”)
Night. “Night appears to be a time peculiarly favourable to devotion. Its solemn stillness helps to free the mind from that perpetual din which the cares of the world will bring around it; and the stars, looking down from heaven upon us, shine as if they would attract us up to God. I know not how you may be affected by the solemnities of midnight, but when I have sat alone musing on the great God and the mighty universe, I have felt that indeed I could worship Him; for night seemed to be spread abroad as a very temple for adoration, while the moon walked as high priest amid the stars, the worshippers and I myself joined in that silent song which they sang unto God: ‘Great art Thou, O God! great in Thy works. When I consider Thy heavens the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars which Thou hast ordained; what is man that Thou art mindful of him? and the son of man that Thou visitest him? ‘I find that this sense of the power of midnight not only acts upon religious men, but there is a certain poet, whose character, perhaps, I could scarcely too much reprobate: a man very far from understanding true religion; one whom I may, I suppose, justly style an infidel, a libertine of the worst order, and yet he says concerning night in one of his poems:—
‘Tis midnight on the mountains brown,
The cold round moon shines deeply down;
Blue rolls the waters, blue the sky
Spreads like an ocean hung on high,
Bespangled with those isles of light,
So wildly, spiritually bright;
Who ever gazed upon them shining,
And turned to earth without repining,
Nor wished for wings to flee away,
And mix with their eternal ray.’
“Even with the most irreligious person, a man farthest from spiritual thought, it seems that there is some power in the grandeur and stillness of night to draw him up to God. I trust many of us can say, like David, ‘I have thought upon Thee continually; I have mused upon Thy name in the night watches, and with desire have I desired Thee in the night.’ ”
Deuteronomy 1:34-5.1.39. The good among the evil.
I. True goodness can exist amid circumstances most corrupt (cf. the case of the son of Jeroboam, 1 Kings 14:13). Sardis was one of the most dissolute cities of antiquity; but here were Christians (Revelation 3:4).
“They say that lilies, or roses, or such like pleasant flowers, if they be planted by garlic or onions, or such like unsavoury things, they do not lose but rather increase in their former sweetness. So it is with good and godly men when they are planted, and as it were hemmed in with wicked men, the vileness and odiousness of their wickedness makes them to loathe wickedness so much the more, and to love godliness, and to bless God that hath kept them, that they have not run to the same excess of riot.”—Things New and Old.
II. True goodness will ultimately be distinguished by a glorious reward. Caleb and Joshua were true to the good spirit within. They wrought righteousness. The reward came. Caleb entered the promised land; Joshua became the people’s leader.
(a.) It has its reward here in its influence over others. Justin Martyr confesses that he left philosophy and became a Christian, through the admiration that he had for the innocent and holy lives of Christians.
(b.) It has a reward in the blessedness it brings to the man himself.
Deuteronomy 1:34. “The Lord heard … was wroth.”
God hears. He judges. Judgment comes quick and sure at times. Some indifferent to it. Some disbelieve. God hears and is angry.
I. The anger of the Lord is moved by the wickedness of man. He is not indifferent to it.
II. That the Day of Judgment will come to all.
III. Let men prepare for this Day of Judgment, lest it be a day of wrath.
Deuteronomy 1:34. “The Lord heard … was angry.”
Three homiletic points—
I. The principle of discernment is ever operative in the Divine economy. God heard the voice of murmur and was angry.
II. Escape from this principle impossible. God is omniscient. He sees all; hears all; knows all.
III. Those who comply with the will of God have nothing to fear from this principle. There is rather a cause of joy. God knows your toils—sorrows—difficulties. He watches with pleasure every conquest.
“The Lord heard.” The omniscience of God; but God is omniscient because omnipresent. “We feel conscious that there is no place in heaven above, or on earth beneath, from whence God is excluded: we feel conscious that in the deepest vale, as well as on the mountain top; in subterranean caverns, as well as open plains; when surrounded by the darkness of midnight, as well as the splendour of noon-day, He is around us and knows us: we feel conscious that if we could transport ourselves with the rapidity of lightning from our present local habitation to the extreme verge of the habitable globe, that we should not be able to light on a single spot, and take our stand and say, ‘Here, His eye shall not see us; here, His ear shall not hear us; here, His justice cannot overtake us; here, His grace cannot save us.”—East.
“In every part and place of the universe we perceive the exertions of a power which we believe to proceed from the Deity. In what part or point of space that has ever been explored do we not discover attractions? In what region do we not find light? What kingdom is there of nature, what corner of space, in which there is anything that can be examined by us, while we do not fall upon contrivance or design? An agency so general as that we cannot discover its absence, or assign the place in some effects of its continued energy is not found, must be ascribed to a being who is omnipresent. He who upholds all things by His power, may be said to be everywhere present.”—Paley.
“Is there no necessity of control over the powers of the atmosphere, or of the ocean? What would be the situation of the inhabitants of our world, if exposed to their resistless force, in the entire absence of the control of a presiding mind—a guardian Deity? Think of the innumerable processes which are incessantly going forward in the life and growth of animals and of vegetables, and can you imagine these to proceed with undeviating uniformity, without infinite knowledge to direct infinite power? Conceive, then, of the Divine omniscience as necessarily commensurate with the exertions of omnipotence, and the extent of omnipresence,”—Burder.
Deuteronomy 1:34-5.1.41. Sin and its recompense.
“The tale of the Goblet, which the genius of a heathen fashioned, was true, and taught a moral of which many a death-bed furnishes the melancholy illustration. Having made the model of a serpent, be fixed it in the bottom of the cup. Coiled for a spring, a pair of gleaming eyes in its head, and in its open mouth fangs raised to strike, it lay beneath ruby wine. Nor did he who raised that golden cup to quench his thirst and quaff the delicious draught suspect what lay below, till, as be reached the dregs, that dreadful head arose and glistened before his eyes. So, when life’s cup is nearly emptied, and sin’s last pleasure quaffed, and unwilling lips are draining the bitter dregs, shall rise ghastly terrors of remorse, and death, and judgment upon the despairing soul.”—Guthrie.
Deuteronomy 1:36. “Save Caleb the son of Jephunneh.” Subject: The reward of righteousness.
Caleb, in conjunction with the other eleven spies, had important work entrusted to him. He and Joshua alone were brave and righteous in the conduct of their services. God was angry with the wrong-doers, and punished them: with Caleb and Joshua He was pleased, and them He rewarded. Caleb was allowed to enter the promised land, where he subsequently obtained good possessions.
I. The reward of the righteous in the case of all is inexpressibly great. “Be ye strong, therefore, and let not your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded” (2 Chronicles 15:7). “Therefore hath the Lord recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in His eyesight (Psalms 18:24). “Every one that hath forsaken houses or brethren, &c., … shall receive an hundredfold, and inherit everlasting life” (Matthew 19:29; cf. Mark 10:29-41.10.30, and note variations).
II. The reward of righteousness is invariably obtained in connection with labour. (Cf. “Why stand ye here all the day idle?” Matthew 20:6, with “Call the labourers, and give them their hire,” Deuteronomy 20:8). Work is God’s condition of prosperity. Labour enhances the enjoyment of life. Indolence brings ruin to individuals and states; to the body, intellect, spirit. The men who will be rewarded on the Day of Judgment will not be those whose religion consisted in hearing sermons, seeking comfort, uttering sentimental sympathies and offering prayers; but those who make all “means of grace” to be channels for carrying into reality and life the purposes God has inspired in the heart.
Deuteronomy 1:37. “Lord angry with me,” &c. “So aggravated was your guilt that it not only brought ruin on yourselves, but displeasure on your leader.”—Clapham.
Cf. Achan’s sin (Joshua 7:15; Joshua 7:24-6.7.25). His family was involved with him in his punishment. “Sins of fathers visited on the children,” &c.
“The Lord angry with me.” Some thing very pathetic and touching in these words. The old lawgiver, we could imagine, would look back over his long life—that life so full of vicissitude; which, though so long and eventful, was yet incomplete; for the people were still in the desert. Another must lead them into the promised land. But amid the clouds of sadness three gleams of light may be discerned—
I. Life is ending in the midst of labour.
II. Life is ending in the midst of prospect.
III. Life is ending in the midst of strength.
“For your sakes.” “Here we see, as it were, the other side of the event narrated in Numbers 20:10. There the unbelief of Moses and Aaron bears the blame; yet the unbelief was called forth by the invincible perverseness of the people. Moses, therefore, was punished because he had not kept himself entirely free from the infection of the sin of the people, but the people had reason to reckon their sin on the part of Moses as occasioned by their fault.”—Gerlach.
Deuteronomy 1:37. “The Lord was angry with me for your sakes.” This, read in conjunction with Isaiah 53:5, brings before our notice one of the most startling facts in the whole universe of being;—the fact and principle of vicarious suffering (cf. John 11:49-43.11.52). Men may think the idea of vicarious sacrifice inconsistent with Divine perfection, but there is the fact. In standing on the platform which accepts this idea, we are not compelled to satisfy all the scruples of those standing on a platform advocating a theory in opposition as to the righteousness or unrighteousness of any act of God. Sufficient for man, if God do it. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Man is a fraction of a whole, as well as an unit. Shall the head complain because when one with the hand it suffers? It is one with it in joy! True wisdom is to know that this principle works in human life, and to make the best of the knowledge.
1. The vicarious principle is a law of physical life.
1. The mineral kingdom is food for the vegetable.
2. The vegetable supports the animal.
3. The herbivorous food for the carnivorous. This not an effect of sin. (Cf. the teachings of geology.)
4. All fall before the rule of man. These each provide nourishments for his body whereon his mind and soul live.
II. The vicarious principle a law of intellectual life—
1. The enjoyment and instruction of the reader is only attained at the price of the author’s suffering and experience.
2. The congregation’s repast on the Sabbath is at the cost of the preacher’s brain and life and suffering.
3. The civilisation of to-day is obtained by the labour and peril of the past.
4. The position, gain, education, &c., of the child is at the price of the parents’ toil or self-denial.
III. This vicarious principle also a law of spiritual life—
1. By sympathy we take some of the sorrow out of another heart into our own, and thereby afford relief.
2. Seeing that the principle is both in the regions of the material and the mental, the gospel makes no greater claim upon our faith when it asks us to believe that such a principle is active in the region of the spiritual also.
God can be provoked to anger.—“The gods of the Gentiles were senseless stocks and stones, not able to apprehend, much less to revenge an injury done unto them. Well, therefore, might the philosopher be bold with Hercules, to put him to his thirteenth labour, in seething of his dinner; and Martial with Priapus, in threatening to throw him into the tire, if he looked not well to his trees. A child may play at the hole of a dead asp, and a silly woman may strike a dead lion; but who dare play with a living serpent? Who dare take a roaring lion by the beard? Let Christians take heed how they provoke the living God, for He is a consuming fire, and with the breath of His mouth He is able to throw down the whole frame of nature, and destroy all creatures from the face of the earth.”—Things New and Old.
A good prince no advantage to a bad people.—“We see that, though the sun be above the horizon, and so apt to make a glorious day, yet many fogs and mists arising from the earth, overcast the sky, and intercept the comfortable influence of the light. Even so, though God vouchsafe never so good a prince, a prince under whom the people enjoy abundance of peace, and the free passage of the gospel, such may be their gracelessness that they may be the better for neither of them.”—Things New and Old
Deuteronomy 1:38. “But Joshua, &c … he
shall cause Israel to inherit.”
Joshua had done one thing well that God had given him; work of a higher order is therefore intrusted to him. His conduct in spying the land was good: he is to complete his first duty, spying, by leading the people into possessing the land. The five talents faithfully used prepares the way for the rule of five cities.
Here we have an illustration of service for God being rewarded. Two considerations—
I. The reasonableness of service for God.
II. The reward of such service.
I. The reasonableness of service for God.
1. In every state of life the condition of true honour is faithful service. True honour is not a matter of birth or place. It is had only by becoming honourable, by submitting to service, toil, self-sacrifice. The man ambitious to be erudite must toil through the drudgery of the preliminary work: the chemist in the laboratory; the soldier in drill-room and battle-field; statesman in cabinet. Men will not suffer others to label themselves gold if only brass.
2. In proportion to the greatness of the honour is the rigidness of the condition.
3. If we seek honour of God, it is but reasonable that we should be prepared with service of some kind; and the higher the honour we crave from Christ, the more devoted must we be to Him and to His service. To sit on His right hand and on His left is only for those worthy of it (cf. Matthew 20:23).
II. The reward of such service.
1. The reward will be proportionate, not only to the worth of the servant, but to the greatness of the giver. Kings bestow royal gifts (cf. Ahasuerus and Mordecai). “What shall be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honour?”
2. The reward will be somewhat of the nature of the receiver’s worth. Joshua’s service was fidelity to his nation: his reward was a national honour: he was made a chief. The Christian’s service is fidelity to Christ; his reward, therefore, will be the honour of the crowned Christ in the Day of Triumph.
Deuteronomy 1:38. “Thou shalt not go in thither.” In other words, “Thou shalt die in the desert.” These words must have fallen on Moses as one of those thunder-claps of unexpectedness that are made the more powerful by their rarity; but which no one is anxious to make more familiar by repetition. The people were soon to enter the promised land; therefore Moses knew that he was soon to die. The subject pressed on our attention is the imminence of death. Death may be impending physically, morally, socially, influentially.
Physically: Breath is in the nostrils, but we know not the hair-breadth escapes from death. A needle point might destroy the life of the body.
Morally: Character may be ruined in a moment. One sin broke up human history into ruin, sorrow, &c.
Socially: When character is ruined society is closed against a man.
Influentially: A man’s influence should be the measure of his moral standing. By one false step influence may be impaired or even destroyed. Since death is so near, and in so many ways imminent, the following considerations may not be ill-timed:—
I. High significance and value should be given to time. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might. What is life? A brief day, a solemn destiny. Eternity turns upon the present. Direction is now given for all the future.
II. The most anxious vigilance should be aroused. When death is near, it is only a step (1 Samuel 20:3), and might be the next! “Be sober, be vigilant.”
III. The thought of death should stimulate to preparedness for the future. The most careless make some preparation for the immediate wants of the present and the future. The appetites and body are provided for. Death thunders out, “The spirit must be provided for.” The soul’s preparation is made by our sustaining each day a right relation to Him, into whose presence death ushers us.
IV. It should inspire a tender interest into life and all its relationships. We hold our blessings for but a moment, then they are gone. Home, friendship, Christian service—they are soon enfolded in a pall. Life is too short for man to be hard on man. Those with us are soon gone. An eternity of tears will not wash out one act of cruelty.
V. The prospect of death should lead to a right use of temporal possessions. There is only one world in which we have money. We touch it only once. We can hoard it for selfish uses: we can spend it in the service of Christ.
“Ah! in what perils is vain life engaged!
What slight neglects, what trivial faults destroy
The hariest frame! Of indolence, of toil
We die; of want, of superfluity.
The all-surrounding heaven, the vital air,
Is big with death.”
“Death.—Death is, in itself, a most serious and distressing event. It is nature’s supreme evil, the abhorrence of God’s creation—a monster, from whose touch every living thing recoils; so that to shrink from its ravages upon ourselves, or upon those whom we love, is not an argument of weakness, but an act of obedience to the first law of being—a tribute to the value of that life which is our Maker’s gift. The disregard which some of old affected to whatever goes by the name of evil; the insensibility of others, who yielded up their souls to the power of fatalism; and the artificial gaiety, which has occasionally played the comedian about the dying bed of ‘philosophy, falsely so called,’ are outrages upon decency and nature. Death destroys both action and enjoyment—mocks at wisdom, strength, and beauty—disarranges our plans—robs us of our treasure—desolates our bosoms—breaks our heartstrings—blasts our hopes. Death extinguishes the glow of kindness—abolishes the most tender relations of man—severs him from all that he knows and loves—subjects him to an ordeal which thousands of millions have passed, but none can explain; and what will be as new to the last, who gives up the ghost, as it was to murdered Abel,—flings him, in fine, without any avail from the experience of others, into a state of untried being. No wonder that nature trembles before it; reason justifies the fear; religion never makes light of it; and he who does, instead of ranking with heroes, can hardly deserve to rank with a brute.”—Mason.
Deuteronomy 1:39. “Moreover your little one … they shall go in thither,” &c.
A beautiful example of the children bringing honour to the parent. The fathers by their sin brought disgrace upon their name. They die in the desert. The children enter the promised land.
A very striking illustration of this is found in the reward of the oaken crown among the ancient Romans. The civic crown was the foundation of many privileges. He who had once obtained it, had a right to wear it always. When he appeared at the public spectacles, the senators rose up to do him honour. He was placed near their bench; and his father, and his grandfather by the father’s side, were entitled to the same privilege.
Deuteronomy 1:38. Joshua became heir to the title and position of Moses, in preference even to his own children, if he had any now living. (Cf. this with what Plutarch tells us. “It was customary with the Romans of that age (the time of Coriolanus), when they were drawn up in order of battle, and ready to take up their shields and gird their garments about them, to make a nuncupative will, naming each his heir, in the presence of three or four witnesses.”)
Deuteronomy 1:41. “We have sinned.”
Thence: conscience conqueror.
(We supplement the Hints of the preceding Writer on Deuteronomy 1:1-5.1.38.)
REVIEW OF THE PAST.—Deuteronomy 1:1-5.1.5
“Live on the past,” said Napoleon; but the past of his life afforded little help to him. Moses here reviews the past history of Israel in its remarkable places and conflicts—repeats, explains, and enforces the commands of God, and reminds them of God’s mercy to prompt them to duty.
I. It is helpful to review the past. The lessons of the past are gathered not into oblivion, but to be fruitful in the present and the future. The histories and events of former times confirm our faith, and encourage us to hope and trust in God.
1. In remarkable places. In the wilderness, amid dearth, distress, and poverty. In the plain, well watered and cultivated spots of encampment. Against the Red Sea, amid wonders of God’s presence and power which should never be forgotten. Life’s journey not all a barren desert;—there are many beautiful scenes and fruitful seasons, many deliverances from enemies, and many displays of Divine favour.
2. In remarkable times, (a) After long delays. “In the fortieth year, in the eleventh month,” after deliverance from Egypt. The delay through sin, which brings trouble and unfitness for duty. (b) After conflicts and trials. Sihon slain in opposing their onward march (Numbers 21:24; Deuteronomy 2:32). Og, king of Bashan, without provocation rushed to attack, and was defeated. By the destruction of these kings God pledges to help his people, puts them under deep obligation to obey, and encourages them to further effort.
II. It is needful to review the past. From the past we must get our examples, precedents, and principles. The past alone will interpret the present, and we cannot get rid of its influences and results.
1. Our mental condition makes it needful. The generation that came out of Egypt had died. There were many children in Israel who only knew a little of God’s law and dealings with them. Hence the need of repetition. We are children mentally and-morally. God teaches by past history. “Precept upon precept, precept upon precept,” etc. (Isaiah 28:10).
2. Our present surroundings make it needful. Israel was surrounded by idolatrous nations, and would be exposed to seductive influences in the land of Canaan. We have need to be warned against worldly customs and sin’s devices—to have the law of God written in our hearts (Psalms 147:19-19.147.20).
3. Our immediate future makes it needful. Israel was about to go into new circumstances of life; to become soldiers, and to cease to be pilgrims. Their strength was to rely upon God and follow him. What He had done in the past He could do in the future. He will pardon sin, deliver from danger, and give rest and rewards.
THE ENFORCEMENT OF DUTT.—Deuteronomy 1:5-5.1.8
Long enough had the Israelites remained at Horeb. The end was accomplished for which they were led thither. Their work was not yet finished; the land was not possessed, hence the command, “take your journey and go.” Duty should be the end and aim of the highest life. The greatest pleasure is derived from a consciousness of its fulfilment. It has sustaining power in life, and at life’s end, says George Herbert, it “gives music at midnight.”
I. Duty explained. Moses began to declare, i.e., to explain. We must know before we can act. God has not left us to grope or guess our way in the dark. In the Bible we have a full revelation of God’s will and the path of duty opened so plainly that “wayfaring men though fools shall not err therein.” Nature and Philosophy are dim lights. Here we have the light of life, the true light which shineth unto every man coming into the world.
II. Duty enforced. When we know, we are reluctant to do the right. We all know more than we practice, and have need of the enforcement of duty by every possible motive.
1. By present needs. Long enough at rest, now rouse yourselves to work. We have not to serve God in retirement, but in publicity. Peter was not permitted to dwell on the mount, but sent to confess and serve Christ among men. Israel had now received the Covenant, been trained for a new social position, and they must go to their lawful sphere to adorn their privileges.
2. By removing hindrances to its performance. The land before you, lit., before your faces. It is accessible; you can see it, and there is no difficulty in the way, but which you may easily overcome. The promise and the kindness of God should be enough to stir us up.
3. By the express command of God. The land was given to their fathers by promise. They were now trained for it, and should no longer delay in taking it. “Go in and possess the land.”
THE CHOICE OF OFFICERS.—Deuteronomy 1:9-5.1.18
Israel had now greatly increased, and Moses felt the affairs too heavy for him to bear alone. He appeals to them as if in a dying wish to select men to help him to judge and act as public officers. The rules for the choice, and the instructions as to method, are worthy of the most enlightened ages of Christendom.
I. The qualifications which they are to possess. This is most important, every man is not fit to be a magistrate. Jethro knew this and gave a four-fold qualification. “Thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness” (Exodus 18:21). These officers were to be—
1. Men of intelligence. “Wise men and understanding”—men of skill and tact. Administration without wisdom will not be successful. Unskilful men holding the reigns of government may be like Phæton, the son of Sol, who insisted on driving the fiery steeds and sent horses and chariot spinning through boundless space.
2. Men of good repute. “Known among your tribes,”—men who had gained a reputation for honesty and straight-forwardness in daily life.
3. Men who fear God. Those who act for God should not only have the confidence of the people, but the Spirit of God in them. “Look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.”
II. The Spirit in which they are to act. The rules applicable at first to the law of Moses, are in spirit and letter fitted to guide all human judgments.
1. To hear patiently. “Hear the causes.” How many hasty, impulsive judgments are given without a patient candid hearing? “Judge not according to appearance, but righteous judgment.”
2. To judge impartially. No respect of persons in judgment. The great and the small, the orphan and friendless, the weak and the powerful, were to be treated in justice and equity.
3. To act fearlessly. “Ye shall not be afraid of the face of man.” Lack of courage leads to perversion of justice. “There lies one who never feared the face of man” was the eulogy on Knox, the reformer.
4. To act under a sense of responsibility to God. “The judgment is God’s.” Judges were holy persons, sitting in the place of God and exalted to dispense the power of God. “Take heed what ye do: for ve judge not for man, but for the Lord, who is with you in the judgment” (2 Chronicles 19:6).
III. The method in which they are installed. The people approved of the suggestion, and acted upon it. “The thing which thou hast spoken is good for us to do.”
1. They were chosen by the people. “Take you” (Deuteronomy 1:13). Many say that it is dangerous to extend the sufferage—to invest power into the hands of the people. But neither the Jewish polity nor the Christian Church teaches us to ignore them. (cf. Acts 6:1-44.6.4.)
2. They were appointed by Moses. “I will make them rulers over you.” All scribes, superintendents, and chiefs were instituted by him. Moses ratified the people’s choice.
3. They were confirmed by the Spirit of God. The judgment was God’s. The judges were not only respected by the people, but aided by the Spirit of God. “I will take of the spirit which is upon thee, and will put it upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with thee.” (Numbers 11:17.)
HOMILETIC HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Deuteronomy 1:3-5.1.4. Remarkable times and places.
1. Reminding of past transgressions.
2. Indicating noble achievements. Sihon and Og slain. Great cities taken (Numbers 21:33). “Who smote great nations, and slew mighty kings” (Psalms 135:10-19.135.11).
3. Stimulating to noble efforts. Og, a giant, friend, and ally to Sihon. Edrei, the second capital of Og, strongly fortified, yet notwithstanding artificial defence, natural advantage, and military prowess, taken by Israel (Deuteronomy 3:1). “Through God we shall do valiantly.”
Deuteronomy 1:6. Long enough. Needless delay.
1. In the world away from God. The place of sin, Satan’s service and misery. Why remain here? God invites, urges you to come to Him.
2. In spiritual bondage and perplexity. Many distressed in mind, in terror and bondage, under the mount, like Bunyan’s pilgrim. Christ gives liberty.
3. In present position and attainments. Many children in knowledge, when they ought to be advanced, mature and fit to teach. Long enough in idleness and present position. Go on.
Deuteronomy 1:10-5.1.11. Spiritual increase and prosperity.
1. Spiritual prosperity the gift of God. God hath multiplied you—therefore fulfilled His promise, displayed His power and grace.
2. Spiritual prosperity promised by God. “As He hath promised you.”
3. Spiritual prosperity should be sought. “The Lord make you a thousand times more.”
Deuteronomy 1:9-5.1.13. Ministerial and lay agency in the Christian Church. cf. Jethro’s advice to Moses (Exodus 18:19-2.18.23).
1. Lay agency needful. Ministers “not able” to overtake the work.
2. Lay agency advantageous. It relieves from “burden,” “cumbrance;” facilitates business and promotes order. “Judges and officers shalt thou make thee in all thy gates,” etc. (Deuteronomy 16:18).
THE HEAVENLY PROPOSAL.—Deuteronomy 1:21
We may transfer what is here said to the Jews to ourselves. Canaan was typical of a better country—a heavenly.
Observe the Exhibition. “Behold the Lord thy God hath set the land before thee.” Where? In the Scriptures: not in full developement, for it is a glory to be revealed, but in its general nature, and in a way adapted to our present apprehensions, and likely to take hold of our mind. Hence many figures are employed, all of which aid our conceptions, while they fall short of the subject.
But does God place it before our eyes to tantalize us by awakening notice, drawing forth admiration, and exciting desire when the boon is not within our reach?
Observe the command. “Go up and possess it as the Lord God of thy fathers said unto thee.” This supposes it to be attainable: yea it makes the attainment our duty. Missing it is not only misery, but crime. We shall be punished for neglecting so great salvation. It is our guilt—the guilt of the vilest disobedience to the most gracious authority; for he not only allows, but enjoins us to seek first his kingdom and righteousness—and commands us to believe on the name of his son Jesus Christ. Are we doing this? For He is the way, and we come unto God by Him.
Observe the encouragement: “Fear not, neither be discouraged.” To this we are liable on two accounts. First, by a sense of our unworthiness. The greatness of the blessedness, combined with a sense of our desert, astonishes the mind, and makes hope seem like presumption. But everything is free, and designed to show the exceeding riches of His grace. We are as welcome as we are unworthy, why, then, refuse to be comforted? Secondly, by a sense of our weakness. Who is sufficient for the distance, the difficulties, and the dangers? The Jews were dismayed at the report of the spies. The towns were walled up to heaven. Before the Anakims we are but as grasshoppers. The people were disheartened, but said Caleb, “Let us go up at once and possess it, for we are able.” How did he mean? Without God? No. But with Him as their leader and keeper—and this He had promised. Has He not said to you, “Fear not, for I am with thee; be not dismayed, for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee, yea, I will keep thee.” We cannot be too sensible of our weakness; but let us remember that His grace is sufficient for us. It has been sufficient for all gone before us. Jordan rolled between the Jews. It was overflowing its bank at the time. But the ark divided the waters. They went through dry shod, and their enemies were still as a stone till they were clean passed over.—From Jay.
THE NATURE OF UNBELIEF.—Deuteronomy 1:22-5.1.40
It was through obedience to God that Canaan was to be inherited. But many times in their journey did Israel rebel. Moses recapitulates, but specially mentions the open rebellion at Kadesh-barnea, for which they were doomed to wander and die in the wilderness. When they had come to the very borders they hesitated in unbelief—proposed that men should survey the land and report. Moses approved and God permitted a step which shows the sinful nature and the terrible consequences of unbelief. The nature of unbelief is seen.
I. In contriving what is unneedful. Why send spies when they were about to enter the land? Why rely upon their own devices when God had helped them all through their journey? Why glance too much into the future, instead of acting in present duty? “If you constantly make the best use of the present hour, you are sure to be prepared for those which follow,” says Fenelon.
II. In relying more upon numbers than upon evidence. All brought the fruit of the land. But the people believed the report of the ten and not the two, and cried in outrageous rebellion “Let us make a captain, and return into Egypt (Nehemiah 9:17). “Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil.”
III. In misinterpreting the Providence of God. “Because the Lord hated us, he hath brought us forth out of the land of Egypt.” O, what perversion of God’s dealings! Had God forgotten His word? Did He wish to “destroy” and not to bless them? But when we measure God according to our narrow views, and read His ways with an unbelieving heart, we are sure to err and make invidious reflections upon his love.
IV. In blinding against the help of God. Moses exhorted them not to be afraid, for God was with them and would fight for them. All was in vain (Deuteronomy 1:29-5.1.30). Rebellion blinds the mind, and we can neither discern God in the past nor present. Let us not blame the Jews. We are weak in faith, and full of prudent inventions in personal and social affairs. We “trust God when we can trace him”—take one-sided views, and reproach God with ungrateful conduct.
THE CONSEQUENCES OF UNBELIEF.—Deuteronomy 1:26-5.1.40
God had sustained and guarded His people in the greatest difficulties. He was continually with them, but unbelief was followed by open rebellion, and the Israelites were, in the righteous judgment of God, doomed to die in the wilderness. The consequences of unbelief may be seen in its different steps of development.
I. It creates positive disobedience to God. “In this thing ye did not believe the Lord your God.” Alienation of heart from God, leads to doubt and distrust and if we have no love, no faith in God, how can we obey Him? We have; within us a sinful, faithless heart, “an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God.”
II. It leads to open rebellion against God. Unbelief broke forth into murmuring and open disorder. They cast reproach and dishonor upon God. Unbelief perverts the truth of God, defies the authority of God and despises the threatening of God. “They were disobedient, and rebelled against Thee, and cast Thy law behind their backs.”
III. It reuses the anger of God. “The Lord was angry.” Notwithstanding His great love, God displayed His righteous retribution. Our fellow creatures will defend their honour, human government will uphold their authority, so God must punish sin. “How oft did they provoke Him in the wilderness and grieve Him in the desert?”
IV. It excludes from the inheritance of God. That unbelieving generation with two exceptions, were excluded from Canaan. God sware in his wrath, and the decision could not be overturned. “They shall not enter into My rest.” Those who disobey and persist in their folly will be excluded from heaven. “Let us therefore fear” (Hebrews 4:1).
Joshua was appointed to succeed Moses, and lead Israel into Canaan (cf. Numbers 27:15-4.27.23). His work was difficult, and he would need help and encouragement. The people are exhorted to strengthen and obey him.
I. The text supposes that difficulties will be encountered. In the Christian life there are many obstacles.
1. Difficulties made by ourselves. How numerous these are.
2. Difficulties arising from the conduct of others.
3. Difficulties expressly sent by God to test His servants.
II. The text gives a command to surmount these difficulties. “Encourage him.” We should encourage our fellow Christians.
1. To meet their trials with patience.
2. Steadily to fight till they conquer them.
3. To profit by them.
III. The text contains a lesson for every Christian preacher and teacher. “Encourage”—
1. The penitent sinner.
2. The young believer.
3. The welltried saint.—Adapted from J. W. Macdonald.
COMING NEAR YET FALLING SHORT.—Deuteronomy 1:41-5.1.46
Israel had left Egypt, endured toil and privation in the wilderness, and were now on the threshold of the inheritance, but failed in duty, and were driven back into the desert to weep in vain. Their opportunity was lost, and their daring presumption ended in sad disgrace. We have here—
I. Confession without true penitence. “We have sinned against the Lord.” Their sorrow was not sincere. It arose not from a sense of guilt, but from the difficulties and dangers into which they were involved. The grief of Judas not of Peter. There may be confession of folly without true penitence; resolution to amend without renewal of heart. Repentance often comes too late, and avails nothing in the sight of God.
II. Presumption in the garb of zeal. Grieved at the prospect before them, yet still rebellious and self-willed, they determine to “go up and fight, according to all that the Lord our God commanded us.” What professed regard to God, when all the time they acted with levity. “They presumed to go up” (Numbers 14:44). Their zeal sprang from a wrong feeling, was based on a wrong principle, and led to disastrous results. “They have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.”
III. Effort without Divine help. In spite of warning, and in direct opposition to God’s command they went up, but were driven before the enemy, who chased and slew them with the ferocity of furious bees disturbed in the hive. Rashness is not reliance upon God. All undertakings in defiance of God’s will—all efforts without God’s help will fail. Every godless endeavour, every opposition to His authority, will bring displeasure upon those who persist. Those who run without being sent, those who fight without Divine commission will meet with awful defeat. Beware, “lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.”
HOMILETIC HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Deuteronomy 1:19-5.1.21. The way to rest.
1. Through the wilderness, in trial, affliction, and discipline, reminding of God’s goodness and human ingratitude. (a). Courageously travelled. (b). Under Divine guidance.
2. By Divine command. God teaches, leads, and helps. “God commanded us.”
Deuteronomy 1:29-5.1.31. The confidence of faith.
1. Based on past experience. (a). Of God’s help. “According to all that He did for you in Egypt.” (b). Of God’s goodness. “The Lord thy God bare thee.”
2. Assured of safety for the future. “Dread not, neither be afraid.”
Deuteronomy 1:32-5.1.33. God a Pioneer, going before us in life.
1. To appoint a locality for residence. As he searched out the land of Canaan, so now He fixes “the bounds of habitation” Acts (Acts 17:26).
2. To appoint a place of usefulness. “I have chosen you and ordained you” (lit. put you, set you in your sphere). John 15:16.
3. To arrange events in life. “Hath determined the times before appointed (arranged beforehand).” Acts 17:26.
Deuteronomy 1:34-5.1.38. The faithful two.
1. Distinguished in their conduct. Faithful, fearless, and Godlike. Caleb “followed the Lord wholly” (cf. Numbers 14:24). Joshua firm and true amid general defection. “We must, in a course of obedience to God’s will, and of service to His honour,” says Matthew Henry, “follow Him universally, without dividing; uprightly, without dissembling; cheerfully, without disputing; and constantly, without declining; and this is following the Lord fully.”
2. Distinguished in their rewards. Caleb in the ranks of the people was spared to enter the land which his seed possessed (cf. Numbers 14:2). Joshua, a servant of Moses, was chosen to succeed him and lead Israel into Canaan. “Many are called, but few chosen.”
Deuteronomy 1:39. Little ones cared for.
1. Delivered from anticipated evils. “Which ye said should be a prey.”
2. Rewarded with unexpected good. “They shall go in thither.”
Deuteronomy 1:40-5.1.42. The battle is the Lord’s
1. Then do not fight without his presence. “If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence.”
2. Do not enlist without his call. “Lo, we be here and will go up;” but God had not called them there. God had said, “go not up, neither fight, for I am not among you.”
3. To rush into any undertaking without God will end in defeat. Presumption is not faith, resistance to God is open defiance of His providence and will. “Woe unto him that striveth with his maker.”
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 1
Deuteronomy 1:41. We have sinned. See how the works of darkness must needs come to light. God will have sinners to be their own detectors. The inward evidence of guilty conscience shall not suffice; their tongue shall tell it out, and, ex ore tuo, their own mouths shall sentence them. (Dr. Richard Clerke.) Presumption.—We will go up. For a creature to oppose is for briars and thorns to do battle against fire. Pharaoh never appeared nearer his object than when he met with destruction.—Robinson.
Deuteronomy 1:43. Rebelled. Sin against God, as He is Almighty, is the excess of madness and folly; but as He is most kind and merciful, it is the basest ingratitude. The greater His goodness, the greater is our guilt if we be undutiful servants, and the greater will be our punishment.—Jortin.
Deuteronomy 1:46. Abode many days. All attempts to urge men forward, even in the right path, beyond the measure of their light, are impracticable, and unlawful if they were practicable; augment their light, conciliate their affections, and they will follow of their own accord.—Robert Hall.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 1". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent