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Moses appoints a form of confession for those who offer their first-fruits and tithes: he assures the Israelites that they shall be high above all nations, if they obey the commandments of the Lord.
Before Christ 1451.
Ver. 2. Shalt put it in a basket, &c.— The baskets used by the rich upon this occasion were sometimes of silver, or overlaid with gold, and these the priest restored to the owner; but if it was a wicker-basket, or the like, the priest had it, together with the first-fruits. Bishop Patrick thinks it probable, that the heathens derived from hence their custom of carrying their first-fruits, as a tithe, every year to the island of Delos, where Apollo was supposed to have his special residence: and this not only from the neighbouring islands and countries, but from all parts of the world; as the Jews, we find, sent every where, from all the countries where they dwelt, a sum of money every year, instead of first-fruits and tithes, to Jerusalem; a privilege which, as we learn from Josephus, the Romans allowed them after they had conquered them. The reader will find, in Callimachus's Hymn to Delos, a very particular account of the custom just now mentioned, of which there are also other footsteps among the heathens; the mystica vannus Jacchi, spoken of by Virgil, being nothing else, according to the learned Servius, than a wicker-basket, in which their first-fruits were carried.
Ver. 5. And thou shalt speak, &c.— The sum of the acknowledgment amounts to this: that their possession of that land was entirely owing to the bounty of God, and not left them by their ancestors; for Jacob or Israel, their progenitor, was forced to fly into Syria in a poor condition, and afterwards to go down into Egypt, where his posterity was sorely afflicted; but, by the mercy of God, they increased there, and were by him miraculously brought into this good land. The Vulgate, and some other versions, render it, A Syrian persecuted my father, referring to Laban; and others, my father passed into Syria: but our translation is more agreeable to the Hebrew. For though Jacob himself was born in Canaan, yet was he a Syrian by descent, Abraham being a native of Syria; and as he himself lived twenty years with Laban the Syrian, he is, on these accounts, very properly called a Syrian, or an inhabitant of Mesopotamia, which, in Scripture, is comprehended under the name of Syria, or Aram. Le Clerc observes, that Syrian was a name of reproach; for the Syrians were thought more fraudful and cunning than others: but I should imagine, that the expression could not be used here in any such sense; the low and unfortunate state of Jacob and his family, when going down into Egypt, being here evidently contrasted with their happy and fortunate state in the land of Canaan. What we render, ready to perish, Dr. Waterland renders wandering; a translation which he has taken from Mr. Wesseling's Observations, who remarks, that the same word אבד abed, is used, Psa 119:176 in the same sense, where the Psalmist compares himself to a sheep that was wandering or lost; and he adds, that nothing can answer better than this expression to the kind of life which Jacob led. We find exactly the same manner of speaking in the OEdipus of Sophocles, ver. 1039. See Wesseling's Observ. Var. l. 2. c. 3. p. 148. Houbigant dissents from others in his interpretation of this text.
Ver. 10. Thou shalt set it before the Lord— i.e. Before the sanctuary where God was especially present. It appears from this, that the person who made the former profession held the basket in his hand during the time; which done, he set it before the altar, as at the first, ver. 4 and worshipped before the Lord; i.e. as the Hebrew word imports, bowed his body towards the holy place: and, as this was a sign of inward worship, so, no doubt, it was accompanied, in all good men, with humble thanks to God for his benefits, and with prayers for the continuance of them. See Outram de Sacrif. l. i. c. 8. and Vossius de Idolol. l. ii. c. 79.
REFLECTIONS.—We have here the ceremony and prayer prescribed at the offering of the first-fruits, when the offerer made the following profession and humble acknowledgment: 1. Of the faithfulness of God in giving them the land which he had promised to their fathers. Gratitude for his goodness is the tribute that God justly expects from us. 2. He confessed his own unworthiness of so great a mercy, as being sprung from ancestors of so ignoble an origin. The more unworthy we, the more is the divine grace magnified in our salvation. We cannot think too lowly of ourselves, nor too highly of God's goodness. 3. He thankfully remembered the deliverance God wrought for them, and the happy land he had now brought them to. Note; (1.) Past deliverances are never to be forgotten, especially those which God has wrought for our souls. (2.) Others' mercies are our own, and we should be thankful for the blessings they enjoy in common with ourselves. 4. He then offered up the basket, as an acknowledgment due to the great Lord of the land, containing a little of the first and the best, and which sanctified the remainder to his own use. Note; (1.) All our gifts of Providence must be acknowledged as coming from God's hand. (2.) The prime of our life should be offered up to his service. (3.) Our earthly blessings will then be doubly sweet to us, when we receive and use them as coming to us from God's mercy and love. 5. The service was concluded with other acts of solemn worship, and a feast of holy joy before the Lord. It was not so much the gift, as the gratitude of the offerer's heart, which made the offering acceptable; and whilst God was honoured by this worship and service, the offerer should be happy and rejoice before him.
Ver. 12. The third year, which is the year of tithing— The third year is that in which the tenths were to be given to the poor, for every year they were to give only to the Levites; but the third year they gave both to the poor and the Levites.
Ver. 14. I have not eaten thereof in my mourning, &c.— The expressions in this verse evidently refer to idolatrous customs, and they are further proofs how careful their legislator was to guard them from the then prevailing idolatry of worshipping the dead. Had they not been restrained by this and other laws, it is hardly to be doubted, that they, as well as the Pagans, would have deified some of their dead heroes. The first declaration, I have not eaten thereof in my mourning, Spencer very judiciously supposes to have respect to some idolatrous custom then in use; such as that of the Egyptians, who, when they offered the first-fruits of the earth, were accustomed to invoke Isis with woeful lamentations: for which practice Spencer has collected many undoubted authorities in his Leg. Heb. lib. ii. c. 37. We have had occasion to observe before, that the Israelites were not allowed to eat of things consecrated to God when they were in a state of mourning. See Hosea 9:4. The second declaration, neither have I taken aught thereof for any unclean use, refers to the practice of some old idolaters, who separated part of the first-fruits for magical, and sometimes very lascivious uses; making Ceres and Bacchus minister to Venus, as Julius Firmicus has fully proved in his Error. Prophanae Religionis. The phrase may signify, I have not taken away aught thereof to any unclean place, such as an idol's temple, where the Gentiles were accustomed to eat their consecrated things. In general, however, that may be called an unclean use, which God had forbidden, as he had all other uses besides what he required. The third declaration, nor given aught thereof for, or rather, to the dead, is a profession that they had not offered any of the fruits of the earth to idols, as if their increase had been owing to them; for these idols were nothing but dead men deified, and to such dead idols the Gentiles were wont to consecrate their first-fruits. The Egyptians, in particular, consecrated them to Osiris, who, Spencer thinks, may be here meant by the dead, as the word is in the singular number. Osiris was the same as Adonis; concerning whose worship almost every writer of antiquity speaks: in particular Lucian, Plutarch, and Theocritus. See the note on Deuteronomy 4:1.
Ver. 17. Thou hast avouched, &c.— Thou hast said, solemnly professed, or protested; and so in the 18th verse it is said, the Lord hath avouched thee, &c. the close of which sentence should be rendered, if thou shalt keep his commandments. See Houbigant's note on the place. The paraphrase of the Jerusalem Targum upon these words is remarkable: "You have stipulated that the words of the Eternal shall reign over you; and the Word of the Eternal hath stipulated to reign over you, who are a people dedicated to his name; if," &c. By the Word, says Bishop Patrick, we can understand no other than the second person in the Divine Trinity.
Ver. 19. To make thee high above all nations— The greatest glory and exaltation of any nation is, to be peculiarly grateful and obedient to God. It is both a very high and a very noble privilege, and full of such blessings as will infallibly render a people great and happy above all others.
REFLECTIONS.—Moses enforces all these laws by that mutual covenant which subsisted between God and them. As His commands, they were bound to be obedient from duty: as they had avowed God to be their Lord, what was before their duty became now their choice; and as God had acknowledged them for his people, and promised to make them both great and good, they were in love and gratitude engaged to be faithful. Note; (1.) Our obedience to God's laws should be cheerful and universal, as being all holy, and just, and good. (2.) Every profession we make of taking him for our God obliges us to fidelity in his service. (3.) It is his promise to make us holy, and in consequence to make us glorious; and this must be the most engaging motive to yield ourselves up to him, to be in body, soul, and spirit, devoted to his will and service: for what he promises to work in us, we may, notwithstanding all the corruption of our hearts, assuredly expect to see accomplished by his grace.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 26". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany