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HEATHEN CUSTOMS OF MOURNING TO BE AVOIDED. NO ABOMINABLE THING TO BE EATEN. MEATS CLEAN AND UNCLEAN. TITHES.
Israel, as the people of God, chosen by him to be his children by adoption, must not only abstain from idolatry, but also avoid all heathenish usages and practices, such as those connected with mourning for the dead, and those pertaining to the use of food.
Ye are the children of Jehovah your God (cf. Exodus 4:22, etc.). As his children, it behooved them to avoid all that would be offensive to him or indicate distrust in him. Ye shall not cut yourselves, etc. (cf. Leviticus 19:28; Deuteronomy 21:5; Jeremiah 16:6; Jeremiah 48:36, Jeremiah 48:37; Ezekiel 7:18; Ezekiel 27:31). ("Ex hac opinions sunt ilia varia et detestabilia genera lugendi, paedores, muliebres lacerationes genarum, pectoris, feminum, capitis percussiones." Cicero, 'Tusc. Quaest.,' 3.26; see also ' De Legibus,' 2.25.)
(Cf. Deuteronomy 7:6.) The reason assigned here is an emphatic expansion of the statement in Deuteronomy 14:1.
Any abominable thing. Any abomination, i.e. anything which is an abomination to the Lord, having been by him pronounced unclean and forbidden; "anything which I have put far away from you (i.e. made to be abominable to you)" (Targum Jonath.). "Every creature of God is good," and "there is nothing unclean of itself" (1 Timothy 4:4; Romans 14:14); "but by the ordinance of God, certain creatures, meats, and drinks were made unclean to the Jews … and this taught them holiness in abstaining from the impure communion with the wicked" (Ainsworth).
The regulations here concerning food, and the animals the use of which is forbidden, are substantially the same as in Leviticus 2:1-16. There are, however, some differences between the two accounts which may be noticed.
1. In Deuteronomy, the mammals which may be used for food are severally specified as well as described by the general characteristic of the class; in Leviticus, only the latter description is given.
2. In the list of fowls which may not be eaten, the raah (glade) is mentioned in Deuteronomy, but not in Leviticus; and the bird which in the one is called da'ah, is in the other called dayyah (vulture).
3. The class of reptiles which is carefully described in Leviticus is wholly omitted in Deuteronomy.
4. Winged insects are forbidden without exception in Deuteronomy; in Leviticus, the locust and certain other insects of the same kind are excepted.
5. Some slight differences in the order of enumeration appear.
The hart; ayyal (אַיָּל), probably the fallow deer, or deer generally. The roebuck; tsebi (צְבִי), the gazelle (Gazella Arabica). The fallow deer; yachmur (יחְמוּר), the roebuck. The wild goat; akko (אַקּוֹ), the ibex. The pygarg; dishon (דִישׁוֹן), some kind of antelope, probably the Gazella Dorcas. The wild ox; the'o (תְאוֹ), probably the bubale, or wild cow of the Arabs (Alcephalus bubalis), a species of antelope. The chamois; zamer (זָמֶר), probably the wild sheep (Ovis Tragelaphus.)
The glede; ra'ah (רָאָה). This word occurs only here, and it is supposed by some that, by an error of the copyist, substituting ר for ד, it has come instead of דָאָה, as used in Le Deuteronomy 11:14. But it is more probable, as above suggested, that the da'ah of Leviticus is represented by the dayyah of Deuteronomy, and that consequently the reading ra'ah should be re-rained. This word, derived from רָאָה, to see, to look, would appropriately designate a bird of keen sight, one of the hawk species. The bird intended may be a buzzard, of which there are now several kinds in Palestine.
(Cf. Le Deuteronomy 17:15; Exodus 23:19; Exodus 34:26.) The stranger that is in thy gates. "The uncircumcised stranger that is in thy cities ' (Targum), i.e. "a heathen who takes upon him that he will serve no idol, with the residue of the commandments which were commanded to the sons of Noah, but is not circumcised nor baptized (Maimonides, 'Issure Biah,' Deuteronomy 14:1-29. § 7)" (Ainsworth). Alien; a foreigner, one not resident in the land of Israel.
A tithing of each year's produce of the cultivated ground was to be made; and this tithe was to be brought to the place which the Lord should choose, as also the firstling of the herds and flocks; and there a sacrificial meal was to be partaken of, that Israel might learn to fear Jehovah their God always, reverencing him as their Ruler, and rejoicing in him as the Giver of all good.
Thy seed. "Seed" here refers to plants as well as what is raised from seed (cf. Jeremiah 2:21; Ezekiel 17:5, Ezekiel 17:6). The reference is to the second or festival tithe which was exclusively of vegetables.
In the land of Canaan, as the people would be dispersed over a wide tract, it might happen that the place which the Lord should choose was at such a distance from the usual residence of many that to observe this injunction would be to them very difficult, if not impossible. To meet this, therefore, it was enacted that the tithe might be commuted into money, and with this the things required for the sacrificial meals at the sanctuary might be purchased.
Strong drink; shecar (שֵׁכַר). "Any drink which can inebriate, whether that is made from grain, or the juice of apples, or when honey is boiled into a sweet and barbarous potion, or the fruit of the palm [dates], is expressed into liquor, and the duller water is colored by the prepared fruits" (Jerome, 'De Vit. Cler.').
Deuteronomy 14:28, Deuteronomy 14:29
Every third year the whole tithe of the year's produce was to be set apart, not to be brought to the sanctuary to be eaten before the Lord, but as a portion in their towns for the Levite, the stranger, the widow, and the fatherless. The end of three years; i.e. as the third year expired, consequently, in the last year of the triennium (Deuteronomy 26:12); just as "the end of seven years" means each seventh year (Deuteronomy 15:1; Deuteronomy 31:10; Jeremiah 34:14). This was not an additional tithe, but the former differently applied; the tithe of the first and second years was to be eaten before the Lord at the sanctuary; the tithe of the third year was for the poor and needy.
Deuteronomy 14:1, Deuteronomy 14:2
The people of God when death is in the home.
If God chose out a people for himself, with the view of planting in the world a new and nobler faith, it is no wonder if he would have the people super add to that a new and higher life. But if the life is to be higher in any sense which could be acceptable to Jehovah, it must be one based on the new faith and manifesting itself to others in a new deportment, i.e. it must be both an outer and inner life. But if the people are just emerging from a semi-barbaric condition, it is not at all improbable that they may need to be dealt with as we deal with children. We give them technical rules first, and they have to learn reasons afterwards. Possibly, as the child grows up and gets beyond the rules which bound him once, he may smile at them, or rather at the childishness which needed them in earlier years; while at the same time he would, or at any rate he should, feel thankful to those who stooped to teach him so that he could understand them.
In this chapter, we have several illustrations of God's thus dealing with Israel. We now take the one in the first two verses. It is well known that heathen nations were very violent in their shows of grief over their dead, tearing the hair, cutting the face, beating the breast, etc; while the cutting of the flesh was likewise submitted to in honor of their gods (see Exposition, in loc.). Now, it was of vast importance to give Israel to understand how entirely they were to be the Lord's, how fully he was theirs, and how the blest mutual relation changed the very aspect of that frequent and certain family sorrow—death. We have not here any full opening up of that, but there is scarcely any room to doubt that it formed a very important part of Hebrew teaching; for the fact that all these heathen rites and orgies over the dead were entirely forbidden would be sure to lead many, especially of the young, to ask for the reason of such prohibition. And when we remember how careful was the preparation for meeting the inquisitiveness of childhood in other matters, we cannot imagine that this was an exception to the general rule. The prohibition of old customs would clear the way for teaching a new doctrine. And, as applied to Israel of old, the following six positions may be asserted and maintained.
1. They were to be a separate people to the Lord their God, not only in all the varied relations of life, but also in the presence of death.
2. Old customs of surrounding nations, at the death of their friends, were to be done away, as a sign of the different meaning and aspect of death, to the people of the Lord.
3. This changed aspect of death followed from their blessed relationship to God, and from God's blessed relationship to them.
4. This relationship involved and assured Israel of the continued life of their holy dead in God. Surely it was scarcely possible for them to think of Enoch, Noah, Abraham, as extinct. True, the light on the unseen life in the grave was dim, and the gloom of the grave was deep. But still, it was very far from having about it the hopelessness which marked the heathen world.
5. For, stretching far away in the future, there was the hope of a resurrection at the last day. This was involved in God's words to Moses, "I am the God of Abraham," etc. Many, perhaps the mass, of the people might not see that. But our Lord assures us that the doctrine is wrapped up there.
6. Consequently, there was no reason to justify a hapless, hopeless wail in the presence of death. Whence our subject for meditation is suggested to us—
THERE OUGHT TO BE A GREAT DIFFERENCE BETWEEN GOD'S PEOPLE AND OTHERS IN THE PRESENCE OF DEATH. In one sense, indeed, there is none; or, at least, none which can be discerned. One event cometh alike to all, even to the righteous and the wicked, and the horse of the good man may be as frequently darkened by "the shadow of death" as that of another who fears not God. But still, when death does come, there may well be a very wide difference between those who are the children of God and those who are not, especially when the departed one is a member of" the whole family in heaven and on earth" (and such cases only do we note in this Homily). When the Christian expositor is opening up the principle contained in these verses, he can do so from much higher vantage-ground than one who confines himself to the Old Testament teaching. Some such main lines of thought as the following will be the Christian unfolding of the principles so long ago laid down.
1. There is a blessed relationship between God and his people. It is initiated in the new birth by the Holy Ghost. Those thus born anew are children of God—not merely under a national covenant, as sharing a common privilege, but as brought into a personal covenant through the impartation of a new life. The mark of this new birth is the saving reception of Christ by faith, and the effect of it is to transfer men from the region of darkness to that of light, "from the power of Satan unto God," and from being subjects of a kingdom, to their being citizens in God's city and sons in God's family—"fellow-citizens of the saints and of the household of God."
2. This blessed relationship is sealed and made sure by "the blood of the everlasting covenant." They are redeemed with the "precious blood of Christ.
3. It is ratified by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is the Firstborn out of the dead, and has "opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers."
4. This blessed relation continues undisturbed by the accident of death. "Christ died for us, that whether we wake or sleep we should live together with him;" "whether we live or die, we are the Lord's;" "Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord of the dead and of the living."
5. The resurrection of Christ's own will as surely follow his as the harvest follows the firstfruits. "Now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the Firstfruits of them that slept."
6. The distinctive features of the resurrection of the body are laid down for us by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:1-58. Of these there are four.
(1) That the body, as the seed, must be buried before it can rise again,
(2) That the body sown is not the body that shall be.
(3) That to every seed there is its own body,
(4) That the precise relation or connection between the body that is sown and the body that will be raised is a secret in the mind of God. "God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him." These things we know: we know no more. If we let our affirmations go beyond the statements of Scripture, we shall plunge ourselves into inextricable difficulties, and we shall be even risking the credit of Scripture, since many will think that, in disposing of our affirmations, they demolish the teaching of the Book. In confining ourselves to the four points named by Paul in his great argument, we shall be remaining on ground that will ever be firm, and that can never be invaded. No physical science can affirm or deny either one or the other. There never lived, there never will live, the man who on scientific grounds can weaken either of them. Our holy and glorious faith is beyond such reach.
7. Therefore the reason for avoiding the hopeless sorrow of the pagan world is even vastly deeper and stronger than it was under Moses. If Israel might not sorrow as those without hope when they had the assurance," I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob," how much less should we, when earth has seen the Firstfruits of the great resurrection from the dead! How much light is thrown by Christ's grace and love into the portals of the grave, and what a hallowed and hallo-wing calm may pervade the chamber of death if our Lord is with us there! Yea, there is no real death to the believer. "Our Savior Jesus Christ hath abolished death." He hath said," If a man keep my sayings, he shall never taste of death." Then we may well bless our God that, amid the changing scenes of earth, we stand on ground which can never be shaken. There ariseth light in the darkness.
"With joy we tell the scoffing age,
He that was dead has left his tomb;
He lives above their utmost rage,
And we are waiting till he come."
The people of God at their own table.
However far these minute regulations may seem at first from being appropriate themes for homiletic teaching, a closer study of them may show that they contain an amount of instruction which we could ill afford to lose. There are two principles, not infrequently noted, that should be brought to bear on this and other chapters which contain regulations that may be entirely unneeded now. One is, that associations of evil may make a custom prejudicial which is in itself harmless; another, that great reasons underlying small actions may lift up action to the height of the reason which prompted it. If, indeed, there should be some of these minute instructions for which we now see no reason, it would be no great tax on one's understanding, were we asked to give credit to so great a legislator as Moses for having had a good reason for them, although it may not be in force at the present time. Still, we are not altogether in the dark as to some reasons which might then be of great weight for the observance of the distinction between clean and unclean meats. Trapp suggests as reasons:
(1) that they might recognize God's hand in the supply, and God's law in the use, of their meats;
(2) that there might be a distinction between them and other peoples:
(3) that they might be taught to study purity. Dr. Jameson suggests also sanitary reasons. We would venture to include these, with others, under seven heads.
1. The Israelites were the children of the Lord their God, and that special relationship was to show itself in the sober, pure, and devout regulation of the several customs at the family table.
2. There was to be a separation between them and other nations; and a more effective barrier to intercourse could scarcely be found than one which made association at the same table all but impossible.
3. They were to learn that even the common business of eating was to be governed by holy laws.
4. Thus, by minute obedience to precept, they were to be indoctrinated into the principles of holiness.
5. Their social board was to be a standing protest against idolatrous customs; and also.
6. A perpetual rebuke of impurity and of any infringement of sanitary law. Let no one, then, think of this distinction between clean and unclean meats as a trifling one. Nothing trifling which helps on the education of souls for God.
7. When, moreover, we glance at the tenth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, we cannot but regard these regulations as also symbolic. This distinction in the lower orders of creation' between clean and unclean, symbolized the difference between Israel and the nations from whom they were to dissociate themselves. The mass of the people may not have comprehended this. They were gradually led to understand doctrine by way of obedience to precept.
But, it may be asked, "What has all this to do with Christians now?" We reply, "Little or nothing, so far as these special details are concerned, but much every way, so far as we have to do with the principles which underlie these details." That so far as details go, the Law is done away, is understood. The symbolic meaning is no longer in force, hence the symbol is needed no longer. From the yoke of these forms we are emancipated (cf. Acts 10:1-48.; 1 Corinthians 10:24-31; Romans 14:1-23.; 1 Timothy 4:3-5). But still, there is an analogy, of which it would ill become us to lose sight, between the position of Israel then, and the duty of God's Israel now. Supposing now we were asked, "In what way does the gospel teach us the duty of God's people at their own family table?' we might suggest six or seven consecutive lines of thought.
I. The Christian is to be, in spirit, as distinct from the world as Israel was from the nations round about. It is not intended by this that, in the ordinary walks of life, a Christian may not act with ungodly men; for in such a case, as Paul teaches, he must needs go out of the world to be free from them (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:1-13.). But in his own voluntary association, he is not to be "unequally yoked together with unbelievers;" the gospel mandate is, "Come out from among them, and be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing."
II. The Christian, being a redeemed man, by the fact of that redemption is claimed for Christ alone. "Ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body and your spirit, which are God's." "We are the Lord's." Our body, soul, and spirit are entirely his. The claim of Jesus Christ over us is that he shall govern the whole of us, always and everywhere.
III. Hence, loyalty to Christ, and the conservation of our whole life for him, is to regulate every detail of our life, work, walk, and conversation. So the apostle shows in Romans 14:1-23. that, e.g. in the tiny matter of "eating herbs," the Lordship of Christ is to be the supreme regulator of religious conviction.
IV. Nowhere is this scrupulousness in loyalty to be more exact than in the regulation of our own table. It is at their own board that some strive to make the greatest display, or to pamper their bodies with a superabundance of luxuries. But both "the lust of the flesh" and "the pride of life" are declared to be "not of the Father, but of the world." Hence they can have no place in a consistent believer's home life.
V. A Christian man is bound, not only for Christ's sake, but for his family's sake, to cultivate only such associations as will help to make or maintain the purity, piety, and Christian elevation of his home. If he seeks the associations of the wealthy or great, regardless of their religious views or habits, he is exposing his own consistency and his children's weal to very serious risk.
VI. The entire concern of eating and drinking is to be regulated by Christian principle. No doubt with many, without thinking on the matter, sound feeling and common sense keep them from going very far wrong, and perhaps even from going wrong at all. Still, the surest way of keeping right in little things is to recognize fully and clearly the true and proper motive which should impel, even in the trivialities of life.
VII. So also it may be that high and holy principle may lead a believer, without laying down a hard-and-fast line for all, to practice abstinence from this or that, out of regard to the well-being of others, or to practice seasons of occasional fasting when preparing for special service (cf. Matthew 17:21; Romans 14:21; 1 Corinthians 8:13).
VIII. There is one grand rule given by the Apostle Paul, covering the whole ground, appropriate to all occasions (1 Corinthians 10:31). On referring to that verse, its force will be seen to be this: "You will find many occasions in your walks through life in which it may not at first be clearly manifest to you what course you should adopt. I cannot lay down separate rules for every possible case. Take this as a comprehensive, sufficient rule, at all times, and everywhere, 'Whatever ye do, do all to the glory of God.'" And if we resolve to do only that which will most honor God, and seek grace from above to carry out our resolve, we cannot go far wrong. We shall not be unwise, but shall "prove what the will of the Lord is." We shall be "sincere and without offence till the day of Christ," to the glory of our Lord and Savior.
A threefold cord; or, the triple use of property.
These details which so frequently occur respecting the use of property, specially of that which is possessed or gained in the form of produce, may seem burdensome. Probably, to us, they would be so, but it is nevertheless a topic of perpetual interest for our day, to see how tenderly and lovingly the Great Father trained his people, by such minute regulations as were needful for them, to the practice and perception of principles which were to be ultimately the possession of the world—principles which would be a perpetual spring of holy and benevolent gladness. We say, advisedly, "practice and perception of principles," rather than "perception and practice." For though it may seem as if perception must come first, yea, though indeed it is logically prior to practice, yet when a race tainted with heathen customs and tendencies has to be educated out of them, the sure mode of effecting this is by giving them rules to be put into practice, as m leverage to raise them to value the principles which were the basis of those rules. Now in the paragraph before us we have "a threefold cord" of duty with regard to the religious use of the produce of the field. The question (with which the Exposition has dealt) whether the third-named tithe was actually such, or simply a special application of the second, does not affect the homiletic treatment of the paragraph before us. There is here indicated to us a triple use which was to be made of the produce of the land. The enactment, however, is so framed as to be an appeal to the religion and devotion of the people; it is not a mere civil statute, enjoining that, if such devotement is not made, it is to be recoverable under pains and penalties. If a man failed in his duty in these respects, there was no compulsory enforcement thereof. It was a sin before the Lord.
I. THE FIRST APPLICATION OF PRODUCE WAS FOR GOD'S SERVICE. It is taken for granted here that this was well understood (cf. Leviticus 27:30). Hence we find the general precept in Proverbs 3:1-35, "Honor the Lord with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase." There was to be a thankful recognition of God as the Author of all their mercies, without whose care and bounty no land would yield its supply; while there was also to be a recognition of themselves as devoted to the Lord, and that so completely and entirely, that the maintenance of his Name, honor, worship, and ordinances among them, was to be their first and chief concern. This twofold recognition was to find corresponding practice in the offering of the first tenth of their produce for God. Now we have, under the New Testament, no such detailed precepts. The appeal of apostles there is rather to honor, gratitude, love; while for the most part they take for granted that these emotions will prompt to a worthy course. Take, e.g. such an exhortation as this, "See that ye abound in this grace also … for ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ," etc. If love to Christ is maintained in due fervor, it will prompt to corresponding devotion; and if by such constraining devotion, offerings to and for God are regulated, there will be no need, as indeed no one now has the right, to tell any man how much he ought to give to God. When a man carries out in all respects the precept," Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness," that will certainly include and ensure his honoring the Lord with his substance. The faith was "once delivered to the saints," i.e. once for all, that they might guard and honor it, and also diffuse it through the world, and, without much detailed injunction, it is assumed that believers will be ready to devote themselves, heart and soul, to the spread of their Master's honor.
II. A SECOND RELIGIOUS APPLICATION THEREOF WAS TO FAMILY AND HOUSEHOLD USE. (Proverbs 3:22-27.) When Israel should go up to the place the Lord their God should choose, they would go up to religious sacrifice and service. Hence all their family meals, then and there, would be baptized with the religious spirit. So all-pervading would be the presence of, and so sure the fellowship with, the Lord their God, that their family feasts on such occasions would be regarded as "eating before the Lord their God." And by thus eating before the Lord on these special occasions, they would learn to hallow home joys on every occasion. So Proverbs 3:23 intimates: "that thou mayest learn to fear the Lord thy God always." Considerable latitude was allowed them according to their distance from the place of meeting, etc.; they might first turn the produce into money, and then the money into provision, and so on. And they might purchase what they desired. For they were not slaves, but free men. They were the loved and happy people of the Lord, and as such were to rejoice before him in their family feasts, at their sacred festivals, that from the impulses of joy and gladness so sanctified then, they might come to realize how near God was to them, and how he would have them glory in him as theirs all the year round. It is not possible to overrate the value of this, even now. By a truly religious and devout man all the minor affairs of life are lifted up into the religious region. And he is not only at liberty to enjoy his possessions, when he has sanctified the firstfruits for God, but he ought so to enjoy them. God "hath given us all things richly to enjoy." And when a godly man gathers his family around him at his table, with the table abounding in ample provision, he may then joyfully "eat before the Lord his God," in the full assurance that such enjoyment is a part of the Divine intent, and that the love and care of God may and do put their own seal of hallowed and hallowing mirth upon the use of common things.
II. A THIRD RELIGIOUS APPLICATION OF PRODUCE WAS FOR THE USE AND ENJOYMENT OF OTHERS. (Proverbs 3:28, Proverbs 3:29.) Whether this special use which was enjoined for every third year involved the setting apart a third tithe, or whether it was a triennial application of the second, is a point the discussion of which belongs to others. But either way, the principle, we conceive, is the same, which we understand to be this, "Let a man be a man all round." God first, then home, then him neighbors. Such is to be the order of his action. A special care was to be taken of the Levite (who, by the way, was to be thought of every year), as having charge of religious arrangements, but, besides these, how wide a scope is here opened up to a man's kindness and generosity! "The stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow … shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied." Is this an instance of the hardness of Judaism? They do not understand it who speak thus of it. Its spirit was kindness itself; for here the showing of goodness and benevolence to the poor and the needy is made a part of their religion. Need we ask the question whether Christianity has dropped this out? Details may change; principles, never! The Apostle James tells that the New Testament ritual is, "To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world." Let us ask, in conclusion, Which part of this threefold cord could be broken without serious injury? For we see here that Judaism, in this triple direction of duty, does but recognize the triple relations of human life. We are related first and foremost to our God, to whom our supreme allegiance is due. We are related next to our home, to our families and households, whose interests and happiness it is our first earthly business to promote; and then to our fellow-citizens, to whom we are bound to do good, where we can and when we can. Finally, by way of ensuring the right discharge of other duties, special care is taken to guide Israel in regard to the right use of property. There is singular, yea, superhuman wisdom in this. Where a man's getting and giving are right, he is not likely to be far wrong in anything. Wisdom in adding to, and giving from, the contents of the purse, is a fair guarantee of wisdom in other directions. "The love of money is a root of all evil," and by so much as love of money tends to deteriorate character, by so much will its right use tend to elevate it. And the lifting up of character is the surest sign of the blessing promised (verse 29).
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
Self-respect in mourning.
Mourning customs have significance, as testifying to the ideas of God, of human worth, and of immortality, held by those who practice them. Those here forbidden were degrading in their own nature, and embodied the false idea that God is pleased with the self-inflicted miseries of his creatures. They are condemned—
I. AS DISHONORING TO THE CREATOR. God, the Creator of the body, cannot take delight in seeing it abused. This proposition seems self-evident. The idea above referred to, and which lies at the root of so many false religions, viz. that it is pleasing to the Deity to see his creatures torturing and defacing themselves, is a libel on the Divine character. The body is rather to be reverenced as one of the noblest of God's works. It is to be studiously preserved and cared for. Religion, with reason, enjoins, "Do thyself no harm" (Acts 16:28).
II. AS INCONSISTENT WITH SELF-RESPECT. There is a propriety and decorum becoming in beings who possess reason. Wild and excessive grief, indicating the absence of power of self-control, lowers us beneath the dignity of rational existences. Neglect of the person, and, still more, wanton self-injury, in grief, betokens a like absence of proper self-respect. Least of all is such conduct excusable in those who claim the dignity of being God's children. They, of all others, ought to set an example of propriety and seemliness in behavior. They are "an holy people," and must study to deport themselves worthily of their high calling. The priests of Baal (1 Kings 18:28) behaved like maniacs. David and Job behaved like religious men (2 Samuel 12:20; Job 1:20, Job 1:21).
III. AS IMPLYING THE ABSENCE OF RELIGIOUS CONSOLATIONS. The early Jews were not without these (Hebrews 11:13, Hebrews 11:14). We in the Christian age have them still more abundantly. Therefore must we not sorrow "as those which have no hope" (1 Thessalonians 4:13).—J.O.
Clean and unclean.
The distinction of clean and unclean appears to have rested—
I. ON NATURAL GROUNDS. It is based to some extent on natural preferences and repugnances—an index, often, to deeper correlations. We instinctively recognize certain creatures to be unfit for food. The Law of Moses drew the line practically where men's unguided instincts have always drawn it. A lesson of respect for natural order. In diet, as in higher matters, we do well to follow Nature's guidance, avoiding violations of her laws, and refraining from obliterating her distinctions.
II. ON CEREMONIAL GROUNDS. The prohibition against eating of blood had consequences in the region of cleanness and uncleanness of food. All flesh-eating and blood-eating animals—all beasts and birds of prey—were of necessity excluded. Ceremonially unclean themselves, they could not be clean to those eating them.
III. ON SYMBOLIC GROUNDS. The symbolic traits observable in certain animals may have had to do with their rejection. We can see reason in the exclusion of creatures of cruel and rapacious habits, of those also in whose dispositions we trace a reflection of the human vices. It may be pushing the principle too far to seek recondite meanings in the chewing of the and (meditation) and the dividing of the hoof (separation of walk), or in the possession of fins and scales in fishes (organs of advance and resistance). But a Law impregnated with symbolism could scarcely reckon as clean a filthy and repulsive creature like the sow. The accursed serpent, the treacherous fox, the ravenous jackal, even had they been suitable for food in other respects, could scarcely on this principle have been admitted. The reptile tribes generally, and all tribes of vermin, were similarly unclean by a kind of natural brand. A lesson of seeing in the natural a symbol of the moral. Nature is a symbolic lesson-book, daily open to our inspection.
The distinction once ordained, and invested with religious significance, observance of it became to the Jews a sign and test of holiness. The general lesson taught is that of sanctification in the use of food. Holiness, indeed, is to be carried into every sphere and act of life. Eating, however, is an act which, though on its animal side related to the grossest part of us, is yet, on its spiritual side, of serious religious import. It is the act by which we supply oil to the flame of life. It has to do with the maintenance of those vital functions by which we are enabled to glorify God in the body. There is thus a natural sacredness about food, and it is to be received and used in a sacred fashion. That it may be "clean" to us, it is to be "sanctified by the Word of God and prayer," being "received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth" (1 Timothy 4:3-5). It is to be remembered, too, that in the sphere of the higher life, if not in the lower, clean and unclean are distinctions of abiding validity. Intellect, heart, spirit, etc.—the books we read, the company we keep, the principles we imbibe.—J.O.
Seething a kid in its mother's milk.
This precept, several times repeated in the Law (Exodus 23:16; Exodus 34:25), may be connected with magical superstitions, but it is equally probable that the act was condemned as an outrage on the connection naturally subsisting between parent and offspring. It is thus related to the commands forbidding the killing of a cow and a calf on the same day (Le Deuteronomy 22:28), or the taking a bird with its young (Deuteronomy 22:6), and to the precepts enjoining a scrupulous regard for natural distinctions—not sowing a field with mingled seed, etc. (Le Deuteronomy 19:19). It suggests—
I. THE DUTY OF CHERISHING THE FINER INSTINCTS OF OUR NATURE. The act here forbidden could hardly be called cruelty, the kid being dead, but it was unnatural. It argued a blunted state of the sympathies. A finer instinct, alive to the tenderness of the relation between parent and offspring, would have disallowed it. It is beautiful to see the ancient Law inculcating this rare and delicate fineness of feeling—this considerateness and sympathy even for dead animals. The lesson is that everything is to be avoided which would tend to blunt our moral sensibilities. The act has its analogue in higher relations. Not infrequently has the affection of a parent been used by the ingenuity of cruelty to inflict keener tortures on a child; or, conversely, a child has been betrayed into disclosures afterwards used to injure the parent.
II. THE DUTY OF CONSIDERATION IN DEALING WITH IRRATIONAL CREATURES.
1. It is right that irrational creatures should be treated kindly. And if the Law required that this delicate consideration should be shown towards dead animals, how much more does it require of us kindly treatment of them while living!
2. Our behavior towards irrational creatures, as seen above, reacts upon ourselves. In certain cases, this is readily perceived. Most people would shrink from the wanton mutilation of a dead animal, even in sport, and would admit the reactive effect of such an action in deadening humane instincts in him who did it. But it is the same with all cruelty and unfeelingness. Any action which, in human relationships, would be condemned as unsympathetic, will be found, if performed to animals, to have a blunting effect on the sensibilities of the agent. A man's dog is more to him than a brute. He is a friend. We can carry into our behavior towards the irrational creatures many of the feelings which actuate us in our personal relations, and the more we do it, the better for ourselves.—J.O.
The second tithe.
We adopt the usual view, that the lawgiver is here regulating the disposal of what, in later times, was called "the second tithe." The hypothesis that the book was written at a late date, when the gift of tithes to the Levites, prescribed in Numbers 18:1-32; had fallen into disuse, is unsupported by evidence. The provision in Deuteronomy would have furnished no support worth speaking of to the enormous Levitical establishments of the post-Davidic period (1 Chronicles 23-27.; 2 Chronicles 29:1-36.); nor are we prepared to concede, what is often so conveniently assumed, the non-authenticity of these sections of the chronicler. We learn—
I. THAT PIETY AND CHARITY ARE TO BE LIBERALLY PROVIDED FOR IN THE APPORTIONMENT OF INCOME. The tithes were to be faithfully and punctually set apart as a first charge upon the Jew's income. The second or vegetable tithe was appointed to be consumed in feasts at the sanctuary, or, in the third year, at home. A lesson is taught here as to the duty of liberal, systematic, and conscientious giving for religious and charitable purposes. Christians, it is true, are not under Law, but under grace. But it will scarcely be pleaded that on this account they are less bound to liberality than Jews were. The argument is all the other way: if this was done under Law, how much more ought to be done under the impulse of love to Christ! Unfortunately, the duty of systematic and proportionate giving is but little recognized. It would put many a Christian to the blush if he would sit down at the year's end, and
(1) reckon up the sum of his year's givings to Christ, and
(2) calculate its proportion to what he has thought himself at liberty to expend upon his own comforts and pleasures. Nor will there be improvement in this matter till giving for religious and charitable objects is made a point in conscience, and till a suitable proportion of income is set apart for this purpose in advance. That proportion is to be determined by the degree to which God has prospered us (1 Corinthians 16:2). The ever-widening operations of the Church at homo and abroad, the constantly multiplying claims of a wise Christian philanthropy, render liberal givings increasingly necessary.
II. THAT OBEDIENCE TO THE SPIRIT OF A LAW IS OF GREATER IMPORTANCE THAN OBEDIENCE TO ITS LETTER. (Verses 24-26.) God is not a hard master—reaping where he has not sown, and gathering where he has not strawed (Matthew 25:4). He is tenderly considerate of the circumstances of his people. He asks no more from them than they are able to render. Where laws could not be kept in the letter, modifications were introduced which made obedience practicable. This is seen in the accommodation of the laws of sacrifice to the circumstances of the poor (Le Deuteronomy 5:7, etc.), in the rules for commutation (Leviticus 27:1-34.), in the relaxation of the law about eating flesh (Deuteronomy 12:21), in this law of tithes. Gleaming through these changes, it is easy to detect the principle that the letter of an ordinance is in all cases subordinate to the spirit of obedience which manifests itself through it; and that, while obedience to the letter is required where possible, the will, in circumstances where it cannot be observed, will readily be accepted by Jehovah for the deed.
III. THAT PROVIDED RELIGIOUS MOTIVES PREDOMINATE, AND OTHER DUTIES ARE NOT NEGLECTED, THE ENJOYMENT OF WHAT WE HAVE IS PLEASING TO GOD. (Verses 25, 26.) True religion is not ascetic. It does not frown our joy. It regulates, but does not seek to banish, the pleasures of the festive board, and the flow of the soul connected therewith (John 2:1-12; 1 Corinthians 10:27; 1 Timothy 6:18). The sanctuary services were associated with feasts, in which, of course, religious motives were expected to predominate. The eating was "before the Lord," and the guests were invariably to include the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. This would give a high-toned character to the feast, and would preclude coarse debauchery. Festivities should be so conducted that God's presence can be invoked, and his blessing asked on all that is said and done.
IV. THAT THE ENJOYMENT OF WHAT WE HAVE IS ENHANCED BY SHARING IT WITH OTHERS. (Verse 29.) This is a truth recognized in all festivity. But the Law gave the truth a peculiar turn when it bade the Jew seek his guests among the classes who were most in need. The Savior would have us recall our feasting to the like pattern (Luke 14:12-14). Each feast of the kind prescribed would be an invaluable education of the disinterested affections in their purest exercise. How far we have departed from this idea may be seen in the stiff, exclusive, and ceremonious, if often superb and stately, dinner-parties and public feasts of modern society. Which type of feast contributes most to happiness? And is it not in fulfilling the duties of a warm-hearted love that we are most entitled to expect blessing from our Maker (verse 29)? When Jesus made his great supper, he acted on his own principle, and invited the "poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind," to come and sit down at it (Luke 14:21).—J.O.
HOMILIES BY R.M. EDGAR
Deuteronomy 14:1, Deuteronomy 14:2
Sorrow is to be in holy hopefulness.
After guarding them so carefully from all idolatry, Moses next charges the Israelites not to imitate the heathen nations by mutilating themselves or making themselves bald for the dead. The reason assigned is their consecration unto the Lord. There must have been, therefore, in these heathen practices something unholy expressed. Let us first consider what this was, and then proceed to the lessons in the prohibition.
I. WHAT WAS MEANT BY CUTTING ONE'S SELF AND MAKING ONE'S SELF BALD FOR THE DEAD? It implied manifestly some post-mortem merit and service. It was akin to the sacrifices which often have been presented in connection with death. It was the sacrifice of something short of life, but yet valuable. It was the sacrifice of sightliness, if not of beauty, in the interests of the dead. It implied that something could be done for the departed by those who remained, and which self-denying love gladly undertook. Hence these practices brought out the hopelessness of sorrow as it exists in the heathen world, and the desire to propitiate offended Deity by sympathetic suffering and sacrifice.
II. THE PROHIBITION SUMMONED THE JEWS TO HOPEFUL SORROW. The dead were to be regarded as in the hands of God, and he was to be trusted with them absolutely. No post-mortem sacrifices were to be attempted, but the cases left with implicit confidence to the ever-living and gracious Father. "Prayers for the dead" and "Masses for the dead" but express the pitifulness of human hope, and the dread and doubt with which the dead are left in the hands of God. Israel was prohibited from any such infirmity.
III. THEY WERE EVEN TO REGARD THEMSELVES AS CONSECRATED TO THE LIVING GOD, AND CONSEQUENTLY NOT TO BE DESECRATED THROUGH MUTILATION FOR THE DEAD. The danger sometimes is for people to forget their dedication to God amid all the loneliness of their sorrow. The dead absorb attention. God has been removing "idols," but the idols have become, through death, more and more to them. Too much cannot be made of the dead, they think, and so they would make a perpetual dedication of themselves to the dead, forgetful of their relations to the living God above. Now, it is this everlasting relation which God insists upon. Nothing can be better, surely, than in sorrow to be reminded, "Thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God, and the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth." It is just this which bereavement is intended to make emphatic. God claims us as his own: let not the dead make perpetual marks upon your persons, as if they had the right to your life-long service. This is desecration instead of consecration. Unreasonable attachment to the dead may be the denial of due consecration to the living God.
IV. UNCOMMON CONSECRATION TO GOD SHOULD BE OUR IDEAL. Israel was to be a peculiar people unto God "above all the nations that are upon the earth." All nations glorify God in some degree, even in spite of themselves. But his own people are wise in aiming at special consecration. There is nothing so important as the highest possible ideal. Devoted to this, we attain to something higher and nobler than is possible otherwise.
"Lord, we can trust thee for our holy dead,
They, underneath the shadow of thy tomb,
Have entered into peace; with bended head
We thank thee for their rest, and for our lightened gloom."
A holy people will eat sanctified things.
The regulation of the diet of the children of Israel was most important in view of their remaining a "peculiar people" unto God. In no way half so effectual could they, as a nation, be kept distinct from other nations, with whom it was undesirable on religious grounds that they should associate. By interdicting some of the animals used by surrounding and heathen nations, the Lord, as far as possible, prevented Israel's association with them. To this they had been accustomed in Egypt; for some of the animals they, as Israelites, would eat were regarded as sacred by the Egyptians, and on no account would be slain or eaten by them. Hence the slaves had never commingled with their taskmasters. The two rivers would not coalesce. The Canaanites and Phoenicians, again, ate freely of flesh that the Hebrew dare not touch; and even the Arab would eat such animals as the camel, the hare, and the jerboa, all of which—the latter translated "mouse"—were for-hidden to the children of Israel.
I. THE REGULATION OF MEATS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT WAY OF SEPARATING ONE NATION FROM ALL OTHER NATIONS. For if association at table is an impossibility, all other association will be very superficial and comparatively harmless. "Nothing more effectual," says Dr. Kitto, "could be devised to keep one people distinct from another. It causes the difference between them to be ever present to the mind, touching, as it does, upon so many points of social and everyday contact; and it is therefore far more efficient in its results, as a rule of distinction, than any difference in doctrine, worship, or morals which men could entertain It is a mutual repulsion continually operating; and its effect may be estimated from the fact that no nation in which a distinction of meats was rigidly enforced as a part of a religious system, has ever changed its religion." £ And we are surely taught the wisdom of expedients to keep up the desirable separation between the Church and the world. If every religious custom were abandoned, and the conduct of religious people were conformed in all particulars to that of their worldly neighbors, religion would soon become a name, and nothing more. "Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Romans 12:2).
II. THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN THE ANIMALS SYMBOLIZED THE DISTINCTION WHICH SHOULD EXIST BETWEEN GOD'S PEOPLE AND THE WORLD. An excellent writer has suggested that in individual development we pass through the stages attributed to the organic world as a whole; children, for example, passing, through the "parrot" or the "monkey" stage. £ "Animated nature" seems designed to mirror human nature," whether in its evil or in its good propensities: Man finds himself in the image of the lower animals as well as, on his higher side, in the image of God. In conformity with this arrangement, then, the Jew was trained to regard certain animals as clean and edible, while others were unclean and forbidden. Towards the one class he was drawn, from the other he was repelled. Now, in the clean animals may be discovered certain good qualities, which make them fit illustrations of the moralities expected from an Israelite. For example, the characteristic of rumination, which belonged to the clean animals, was a fit type of that thoughtfulness and quiet meditation which should characterize the people of God. Again, sure-footedness characterizes the animals with the cloven hoof, which symbolizes the steadfastness of religious character. Speed and cleanliness also characterize the fishes that were accounted clean.
On the other hand, the unclean beasts, birds, and fish illustrate most powerfully the lustful, selfish, and impure spirit which characterizes unregenerate man. Not only, therefore, did the distinction among the animals secure the desired national separation, but also that poetic outlook upon nature which discovers in it a great parable for the soul. £ Thus Emerson says, "Every rational creature has all nature for his dowry and estate. It is his, if he will He may divest himself of it; he may creep into a corner and abdicate his kingdom, as most men do, but he is entitled to the world by his constitution. In proportion to the energy of his thought and will, he takes up the world unto himself." What a richness of thought is thus afforded to the thoughtful soul!
III. THAT WHICH DIED OF ITSELF WAS ALSO EXCLUDED FROM THE DIET OF ISRAEL. In such a case there was no guarantee that the blood had been properly drained from the carcass, and that the atoning element had been solemnly eliminated from it. In fact, in such cases there is not the sacrifice of life which we have seen to obtain in the normal sustenance of the world. God's people consequently must avoid all contact with death, and keep themselves pure unto him. And this arrangement surely symbolized that watchfulness over our contact with the world, which should characterize all professors of religion. We must "keep our garments unspotted from the world," we must even in certain critical times "let the dead bury their dead," and deny ourselves that intercourse with the spiritually dead which otherwise might be most proper.
IV. A KID WAS NOT TO BE SEETHED IN HIS MOTHER'S MILK. A quotation from an old writer will best improve this commandment. "This is not the meaning of the command, Content yourselves to eat the kid, but take heed that ye eat not the dam also; neither is this the meaning of it, Ye shall not cat flesh with milk, as the Chaldee paraphrast paraphraseth it; neither is this the meaning of it, Take heed that ye seethe not the kid in the mother's milk, as the superstitious Jews expound it at this day; they will not seethe flesh and milk in one pot, neither will they cut both flesh and cheese with one knife; and amongst the precepts which they have written of things lawful to be eaten, they forbid the eating of flesh and milk together; but the meaning of the place seemeth to be this, Ye shall not eat of a kid as of a lamb (for so the LXX. translate it) so long as it sucketh the dam, for all this time it is as it were but milk; they might sacrifice it when it was but eight days old, but not to eat of it so long as it was sucking (1 Samuel 7:9). 'Samuel took a sucking lamb and offered.'" £ This would consequently form a ceremonial appendix to the sixth commandment, and would teach that abstinence from the semblance of cruelty which should characterize the people of the Lord. In accepting of God's bounty in the matter of flesh, care should be taken that no unnatural cruelty should be practiced or encouraged.
The sanctified ones are thus taught to keep themselves separate from the world, to regard nature as a great parable for the soul, and to conduct themselves in that considerate spirit which should characterize the disciples of Jesus.—R.M.E.
Systematic provision for fellowship with God.
From the arrangements about ordinary diet, we pass now to the minute directions about "eating before God." A tithe of the corn, the wine, and the oil, together with the firstlings of their flocks and herds, must be devoted to the purposes of fellowship. It is clear from this, then, that God designed a systematic storing of the tenth part of the Jewish income for the purposes of religion. If the Jew resided far from the tabernacle, then he was to sell the tithe, and turning it into money, he was to go up with this to the central altar, and there invest in whatever his soul desired, and partake of it all before God. In this the Levite was to have his share. Over and above all this, every third year there was to be a second tithe devoted to the delectation of the poor. Now, we learn from these arrangements—
I. THAT FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD IS THE CROWN OF TRUE RELIGION. A feast with God, he taking the best portions, his priests the next best, and the offerer joyful over the remainder of the sacrifice, constituted the glory of the Jewish ritual. All the sin offerings, burnt offerings, and meat offerings were valueless if not crowned by the peace offering and its feast of fellowship. No wonder our Lord makes out fellowship to be the substance of eternal life, when in his prayer he says, "And this is life eternal, to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent" (John 17:3). If we are not led up into this acquaintanceship, our religion is a name and not a reality.
II. THE FELLOWSHIP IS WELL WORTH ANY EXPENSE IT MAY INVOLVE. While it is, of course, true that God's blessings are gratuitous, "without money and without price," it is also true that a niggardly soul will fall out of fellowship. In fact, fellowship with God will seem so precious as to be worth infinitely more than all our possessions, and any proportion of these required by God for the maintenance of fellowship will seem a small price. Our conviction will be that of the psalmist, "The Law of thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver."
Now, while God's favor is given freely, there must evidently be something about which he and we can have fellowship. In other words, fellowship requires a medium. Fellowship means having something in common. When we analyze all we have, we find that it is all "the gift of God." Jesus is his gift; the Holy Spirit is his gift; money is his gift; every good thing is his gift (James 1:17). He has surely every right, then, to say to his people, "You must dedicate a proportion of my gifts to you, for the purposes of fellowship; let us have a tithe in common; let us rejoice mutually over it as ours." This was the principle underlying Jewish tithing—it is the principle underlying all genuine beneficence. We are only returning to God such a proportion of what he gives as shall be the medium of fellowship.
A peace offering at the tabernacle was a most precious commodity. It was an animal regarding which the worshipper and God agreed to say, "It is ours," and each to feast upon it. It was the organ and means of fellowship. It was a delight to God and to man. Who would not pay anything required for such a privilege? Man is honored most highly in being allowed such a partnership with God.
III. THE SENSE OF FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD IN THE FEAST IS THE REAL PRESERVATION OF MAN FROM UNDUE INDULGENCE. It is noticeable that "wine" and "strong drink" (De) might be included in the feast before God. The safety of the partaker lay in the sense of fellowship and its consequent consecration. Just as Paul afterwards maintained that "every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer" (1 Timothy 4:4, 1 Timothy 4:5). It is the unhallowed use of God's gifts which is the danger. The temperance reformation will do well to keep in view this Divine side of the question, where in the last resort the stress must be laid.
IV. THE FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD IMPLIES THE INVITATION OF OTHERS TO SHARE THE BLESSING WITH US. Our households and the Levite are to be partakers with us of our sacred feasts. For God does not encourage lonely satisfactions; but as he calls us into his fellowship, it is on the understanding that we shall invite others, and make the fellowship a family thing. Now, the support of the Levites was to be a matter of cheerfulness and religious privilege. It was to be a joy embraced rather than a mere debt moodily discharged. It is surely here that "ministerial support" must be pleaded and advanced. It is not to be something doled out, but a feast of fellowship, the call of God's minister to share in our good fortune and success.
V. THE CARE OF THE POOR MUST ALSO BE PUT UPON THE BASIS OF FELLOWSHIP. It has been made a matter of law. And doubtless there is a noble element in the fact that a nation, passing beyond what old moralists called duties of debt, has entered upon duties of merit. Still, the national obligation embodied in the "poor rates" is apt to sap a certain amount of individual sympathy. The care of the poor is not the feast of joy and fellowship God meant it to be a The three years' system brought under our notice in this passage was an effort, apparently, to bring the lonely and needy classes up to the standard of fellowship and of joy that the religious Jew himself had attained. It was the systematic effort to make the needy ones glad before God. And it is here that we find the goal of our exertions, whether to support a minister, to comfort a stranger, or a fatherless child, or a widow. Let all be guests of our love, and lifted, if possible, into our light and fellowship with God. For this we should strive evermore.
VI. THOSE WHO THUS HONOR GOD WILL BE BLESSED AND HONORED BY HIM. Not, of course, that systematic beneficence should be in any sense a speculation. It is not beneficence if it is a selfish investment. But at the same time, God blesses the system which recognizes obligation to him and tries to discharge it. The accurate survey of circumstances which systematic giving implies tends to financial success. There is no reason why religious men should not be "successful merchants." Were systematic beneficence more general, there would be less failure and heart-burning in the walks of business.—R.M.E.
HOMILIES BY D. DAVIES
Deuteronomy 14:1, Deuteronomy 14:2
Against conformity with heathen customs.
Israel had been called to honorable privilege; therefore it was fitting there should be seemly conduct. Royal children should be royal in all their acts.
I. ISRAEL'S SPECIAL PRIVILEGE. They enjoyed a position superior to all the nations of the earth.
1. They were the objects of God's choice. Out of all the peoples and tribes which dwelt on this round globe, Israel had been selected for a noble purpose. We may not be able to divine the reason, for our knowledge is exceedingly small. Yet God, who does nothing unwisely, did in this matter the wisest thing.
2. They had been chosen to sonship. God had revealed himself to these Hebrews in a special and endearing character. Had he not informed them of his dispositions towards them and his loving interest in them, they would not have dared to call him Father. In special condescension he informed them that he would treat them, in all substantial respects, as a father doth his children.
3. They had been chosen to righteous character. By virtue of this choice, they were on the high road to perfection. Their destiny was not secured irrespective of their own will and choice. They were now consecrated to the Divine service of Jehovah, and must perform holy actions, foster holy habits, so as to acquire a holy character. This is man's highest reward—a heaven within.
II. A SPECIFIC PROHIBITION. A prohibition against serf-mutilation. There were natural outlets for abundant grief—tears, sighs, and moans; these self-mutilations were unnatural and irrational.
1. Because inordinate sorrow for the death of friends is sinful. Moderate grief is allowable: it is the necessary concomitant of strong affection. But as we should enjoy every friend as a gift of God, so our sorrow at separation should be accompanied by filial submission.
2. Because such symbols of mourning were often pretences. Frequently, if not usually, this manifest sorrow was assumed. 'Twas mere trickery and falsehood. Such actions injured and deteriorated character.
3. Because even the body is the property of God. There is no part of his nature which the true Israelite does not recognize as belonging to God. Throughout, he is Jehovah's temple. Every faculty of body, every organ and member, is to be utilized for God, is to be preserved in health and vigor to do credit to Jehovah. "His Name is to be upon our foreheads."
4. Because this stir-mutilation would be conformity with heathen customs. The practices connected with idol-worship were dictated by a spirit of cruelty—by the genius of Satan. Far as the east is from the west, or north pole from the south, were the followers of God to-withdraw from heathen practices. As sane men flee from pestilence, so should pious men avoid the neighborhood of sin.—D.
Discrimination in meats.
The prohibition of some kinds of food proceeds upon the principle that it is not wise to gratify every appetite. There must be denial somewhere. If every desire and lust of the body be indulged, injury will ensue to the nobler capacities of the soul. Pruning of the wild growths of carnal desire is essential to real fruitfulness. Divine restraints are acts of genuine kindness. Discrimination in animal food was based on true wisdom.
I. BECAUSE IT WAS A SANITARY BENEFIT. In that early age, the sciences of physiology and health were unknown, and even now they are in their earliest infancy. We are, however, now aware of the fact that some (at least) of the flesh prohibited to the Hebrews is more or less unwholesome. Nor is it improbable that in that Eastern climate some flesh is more unwholesome for food than in our own land. As a father cares for the health of his child, so God cared for every part of Israel's well-being. Nothing escapes God's attention. "The Lord is for the body." With infinite tenderness, God legislated for the meals of the Hebrews, and gave them the advantage of his unerring judgment.
II. BECAUSE PARTIAL ABSTINENCE WAS SALUTARY FOR THE SOUL.
1. It taught them that fleshly appetite was not to be gratified for its own sake—not for mere pleasure. To strengthen and broaden the desires of the mind is an advantage in itself; but, excessive strength of bodily appetite is an evil, an injury to the real man. The lesson requires to be early learnt, that our nature requires government, that our highest good can be reached only by self-restraint and self-mortification. Bodily desires and inclinations are designed to be servants, not masters.
2. It exercised them in practical self-denial. The noblest qualities of human character are acquired only by personal discipline. Some parts of our nature have to be repressed; some have to be stimulated. The fleshly propensities have always been unfriendly to the spirit's life. It is a lesson hard to be learnt, to forego lesser enjoyments for remote advantages. The favor and society of God amply recompense for all minor pains.
3. The general rule of action was typical of higher truths. All such animals might be eaten as "parted the hoof, and chewed the cud." There was, doubtless, a reason for this permission arising out of the constituent nature of the flesh. But spiritual lessons also were suggested, viz. that to be acceptable for God's service there must be with us mental digestion of his truth, and there must also be practical circumspection—in our dally walk a separation from worldly contamination.
III. BECAUSE THIS DISCRIMINATION IN MEATS WOULD CONSTITUTE A VISIBLE PARTITION FROM THE HEATHEN. To bring to a successful issue the Divine purposes in the Hebrew race, it was incumbent to maintain broad distinctions between them and the heathen round about. They lived a coarser and more animal life. Animal passions were fostered by the glutting of the appetites. Some of the animals denied as food to the Jews were used by the heathen for divination; therefore it was safest to label such animals and birds as an abomination. A wise captain will give to a sunken reef a wide berth. Further, these differences in social customs and domestic habits would serve as perpetual barriers against intermarriages with neighboring tribes. This might appear unsocial and exclusive. But lesser good has to be sacrificed for loftier and eternal blessing. To every quibble of human reason it is surely enough to reply, "God knows best." This proscription of some kinds of food applied to the Jews only. They might supply to strangers among them food which they were forbidden to eat themselves. Thus a practical lesson was taught them that they were to be pre-eminently holy. The moral attainments of others were not to be the standards by which they should measure conduct. More plainly than speech did such prohibition say, "Be not conformed to the world." What it is allowable for others to do, may be sin for me to practice.
IV. BECAUSE THIS ARRANGEMENT SERVED FOR THE DALLY DISCIPLINE OF FAITH. Of the first importance was it that the faith of the Hebrews should be maintained, and that their faith should be practically displayed. Very clearly God had assured them that this was his will concerning them; and, whether any reason appeared for the demand or not, as his acknowledged servants they were bound to obey. Such a requirement had some correspondence with the test imposed on our first parents. The act forbidden might be in itself indifferent—having no moral character. Apart from the command, they might have eaten, or abstained from eating, without any violation of conscience. This would make the matter a better test of obedience. In abstaining from such and such meat, they did no one wrong; they violated no law of nature, no law of God: they did themselves no injury. They still had enough to meet all the necessities of hunger. Here, then, was [a true test whether men would simply obey God's word, even though obedience should mean privation. This was the discipline of faith.—D.
God's claim upon our money gains.
In every province of human life God requires his proprietorship to be recognized. The seventh part of our time is hallowed for his service. The firstfruits of corn were to be devoted to religious uses. The firstborn in the household belonged to God, and was to be redeemed by substitution. And now, of all their yearly gains, one-tenth was claimed by God.
I. THE GROUND OF GOD'S CLAIM. His claim proceeds from his proprietorship. Towards the Hebrews he was obviously and directly landlord. He had put them into possession of their estates, and rightfully could exact from them a rent. And with respect to all national substance, God is absolute Proprietor. He has an original and indefeasible right as Creator; and it is his supreme power that maintains in existence the treasures of the earth. Even the power we have to accumulate wealth is derived from the same beneficent Source. It is his gift, not that he has conveyed to us the irresponsible right in it, but simply in the sense that we had nothing with which to purchase it. "The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof."
II. A DEFINITE PROPORTION DEMANDED. It was competent for God to make such terms as he pleased with men. He might justly have permitted for our own use a bare existence, and required us to devote to him the residue of our gains. Or he might very properly have exacted as his tribute one-half. Whatever had been his will in the matter, it would become us meekly to acquiesce. He did make known his will very clearly to the Jews, and his terms were very generous. So small a portion as one-tenth he condescended to take, and even this was expended in advantage for the nation. Many significant hints have we that, in unwritten form, this part of his will was made known to ether nations. Among heathen tribes we find the custom prevails of consecrating one-tenth of their harvests unto idol gods; and when Abraham returned from the conquest of the invaders, he gave to Melchizedek the tithe of all his spoils. Hence we may regard the law, not as exclusively Jewish, but as intended for all peoples.
III. THE METHOD OF ASSESSMENT. No official assessor was appointed. The cost of collection was nil. Each man was to act as his own assessor, and to separate, at harvest-time, God's share of corn and wine and oil. It was a transaction between each man and his God. It was Israel's privilege to live under the shield of Jehovah's arm, and therefore "ever in his Great Taskmaster's eye." The penalty for dishonesty was not immediate, nor visible. Every plan was devised to suit the convenience of the debtor. He might bring his tithe to the temple, either in kind or in coin. Jehovah was no hard Taskmaster, but a considerate and generous King. Giving to him was only another form of receiving. The absence of intermediary officers was a spiritual advantage. It brought each man into direct contact with God, and taught him to act with integrity towards the "Searcher of hearts."
IV. THE EMPLOYMENT OF GOD'S TITHE. The tithe here spoken of is not the tithe of all profits, which was due to the Levite, but a second tithe. The first tithe was regarded as an equivalent to the tribe of Levi, for Levi's share in the allotted possessions. Each man in the twelve tribes received, in the original distribution of land, one-twelfth more than his due, from the fact that Levi did not participate. In return for this increment of property, each proprietor paid to the tribe of Levi yearly one-tenth of the produce of the laud. This was due as a legal right, and as a just equivalent for non-participation in the territory. But this second tithe was peculiarly the Lord's. Nevertheless, it was returned, with added blessing, into their own bosoms. Its first use was to afford a banquet for the offerers themselves. The temple was to be the scene of sacred feasting. The guests might select such viands as pleased their taste. The overshadowing presence of Jehovah would serve as a sufficient check against excess. To this banquet, in which the entire household shared, they were to invite the Levite, the stranger, the widow, and the orphan. The essential idea thus embodied was philanthropy. The institution was intended to foster a spirit of benevolence and charity. The presence of the poor in their midst was to be accounted a benefit. It offered scope for the exercise of noblest dispositions. There was to be no niggardly stint in this provision, for it was at Jehovah's cost, and the occasion was to be characterized by unrestrained joy.
V. THE MORAL ADVANTAGES WHICH ENSUED.
1. It served as a practical reminder of God's proprietorship in them and in their possessions. Nothing is more easy than to forget cur obligations; and such forgetfulness is an immeasurable loss. Not an item was there in their persons, property, or enjoyments, but came from the hand of a generous God.
2. It was a potent check upon their worldly-mindedness. The propensity for selfish avarice is indigenous in human nature. Every wise man will welcome any breakwater that will withstand this mischievous tide of cupidity. Thus God, with wondrous forethought, provided a safeguard against the abuse of prosperity. He designs to make even worldly gain serve as a stepping-stone to piety. Money is nothing more than means to an end. Reconciliation with God, and personal holiness,—these are to be the aims of human life.
3. It fostered kindly dispositions among all classes of the people. Though, as the children of Abraham, they enjoyed great external privileges, they were not to despise the stranger. Yea, he too might be admitted to a full share in their blessings. Brotherly love is a reciprocal boon: both parties are blessed. The fountain of love is replenished in the very act of giving. The helped today may become the helper tomorrow. We are only stewards of God's possessions.—D.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 14". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent