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THE BLESSING AND THE CURSE. Having enjoined the proclamations of the blessing and the curse on their entering into possession of Canaan, Moses, for the sake of impressing on the minds of the people both the blessing and the curse, proceeds here to dilate upon both, dwelling especially upon the latter as that which the people the more needed to have brought home to them. As he proceeds, the language of terrible denunciation passes into that of no less terrible prediction, in which the calamities that should come upon the nation because of their apostasy and rebellion are clearly and pointedly foretold.
The blessing. The condition sine qua non of all enjoyment of the Divine bounty was obedience on the part of the people to the word and Law of Jehovah their God. This rendered, the blessing would come on them rich and full, and abide with them (cf. Deuteronomy 28:2, Deuteronomy 28:9, Deuteronomy 28:13, Deuteronomy 28:14).
The blessings about to be specified are represented as personified, as actual agencies coming upon their objects and following them along their path.
The fullness of the blessing in all the relations of life, external and internal, is presented in six particulars, each introduced by the word "blessed." Israel should be blessed in the house and in the field, in the fruit of the body, in the productions of the soil and the increase of herd and flock, in the store and in the use of what nature provided,—in all their undertakings, whether in peace or in war, at home or abroad. Basket and thy store; rather, basket and kneading-trough (see Exodus 8:3; Exodus 12:34); "the basket" representing the store in which the fruits of the earth were laid up, the "kneading-trough" the use of these for the supply of daily needs (Deuteronomy 28:6; cf. Numbers 27:17; Psalms 121:8).
The effect of the blessing should be seen, not only in the supremacy of Israel over all opposition, but in the abundance of their possessions, in the success of their undertakings, and in the respect in which they should be held by all nations. Storehouses. The Hebrew word (אֲסָמִים), which occurs only here and in Proverbs 3:10, is properly thus rendered. It comes from a root which signifies to lay up.
The Lord would establish them to be a people holy unto himself, in whose Blessed condition all would see that they were indeed his people, favored by him.
Thou art called by the name of the Lord; rather, the Name of Jehovah called upon thee. The Name of God is God himself as revealed; and this Name is called or named upon men when they are adopted by him, made wholly his, and transformed into his likeness. This blessing Israel enjoyed as a nation—"Theirs was the adoption and the glory" (Romans 9:4)—but it was theirs only in symbol and in shadow (Hebrews 10:1); the reality belongs only to the spiritual Israel, and this came to men in all its fullness when he who is "the image of the invisible God" appeared and set up his tent among men, full of grace and truth (John 1:12, John 1:14).
The Lord shall make thee plenteous in goods; literally, shall make thee to abound for good; i.e. shall not only give thee abundance, but cause it to redound to thy felicity.
His good treasure; equivalent to his treasure-house, i.e. heaven, whence blessing should be poured out upon them (cf. Deuteronomy 11:14; Le Deuteronomy 26:4, Deuteronomy 26:5). He would so fructify their ground, and so bless their toil in cultivating it, that they should become rich, and be able to lend to other nations, and not need to borrow.
They should be manifestly superior to other nations, heading them and being above them, their leader and not their subject or follower (cf. Isaiah 9:13). Note the contrast in Deuteronomy 28:43, Deuteronomy 28:44.
(Cf. Deuteronomy 5:29; Deuteronomy 11:28.) Moses ends as he began, by reminding them that the condition of enjoying the blessing was obedience to the Divine Law, and steadfast adherence to the course in which they were called to walk.
The curse. In case of disobedience and apostasy, not only would the blessing be withheld, but a curse would descend, blighting, destructive, and ruinous. As the blessing was set forth in six announcements (Deuteronomy 28:3-6), the curse is proclaimed in form and number corresponding (Deuteronomy 28:16-19). The curse thus appears as the exact counterpart of the blessing. The different forms in which the threatened curse should break forth are then detailed in five groups.
First group. The curse should come upon them in various forms of evil, filling them with terror and dismay, and threatening them with utter ruin (cf. Malachi 2:2).
Vexation; rather, consternation; the deadly confusion with which God confounds his enemies. The same word is used in Deuteronomy 7:23; 1 Samuel 14:20. Rebuke; rather, threatening.
Deuteronomy 28:21, Deuteronomy 28:22
The afflictive visitations here named are such as destroy life; but the distinctive character of each it is not easy exactly to define. The pestilence is probably a generic term for any fatal epidemic. In the LXX. it is usually represented by the general word Odoacer, death. Consumption; literally, wasting; the designation of any species of tabes or marasmus. Fever (דַּלֶּקֶת, from דָּלַק, to be parched, to glow); inflammation (חַחְתֻר, from חָרַר, to burn); burning fever (קַדַּחַת, from קָדַח, to kindle): different species of pyrexia, the distinction between which has not been determined. The sword. Instead of חֶרֶב, sword, the Vulgate, Arabic, and Samaritan adopt the reading חֹרֶב, heat, drought (Genesis 31:40); but all the other versions support the reading of the received text, and there is no reason why it should be departed from, more especially as drought is threatened in the verse that follows. Blasting and with mildew; diseases that attack the grain (Amos 4:9); the former (שִׁדָּפוֹן, from שָׁדַּף, to scorch, to blast) a withering or scorching of the ears caused by the east wind (Genesis 41:23); the latter (יֵרָקוֹן, from יָרַק, to be yellowish) the effect produced by a hot wind, which turns the ears yellow, so that they are rendered unproductive.
Deuteronomy 28:23, Deuteronomy 28:24
Terrible drought is hero threatened; no rain should fall (cf. Le Deuteronomy 26:19); but instead thereof dust, both light as powder and heavy as sand, should fall upon them. The allusion is probably to those clouds of dust and sand which often fill the air in Palestine, when the heat is intense and there has been no rain for a season; the wind then becomes a vehement sirocco, and the air is filled with sand and dust, and is like the glowing heat at the mouth of a furnace (Robinson, 'Bib. Res.,' 2:123; Thomson, 'Land and the Book,' 2.311).
Deuteronomy 28:25, Deuteronomy 28:26
Utter defeat in battle (the opposite of the blessing promised, Deuteronomy 28:7) and dispersion among the nations are threatened, with the utmost indignity to those who were slain, in their bodies being left unburied to be devoured by birds of prey and wild beasts (cf. 1 Kings 14:11; Psalms 79:2; Jeremiah 7:33; Jeremiah 16:4, etc.). Shalt be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth; literally, shalt be a tossing to and fro to all the kingdoms, etc.; "a ball for all the kingdoms to play with" (Schultz; cf. 2 Chronicles 29:8; Jeremiah 15:4; Jeremiah 24:9; Jeremiah 29:18, etc.).
Second group. The Lord should afflict them with various loathsome diseases, vex them with humiliating and mortifying calamities, and give them over to be plundered and oppressed by their enemies.
Botch of Egypt; the form of leprosy peculiar to Egypt (Exodus 9:9, etc.), elephantiasis, "AEgypti peculiare malum" (Pliny, 'Nat. Hist.,' 26.1-5). Emerods; tumors, probably piles (cf. 1 Samuel 5:1-12.). Scab; probably some kind of malignant scurvy. Itch; of this there are various kinds common in Egypt and Syria.
Deuteronomy 28:28, Deuteronomy 28:29
Besides bodily ailments, mental diseases should come upon them—insanity, incapacity, confusion of mind, so that even at midday they should grope as a blind man gropes, i.e. under the most favorable circumstances they should be unable to find the right path, to hit on the right and safe course. It is of mental blindness that the word is here used (cf. Isaiah 42:19; Lamentations 4:14; Zephaniah 1:17; Romans 11:25; 2 Corinthians 4:4). Thou shalt grope (cf. Isaiah 59:10). Thus afflicted in body and mind, their state should be one only of oppression and calamity, with no hope of deliverance.
The spoliation of them should be utter. All most dear and precious to them should be the prey of their enemies. Wife, house, vineyard, herd, and flock should be ruthlessly taken from them; sons and daughters should be carried into captivity, and their eyes should look for them in rain, with constant and wasting longing (cf. Jeremiah 8:20; Amos 5:11; Micah 6:15; Zephaniah 1:13; 2 Chronicles 29:9; Nehemiah 11:36; Jeremiah 5:15).
And shalt not gather the grapes thereof; margin, "Hebrew, profane." This is the literal rendering of the verb; the meaning is that given in the text. A vineyard was, for the first three years after it was planted, held sacred (Leviticus 19:23); after that, its consecration ceased, and the fruit might be gathered for common use (cf. Deuteronomy 20:6), and it was said to be profaned.
And there shall be no might in thine hand. Keil proposes to render here, "Thy hand shall not be to thee towards God;" and others, "Thy hand shall not be to thee for God," i.e. instead of God. But אֵל here is not "the Mighty One, God; but simply" might, strength, power," as in Genesis 31:29; Proverbs 3:27; Micah 2:1. Literally rendered, the words are, And not for might is thy hand, the meaning of which is well expressed in the Authorized Version.
Third group. Moses reverts to the calamities already threatened (Deuteronomy 28:27), for the purpose of leading on the thought that, as such diseases separated the sufferer from the society of his fellows, so Israel should be separated from God and brought under the dominion of strangers as a punishment for rebellion and apostasy.
A sore botch; an incurable leprosy, affecting not merely the joints and extremities, but the whole body. Such an affliction would exclude a man from all fellowship and from all covenant privileges of the nation. So Israel, rendered unclean by their sin, should be cut off from covenant union with God.
Deuteronomy 28:36, Deuteronomy 28:37
As a consequence, God would bring them under subjection to a foreign power, and they should be made to serve other gods, wood and stone (Deuteronomy 4:28), and would become an object of horror, a proverb, and a byword among the nations (cf. 1 Kings 9:7; Jeremiah 24:9).
Even in their own land the curse would overtake them and rest upon them in all their interests and relations.
Worms; probably the vine weevil, the convolvulus or involvulus of the Latin writers (Pliny, 'Nat. Hist.,' 17.47; Care, ' De Re Rust.,' c. 95; Plaut; 'Cistell.,' 4.2), the ἴξ or ἴψ of the Greeks (Bochart, 'Hieroz.,' pt. it. bk. 4. c. 27).
Thine olive shall cast his fruit. Some would render here "shall be plundered or rooted out," taking the verb יִשַּׁל as the Niph. of שָׁלַל; but the majority regard it as part of the verb נָשַׁל, and render "shall drop off," or as in the Authorized Version. There is some doubt, however, whether the verb נָשַׁל can be used intransitively.
Consume; literally, take possession of. The name given here to the ravaging insect is not the same as in Deuteronomy 28:38; but there can be no doubt it is the locust that is intended.
Deuteronomy 28:43, Deuteronomy 28:44
(Cf. Deuteronomy 28:12, Deuteronomy 28:13.)
These curses would be for a sign and for a wonder, exciting astonishment and dismay in the beholder, and showing that it was indeed the hand of God that was upon the rebellious nation. Forever. This, though it may imply the final and utter rejection of Israel as a nation, does not preclude the hope of restoration of a part of Israel as individuals, or as a remnant remaining in or returning to faith and obedience (cf. Isaiah 10:22; Isaiah 6:13; Romans 9:27; Romans 11:5).
Fourth group. In order still more to impress on the minds of the people the evil and danger of rebellion and apostasy, Moses enlarges on the calamities that would ensue on their being given up to the power of the heathen. Because they would not serve Jehovah their God, they should be delivered to be servants to their enemies.
Deuteronomy 28:49, Deuteronomy 28:50
The description here given of the enemy to whom Israel was to be subjected, applies more or less closely to all the nations whom God raised up from time to time, to invade Israel and chastise the people for their rebellion—the Chaldeans (cf. Jeremiah 48:40; Jeremiah 49:22; Ezekiel 17:5-7; Habakkuk 1:6, etc.), the Assyrians (cf. Isaiah 5:26; Isaiah 38:11; Isa 23:1-18 :19), the Medes (Isaiah 13:17, Isaiah 13:18); but there are features in the description which apply especially to the Romans; and the horrors delineated in the latter part of the section (verses 52-57) carry one's thoughts immediately to the terrible scenes which transpired during the wars of Vespasian and Titus with the Jews as narrated by Josephus ('De Bell. Jud.,' 6.; see Milman, ' Hist. of the Jews,' bk. 16.).
As the eagle flieth. The eagle was the common ensign of the legion in the Roman army; and by the Latin writers aquila (eagle) is sometimes used for a legion (Caes; 'Hisp.,' 30; cf. Matthew 24:28).
A nation of fierce countenance; literally, firm or hard of face; i.e. obdurate and determined (cf. Proverbs 21:29; Daniel 8:23).
(Cf. Leviticus 26:29; 2 Kings 6:24-30; Jeremiah 19:9; Lain. Jeremiah 2:20; Jeremiah 4:10.)
So intense should be the hunger, that the delicate and sensitive woman, brought up in luxury, and who would not set her foot on the ground lest she should be fatigued by the exertion or offended by coming in contact with the base soil, but when she went abroad must be carried in a litter or borne by a camel or an ass,—even she should break through all restraints of delicacy and affection, and would secretly devour the very infant she had borne during the siege.
Her young one; literally, her after-birth. The Hebrew suggests an extreme of horror beyond what the Authorized Version indicates.
Fifth group. Even these fearful calamities would not be the consummation of their punishment. If they should be obstinate in their rebellion; if they would not observe to do all that the Law delivered by Moses enjoined on them if they ceased to reverence and obey Jehovah, their God;—then should come upon them the curse in full measure, and long-continued chastisement should show how grievous had been their sin.
This book. Not the Book of Deuteronomy, which was not then written, but the Book of the Law, the Torah, delivered by Moses to Israel from God; and of which he had been, in his addresses to the people, recapitulating some of the principal points (cf. verses 60, 61). That thou mayest fear, etc. It was not mere outward observance of the Law, not the mere "doing" of what was enjoined that was required, but the doing of it heartily and sincerely in the fear of the Lord, in the fear of him who had revealed himself to them by the glorious and awful Name, Jehovah, their God (cf. Le Deuteronomy 24:11).
Deuteronomy 28:60, Deuteronomy 28:61
The diseases of Egypt are the plagues sent on Pharaoh and his people, as recorded in Exodus 7-11. Besides these, other plagues, not recorded in the Book of the Law, should come on rebellious Israel, so that they should be almost utterly destroyed.
(Cf. Deuteronomy 4:27; Deuteronomy 10:22; Nehemiah 9:23.)
(Cf. Deuteronomy 30:9; Jeremiah 32:41.) He, whose joy it had been to do them good, should rejoice over their destruction (of. Proverbs 1:26).
Those of them that survived the plagues that should come upon them, and the horrors of the siege, should be scattered amongst all nations to the ends of the earth, and there subjugated to the utmost indignities and sufferings.
Thy life shall hang in doubt before thee; literally, Thy life shall be hung up before thee; i.e. shall be like an object suspended by a thread which hangs dangling before the view, ready to fall or to be cut down at any moment. Comp.—
"Omnia sunt hominum tenui pendentia filo
Et subito casu quae valuere ruunt."
(Ovid, 'Epp. ex Ponto,' 4.3, 35.)
Worst of all, they should be again reduced to bondage, carried back to Egypt, put up for sale as slaves, and be so utterly despicable that no one would purchase them. Bring thee into Egypt again. "If the Exodus was the birth of the nation of God as such, the return would be its death" (Schultz; cf. Hosea 8:13; Hosea 9:3). With ships. They came out of Egypt by land, as free men; they should be carried back imprisoned and cooped up in slave-ships. By the way whereof I spake unto thee, Thou shalt see it no mere again. This does not refer to their being carried to Egypt in ships as different from the way by which they had come out from it, but simply to the fact that they should be carried back thither, contrary to what was expected when they so triumphantly came forth from it. There ye shall be sold; literally, shall sell yourselves; i.e. give yourselves up to be sold as slaves. Egypt may be here, as Hengstenberg suggests, "the type of future oppressors;" but there seems no reason why the passage should not be taken literally. It is a fact that, after the capture of Jerusalem by Titus, the Jews were in large numbers carried into Egypt, and there subjected to most ignominious bondage; and in the time of Hadrian, multitudes of Jews were sold into slavery (Josephus, 'De Bell. Jud.,' 6.9, 2; of. Philo, 'Flacc.' and 'Leg. ad Caium.').
God's blessing promised to the obedient.
The aged lawgiver was finishing his course. Ere the end comes he would open up to the people once more the dread alternative of blessing and cursing, and would show them that they must accept either one or the other. And so, before the Holy Land is taken possession of, they are reminded how very much the realization of the promises of temporal good depends on what they are. We cannot be too frequently reminded of the fact, however, that, though prima facie this chapter looks as if people were then under Law; yet it was not so in reality. They were being educated by the Law; but under it the Abrahamic promise lay as firm as granite (Galatians 3:17). This is seen by the fact that God speaks to them as their God. This was of his free grace. But, though this educatory law is based on grace, grace must bring with it its own law. Grace never gives the reins to lawlessness. But it teaches us that one of the motive forces by which God would quicken men to righteousness and educate them in it, is found in showing them that his providential arrangements are such that the shaping of their earthly destiny is, in some sort, in their own hands. "Of their earthly destiny," we say. For it is a well-known fact that Moses seldom, if ever, refers to the next state of being. The rewards and punishments known to the Pentateuch are almost entirely connected with this earthly state. Of course, there is nothing like a denial of a life beyond the grave. But it did not fall within the scope of the revelation given through Moses that another world should be brought clearly into view. We doubt not that there was mercy as well as wisdom in this arrangement; the people had as much revealed to them as they could bear, and more than they knew how to improve. There is a world of deep meaning in the disclosure of the laws of God's providence which are unfolded to them here. One would think that such promises as are made to the obedient would have been enough to win them to follow the will of God; and that the long-continued, terrific, appalling statement of what would follow on their disobedience would have been enough to dissuade them by "the terrors of the Lord" from venturing on the highway of evil. It would be easy to write a separate Homily on each verse in this paragraph, but, with such expansion, our work would extend to a most inordinate length. We will but suggest, and leave the expansion to others. We have but one more proviso to make before coming to our main divisions; that is this: Barring the special complexion here given to the chapter, owing to the peculiar feature of Israel's national constitution, the main laws of providential administration which were disclosed by Moses are still in force. Even now it is true, "Godliness is profitable unto all things: having promise of the life that now is." And this is the truth which, in varied forms, is set forth here. Let us observe—
I. A MAN'S EARTHLY DESTINY IS, IN SOME SORT, IN HIS OWN HANDS. (Deuteronomy 28:1, Deuteronomy 28:2.) "If thou shalt hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God," such and such blessings shall "come upon thee, and overtake thee." If Israel sought success for its own sake, irrespectively of the rightness or wrongness of any methods adopted to secure it, there would be no guarantee whatever of their securing the end at which they aimed; and even if they should, the results would be fraught with evil; for "the prosperity of fools would destroy them." But if their supreme, their sole aim, was to do right, to serve and please the Lord, then the Divine blessing would be sure to follow them. "'Tis ours to obey, 'tis his to provide." If we do right, and leave the issues with God, we shall not be left without tokens of his approving smile (Matthew 6:33). There may be large temporal gains, or there may not; but, with the much or with the little, that blessing will come which maketh rich; and he addeth no sorrow therewith.
II. THE BLESSING ENJOYED BY THE OBEDIENT MAN WILL REST ON EVERYTHING WHICH HE HAS, AND WILL FOLLOW HIM EVERYWHERE. Let every clause in the paragraph be separately weighed. Would we set this in gospel light, if any one were to ask the question, "What are the signs of God's blessing which God's faithful ones enjoy, even in this life?" we would enumerate six of them.
1. They have peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ.
2. They have a clear conscience; they know that the aim of pleasing God is right, whatever difficulties it may involve.
3. They enjoy what they have as from God, and as the loving gifts of a Father's hand.
4. If much be given, they delight to use it for God.
5. If little be theirs, they know that a little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked.
6. And, above all, the supreme proof of God's blessing is that gains and losses, joys and cares, health and sickness, do "all work together for good" to them; they minister to the growth of character, and help to make them better, wiser, and holier men.
III. THERE IS A SPECIAL LAW OF GOD'S PROVIDENTIAL GOVERNMENT WHICH ENSURES THIS BLESSING TO THE OBEDIENT. (Deuteronomy 28:12.) It may, at first sight, seem to be an antiquated setting of things which we find in this verse, in which it is said, virtually, that the amount of rain will depend on the amount of virtue, and that the accumulation of men's possessions will depend on their fidelity to God! The second sentence we can understand, since fidelity to God implies, among other things, fidelity in the use of God's appointed means of success; so that this is only saying, Use the right means rightly, and you will gain your end. But as to the former, who can understand it? The amount of rain dependent on the measure of virtue—how can such a thing be? We ask, first of all, Hath the rain a father? The reply is, Yes, beyond all question—God. But then God is the Father of spirits also. That is to say, there are two spheres: that of matter and force, and that of spirit; the one governed by physical laws, the other by laws which are spiritual; but all laws, whether physical or spiritual, are ordained and regulated by one Supreme Being, and in his hands there is unity of action therein. So that, concerning these two as governed by one God, we ask, Is there any relation at all between them? Does the fact of both sets of laws originating with the same Being give them a point of contact, or does it not? In a word, Is the world of physical forces governed without the slightest reference to the government of souls? or is it so governed as to help on the training of souls?—which? If the first alternative is true, the doctrine of Deuteronomy 28:12 is shut out. But who can believe that the Great Father, in governing the less, ignores the greater? We, at any rate, recoil in horror from a view so unworthy of God. We fall back, therefore, on the second alternative, which alone is reasonable, that the less is governed in the interest and on the behalf of the greater; that things are for spirits. But this principle allows room for the point of detail in Deuteronomy 28:12, and for ten thousand more details in the physical sphere. God would make the natural world a theatre for, and a means of, the evolution of principles and the growth of souls (cf. Amos 4:6-13; Psalms 107:33-43). (See Homily on Deuteronomy 11:10-17.)
IV. LOYALTY TO GOD TENDS, NOT ONLY TO TEMPORAL SUCCESS, BUT ALSO TO HONOR. (See end of Deuteronomy 28:12 and Deuteronomy 28:13.)
1. Individually; men, in the long run, go pretty much for what they are worth. Faithful fulfillment of duty to God and man must tell, and will. "Seest thou a man diligent in his business; he shall stand before kings, he shall not stand before mean men."
2. And collectively; if a nation has in it a preponderance of wise, true-hearted, upright men, such as fear God, love righteousness, and hate iniquity, nothing can prevent such a nation rising in the scale. Its prosperity will be manifest in its inward peace, in the readiness of other nations to deal with it by opening up commercial relations, and in the good will of other nations which it will certainly share. It will have the armor of light. Its virtue will be a wall of defense. "Its land will yield her increase; and God, even its own God, will bless it." "Happy is the nation that is in such a case; yea, happy is that people whose God is the Lord." To such a nation it may well be said, "Blessed is he that blesseth thee, and cursed is he that curseth thee" (Numbers 24:5-9).
Love veiled in frown.
Probably many may think that this is one of the most awful chapters in the Word of God. Certainly we are not aware of any other in which there is such a long succession of warnings, increasing in terror as they advance. In fact, Matthew Henry tells us of a wicked man who was so enraged at reading this chapter that he tore the leaf out of his Bible! Impotent rage! Impotent as if, when a man dreaded an eclipse of the sun, he were to tear up the announcements thereof. It would come for all that! So here; there are two historical facts, viz. that the children of Israel did depart from their God, and, that all these curses did befall them. Some are unspent even yet. Hence this chapter is a standing proof of the accuracy of the foresight which dictated its prophecies. But while we thus get, on the one hand, a verification of the words, and so a proof of their Divine origin, another question is raised, viz. How are all these terrible realities consistent with the love of God? Now, far be it from us to attempt any vindication of the ways of God. He is infinitely beyond any need of that. What he does is right, whether we can see it to he so or no. One thing only do we aim at now: that is, to guard men against any misinterpretation of those ways, and to point them to such teachings concerning them as God has given to us. Our theme is—Love veiled in frown; or, the terrors of the Lord a necessity of his infinite love.
I. There are some in every nation whom it is absolutely necessary to sway by deterrents, and in the infancy of a nation fear is more potent than faith.
II. God has a curse as well as a blessing. His love is not a mere desire to make men as easy as possible. It is, first of all, a righteous love. When love has to deal only with righteousness, its benevolent aspect only will be seen; but when sin has to be dealt with, the case is very different.
III. It should be deeply graven in our souls that the black-looking and lowering storm-cloud of Divine wrath, though we call it "the curse of God," must never be thought of in any way which would be inconsistent with his pure and perfect love. The wrath of God is holy love frowning on wrong.
IV. When once the wrath of God is incurred, the sinner cannot elude it, any more than he can retreat from his own shadow.
V. Given the actuality of sin, and a far-seeing eye can with certainty descry some of the consequences thereof; an infinite eye can discern them all.
VI. We know that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but his vindication of his own laws is essential to guard righteousness as with a wall of fire! Hence—
VII. The truest kindness is seen in the enunciation of the most alarming warnings which can be given. The truest love is that which is most faithful. Hence it will often seem the most stern.
VIII. A like holy guard to that which is here thrown around the Law of God is also thrown around the gospel. Just as, on the one hand, this Law did not and could not annul the promise which had been made to Abraham and his seed, even so, on the other hand, not even the richness and glory of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ can ever annul the action of these stern, retributive laws of God's providence on those who continue in sin, and who reject the redemption brought in by the Son of God (see Hebrews 9:1-28; Hebrews 10:1-39.).
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
Blessing and curse, as Keil says, are viewed in these verses "as actual powers, which follow in the footsteps of the nation, and overtake it" (Deuteronomy 28:2, Deuteronomy 28:15, Deuteronomy 28:22; Zechariah 1:6). The blessing of God is a vera causa in human life. It is not to be resolved entirely into natural tendencies. A cheerful mind conduces to health; virtuous habits tend to prosperity, etc. But this is not the whole. Conspiring with natural tendencies, we must recognize a special providence, a designed direction of the beneficent powers of nature and life, so as to pour treasures of goodness on the favored individual. Virtue has its natural reward in the approval of conscience; but it would not of itself suffice to bring about the exceptionally fortunate condition in the outward lot which these verses represent. So strongly was this felt by the philosopher Kant, that, as is well known, he postulates the existence of God, for the express purpose of bringing about an ultimate harmony between virtue and felicity.
I. THE SPHERE OF THE BLESSING. The covenant rested largely on temporal promises. Jehovah was doubtless felt by the believing soul to be a better portion than any of his gifts (Psalms 16:1-11.; Psalms 73:0.), and the relation which he sustained to his worshipper could not but be thought of as subsisting beyond death, and yielding its appropriate fruit in a future life (Psalms 16:11; Psalms 17:15; Psalms 48:14; Psalms 49:14, Psalms 49:15; Hebrews 11:9-17). Yet, inasmuch as "life and immortality" had not been clearly brought to light (2 Timothy 1:10), his favor was specially exhibited in the abundant communication of earthly blessings. A higher order has supervened, and the temporal promises of these verses are swallowed up in better and more enduring ones (Hebrews 8:6). The gospel does not sever the connection between godliness and prosperity. It gives it a new sanction (1 Timothy 4:8). Were the obedience of God's children more uniform and perfect, and piety more widely diffused in communities, the connection would be more manifest than it is. But on the whole, temporal prosperity occupies a lower relative place in the New Testament than in the Old.
1. The spiritual man, serving Christ, and witnessing for him amidst the evil of the world, is more frequently exposed to persecution (Matthew 5:11; Matthew 10:24, Matthew 10:25; John 4:15-21). He has more occasion to take up the cross (Matthew 16:24). He may require to sacrifice all he has, with life itself, for Christ's sake and the gospel's.
2. Temporal prosperity is in every case subordinated to spiritual good (2 Corinthians 12:7-10; 3 John 1:2). Bacon's saying has, therefore, truth in it, "Prosperity is the blessing of the Old Testament; adversity is the blessing of the New, which carrieth the greater benediction, and the clearer revelation of God's favor." Adversity, however, even in the New Testament, is but a step to something higher. Spiritual compensations now; hereafter, "a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory "(Mark 10:30; 2 Corinthians 4:17).
II. THE OPERATION OF THE BLESSING, It is viewed as pervading every department of the earthly life. It mingles itself with all the good man is, with all he does, with the circumstances of his lot, with the powers of the natural world which constitute his environment. It rests on his person, on his household, on his possessions. It helps him against his enemies, making him wealthy and powerful (Abraham, Job), and exalting him to a position in which others are dependent on him. It attends him in city and field, in his coming in and going out, so that whatever he does prospers (Psalms 1:3). These promises demonstrate:
1. That the providence of God, in the sphere of the outward life, is free, sovereign, all-embracing.
2. That there is under this providence a connection between outward events and circumstances and spiritual conditions.
3. That, subordinately to higher ends, piety and virtue, under this providence, will be rewarded by prosperity. (See a valuable treatment of this subject in M'Cosh's 'Method of the Divine Government,' bk. 2.Deuteronomy 2:1-37.) Yet glorious as these promises are, they "have no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth" of the promises of the New Testament.
1. Of salvation (Romans 5:9, Romans 5:10).
2. Of spiritual blessings (Ephesians 1:3).
3. Of a heavenly inheritance (1 Peter 1:3, 1 Peter 1:4).
4. Of "riches" of goodness which will remain unexhausted through eternal ages (Ephesians 2:6, Ephesians 2:7).
5. Of perfected transformation into the moral image of God (Psalms 17:15; 1Co 4:1-21 :49; Colossians 1:22; 1 John 3:2).
III. THE CONDITION OF THE BLESSING. Obedience (Deuteronomy 28:1, Deuteronomy 28:2, Deuteronomy 28:9,Deuteronomy 28:13, Deuteronomy 28:14).
1. Legally, perfect obedience.
2. Evangelically, obedience habitual and sincere, albeit imperfect.
The meritorious ground of a believer's acceptance, and of the blessings he receives, is the obedience unto death of Christ (Romans 5:19-21). Christ expiates his sins, and fulfils de novo the condition of the covenant. It is well to remember, as explaining anomalies in the histories of righteous men under the old covenant, that the promises in these verses were primarily national. They could be realized to the individual only in connection with the obedience of the nation as a whole. When apostasy provoked God's judgments, pious individuals suffered in the general calamities. They suffered, too, as drawing upon themselves the hatred of the wicked. Hence the development in the Psalms and Prophets of the idea of the "Righteous Sufferer"—One whose afflictions are entailed on him by the hatred and injustice of the wicked, or who, innocent himself, suffers as a member of the body politic. This idea, which has throughout a Messianic reference, culminates in the prophecy of the" Servant of Jehovah" (Psalms 52:1-9; Psalms 53:1-6.), who, by the holy endurance of sufferings for others, makes their sin his own, and vicariously atones for it.—J.O.
The blessing that maketh rich.
I. FULL STOREHOUSES, WITHOUT GOD'S BLESSING, ARE NOT RICHES. God does not count a man rich further than the good things he has are of real and lasting benefit to him. Wealth unblessed of God is not to be desired.
1. Unblessed good is ill (Ecclesiastes 5:10-15).
2. It turns to ill—is not enduring (Proverbs 13:22), takes wings and leaves, is a curse to offspring (Ecclesiastes 5:14, Ecclesiastes 5:15; Ecclesiastes 6:2; James 5:1, James 5:2).
II. GOD'S BLESSING, WITHOUT FULL STOREHOUSES, MAKES RICH.
1. It enriches the little we have. A man with a moderate competence, and peace and comfort in the use of it, may be richer than the man whose means are tenfold greater (Psalms 37:16).
2. It makes adversity a means of spiritual enrichment.
3. It is itself the best of all riches (Habakkuk 3:17-19).—J.O.
Probation, in the case of the faithful, ends in establishment. If Israel would keep the commandments, God would "perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle" them as "an holy people" to himself, and so confirm the promises made to the fathers. A like promise to the Church and to Christians (Acts 16:5; Romans 1:11; Colossians 2:7; Hebrews 13:9; 1 Peter 5:10; 2 Peter 1:12). Establishment is:
1. Unto holiness.
2. A result of God naming his Name upon his people (Deuteronomy 28:12, Hebrew), i.e. dwelling with them, and revealing his attributes in saving, sanctifying, blessing, and exalting them.
3. The reward of fidelity.
4. A proof of God's fidelity. God "hath sworn" to fulfill his word (Hebrews 6:17, Hebrews 6:18; cf. 1 Corinthians 1:9; Philippians 1:6).—J.O.
The world afraid of the godly.
I. GOD'S PEOPLE CALLED BY HIS NAME. God calls or names his Name upon them, i.e. distinguishes, owns, chooses, recognizes them as his, by dwelling among them (2 Corinthians 3:16), by causing his blessing to rest upon them, by answering their prayers, by favoring their cause, by establishing their work (Psalms 90:13-17). "God is love" (1 John 4:8). His "Name" expresses pre-eminently that attribute of his character (Exodus 34:6, Exodus 34:7). It can, therefore, be revealed only upon or in relation to his own people.
II. NOMINAL AND REAL CALLING. "They are not all Israel which are of Israel" (Romans 9:6). Real, as distinguished from nominal, saints are marked:
1. By obedience to the Divine commands (Deuteronomy 28:9; Matthew 7:22).
2. By separation from the world (2Co 7:1-16 :17, 18).
3. By the power of holiness dwelling in them.
4. By manifold tokens of the Divine favor.
Thus the world "sees" them to be what they are (Acts 4:13).
III. THOSE KNOWN TO BE CALLED BY GOD'S NAME ARE FEARED. Worldly men fear them. They fear the holiness that resides in them. They fear their prayers. They fear their power with God. They feel that there dwells in them a Presence whom they have every reason to dread (Acts 2:43).—J.O.
In studying the histories of the good men of the Bible, we notice how, notwithstanding the numerous causes which act adversely to their fortunes, the constant tendency of their piety is to lift them upwards. A law is none the less a law because other laws come in to interfere with, modify, suspend, or counteract its operation. A cork or other light body may be pushed under water, but the law of its nature is to rise to the top. Violence may abnormally depress the righteous man's fortunes, but the "law" of piety is to elevate them. Mingle lighter and heavier bodies in water, and the heavier gradually sink, while the lighter mount surfacewards. So piety, both from its own nature and by the blessing of God upon it, tends to raise a man in favor and influence, and gradually to improve his fortunes; while ungodliness as invariably drags him down. The good man gains ground; his enemies lose it. He mounts to be the head, and they sink to be the tail. He is uppermost; they are undermost. Illustrate from the histories of Joseph, David, Daniel. It is the same today. As years advance, the good man grows in influence; slowly but surely overcomes his first difficulties; is trusted, sought after, looked up to; rises in social position; ultimately occupies the seats of honor; while those who started life with him, but took a different course, gradually lose their advantages, fall one by one out of rank, and are driven to the wall (cf. Proverbs 4:8; Proverbs 13:22, etc.).—J.O.
Like the blessing, the curse is a reality. It cleaves to the sinner, pursues him, hunts him down, ruins and slays him (Deuteronomy 28:45). Does some one say, "An exploded superstition"? If so, it is a superstition in the belief of which mankind has shown itself singularly unanimous. View its reality as attested:
1. By conscience. The criminal cannot divest himself of the belief that avenging powers are following on his track.
2. By experience. "Rarely," says Horace, "has Punishment, though lame, failed to overtake the criminal fleeing before her." Greek tragedy rests on an induction from the facts of life.
3. By mythology. It was a conviction, true alike to conscience and the facts of life, which the Greeks sought to personify in the Erinyes, in Nemesis, and in Ate, who clung to a man or to a family in punishment for some half-forgotten crime.
4. By literature, which is full of the recognition of avenging powers. The Bible confirms the substance of this varied teaching, but lifts the subject out of the region of mythology. Jehovah alone has power to bless and curse. The blessings and curses of men have no efficacy save as he gives it to them. His blessings and curses are part of the moral government of the world, and turn exclusively on moral conditions. This is the contrast between the Bible and the heathen idea of a curse. The curse was a prominent part of heathen sorcery, but was wrought with charms and incantations. Protection against it was sought, not in a life of virtue, but in counter-charms and amulets—in conjurations more powerful than those of the enemy. The Bible countenances no such superstitions. Incantations are valueless. A curse is futile against those whom God has blessed (Numbers 23:20-23).
The Bible doctrine is:
That of heathenism (with its modern survivals, the evil eye, charms, witches, etc.) is conspicuously the reverse.
I. THE CURSE IN ITS NATURE.
1. A natural fruit of sin. Natural process is not the whole. But a larger place may be allowed it than it had in the blessing. The blessing is "gift;" sin's fruit is of "debt"—"wages" (Romans 6:23). Conceivably, yet without miracle, God might have withheld from virtue its appropriate outward reward. But no power, even that of God, could prevent the sinner from reaping wretchedness and woe as a result of sin. "The righteous shall be recompensed in the earth; much more the wicked and the sinner" (Proverbs 11:31). The wiser course is not to oppose God to the laws of our moral nature, but to recognize him in them, and to draw from them a knowledge of his character and will. These, like all punitive laws, are the executors of his judgments. The sinner, having placed himself in conflict with the laws of life, of society, and of the outward universe, necessarily suffers in mind, body, and estate. Sin introduces discord, disorder, lawlessness, into the soul. It blinds and infatuates (Deuteronomy 28:28, Deuteronomy 28:29). It makes wretched. This wretchedness is aggravated:
(1) By remorse and self-reproach.
(2) By sense of Divine anger.
(3) By opprobrium of society.
(4) By imaginative terrors.
Sin poisons the fountains of health, and induces diseases (Deuteronomy 28:22, Deuteronomy 28:27, 85). The internal anarchy spreads outwards. The bonds of society are loosened; wealth accumulates in the hands of the few; the unhappy toilers, oppressed and spoiled, sink deeper and deeper in debt and wretchedness. At this stage the nation becomes an easy prey to the first strong power that cares to pounce upon it (Deuteronomy 28:29-38).
2. An effect of hostile action on the part of God. We fail of a complete view if we look only at the hostile relation of the sinner to God, and leave out of account the hostile relation which God assumes to the sinner. It is not merely that the sinner gets into conflict with himself and with the world around him, but nature and providence, under the direction of a hostile will, take up an antagonistic relation to him. Their movements are no longer for his good, but hostile and retributive (Deuteronomy 28:20-24). So the mental maladies of Deuteronomy 28:28 are more than the merely natural effects of sin (cf. 1 Kings 22:22). "The inquiring mind," says Dr. M'Cosh, "will discover designed combinations, many and wonderful, between the various events of Divine providence. What singular unions of two streams at the proper place to help on the exertions of the great and good! What curious intersections of cords to catch the wicked, as in a net, when they are prowling as wild beasts! By strange but most apposite correspondences, human strength, when set against the will of God, is made to waste away under his indignation, burning against it, as, in heathen story, Meleager wasted away as the stick burned which his mother held in the fire." Laws of nature are the warp, Divine providence the woof, of this awful garment of the curse with which the sinner clothes himself.
II. THE CURSE IN ITS OPERATION. Pictured in these verses in ample and vivid detail. The counterpart of the blessing (Deuteronomy 28:15-26). Takes effect in misfortune (Deuteronomy 28:20), sore diseases (Deuteronomy 28:21, Deuteronomy 28:22), scouring by natural agencies (Deuteronomy 28:23, Deuteronomy 28:24), invasions by enemies (Deuteronomy 28:25, Deuteronomy 28:26). Action and reaction lead to the reproduction of these evils in aggravated forms. To worse bodily plagues (Deuteronomy 28:27) are superadded mental maladies (Deuteronomy 28:28, Deuteronomy 28:29), issuing in renewed panic and defeat in war (Deuteronomy 28:29), with innumerable resultant calamities (Deuteronomy 28:30-33). Confusion and anarchy unite with oppression to produce madness of heart (Deuteronomy 28:34), disease pursues its ravages in forms of increasing malignity (Deuteronomy 28:35), and the nation ultimately sinks in total ruin (Deuteronomy 28:36, Deuteronomy 28:37). Meanwhile, co-operating with these causes to reduce it to subjection, the curse has been working in all labor and enterprise, thwarting, blasting, destroying (Deuteronomy 28:43, Deuteronomy 28:44; cf. Amos 4:6-12; Haggai 1:5-12; Malachi 2:2). The full terribleness of the Divine curse, however, is only brought out in the New Testament. As the re-laden of God to the soul goes deeper than life in the world, so it extends beyond it. The worse part of the curse is the sinking of the soul in its own corruptions, with the drying up of its possibilities of life, peace, and joy, under the weight of the Divine displeasure—an experience of "indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile" (Romans 2:8, Romans 2:9). Happily, no man in this life knows what the full extent of that curse is (Isaiah 57:16). A remedial system is in operation, in virtue of which no soul is utterly deserted of grace, and even the natural workings of sin are manifoldly checked, limited, and counteracted. Space is thus given for repentance, and salvation is possible. The end, however, if the riches of this goodness and forbearance are despised, will only be the more terrible (Romans 2:3-10).
III. THE CURSE IS ITS CAUSES. Sin, disobedience (Deuteronomy 28:45, Deuteronomy 28:46). The curses written in this book were literally fulfilled. Israel would not serve the Lord with joyfulness and gladness of heart, therefore—sad retribution!—she had to serve her enemies "in hunger, and in thirst, and in nakedness, and in want of all things" (Deuteronomy 28:48; cf. the prodigal son, Luke 15:14-17). All sin ends in bondage. Nations that imitate Israel in her sins may expect to be made like her in her punishment.—J.O.
God, Ruler in nature.
I. NATURAL OBJECTS ARE OF HIS CREATION. The Psalmist bids us lift up our eyes to the hills, and seek help from God, "who made heaven and earth" (Psalms 121:2). It is this which enables him to help us, and makes it reasonable in us to implore and trust in his assistance; as well as leads us to fear his displeasure. Seed, vineyards, olive trees, are his creatures, and subserve his purposes. He who made can destroy.
II. NATURAL AGENCIES ARE UNDER HIS CONTROL. The greater agencies of nature—rain (Deuteronomy 28:23, Deuteronomy 28:24), pestilence (Deuteronomy 28:21), diseases (Deuteronomy 28:27, Deuteronomy 28:35). The lesser agencies—locusts (Deuteronomy 28:38, Deuteronomy 28:42), worms (Deuteronomy 28:39), "powder and dust" (Deuteronomy 28:24). He marshals these agencies at will, appoints them their work, superintends them in the doing of it. He brings strength out of weakness, making the feeblest creatures the instruments of his most terrible strokes of vengeance.
III. THE FRUITFULNESS OF THE EARTH IS DEPENDENT ON HIS BLESSING. He gives, and he can at will withhold. It is a false science which sees only "laws" in the productiveness of nature, and ignores the hand and blessing of a living God.—J.O.
The extremity of the curse.
A truly appalling description of the evils which would overtake apostate Israel; one, too, not more remarkable for the sustained vehemence and energy of its thought and diction, than for the minuteness and literality with which its predictions have been fulfilled.
I. THE PROPHECY IN THE LIGHT OF ITS FULFILLMENT. The wonderfulness of these predictions is not removed by any date we may assign to the Book of Deuteronomy. For:
1. It is certain that the Assyrian and Chaldean invasions—to which a reference is no doubt included (Jeremiah 4:13; Jeremiah 5:15)—fell far short of what was necessary for their complete fulfillment.
(1) The Babylonian Captivity was only of seventy years' duration.
(2) The Jews returned and remained long afterwards in possession of their land.
2. It is equally certain that, in the subsequent conquest of the nation by the Romans, with the dispersion that followed; the rod which lasts to our own day, every feature in the prophecy has been exhaustively fulfilled.
(1) The Romans agree better than either Assyrians or Chaldeans with the description or the foreign foes in verses 49, 50.
(2) The sufferings of the siege (verses 52-57) had their literal fulfillment in the Roman wars, and especially in the siege of Jerusalem under Titus (cf. Josephus, 'Wars of the Jews,' bk. 5:10, 3; 6:3, 3, 4; 6:8, 2).
(3) "Hundreds of thousands were sold as slaves" (cf. verse 68); "and the whole people were cast forth as wanderers among the Gentiles; and they have ever since remained a nation of exiles, unsettled, harassed, and oppressed, in many instances most cruelly, not only by pagans and Mohammedans, but also (to our shame be it spoken) by Christian nations; and still remaining a distinct people, though without a home" (Whately, 'Evidences').
(4) "To serve other gods" may mean no more than to be banished from the territory of Jehovah, and to dwell in and be compelled to conform to the laws of a country where other gods are recognized (cf. 1 Samuel 26:17). It is also true that, to shield themselves from persecution, the Jews have too often been willing to dissemble and conform to worships which their hearts abhorred (saint and image worship: adoration of the host, etc.); while in idolatrous countries their religion is frequently so corrupted as to be scarcely recognizable. The Beni-Israel, near Bombay, eg. remain a distinct people, but, together with Jehovah, worship the gods of the Hindus. Predictions
(1) so minute,
(2) so extensive in their range, yet
(3) so exhaustively verified by events, cannot be ascribed to accident, but constitute an irrefragable proof of the inspiration that dictated them.
Their fulfillment converts the very unbelief and rejection of the Jews into a powerful argument for Christianity.
II. LESSONS FROM THE PROPHECY.
1. The severity of God. If the fulfillment of these predictions teaches anything, it is that God will not shrink from the punishment of sin. We shudder as we read the details of these curses—"plagues wonderful …. great plagues, and of long continuance, and sore sicknesses, and of long continuance" (verse 59), and ask ourselves, Can God really tolerate the sight of, not to say inflict, such incredible sufferings? Yet we find that not one of these curses failed of its accomplishment. So solemn a fact bids the sinner pause and ponder his chance of escaping in the great "day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God" (Romans 2:5).
2. The self-ruinous character of sin. The fulfillment of these threatenings was largely, though not wholly, brought about by simply giving sin scope to work out its own evil results. The bitterest element in retribution must be the feeling which the sinner has of self-wrought ruin. "He that soweth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption" (Galatians 6:8). Like water, which, left to itself, will not cease running till it has found its level; like a clock, which, left to itself, will not cease going till it has run itself completely down; like a tree, which, left to grow, cannot but bring forth its appropriate fruit;—so sin has a level to seek, a course to ran, a fruit to mature, and "the end of those things is death" (Romans 6:21).—J.O.
The high and fenced walls.
God's enemies will ultimately be driven from all their defenses. Cities "great and fenced up to heaven" will be no defense to them, any more than they were to the Canaanites (Deuteronomy 9:1). Horses and chariots (Psalms 20:7), numbers, prowess, wealth (Proverbs 10:15), arts of policy, leagues with foreign powers (Isaiah 30:1-33.), afford no protection when God is the besieger. Spiritually, the sinner will ultimately be driven out of every "refuge of lies."
1. Self-righteousness; every mouth shall be stopped (Romans 3:19).
2. False trusts (Matthew 3:9; Matthew 7:22).
3. Evasions and excuses (Matthew 25:26; Luke 14:18).—J.O.
Deuteronomy 28:56, Deuteronomy 28:57
The delicate lady.
(Cf. Isaiah 3:16-26.) The queens of select society have little reason to be vain of their excessive and artificial delicacy. They need not pride themselves in it, or think that it entitles them to look haughtily on others. For—
I. DELICACY IS NOT CHARACTER. It is consistent with a vain, light, scornful, wicked disposition. The tender and delicate lady in this verse is one of the enemies of God. The purest types of female character avoid those extravagances of delicacy which, indulged in, become second nature. Character alone entities to respect. To be vain of beauty or breeding, when the heart is false and the life untrue to God, is to be vain of an ornamented husk within which lies rottenness. "'Tis only noble to be good."
II. DELICACY IS AN ACCIDENT OF FORTUNE. It is adventitious—an accident of position. Born in another sphere, she who boasts of it would not have had it. It is the product of artificial conditions, of which she reaps the benefit, but which she had no part in creating. It is not gained by her own exertions, or attributable to her worth or merit. If she values it, let her at least not despise others. She might have been the cottager, the cottager the lady.
III. DELICACY IS VALUELESS WHEN FORTUNE CEASES TO SMILE ON ITS POSSESSOR. No change of circumstances can rob of its value the possession of knowledge, talents, virtue, good breeding, or refinement. These will grace the humblest home, will prove a passport to respect in any society. It is different with the fastidious and excessive delicacy of the belle. So entirely is this an appendage of a certain social position that, when that is gone, it perishes like a crushed flower. The admirers of the delicate lady have deserted her. She is treated with coldness, even rudeness. No one so helpless, so dependent, as she. She shone, like the moon, in a reflected brightness, and, foolishly inconsiderate, gloried in it as something of her own.
IV. DELICACY MAY BE COMPELLED TO STOOP TO THE BITTEREST DEGRADATIONS. This is the lesson of the verses before us, and we need not dwell upon it. But the thought of such possibilities should quell pride and awaken awe. The depths of want and woe to which the most delicately nurtured may sink, are only paralleled by the possibilities of joy that lie hidden in the most wretched souls, if they will but forsake sin and give themselves up to Jesus and the guidance of his Spirit.—J.O.
God rejoicing in judgment.
The language in this verse is bold, almost beyond example. It jars with our conceptions of the Divine Being to think of him as "rejoicing" in the destruction of even the most obdurate of sinners, he declares that he has no pleasure in the death of him that dieth (Ezekiel 18:32). Christ predicted Jerusalem's fall, but "wept over it" (Luke 19:41). The language is best interpreted, not of actual joy felt by God in the execution of his judgments, but anthropo-pathically of the certainty, rapidity, and unsparingness with which, like waves chasing each other to the shore, strokes of judgment would descend, as if God took pleasure in inflicting them. The figure is derived from God's joy in the communication of blessings. As God's joy—in this case a real joy—was shown in the number and accumulation of the blessings, so would it be with the judgments—he would appear to rejoice in the sending of these also. We do not, however, ignore the fact that God must approve of, yea, rest with satisfaction in, every exercise of his perfections, even in the infliction of judgment. The verse, in any view of it, is a very terrible one in its bearings on the prospects of the wicked.—J.O.
Deu 28:65 -69
Mental torture as a result of sin.
The picture here drawn is true in an especial sense of the Jews in their state of exile, maddened, affrighted, and kept in continual torture and suspense by the persecutions and miseries they have been made to endure. We apply it to the state of the ungodly generally—a state of internal misery resulting from transgression.
I. UNAPPEASABLE RESTLESSNESS. (Deuteronomy 28:65.) The sinner is destitute of peace (Isaiah 57:21).
1. There is nothing to give it. No inward source of comfort. No perennial spring of satisfaction.
2. There is everything to take it away.
(1) An evil conscience.
(2) Sense of God's displeasure.
(3) Inward disunion and anarchy.
The consequence is that the sinner cannot settle, tie does not feel at rest. He cannot be happy or contented in any place or occupation. Like a patient tossing under fever, he thinks that his uneasiness arises from his position, whereas it is his disorder.
II. FEAR AND TREMBLING OF HEART. (Deuteronomy 28:65, Deuteronomy 28:66.) "The wicked flee when no man pursueth" (Proverbs 28:1). The guilty conscience is full of terrors. It "does make cowards of us all." Gives rise to groundless fears (Joseph's brethren, Genesis 45:3; Genesis 50:15). Morbid working of imagination—starting in sleep (Richard III.), fancying sounds and movements (Macboth). Works despair (Saul, 1 Samuel 28:1-25.). It unnerves and unmans.
III. LOATHING AND WEARINESS OF LIFE. (Deuteronomy 28:67.) A sated despairing feeling, incapable of removal or alleviation. Ennui. Unbearable dragging on of time. "I may say that in all my seventy-five years I have never had a month of genuine comfort. It has been the perpetual rolling of a stone, which I have always had to raise anew" (Goethe). Cf. 'Childe Harold,' as above—
"He felt the fullness of satiety,
Then loathed he in his native land to dwell;"
or Matthew Arnold's lines—
"On that hard pagan world disgust
And sated loathing fell;
Deep weariness and sated lust
Made human life a hell," etc.
HOMILIES BY R.M. EDGAR
The purpose of temporal blessing.
After the "Amens" from Mount Ebal had been faithfully given, the Levites turned to Gerizim with the detail of blessings, and received from the assembled thousands the grand "Amen." We have in these verses before us the purpose of the blessing. The children of Israel had been brought out of Egypt by a Divine deliverance, they were about to settle in Canaan as the people of the Lord. They were a spectacle, therefore, to the rest of the world of how a people fared at the hands of the Lord in obedience or in disobedience. We must regard Israel as a visible experiment, so to speak, for the instruction of the rest of mankind. Now, the rest of mankind at this early stage could only appreciate such a reward as temporal blessing. Spiritual blessing would have been no demonstration to them, and have made no impression upon them. Hence it was temporal blessing which God in the main gave them. Of course, we do not at all accept the special pleading of Warburton, in his 'Divine Legation of Moses,' in favor of temporal rewards and punishments being all that the Law of Moses contemplates. There are significant references to a future life in the Mosaic books, but for the reason now stated, God was mainly working in the temporal sphere. Let us notice some of the particulars in which an obedient people were to experience blessing.
I. CITY LIFE was to be blessed. It has been said that "God made the country, but man the town." And doubtless the concentration of population in cities is fraught with peculiar temptation and danger. Yet God's Law is sufficiently "broad" to secure right order and government in cities as well as in country districts. If men would only carry out the law of love, if they would live by the golden rule, then cities would soon put on an air of holiness, and wickedness within them would hide its head. It is through the conscience and heart God's Law works, and city life can alone be elevated and regenerated thereby. If we had pious mayors, aldermen, and councilors, pious high sheriffs and officials, then corruption, rapacity, and self-seeking would disappear through a general and conscientious desire for the public good.
II. AGRICULTURE was to be prosperous. Palestine was intended to be occupied by a pastoral people, and peasant proprietors were to fill the laud. It was to flow with milk and honey if man co-operated with God, and did his share honestly. The conditions of the country, as already remarked (cf. Homily on Deuteronomy 11:10-17), fostered faith in God, and success was the outcome of constant dependence upon him. A dependent people wrought diligently and received the blessings of nature as the gifts of a faithful God. There was to be increase of cattle, of swine, of sheep, of the fruit of the field, and of all that is implied by "basket and store." In the basket, as Van Lennep somewhere observes, grapes, olives, and the like are collected, and so the blessing on the basket means general agricultural prosperity.
Now, there can be no doubt that piety is an excellent handmaid to agriculture. All the cant now talked in the name of science about God's practical exclusion from the "reign of law," is insufficient to overturn the plain truth that those who try to keep his commandments and live in his fellowship are more likely than others to fulfill the conditions of agricultural prosperity.
III. POPULATION will increase. The fruit of their body was also to be blessed. We can understand how important numbers are to national power. When the population advances in the sunshine of advancing prosperity, the elements of national greatness are secured. The Malthusian scare introduced into political economy was an exaggerated lesson upon prudence. Population progresses with sufficient check upon it in the ordinary struggles of life, without requiring such prophets of evil as the Malthusians have been. The prudence fostered, being of a worldly character, has degenerated, it is feared, in many cases, into licentiousness as legitimate, when marriage, except in most favorable circumstances, is deemed imprudent. Now, it is well known that Palestine must have been very populous, containing about as many human beings to the square mile as the most densely populated countries at the present time, £ and in its densely filled country districts testified to the general security which then existed.
IV. They will be VALIANT IN REPELLING INVASION. It is noticeable that foreign conquest is not contemplated when they are settled in the land. It is when the enemies rise up against them that the Lord will give them, as obedient people, the power to disperse them. The invasion may take place in one way, but their rout will be complete, they shall flee before Israel seven ways (Deuteronomy 28:7)—the perfect number indicating perfect defeat. The Lord will not encourage them in a "spirited foreign policy," but will make them invincible defenders of their hearths and homes.
V. They shall be in a position to LEND UNTO SURROUNDING NATIONS. Not only would they repel successfully all invasion, but be able to lay other nations under obligation. Now, we see that, in being able to serve others in this way, lies the secret of sovereignty and influence. The thrifty nations that can lend to others, so far get these others into their power. In the lending power God promises to Israel, if obedient, we see the germ of undoubted ascendancy.
No wonder, then, that other nations are to fear and to honor them, if this is to be their career. No wonder they are to be the head, and not the tail; to be above only, and not beneath. Obedience will prove the one condition of ascendancy.
Now, it is true that the world can think better in these latter days than it did in the days of Moses. Religion does not now need a demonstration of temporal prosperity nor a favored nation. Religion now demonstrates its reality and sustaining power in making poor saints bright and joyful; in making suffering saints patient and hopeful; and in making the sorrowing ones resigned and confident of reunion. These are the "martyrs" now, and the seed of the Church. At the same time, it may be seen written clearly on the order of providence that "righteousness exalteth a nation;" that the religious nations, other things being equal, are the more prosperous. It cannot but be so. As nations get no resurrection as nations, only as individuals, it then comes to pass that as nations they must be judged in this world, and get their reward or punishment, as the case may be, while the individuals composing the nations may be asked in many cases to wait for their compensation and reward in the world to come.—R.M.E.
A nation becoming a beacon.
If Mount Gerizim had the weight cf. the people on the side of the blessing, Mount Ebal had certainly the weight of the deliverance. No wonder the Law was to be written on its rocky tablets, since the major part of the Law consists in such denunciation of possible disobedience as might serve to render it improbable. As Dr. Arnold has said, "As if, too, warning were far more required than encouragement, we find that the blessings promised for obedience bear a small proportion in point of length to the curses denounced against disobedience." £ We shall try to sum up the evils here threatened against Israel in case of their disobedience, and then point out their practical and present application.
I. DEGRADATION OF CITY LIFE. If the massing of people gives advantages to religious effort, it gives corresponding advantages to sin. Temptation becomes intensified. The leaven of corruption gets speedily through the compacter mass. The very mention of the city and its sins and sorrows brings a frightful panorama before us. Ignorance, drunkenness, irreligion, licentiousness,—all these are found in their most fearful forms in cities. No wonder that such a man as Dr. Guthrie delivered a series of special sermons on the subject. £ Now, the Jews are threatened with a curse upon their city life in case of their disobedience. Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum are but samples of doomed cities through the disobedience of the people (Matthew 11:20-24).
II. AGRICULTURE will be cursed because of their disobedience. The land of promise will become, through drought and carelessness, a barren waste, like the worn-out lands of slave-holding people, which once were glorious virgin soil. And travelers have no difficulty in believing that Palestine is under the curse of God. £ The threat of Deuteronomy has become a sad reality, and the land stands as a witness to the faithfulness of God to his threatenings.
III. A curse was to rest upon THEIR CHILDREN. No more terrible form of judgment can be supposed than this. Parents are touched deepest in their children. Hence it must have been a great trial for the wayward Jews to find their children deteriorating through their sin, and carrying in their persons the curse of God. Population dwindled, and instead of being the countless people they once were, they have become so small that it is one of the wonders of the world that they maintain their separate existence.
IV. DISEASES of the most frightful kind were to come upon them. Now, it would seem that certain diseases were peculiar to Egypt, and of these the Israelites were particularly afraid. Now, the Lord threatens them with all the diseases of Egypt, of which they were so afraid (verses 27, 35, 60). The diseases with which the human frame is visited are certainly manifold and terrible. To attach them to sin in a way of natural law only makes the judgment the more terrible. Of course we cannot say special sickness is proof positive of special sin; but we can say that but for sin there would have been no suffering and no sickness; and that sin deserves all that is sent. The frightful character of the sickness and sorrows God sends is the expression of his detestation of man's sin.
V. FAMINE was a still worse curse. To perish with hunger because of the scarcity of food is terrible. To waste away for want of due nourishment is terrible. Yet this the Lord threatened, and ultimately sent as the history tells us.
VI. WAR AND SIEGE. The worst enemy of mankind is man. Of all judgments war is worst. And the siege endured in Jerusalem twice over transcends all others recorded in history. Of minor sieges at Samaria and elsewhere we need not speak. According to Josephus, eleven hundred thousand Jews perished in the course of the siege of Jerusalem under Titus by sword, pestilence, or famine. "Besides these eleven hundred thousand, ninety-seven thousand were taken prisoners; and these were reserved, not for the light sufferings commonly undergone by prisoners of war in our days, but for the horrors of the slave-market, and for a life of perpetual bondage." £It is believed that direct reference is made to the Roman eagles in verses 49, 50, etc; and it is known that women ate their children in the terrible siege.
VII. DISPERSION AND BONDAGE. To those with national spirit dispersion must have been terrible. Emigration is now deemed bad enough, even though it may be to a better inheritance. But the Jewish dispersion threatened was captivity which we know came upon them at different times. The Babylonish Captivity was acknowledged by them to be in consequence of their sins, the recognized curse of God. And even after their return in part to Palestine, they came in for bondage to the yoke of Rome, and felt the yoke of iron on them.
VIII. The OFFSCOURING OF ALL THINGS unto this day. The Jews were threatened with such a scattering among the nations as would make them universally despised. And they have become so. Even yet, notwithstanding toleration and Jewish money-grubbing, the nation has not secured the respect of mankind. As Byron wrote—
"Tribes of the wandering foot and weary breast,
How shall ye flee away and be at rest!
The wild dove hath her nest, the fox his cave,
Mankind their country—Israel but the grave!"
Such in brief are the judgments threatened, and, as history shows us, faithfully executed. The nation constitutes the beacon of history—the most terrible evidence of the perils of disobedience! The following lessons of a practical character are surely taught:—
1. Of those to whom much is given shall much be required. No nation was so favored; but, neglecting its opportunities, no nation has been so cursed. It has been more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon, and for Sodom and Gomorrha, than for the Jews.
2. It is terrible when judgment has to begin at the house of God. This is the meaning of the melancholy history. It is a tragedy at the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed, lest he fall."
3. The prophetic threatening did not prevent their apostasy. Though as we believe, having their possible career through disobedience to direct judgment so carefully sketched, the prophecy lay for ages as a sealed, if not a neglected book. £ We think, with the rich man in Hades, that categorical warning would reform any of our brethren, no matter how abandoned, but find it a mistake (Luke 16:27-31). He who knows the end from the beginning has by his prophecy demonstrated that warning is often despised just in proportion to its particularity and faithfulness.
4. The judgment on earth is an image of a more terrible judgment beyond. "For us, each of us," said Dr. Arnold, "if we do fail of the grace of God there is reserved a misery of which indeed the words of the text are no more than a feeble picture. There is a state in which they who are condemned to it shall forever say in the morning. Would God it were even! and at even, Would God it were morning! for the fear of their heart wherewith they shall fear, and the sight of their eyes which they shall see." In forecasting what the doom of the impenitent shall be, we would do well to remember what God has done to sinners in the present life. Imagination may picture postmortem pardons and insist on sentiment determining the doom of disobedience, even when perpetuated; but the history of judgment here on earth should make every sane man fear to speak lightly of the judgment beyond. May God preserve us all from such an experience, through the blood and merits of Jesus!—R.M.E.
HOMILIES BY D. DAVIES
The present portion of a good man.
The natural world may be fitly regarded as the visible symbol of the spiritual world, the earthly state a lower copy of the heavenly. The order of cause and effect is as uniform in the spiritual sphere as in the material. Fire in contact with gunpowder will result in explosion. True seed in fitting soil will bear fruit. "Whatsoever a man sows that shall he also reap."
I. WE HAVE HERE A DESCRIPTION OF A GOOD MAN.
1. He is described by his teachableness. He "hearkens diligently unto the voice of the Lord." This is a trait of a true child. He has a sense of need, a sense of dependence upon another. He admits God's right to instruct and to command. He inquires after God, and reverently listens to his voice. It is his delight to hear the wise precepts of the unerring God.
2. He is described by his circumspection. He is observant of God's ways, discovers manifold and hidden indications of his will. Not only is his ear intent to the whispers of his Father, but his eye is open too. Blindness of mind has gone.
3. He is described by his completeness of obedience. He practically "does all the commandments of God." These came of old by the agency of Moses; but a good man detects within the human voice the Divine message—the authority of Heaven. And his entire conduct is determined by the known will of God.
II. GOODNESS IS ALLIED TO GREATNESS AS SURELY AS CAUSE TO EFFECT. "The Lord thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth." As in nature it is certain that all botanical life shoots upward, or that gases, as they expand, also ascend; so in the spiritual kingdom it is certain that goodness will grow into eminence. 'Tis not merely an arbitrary decree of God; 'tis the outcome of the very constitution of the universe. The character of Jehovah is a guarantee that the constitutional principles of his empire do not change. Hostile influences and powers may for a time prevent goodness from receiving its due reward—just as superincumbent clay may prevent the young plant from shooting upward, but the final issue is certain. Faithful service shall be crowned with honor.
III. THE REWARD OF GOODNESS IS ITS OWN PERMANENCE. "The Lord shall establish thee an holy people" (Deuteronomy 28:9). "And thou shalt not go aside from any of the words which I command thee." In the life of obedience "God helps those who help themselves." Separate acts become easier by repetition. They evolve into habits. Habits tend to permanence and constitute character and foreshadow destiny. All proceeds by virtue of an eternal law: "God helps those who help themselves." It is easier for a good man to resist temptation now than it was in the first stages of his Christian life. Devotion has become the natural outflow of his soul, the fruitage of his new life.
IV. BEHIND ALL FORMS OF BLESSING A PERSONAL GOD MAY BE SEEN. The material food does not sustain bodily life; it is God acting through the food. Neither fertile land, nor good husbandry, nor auspicious weather, nor all combined, will in themselves secure a copious harvest; it is God acting through natural forces. "The Lord shall command the blessing." However riches may increase, if God smile not, there will be no joy. The house may be full of children; yet instead of ruddy health there may be wasting sickness—instead of intellectual vigor, imbecility—instead of laughter, weeping; the blessing of God is wanting. We may possess substantial homes, yet no security; marauders and incendiaries may infest the land, True prosperity is a Divine Father's benediction.
V. A GOOD MAN DELIGHTS IN DISTRIBUTING GOOD. He himself becomes an inferior God, a lesser source of blessing. "Thou shalt lend, and shalt not borrow." The Name of God is put upon him. He acts in God's stead, and imitates God in all things. The result of the Divine favor will be conspicuous. All people shall see the gracious distinction which marks and signalizes the friend of God. All his beneficent deeds will be covered with a glory not born of earth. His mysterious influence will spread far and wide. He becomes a "burning and a shining light; many will rejoice in his light."—D.
The Nemesis of disloyalty.
It is instructive that Moses dilates with far greater fullness on the curses attached to disloyalty than on the rewards of disobedience. In the childhood of the world people were more under the influence of fear than of hope, more deterred by threatening than drawn by promise. The message of Moses was admirably adapted to the people's need.
I. THE EQUITY OF THESE CURSES.
1. Disobedience under such circumstances of privilege was eminently base and blameworthy. Disloyalty had no excuse. To refuse to hearken to the Creator's voice was sheer obstinacy, which could plead no extenuation.
2. It was perjury. They had sworn to be loyal subjects. They had acknowledged the just terms of the covenant, and had entered Canaan on the terms of pledged obedience.
3. It was rebellion against their accepted King. If such flagrant rebellion escaped with impunity, God would be dishonored in the eyes of the universe.
4. The curses were their own choice. They knew clearly what the fruits of disobedience were. They had seen the fruits in others' fate—in the Egyptians, in their brethren, in the Canaanites. If they should choose other gods, they should be led into captivity, and there they should "serve other gods, wood and stone."
5. The curses were the natural evolution of their crimes. Sin is the seed of which penalty is the fruit. If they forsook God; God would forsake them. What could be more equitable? Men say, "Depart from me; I desire not the knowledge of thy ways." God says, "Depart from me; I never knew you."
II. THE EXTENT OF THE CURSE.
1. It is a complete reversal of the purpose of God. His purpose had been to bless—to bless abundantly. But sin changes the light into gloom, sweetness into bitterness, summer into winter, food into poison. At every point and through every moment the sinner is in direct and absolute antagonism with God.
2. Every earthly possession becomes an instrument of pain. The body, which is the organic instrument by which the soul has intercourse with the material world, furnishes a thousand avenues for pain. Our children are intended as channels of joy; they become channels of sorrow. Every possession becomes a source of anxiety and care. Every occupation bears a harvest of disappointment. Blight is upon all the summer fruit. Black portents fill every quarter of the sky.
3. The natural elements become agents of woe. The sun becomes as a fiery oven, while no cloud tempers the scorching heat. Fierce winds fill the heated air with fine dust, which afflicts the eye with disease and blindness. Inflammation of the blood and fever follow. The air is charged with pestilence, and men breathe it with every inspiration. Material nature fights for God.
4. The curse includes disordered reason. Nor can we wonder. The delicate organs of the mind are sustained in vigor by God, and if he withdraw his hand, madness swiftly follows.
5. In proportion to the previous exaltation becomes the degradation. It is better not to be raised to eminence than to be lifted up and then cast down. This would be a stigma of reproach in the eyes of all the nations.
III. THE CERTAINTY OF THE CURSE. "It shall come to pass."
1. It is fixed by an inherent necessity. The law of Nemesis is embedded in the constitution of the universe. As surely as night succeeds to day, as surely as fire melts wax, so surely does penalty follow sin. Every dynamic force in nature is in league with righteousness against sin.
2. It is made certain by Jehovah's word. His word is a part of himself; and as his nature is unchangeable, so no word of his can ever be revoked. This is his prerogative: "I am Jehovah; I change not."
3. It is made sure by the holiness of God. For God to treat sin with levity or with impunity would be to do violence to his own nature—would be to act against himself. In the light of holiness sin must be consumed; and if it inhere ineradicably in the sinner, then must the sinner be consumed likewise. So long as God is holy he must, by the essential quality of his nature, pursue sin unto the death.—D.
The remoter consequences of rebellion.
The evil if uncured aggravates itself—develops new symptoms; and as the evil grows, so misery increases likewise. The man of God foresees a yet further stage of misery in the distant future. His predictions of woe plainly point to the domination of the Roman eagles, and to the miseries consequent upon the final dispersion of the Jews. To the eye of God's prophet the long procession of coming woes is clearly revealed—a series of miseries stretching away through millenniums of years.
I. IT IS A NECESSITY THAT GOD'S RULE SHALL BE MAINTAINED. So long as the universe continues, the Creator must be King. Our only choice is whether we will have him as our Friend or as our Foe. "For he must reign." We must serve (Deuteronomy 28:47). To forsake God is not to gain liberty; it is only the exchange of a noble Master for a thousand petty tyrants. "Because thou servedst not the Lord thy God with joyfulness … thou shalt serve thine enemies in hunger, and in nakedness." This is the only alternative. We oscillate like a pendulum between these two points—serving God and serving cur enemies.
II. IN PROPORTION TO THE GOODNESS ABUSED IS THE CURSE THAT FOLLOWS. The language in the earlier part of these comminations clearly points to the overthrow of the people by the Assyrians. That calamity and the consequent captivity were the chastisements of wisdom—were part of the costly training by which Israel might have been recovered to the Divine favor. But even that severe correction soon lost its purifying effect. Another overthrow, more complete and galling yet, was therefore approaching. A yoke of iron was preparing for their neck, which should destroy their national life. More ruthless treatment should be endured under the Romans than under the Chaldeans. The sufferings in the siege were to be unparalleled. Mutual hate and rage would prevail. All the love of human nature would be turned into hateful selfishness. It would be the reign of hell upon the earth.
III. THE FATHERLY KINDNESS OF GOD IS DISPLAYED IN THIS FORECAST OF SIN'S EFFECTS. It must have been a pain to the heart of Moses (and greater pain still to the heart of God) to dwell on the terrific consequences of possible disobedience. It would have been more pleasant employment to have sketched out the prospects and rewards of righteousness. Yet in proportion to the pain felt in anticipating the desolation and misery of Israel, was the ardent love for Israel's good. If affection could erect beforehand any barrier which could withstand the torrent of evil, that barrier shall be erected. If love can abolish hell, it will. What language can measure the Divine love which thus pleads with men to eschew sin? Even a present sight of coming war does not deter men from sin.
IV. THE FULFILLMENT OF GOD'S THREATENINGS ARE A SIGN FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS. A thousand years elapsed before the woes foreshadowed were inflicted. With the Lord, "a thousand years are as one day." Nevertheless, every word spoken by Moses became a fact. The prophecy has been turned into history. In part, those prophecies are fulfilled today before our eyes: "Ye shall be plucked from off the land whither thou goest to possess it;" "the Lord shall scatter thee among all people, from the one end of the earth even unto the other; among these nations shalt thou find no ease, neither shall the sole of thy foot have any rest." The present condition of the Jews is a signal proof of the divinity of Scripture, an impressive symbol of the crushing judgments of God. Who can trifle with such a Being? Wisdom says, "Stand in awe, and sin not!"—D.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 28". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25