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THE REASONS OF GOD’S DIVERSIFIED DEALINGS WITH HIS PEOPLE
Deuteronomy 8:2-3. And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments or no. And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, (which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know,) that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live.
AMONGST the various things which distinguish man from the brute creation, is that faculty which he possesses of grasping within his mind things past and future; and of deriving both from the one and the other the most powerful incentives to action. The consideration of things future is that which operates most upon the bulk of mankind: but men of thoughtful and comprehensive minds derive the most important lessons of wisdom from reflecting on the past: and it is this retrospective view of things which distinguishes one man from another, almost as much as a prospective view of them does an adult person from a child. Hence Moses was peculiarly solicitous to draw the attention of the Israelites to all those wonderful events which had taken place, from the period when he was first commissioned to effect their deliverance from Egypt, to that hour when they were about to enter into the promised land: and truly there never was such an eventful period from the foundation of the world, nor one so replete with instruction as that.
Two things in particular we notice in the words before us;
The diversified dealings of God with his people—
In the dealings of God with the Jews we see a mixture of mercy and of judgment. His mercies to them were such as never were vouchsafed to any other people. His interpositions by ten successive plagues in order to effect their deliverance from Egypt, their passage through the sea, their preservation from “serpents and scorpions in that great and terrible wilderness [Note: ver. 15.];” their miraculous supplies of manna from the clouds, and of “water from the rock of flint;” the preservation of “their garments and of their shoes [Note: ver. 4 with Deuteronomy 29:5.] from waxing old during the space of forty years,” and of “their feet also from swelling,” notwithstanding the long journeys which at different times they were obliged to travel [Note: Num 9:21 with 10:33.]; these, with innumerable other mercies not specified in the text, distinguished that people above every nation under heaven.
But at the same time God saw fit occasionally to let them feel the difficulties with which they were encompassed. He suffered them on some occasions to be tried both with hunger and thirst; and inflicted heavy chastisements upon them for their multiplied transgressions.
Now in this we have a glass wherein to see the dealings of God with his people in all ages:
His mercies to every one of us have been innumerable—
[At our very first formation in the womb, the power and goodness of God towards us were exercised in imparting to us all our faculties both of body and mind. We have been preserved by him from innumerable dangers, both seen and unseen. In our national, domestic, and individual capacity, we have been highly privileged — — — And though the interference of God on our behalf has not been so visible as that which was vouchsafed to the Jews, it has not been at all less real. Our supplies of food, of raiment, and of health, have been as much owing to the care of his providence, as if they had been given to us by miraculous interpositions.
The benefits of revelation too which we have enjoyed, have marked his special favour to our souls. In this respect we have been as much elevated above the heathen world as the Jews themselves were; or rather, still more elevated, in proportion to the clearer light which shines on us in the New Testament; which, in comparison of theirs, is as the meridian light to the early dawn — — —
But what shall we say of those who have tasted of redeeming love, and experienced the transforming efficacy of the Gospel of Christ? What tongue can declare the mercies vouchsafed to them? — — — Yet,]
We have also been partakers of his judgments—
[All of us have found this to be a chequered scene: some have been tried in one way, and others in another; some for a longer, and others for a shorter period; some in mind — — — some in body — — — some in estate — — — Even those who have been most favoured in this respect, have found abundant reason to acknowledge, that “this is not our rest.” To the young and inexperienced, the world appears a garden abounding with delights: but on a fuller acquaintance with it we find, that its roses have their thorns; and even its choicest delicacies often prove occasions of the sorest pain. “Man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward.”]
As, from our general notions of God’s goodness, we might have expected that his dealings with his people would have been different from what we find them to be, let us inquire into,
His end and design in them—
The reasons here assigned for his dispensations towards the Jews, will afford us a clew for discovering his intentions towards ourselves. He diversifies his dispensations towards us,
To humble us—
[Were our mercies altogether unmixed, we should know nothing of the effect of judgments on the rebellious will of man: and if there were no intermission of adversity, we should be strangers to the effect of prosperity upon the carnal heart: but by the variety of states which we pass through, we are led to see the total depravity of our nature; since we can be in no state whatever, wherein the mind does not shew itself alienated from God, and averse to bear his yoke. We are apt to think that a change of circumstances would produce in us a change of conduct: but, as a person in a fever finds no posture easy, nor any food pleasant to his taste, so we, through the corruption of our hearts, find all situations alike unproductive of a permanent change in our dispositions towards God. “We are bent to backslide from him, even as a broken bow;” and every change of situation only serves to establish that melancholy truth, that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” To convince us of this is the first work of God upon the soul [Note: John 16:8.], and the first object of all his dispensations.”]
To prove us—
[It is easy to obey God at some times and in some respects, in comparison of what it is at other times and in other respects. God therefore puts us into a variety of situations, to try whether we will make him the supreme object of our regard in all. At some times he gives health, and affluence, and honour, to see whether we will suffer these things to draw away our hearts from him, or whether we will improve them all for him. At other times he lays affliction upon our loins, to see whether we will retain our love to him, and bless him as well when he takes away as when he gives. At some times he permits us to be sorely tempted by Satan, and by the corrupt propensities of our own hearts, to prove whether we will prefer the maintenance of a good conscience to any of the gratifications of sense. At other times he permits persecution to rage against us, that it may appear whether we will sacrifice our interests, and life itself, for him. In feet, every change of circumstance is sent by him, precisely as the command respecting the sacrificing of Isaac was sent to Abraham: by that command “God tempted him;” and by every circumstance of life he tempts us, to “prove whether we will obey his commandments or no.”]
To instruct us—
[We are apt to imagine that the happiness of man is greatly dependent upon earthly prosperity; and that the loss of temporal comforts is an irreparable evil. But God would teach us, that this is altogether a mistake. By loading us with all that this world can give, he shews us how insufficient earthly things are to make us happy: and, by reducing us to a state of want, or pain, or trouble of any kind, he leads us to himself, and then shews us how happy he can make us, though under circumstances the most painful to flesh and blood. This is a great and valuable lesson; most honourable to him, most beneficial to us: it elevates us completely above this lower world; and, in proportion as it is learned, enables us to live on God alone. When Satan tempted our Lord to distrust his heavenly Father’s care, and to “command the stones to be made bread,” our Lord reminded him of the lesson which was here recorded for the good of the Church; namely, that it was the blessing of God upon bread, and not the bread itself, that could do us good; and that that blessing would as easily produce the effect without means as with them. Thus he teaches us that, in having God, we have all; and that, without him, we have nothing.]
To do us good at our latter end [Note: ver. 16.]—
[If our state were never diversified, we should have but one set of graces called forth into action: but, by experiencing alterations and reverses, we are led to exercise every kind of grace: and by this means we grow in every part, just as the members of the body grow, when all are duly exercised [Note: Colossians 2:19; 1 Peter 2:2.]. Moreover, according to the measure which we attain of the stature of Christ, will be the recompence of our reward: every grace we exercise, whether active or passive, will be noted in the book of God’s remembrance, and “be found to our praise, and honour, and glory, at the appearing of Jesus Christ [Note: 1 Peter 1:7.]:” the one as well as the other, though but weak and defective in itself, is “working out for us an exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”]
Let us trace, every one of us, the dealings of God with us—
[A more instructive history we could not read, than that of the Lord’s dealings with us from our earliest infancy to the present moment. If it were recorded with the minuteness and fidelity that the history of the Jews has been, we should see, that as face answers to face in a glass, so does our experience to theirs. We are apt to wonder at their wickedness; but we should cease to wonder at them, if we were thoroughly acquainted with ourselves. Our wonder would rather be at the patience and forbearance, the mercy and the kindness, of our God. Earnestly then would we recommend to every one to apply to himself the injunction in our text, “Thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God hath led thee these forty years in the wilderness:” and we may rest assured that such habits of reflection will bring their own reward along with them [Note: Psalms 107:43.].]
Let our experience of his past kindness lead us to confide in him in future—
[The way in which the Israelites were led was circuitous and dreary: yet we are told that God “led them by the right way.” It may be that our way also has been such as has excited many murmurs, and great discouragement: but, if we have considered it to any good purpose, we shall acknowledge it to have been on the whole more profitable for us, than any that we should have chosen for ourselves. Perhaps we shall see cause to bless our God for some of our heaviest trials, more than for any of those things which administered to our pleasure. Convinced then by our past experience, we should be willing to leave matters to the disposal of our God; and to submit to any trials, which he sends for the promotion of our eternal welfare. Our only solicitude should be to make a due improvement of his dispensations: and if only we may be humbled, instructed, sanctified, and exalted by them, we should cordially and continually say, “Let him do what seemeth him good.”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 8". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13