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THE BLESSING BESTOWED ON THE TRIBE OF LEVI
Deuteronomy 33:8-9. And of Levi he said, Let thy Thummim and thy Urim be with thy holy one, whom thou didst prove at Massah, and with whom thou didst strive at the waters of Meribah; who said unto his father and to his mother, I have not seen him; neither did he acknowledge his brethren, nor knew his own children: for they have observed thy word, and kept thy covenant.
AS the father of his people, Moses desired to bless them before his death; and the pronouncing of this blessing, in which he was endued with a spirit of prophecy, was the last act of his life. The grounds on which the blessing was bestowed on the tribe of Levi, are so peculiar, that they deserve a distinct consideration. There is manifestly a testimony given them of decided approbation: and from this circumstance commentators have been led to regard the whole of what is spoken in the text as of the same import; and to supply from conjecture what is nowhere noticed in the Mosaic history, or rather to contradict altogether what is plainly noticed. The conduct of Levi both at Massah (which was also called Meribah), and, above thirty-eight years afterwards, at another place called Meribah, was exceeding sinful [Note: Compare Exo 17:7 with Numbers 20:10-13.]. At the latter place in particular, both Moses and Aaron, as well as the people, offended God; and were for that offence doomed to die in the wilderness, and never to enter into the promised land. Hence it might have been supposed that God would punish the tribe of Levi and the house of Aaron by withdrawing from them the peculiar honours he had conferred upon them; but as on one occasion they had signalized themselves by a very exalted act of obedience, he was pleased to record what they had done, and to make it an occasion of continuing in their line the most distinguished testimonies of his regard. This sense accords with the history; to the very terms of which the text seems specifically to refer [Note: Compare the language in Num 20:13 with the text.].
In the words before us there are two things particularly to be noticed;
The commendation of Levi—
The act for which they were commended was truly laudable—
[When the people throughout the camp of Israel were worshipping the golden calf, Moses, filled with indignation, called the Levites to him, and bade them gird on swords and slay the ringleaders in idolatry throughout the whole camp: and this order they executed immediately, without any respect of persons whatever: they spared not either their nearest relatives or their dearest friends; but slew of the people three thousand men [Note: Exodus 32:25-29.].
This would be thought by many to be a savage act, and to deserve censure rather than praise: but it must be remembered, that God was, if I may so speak, their earthly Governor (they lived under a theocracy); and; that they acted in obedience to their supreme Magistrate: nor could cruelty be imputed to them any more than to any person who executes the laws amongst ourselves. They were justified in what they did, precisely as Phinehas was justified in destroying Zimri and Cozbi. The law itself required, that, if their nearest relative only enticed them to idolatry, even where there was no overt act committed, they should instantly give information against him, and with their own hands put him to death [Note: Deuteronomy 13:6-10.]. But here was the overt act visible to all; and the civil magistrate was present to sanction their conduct: and therefore they were bound to obey the order given them, and to execute the laws with impartial severity. Hence their conduct is marked in our text as an act of obedience to God, and a “vindication of the quarrel of his covenant [Note: Lev 26:25 with the text.].”]
Nor is it by any means unconnected with our duty as Christians—
[Certainly we have nothing to do with the judgment of zeal, nor any right to take the execution of the laws into our own hands. But we should be zealous for the honour of God; and we ought, in subserviency to the laws, to exert ourselves for the suppression of open impiety and profaneness. More particularly are we bound to serve God ourselves, and to account all personal sacrifices as unworthy of a thought in comparison of our duty to him. Our Lord tells us, not only that “if we love father or mother more than him, we are not worthy of him;” but that we must “hate father and mother, yea, and our own lives also, if we would be his disciples [Note: Mat 10:37 and Luke 14:26.].” Of course this must not be understood positively; (for the Gospel inspires nothing but love, and that even to our bitterest enemies:) but it must be taken comparatively; and be explained as intimating, that we should be so firm and decided in our obedience to him as to be altogether unmoved by the affection or menaces of our dearest friends, or even by the apprehensions of the most cruel death. Our Lord himself has set us an example in this respect: for, when some persons told him that his “mother and his brethren were standing without, and desirous to speak with him, he replied, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? Whosoever shall do the will of my Father, the same is my brother and sister and mother [Note: Matthew 12:47-50.].” Thus must love to the Creator be the predominant affection in our hearts; and all inferior considerations must be subordinated to his glory.]
From the commendation given them we proceed to notice,
This may be considered as of two kinds;
[The Urim and Thummim were in some way united to the breast-plate of the high-priest; and by means of them he was enabled to discover the mind and will of God when he went in before the Lord to consult him on any particular occasion. What they were, and how they answered the purpose for which they were made, we are not informed: and therefore it is in vain to waste time in conjectures. Suffice it to say, that the high-priest who wore them was authorized to consult God in all public matters, and enabled to discover his mind and will [Note: Exodus 28:29-30.]. Now Moses prays, and indeed prophetically declares, that this high honour should descend to the posterity of Aaron: and that the service of the tabernacle should continue to be administered by the tribe of Levi [Note: Deuteronomy 33:11-12.]. This was a most exalted privilege; and, above a thousand years afterwards, it was expressly declared to have been given as a reward of the obedience before referred to [Note: Malachi 2:5.]. What a glorious testimony was this, that God will suffer nothing that we do for him to pass unnoticed even here: much less shall it go unrewarded in a future world. Truly “them that honour God, God will honour;” and every one that will serve him shall receive an abundant “recompence of reward” — — —]
[The official honour was conferred on the posterity of those whose conduct was approved. But do we suppose that the immediate agents were overlooked, and that no blessing was bestowed on them? We can have no doubt but that they also had a recompence in their own bosoms. The import of the words Urim and Thummim is, Illuminations and Perfections: and these are the special benefits which God will confer on all his faithful servants. There is indeed a manifest connexion between the work and the reward. The work in this present instance was a vigorous maintenance of God’s honour, with an utter disregard of every consideration in comparison of it: and where that is, there will be a clear insight into the divine will, and a growing conformity to the divine image. Where internal rectitude is wanting, the mind will be obscured, and the feet will stumble: but “where the single eye is, there will the whole body be full of light,” and the conversation be regulated agreeably to the commands of God. Light in the mind, and holiness in the life, are mutually influential on each other: each will languish or be advanced, according as the other flourishes or decays: illumination and perfection will be the portion of the decided Christian: but darkness and inconsistency will be the fruit of a temporizing and timid conduct.]
To prevent misapprehension or misconduct, we shall subjoin a word,
[Let not any one imagine that religion countenances a fiery zeal on any occasion whatever. The conduct of the Levites has not been proposed for imitation under the gospel dispensation, any further than is necessary for the maintaining of steadfastness in our allegiance to God. We are not to wage war, except against our spiritual enemies: and even then the weapons of our warfare must not be carnal, but spiritual. In all the opposition which it may be necessary to make to our earthly friends or relatives, we must maintain a holy meekness and patience, not attempting to oppose evil by evil, but to “overcome evil with good.” The civil magistrate indeed may use the sword, and ought to be “a terror to evil-doers;” and all Christians should be ready to aid him in the suppression of iniquity: but in all private and personal concerns our only armour must be that which God himself has provided for us [Note: Ephesians 6:11-17.], and we must “overcome our enemies by the blood of the Lamb [Note: Revelation 12:11.].”]
[Let a concern for God’s honour and your own spiritual advancement be paramount to all other considerations whatever. You must “not account even life itself dear to you, so that you may but finish your course with joy.” It must never be a question with you, whether you will perform any particular duty, however difficult it may be, or whatever self-denial it may require: your mind must be made up to “follow the Lord fully,” and to observe the commandments of God “without preferring one before another, and doing nothing by partiality.” This is the way to entail the blessing of God upon your souls, and to “grow both in knowledge and in grace.” But you must not attempt these things in your own strength: in order that you may be enabled to act thus, you must pray to “the God of peace to sanctify you wholly,” and to “make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight through Jesus Christ: to whom be glory for ever and ever: Amen [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews 13:20-21.].”]
THE PRIVILEGE OF THOSE WHO LIVE NEAR TO GOD
Deuteronomy 33:12. Of Benjamin he said, The beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety by him; and the Lord shall cover him all the day long.
AS God was pleased to communicate to some in former ages the knowledge of future events, so he frequently imparted to them the spirit of prophecy in a more abundant measure, about the time of their death. Thus Isaac and Jacob were peculiarly inspired at that season to foretell the things which should befall their children. Thus Moses also, when about to be gathered to his fathers, was commissioned to declare the states and circumstances of all the different tribes after their entrance into Canaan. Of Benjamin he foretold, that his tribe should be situated close to the place which God had chosen for himself [Note: This was remarkably fulfilled: for Mount Zion, whereon the temple was built, belonged to Judah: but the remainder of Jerusalem. and almost the whole of Mount Moriah (of which Mount Zion was a part) belonged to Benjamin: so literally true was it, that God. the head of all the tribes, “dwelt between the shoulders of Benjamin.” And this very circumstance occasioned the tribe of Benjamin to adhere to Judah, when the other ten tribes, under Jeroboam, apostatized from the worship of Jehovah.]; and that his proximity to the Lord’s immediate residence should be to him a source and occasion of the richest benefits.
If it be considered how comprehensive many of the prophecies are, and how the Apostles themselves continually apply them to the general circumstances of the Church of Christ, we shall not be thought to put a force upon the text, while we take occasion from it to set forth,
The state of God’s people—
The situation of the tribe of Benjamin may serve at least as an emblem to represent the state of “God’s beloved.” They are “a people near unto God [Note: Psalms 148:14.],” “dwelling by him, and covered by him, all the day long.”
They maintain a sense of the divine presence—
[They not only cannot, like the generality, live “without God in the world,” or rest, as many professors of religion do. in a round of formal duties; they are sensible that “God searcheth the heart and trieth the reins.” They long to have a conviction of this fastened upon their minds, and to see, as it were, on every place this inscription written, “Thou, God, seest me.” They do not harbour secret sin because it is invisible to man; but, assured that “the darkness is no darkness with God,” and that he beholds the very counsels of the heart, they strive to “set him ever before them;” and to “walk in his fear all the day long.”]
They walk in dependence on the divine aid—
[They are scarcely more conscious of their own existence, than they are of their utter insufficiency for any thing that is good. They have so often failed through their reliance on their own strength, and they feel such a proneness to every species of iniquity, if left one moment to themselves, that they are compelled to cry to their God for help. And, if they were not sure that “the grace of Christ is sufficient” for all who trust in it, they would utterly despair of holding out unto the end. Hence their continual prayer is, “Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe:” and God imparts to them his promised assistance [Note: Zechariah 10:12; Isaiah 26:3.].]
They delight in doing the divine will—
[The “commandments of God are not grievous” to them. Their only grief is, that they do not obey them with greater readiness and joy. Not but that they often find the workings of an evil principle, that would bring them back again into captivity to sin and Satan: but, through the operation of the blessed Spirit, they are enabled to get the victory over their corrupt nature, and both to obey the law outwardly, and to “delight in it after their inward man [Note: Romans 7:14-25.].” They would gladly do the will of God on earth, as it is done in heaven, without reluctance, without weariness, and without reserve.]
There doubtless is a great difference between the attainments of different saints: yet this is, on the whole, the state of all; and that they are blessed in it will appear by considering,
The privileges they enjoy by means of it—
While the saints thus live nigh to God, God “keeps them in safety,” and covers them,
From the curse of the law—
[We might speak of their deliverance even from temporal evils: since they have none which are not sanctified to their souls, and made blessings in disguise [Note: Job 5:19-24.]. But respecting spiritual evils we are warranted to speak with the fullest confidence. The saints may, it is true, be left to dread the wrath of God [Note: Psalms 77:7-9.]: but it shall never come upon them [Note: Romans 8:1.]. While they are endeavouring to walk in communion with God, in dependence on him, and obedience to him, they hare nothing to fear. God has pledged himself, that they shall never perish [Note: Isaiah 55:7; John 10:27-28.].]
From the assaults of Satan—
[Satan will indeed exert all his power to destroy them; but he shall not finally prevail against them. He may “buffet them,” and cast “his fiery darts” at them; but he is a vanquished enemy; and shall, ere long, be bruised under the feet of even the weakest saints [Note: Psalms 91:1-3; James 4:7; Romans 16:20.]. Like the kings whom Joshua subdued, all the powers of hell shall one day be brought out of their dungeons, to receive, from the very lips of those whom now they persecute, the sentence they so justly merit [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:3.].]
From the power and prevalence of sin—
[Notwithstanding “the law of sin in their members,” God’s promise to all his people is, that “sin shall not have dominion over them [Note: Romans 6:14.].” As by the operation of fire on the hearth we may see what it would effect, if suffered to extend itself over the whole house, so by the working of sin in our hearts we may clearly see, to what a state we should quickly De reduced, if God should suffer it to rage with all its force. But he fulfils his word: and though thousands of times we have been, as it were, on the very brink of falling, God has interposed by his providence or grace to preserve our souls: and we remain to this day living monuments of his almighty power, and unchanging faithfulness.]
Let us seek to become “the beloved of the Lord”—
[We account it no small happiness to be beloved of our fellow-creatures; but how much more to be beloved of the Lord! Whose favour is comparable to his? whose so honourable, so permanent, so beneficial [Note: Psalms 63:3.]? Let us then go to him in the name of Jesus; for whose sake we shall be admitted to his favour [Note: John 14:21.], and be “blessed by him with all spiritual blessings.”]
Let us endeavour to live more and more near to God—
[It is our privilege to dwell in God, and to have God dwelling in us. We might “walk with God,” as Enoch did, and though not visibly, yet really, converse with him as our friend [Note: 1 John 1:3.]. And what greater encouragement can we desire, than that which the text affords? Others may fall; but we shall be “covered, and kept in safety [Note: Isaiah 54:17.]:” others may apostatize to their perdition; but we shall be preserved through faith unto everlasting salvation [Note: 1 Peter 1:5.].]
STRENGTH ACCORDING TO OUR DAYS
Deuteronomy 33:25. As thy days, so shall thy strength be.
PREVIOUS to his departure from them, Moses pronounced a blessing on all the tribes of Israel. The blessing to each was appropriate and prophetic. That assigned to Asher was, that his posterity should be numerous and happy; that his provision should be abundant, and his strength, under every emergency, fully adequate to the occasion. It is thought indeed by some, that the promise, “thy shoes shall be iron and brass,” referred to mines in that part of Canaan which should be allotted to them: but it appears to me to import rather, that they should be possessed of great power; and to agree exactly with that address of the Prophet Micah to Zion, “Arise and thresh, O daughter of Zion! for I will make thine horn iron, and I will make thy hoofs brass; and thou shalt beat in pieces many people [Note: Micah 4:13.].” Then the meaning of our text will be clear; namely, that whatever difficulties they might have to contend with, they should find their strength sufficient for them.
Now, though many parts of the blessings here pronounced were doubtless so peculiar as to have no reference except to the particular tribe to which they were addressed, yet such parts as were of a more general nature may, without impropriety, be more largely applied to the Israel of God in all ages. Such parts will be found in almost all the addresses to the different tribes; and the promise in our text most assuredly admits of such an interpretation. The promise made to Joshua, “I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee,” might appear to belong to him only, as the individual to whom it was personally addressed. Yet St. Paul applied it generally to the whole Church of God in all ages; and authorized all saints, in every period of the world, to regard it as spoken equally to themselves, and to expect most assuredly its accomplishment in their own persons: “God hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper; I will not fear what man shall do unto me [Note: Hebrews 13:5-6.].” In like manner, we may interpret this blessing, which was primarily addressed to the tribe of Asher, as properly belonging to all the people of God; so far, at least, as they may be in circumstances which call for similar support.
That we may enter the more fully into the meaning of this promise, I will point out distinctly,
What it supposes and implies—
It is here evidently supposed that the Lord’s people will have seasons of trial, which will call for more than ordinary support.
And such seasons do sooner or later occur to all; seasons,
[Who is there that does not experience more or less the temptations of Satan? He is not an inactive adversary. At no time is he unobservant of our frame, or unprepared to gain an advantage over us: but there are some times which he selects for his attacks, when he promises himself a more easy victory, and when he puts forth all his devices to draw us into sin. His wiles are unsearchable: innumerable also are the modes in which he makes his assaults upon us. Sometimes he assumes the appearance of an angel of light: at other times his own proper character is clearly marked in the blasphemies which he suggests to our minds: and, on all such occasions, if we were not succoured from on high, we should fall before him, as lambs before a devouring lion.
The world, too, presents its temptations on every side: it proposes to us its pleasures, its riches, its honours, as objects that may well stand in competition with Jehovah himself, and rival him in our affections.
And our own corrupt hearts, too, are ready enough to indulge all manner of irregular desires, and to draw us into the commission of actual sin.
What would become of us, if, at such seasons as these, we had none to succour us, no arm but our own to help us?]
[“We are born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward:” it is the inheritance of every child of man. No one is exempt: a king upon his throne is open to its incursions, no less than the meanest of his subjects. In his own person, he is exposed to pains and disorders: in his family, to feuds and bitter bereavements: in his circumstances, to all the varieties of change, embarrassment, and loss. To all of these the saints are exposed, as well as others; whilst they are oppressed with many troubles peculiar to themselves. What they often endure from the workings of corruption, the hidings of God’s face, the assaults of Satan, the fear of death and judgment, can little be conceived by those who fear not God. Most generally, too, they are exposed to hatred and persecution for righteousness’ sake; and find amongst their “greatest foes the people of their own household.” True it is, that we are not in the present day called to “resist unto blood:” but let it not, therefore, be accounted a small matter to be treated with contempt by friends and enemies, and to be reduced to the alternative of sacrificing all that we hold dear in this life, or the hopes and prospects of a better. These are great and heavy trials: and every child of God must expect to be conformed to his Lord and Saviour in the endurance of them.]
[Truly spiritual obedience is at all times difficult: and how much more so under such circumstances as those in which Daniel and the Hebrew Youths were placed! To resist an ordinance of a powerful monarch, when the whole empire were joining in the observance of it, and when that disobedience was menaced with a fiery furnace; and to maintain steadfastly the public worship of Jehovah, when, by a temporary neglect or concealment of it, an exposure in a den of lions might be avoided—were no easy matters. It surely needed much grace to maintain a good conscience under such circumstances. And there will be, in the experience of every saint, some special occasions where a strict adherence to duty is inconceivably difficult and painful. Such “days” the promise in our text teaches us to expect, and against such days it makes for us a merciful provision.]
But let us distinctly state,
What it engages and assures—
Whatever our trials be, strength shall be given us in proportion to them: and our communications from God shall be,
Seasonable—in respect of tune—
[Often, if succour were delayed, we should fall a prey to our great adversary. But “God’s eves run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in behalf of them that fear him [Note: 2 Chronicles 16:9.]:” and the very instant he sees us ready to sink, he interposes for our help. He has promised that he would do so: “He will judge his people, and repent himself for his servants, when he seeth that their power is gone, and that there is none shut up or left [Note: Deuteronomy 32:36.].” “In the very mount” of difficulty “he will be seen.” The Apostle Paul experienced this on a very trying occasion. When summoned before that bloody tyrant, Nero, “all his friends forsook him; but the Lord stood by him, and strengthened him, that through him the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear [Note: 2 Timothy 4:16-17.].” Had he not been thus strengthened in the very hour of need, his courage might have failed: but by this seasonable interposition of the Deity, he was enabled to maintain his ground, and execute the trust committed to him. And David also attests that this was his frequent experience: “In the day when I cried, thou answeredst me, and strengthenedst me with strength in my soul [Note: Psalms 138:3.].”]
Suitable—to the particular occasion—
[Different are the communications that are wanted under different circumstances. Sometimes wisdom is necessary: and that shall be imparted as our necessities may require. This was promised, in a more especial manner, by our Lord to his disciples: “When they bring you unto the synagogues, and unto magistrates and powers, take ye no thought how or what thing ye shall answer, or what ye shall say; for the Holy Ghost shall teach you in that tame hour what ye ought to say [Note: Luke 12:11-12.].” If patience be wanted, that in like manner shall be supplied: for “he will strengthen us with all might by his Spirit in the inner man, unto all patience, and long-suffering with joyfulness [Note: Colossians 1:11.].” If faith be that which is more especially necessary for the soul, he will impart that in richer abundance. We have a very striking instance of this in Peter. Our Lord had forewarned him that he would deny his Master: and if Peter, after the perpetration of this evil, had given way to despondency, he would have perished in his iniquity, just as Judas did. But our Lord “prayed for him, that his faith might not fail:” and through the operation of this grace upon his soul, he was kept from destruction, and restored to the favour of his God. In a word, the grace which he will bestow in the time of need shall be a tree of life in the soul, “bringing forth its fruit in its season [Note: Psalms 1:3.],” yea, “twelve manner of fruits [Note: Revelation 22:2.],” according to the occasion that may call for them, and the season to which they may be suited.]
Sufficient for our utmost necessities—
[“Our strength shall be fully equal to our day.” Let our weakness be ever so great, or our trial ever so heavy, our Lord “will not suffer us to be tempted above that we are able; but will, with the temptation, make for us a way to escape, that we maybe able to bear it [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:13.].” Certainly, the trials of St. Paul were as numerous and heavy as ever were sustained by mortal man: and under them, especially under that which he calls a thorn in his flesh, and the buffetings of Satan, he cried mightily to the Lord for deliverance. The answer given to him by our Lord was, “My grace is sufficient for thee; and my strength shall be made perfect in weakness.” Now, behold, how all his troubles were in an instant turned into occasions of joy! “Most gladly, therefore,” says he, “will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.].” And from that time we find him hurling defiance at all his enemies, how numerous and powerful soever they might be: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation? or distress? or persecution? or famine? or nakedness? or peril? or sword? Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors, through Him that loved us. And I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord [Note: Romans 8:35-39.].”]
As the promise made to the tribe of Asher may fitly be applied to believers generally, let us consider,
What it speaks more especially to God’s peculiar people—
Truly, it is a most instructive passage of Holy Writ: for it shews, to all God’s believing people,
The grounds of their security—
[Believers, or unbelievers, we have no strength in ourselves: our strength is in God alone: and, if ever we be strong at all, it must “be in the Lord, and in the power of his might [Note: Ephesians 6:10.].” His power, as engaged for us, and his fidelity, as pledged to us, are the true, and proper, and only grounds of a sinner’s hope. Let the promise which we are now considering be apprehended, and relied upon, and pleaded in faith and prayer, and we can have nothing to fear. “A very worm.” so supported, shall “thresh the mountains [Note: Isaiah 41:14-15.].” “If God be for us, none can be against us [Note: Romans 8:31.]” — — —]
The reason of their falls—
[Notwithstanding what is spoken in the text, it is certain that many saints do fall, and that most grievously. But whence is this? Is not God “able to make them stand [Note: Romans 14:4.]?” or is He not “faithful who hath promised [Note: Hebrews 10:23.]?” Know ye, Brethren, that the fault is not in God; but in his people themselves, who either become unwatchful, and are therefore left to reap the fruits of their heedlessness; or indulge self-confidence, and are therefore given up for a season to betray their weakness and folly. To these causes must be traced the falls of David and of Peter. If God have engaged to “keep the feet of his saints [Note: 1 Samuel 2:9.].” he has not given them therefore a licence to rush into temptation, or to relax their vigilance, or to confide in themselves. His word is true: and he will fulfil it to all who plead it with him. But if we grow remiss and careless, he will leave us to “eat the fruit of our own ways, and to be filled with our own devices [Note: Proverbs 1:31.].” I will ask of any one that has been left to dishonour God, and to wound his own soul; “Hast thou not procured this unto thyself, in that thou hast forsaken the Lord, when he led thee by the way [Note: Jeremiah 2:17.]?” He has warned thee that it should be thus: “The Lord is with you, while ye be with him: if ye seek him, he will be found of you: but if ye forsake him, he will forsake you [Note: 2 Chronicles 15:2.].”]
The extent of their privileges—
[Weak as we are, and in the midst of enemies, still he would have us “without carefulness.” He has bidden us to “cast all our care on Him who careth for us [Note: 1 Peter 5:7.].” He considers himself as dishonoured when we indulge any doubts or fears: “Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith [Note: Matthew 8:26.]?” “Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God? Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary: there is no searching of his understanding? He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might, he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and he weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up on wings as eagles; they shall “run and not be weary, and they shall walk and not faint [Note: Isaiah 40:28-31.].” “Know, then, in whom you have believed; that He is both able and willing to keep that which you have committed to him [Note: 2 Timothy 1:12.].” And let not any dangers, however imminent, appal you. “Say not ye, A confederacy, to all them to whom others shall say, A confederacy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid: but sanctify the Lord of Hosts himself: and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread: and he will be to you for a sanctuary [Note: Isaiah 8:12-14.].” O blessed tidings! Rejoice in them, Beloved, and realize them in your souls. Then shall you enjoy both stability and peace: for “God will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on him. Trust ye, therefore, in the Lord for ever: for with the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength [Note: Isaiah 26:3-4.].”]
THE HAPPINESS OF GOD’S PEOPLE
Deuteronomy 33:29. Happy art thou, O Israel: who is like unto thee, O people saved by the Lord, the shield of thy help, and who is the sword of thy excellency!
THE God of Israel is infinitely exalted above all the gods of the heathen: and though there cannot be any such disparity between one creature and another, as between the Creator and the creature, yet is there a wonderful difference between the people of God and all other people upon the face of the whole earth. This indeed is a necessary consequence of the former: for, if there be no god like the God of Israel, there can be no people like the Israel of God, since they, and they only, have Jehovah for their God. These truths are united in the passage before us: the former had been mentioned in a preceding verse [Note: ver. 26.]; and, in the text, the latter is declared, together with its dependence on the former.
From these words we shall consider,
The happiness of God’s people—
The manner in which Moses speaks on this subject is worthy of notice: we may observe in his address to Israel a strong persuasion of the truth he was uttering, an unfeigned delight in declaring it, and an affectionate solicitude, that they might both be persuaded of it themselves, and live in the comfortable enjoyment of it. He affirms that they were,
[It is God’s own declaration, “Happy art thou, O Israel!” and, if appearances were ever so unfavourable, we might be sure that his judgment was according to truth. But this testimony agrees with the experience of God’s people in every age. They are represented as possessing a “peace that passeth understanding,” and a “joy that is unspeakable and glorified.” Is it objected that they are also represented as mourning [Note: Matthew 5:3-4.], as tempted [Note: James 1:2; James 1:12.], as persecuted [Note: Luke 6:22-23; 1 Peter 4:14.]? True; yet none of these things interfere with their real happiness; yea, instead of destroying, they advance it [Note: See the passages just referred to.]. If then they can be happy in such situations as these [Note: Acts 16:23-25.], and even derive happiness from these situations [Note: Acts 5:41; 2 Corinthians 12:10.], they must be truly happy.]
[It is God himself who challenges all mankind to vie with his people; and this too, not in respect of privileges merely, or of prospects, but in respect of present enjoyments. Who are they that will presume to rival the Lord’s people? Ye great, ye rich, ye gay, what is your happiness, when compared with that which God’s Israel possess? Is not all your happiness mixed with gall? Is it not altogether dependent on the creature? Is it not cloying, even in the very possession? Do you not find it transient, and, on the whole, delusive, promising far more in the anticipation than it ever affords in the enjoyment? In all these things it is the very reverse of the Christian’s happiness. His, as far as it is derived from spiritual things, is unmixed: none can rob him of it, because none can intercept the visits of his God: no man was ever surfeited with spiritual delights: if we lived to the age of Methuselah, we might, by a retrospect, revive a sense of them in our souls: and, if our expectations be raised to ever so high a pitch, the reality will far exceed them. We will therefore confidently repeat the challenge, and say, as in the text, “Who is like unto thee, O people, saved by the Lord?”]
To shew that this is no enthusiastic conceit, we proceed to notice,
The grounds of their happiness—
It will soon appear that their blessedness is not a baseless fabric, if we consider,
What God has done for them—
[They are “a people saved by the Lord.” Salvation is not a blessing which they merely hope for, but which they already possess. They are saved from the guilt and punishment of sin: all “their iniquities are blotted out;” and there remains “no condemnation to them:” they are “complete in Christ;” they stand “before God without spot or blemish.” But great as this mercy is, they would not be truly happy, if they were not also saved from the power and dominion of sin. It is true, they yet carry about with them a “body of sin and death;” but they never commit iniquity as they were wont to do in their unregenerate state: they “cannot sin thus, because they are born of God, and his seed remaineth in them.” God has promised that “sin shall not have dominion over them;” and they experience the accomplishment of this promise to their souls, being “redeemed from all iniquity, and purified unto God a peculiar people zealous of good works [Note: Titus 2:14.].”
And is not this salvation a ground of happiness, more especially if we consider by whom it was procured, and by whom conferred? It was “the Lord,” even Jesus, who purchased our freedom from guilt; and it is “the Lord,” even the Holy Ghost, who vouchsafes us a deliverance from sin. Surely such a salvation, bought at such a price, and imparted by such an agent, cannot but be a source of unspeakable felicity to the soul.]
What God will be unto them—
[In vain would all past mercies be, if they were not secured to them by the continued agency of Jehovah. A vessel fitted out and freighted, would not more certainly be overwhelmed by storms, if destitute of a pilot, than man, however gifted, would become a prey to Satan, if he were not constantly aided and protected by his God. But Israel is happy in this respect also, since, notwithstanding he is yet upon the field of battle, he is placed, if we may so speak, beyond the reach of harm. He is not only furnished with defensive and offensive armour, but has God himself for his “shield,” and God himself for his “sword;” so that his enemies must elude Omniscience, before they can destroy him; and must withstand Omnipotence if they do not fall before him. Hence it is that he attains such “excellency,” and proves victorious in all his conflicts.
View the believer thus environed, and thus armed, and you may well say to him, “Happy art thou, O Israel! who is like unto thee?” for the salvation he already possesses, is a pledge and earnest of his everlasting triumphs.]
[To whom, besides the true Israel, can we venture to say, “Happy art thou?” Art thou happy, who, instead of having experienced salvation, art yet under the guilt and power of all thy sins; and, instead of having Jehovah for thy shield and thy sword, hast the almighty God for thine enemy? Deceive not thyself: thou mayest dream of happiness; but thou art in a pitiable condition. So far art thou from rivalling the happiness of Israel, thou art even inferior to the beasts that perish; and, if thou wert sensible of thy state, thou wouldest envy them their prospect of annihilation. Oh, if ever thou wouldest be happy, seek to be “saved by the Lord,” even by the blood and righteousness of the Lord Jesus, and by the sanctifying influences of his Spirit. What Moses said to his father-in-law, that would God’s people say to thee, “Come thou with us, and we will do thee good; for God has spoken good concerning Israel [Note: Numbers 10:29.].”
As for you who are of the true Israel, seek to be as distinguished for your holiness, as you are for your happiness. When we speak of your felicity, the world cannot understand us, because they are strangers to your feelings. But they can judge of holiness with some considerable degree of accuracy; and your superiority in this respect will be more effectual for their conviction, than all that can be said respecting the happiness of your state. Endeavour then so to live, that we may challenge the world to produce any persons comparable to you in holiness. Enable us to say with confidence, Who is like unto thee, O Israel? Who is dead to the world, as thou art? Who abounds in all holy duties, in all devout affections, in all amiable dispositions, like thee? This will silence those who call your happiness enthusiasm, and will convince them, that you are superior to others, “not in word and in tongue, but in deed and in truth.”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 33". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13