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PART IV.—FAREWELL ADDRESS OF MOSES, WITH HIS PARTING SONG AND BENEDICTION.
Moses had now finished his work as the legislator and ruler and leader of Israel. But ere he finally retired from his place, he had to take order for the carrying forward of the work by the nomination of a successor to himself in the leadership; by committing the keeping of the Law to the priests; and by anew admonishing the people to obedience, encouraging them to go forward to the conquest of Canaan, animating them with the assurance of the Divine favor and blessing, and pronouncing on them his parting benediction.
Deuteronomy 31:1-30. MOSES' FINAL ARRANGEMENTS AND HANDING OVER OF THE LAW TO THE PRIESTS.
Last acts of Moses.
And Moses went; i.e. disposed or set himself. The meaning is not that he "went away" into the tent of teaching, as one of the Targums explains it, which does not agree with what follows; nor is "went" merely equivalent to "moreover;" nor is it simply redundant;—it intimates that the speaking was consequent on Moses having arranged, disposed, or set himself to speak (cf. Exodus 2:1; Joshua 9:4; Job 1:4).
I am an hundred and twenty years old this day. When Moses stood before Pharaoh he was eighty years old (Exodus 7:7); since then forty years had elapsed during the wanderings in the wilderness. I can no more go out and come in; I am no longer able to work among and for the nation as I have hitherto done (cf. Numbers 27:17). This does not conflict with the statement in Deuteronomy 34:7, that up to the time of his death his eyes were not dim nor his natural strength abated, for this is the statement of an observer, and it often happens that an individual feels himself to be failing, when to those around him he appears to possess unabated vigor. There is no need, therefore, for resorting, with Raschi and others, to the expedient of reading "for" instead of "and" in the following clause; as if the cause why Moses could no longer go in and out among the people was God's prohibition of his going over Jordan. This is simply another and collateral reason why he had now to retire flora his post as leader.
But though Moses was no longer to be their leader, he assures them that the Lord would fulfill his engagement to conduct them to the possession of Canaan, even as he had already given them the territory of the kings of the Amorites; and he therefore exhorts them to be of good courage and fearlessly go forward to the conquest of the laud (cf. Deuteronomy 1:21; Deuteronomy 10:3).
Deuteronomy 31:7, Deuteronomy 31:8
Moses, having in view the appointment of Joshua as his successor, also encourages him to go forward on the strength of the Divine promise. Thou must go with this people. This is a correct rendering of the words as they stand in the Hebrew text. The Samaritan, Syriac, and Vulgate have, "Thou shalt bring this people;" but this is probably an arbitrary correction in order to assimilate this to verse 23. And thou shalt cause them to inherit it; i.e. shalt conduct them to the full possession of the land.
Moses turns next to the priests and the elders, and to them he commits the Law which he had written, with the injunction to read it to the people at the end of every seven years during the festival of the year of release, viz. at the Feast of Tabernacles (cf. Leviticus 23:34), when they appeared before the Lord. At the end of every seven years (cf. Deuteronomy 15:1). The Law was committed to the priests and elders, not merely to preserve it in safe keeping, but that they might see to its being observed by the people; else why commit it to the elders whose it was to administer rule in the nation, as well as to the priests who alone had access to the ark of the covenant where the Law was deposited? Moses "entrusted the reading to the priesthood and the college of elders, as the spiritual and secular rulers of the congregation; and hence the singular, Thou shalt read this Law to all Israel" (Keil). By the Law here is meant the Pentateuch; but it does not necessarily follow that the whole of the Pentateuch was to be thus read. As the reading was to be only once in seven years, it may be concluded that it was not so much for the information of the people that this was done, as for the purpose of publicly declaring, and by a solemn ceremony impressing on their minds the condition on which they held their position and privileges as the chosen people of the Lord; and for this the reading of select portions of the Torah would be sufficient. The Feast of Tabernacles was appointed as the season for the reading, doubtless because there was a connection between the end for which the Law was read and the spirit and meaning of that festival as a festival of rejoicing because of their deliverance from the uncertainty and unsettledness of their state in the wilderness, and their establishment in a well-ordered state where they could in peace and quietness enjoy the blessings which the bounty of God bestowed. When all Israel is come to appear before the Lord (cf. Deuteronomy 16:16). Thou shalt read this law (cf. Jos 8:34; 2 Kings 23:2; Nehemiah 8:1, etc.).
After nominating Joshua as his successor, and assigning the keeping of the Law to the priesthood and body of elders, Moses was summoned by the Lord to appear with Joshua in the tabernacle, that Joshua might receive a charge and appointment to his office. At the same time, God announced to Moses that after his death the people would go astray, and turn to idolatry, and violate the covenant, so that God's anger should be kindled against them, and he would leave them to suffer the consequences of their folly and sin. In view of this, Moses was directed to write a song and teach it to the people, that it might abide with them as a witness against them, rising up, as songs will do, in the memory of the nation, even after they had apostatized from the path in which the author of the song had led them.
The tabernacle of the congregation; properly, the tent of meeting (cf. Exodus 33:7; Exodus 39:32). May give him a charge; may constitute him (צִוָּה; cf. Numbers 27:19; "and constitute him in their sight," Gesenius), appoint and confirm him in this office.
The Lord appeared … in a pillar of a cloud (cf. ExDeu 33:9; 40:38; Le Deuteronomy 16:2; Numbers 12:5).
Behold, thou shalt sleep with thy fathers (cf. 2 Samuel 7:12; Psalms 13:3; Psalms 76:5; Daniel 12:2; Matthew 27:52; John 11:11; 1 Thessalonians 4:14). "The death of men, both good and bad, is often called a sleep, because they shall certainly awake out of it by resurrection" (Peele). Go a whoring (cf. Exodus 34:15; Judges 2:17) after the gods of the strangers of the land; literally, after gods of strangeness of the land; i.e. after gods foreign to the land, as opposed to Jehovah, the alone proper God of the land he had given to them.
I will hide my face from them; will not look on them with complacency, will withdraw from them my favor and help (cf. Deuteronomy 32:20; Isaiah 8:17; Isaiah 64:7; Ezekiel 39:23).
Write ye this song. This refers to the song which follows in next chapter. Moses and Joshua were both to write this song, Moses probably as the author, Joshua as his amanuensis, because both of them were to do their endeavor to keep the people from that apostasy which God had foretold.
And he gave, etc. The subject here is God, not Moses, as is evident partly from Deuteronomy 31:14, and partly from the expression, the land which I aware unto them; and I will be with thee (cf. Exodus 3:12).
After the installation of Joshua, only one thing remained for Moses to do that all things might be set in order before his departure. This was the finishing of the writing of the Book of the Law, and the committing it finally to the priests, to be by them placed by the ark of the covenant, that it might be kept for all future generations as a witness against the people, whose apostasy and rebellion were foreseen.
Whether this section is to be regarded as wholly written by Moses himself, or as an appendix to his writing added by some other writer, has been made matter of question. It is quite possible, however, that Moses himself, ere he laid down the pen, may have recorded what he said when delivering the Book of the Law to the priests, and there is nothing in the manner or style of the record to render it probable that it was added by another. What follows from verse 30 to the end of the book was probably added to the writing of Moses by some one after his death, though, of course, both the song in Deuteronomy 32:1-52, and the blessing in Deuteronomy 33:1-29, are the composition of Moses (see Introduction, § 6).
The Levites, which bare the ark; i.e. the priests whose business it was to guard and to carry the ark of the covenant; "the priests the sons of Levi," as in Deuteronomy 31:9. According to Numbers 4:4, etc; it was the Kohathites who carried the ark on the journey through the desert; but they seem merely to have acted in this respect as the servants or helpers of the priests, who alone might touch the ark, and by whom it was carefully wrapped up before it was handed to the Kohathites. On special occasions the priests themselves carried the ark (cf. Joshua 3:3, etc.; Joshua 4:9, Joshua 4:10; Joshua 6:6, Joshua 6:12; Joshua 8:33; 1 Kings 8:3).
In the side of the ark; at or by the side of the ark. According to the Targum of Jonathan, it was in a coffer by the right side of the ark that the book was placed; but the Talmudists say it was put within the ark, along with the two tables of the Decalogue ('Baba Bathra,' 14); but see 1 Kings 8:8.
I know thy rebellion; rather, rebelliousness, i.e. tendency to rebel. In Num 17:1-13 :25 , the people are described as בְנֵי מְרִי, "sons of rebelliousness;" Authorized Version, "rebels."
Call heaven and earth to record against them (cf. Deuteronomy 32:1). These words; the words of his charge, and especially the song he had composed, and which it would be the business of these officers to teach to the congregation.
Ye will utterly corrupt yourselves; literally, corrupting, ye will corrupt (הַשְׁחַת תשׁחִתוּן, sc. דַרֵכֵיֶכם); i.e. your ways (cf. for the phrase, Genesis 6:12). The latter days; the after-time, the future, as in Deuteronomy 4:30; Numbers 24:14, etc. The work of your hands; the idols they might make (cf. Deuteronomy 4:28). By some, however, the phrase is interpreted of evil deeds in general
A new generation receiving the heritage of the past.
The closing scene of Moses' life is drawing nigh. The time is at hand when he and Israel must part, and the leadership must be undertaken by another. As far as can be done, two things have to be ensured—viz, the conservation of Israel's Law, and the conduct of the people to their goal. "God buries his ministers, but he carries on his work." Hence Moses first addresses all the people; then he turns to Joshua, confirming him as the future leader (verses 7, 8); and finally to the priests, who are to be henceforth the custodians and guardians of the holy Law. Having thus handed over the leadership of an army, and the conservation of a faith, Moses has little else to do but to go up and die. Hence our theme—A new generation entrusted with the heritage of the past. Taking up this as a Christian preacher may be supposed to do, we find that seven consecutive lines of thought are suggested.
I. There has been given, prior to our time, a "precious faith," which has been handed down to the present day (verses 12, 13).
II. Those who have been the leaders and warriors in God's Israel in past days have commended this faith to us, with all the earnestness created by their deep and strong convictions, which, in the hard school of experience and trial, were formed, fostered, and verified (verses 3, 4).
III. The work thus entrusted to the men of the present is analogous to that which was required of the ancient people of God:
(1) to clear the ground of alien faiths;
(2) to occupy the ground so cleared; and
(3) to maintain thereon pure worship, brotherly fellowship, and holy life.
IV. In the fulfillment of this work we shall enjoy the Divine presence (verse 6).
V. God's providence will also go before us to clear the way (verse 8).
VI. Consequently, it behooves us to go forward, to "be strong and fear not" (verse 6); for—
VII. Where the responsibilities of the men of the past leave off, our responsibility begins.
Importance of knowing the Word of God.
In resigning his commission into other hands, Moses had a double duty to discharge. There had been, in fact, a twofold responsibility resting on him more or less till the close of his life, which after his death would be divided. He was not only the leader of the people, but also the receiver, transcriber, and guardian of the Law. As the nation became consolidated, this double work would certainly become too heavy for one man to discharge. Hence he commissions one man to be the leader of an army, and another set of men to be the conservators of the truth. Joshua is leader. The priests are to be the keepers and teachers of the Law. It is one remarkable feature of the constitution of the Hebrew commonwealth, that such stress is laid upon popular education. This was again and again made matter of Divine precept. And about this there were two main regulations: one, that it was to begin at home; another, that it was to have as its one golden thread running through all, that the fear of the Lord was the beginning of wisdom. Over and above, however, the home teaching from childhood, there was to be at stated times a public reading and enforcement of the Law. At this public reading, the people were to be gathered together. "Young men and maidens, old men and children;" the stranger that was within their gates was not to be forgotten. All, all were to hear the Word of God, that they might learn, fear, love, and obey.
It is to secure this most desirable end that Moses, having written the Law, delivers it to the priests, the sons of Levi, and gives them the charge of which the paragraph before us is the sum. Our theme is—The value of the Word of God as an educating power in home and nation. The points to be noted in the words of Moses here given, are these:
1. That both young and old were to have ever before them the truth that their life was for God, was to be permeated by Divine influence, and regulated by the Divine will.
2. That the will of God, so revealed as to be the true and sufficient regulator of life, was to be found in the Book of the Law.
3. That all classes of the people, home-born and alien, freemen and slaves, were to be taught what was the Divine will concerning them.
4. That the object of the teaching was that they might grow up with an intelligent apprehension of the deep meaning of life.
5. That intelligence was intended and expected to blossom into piety. Men were to "fear" the Lord their God, and to "observe to do all the words of this Law."
Our purpose in this Homily is to inquire, How far does all this hold good at the present day? When Moses wrote the Law, it served, as it did for ages after, as the people's literature. It would take a like place with the people that our histories of England do now, and would, moreover, serve them as the story-book for children, and the statute-book for all. And there was a time when to large masses of our people the Bible constituted the chief literary treasure of the home. And ere the people could read, the exposition and enforcement of its truths from the pulpit formed the staple of their education. But things are changed now. The increase of literary material in every direction is amazing. The vastly wider field of natural knowledge takes so much time and energy for its exploration, that the Bible is in danger of being "crowded out." And what may be called in an intelligible sense the literary rivals of the Bible are "legion." We propose to suggest a few lines of thought which the Christian preacher may work out, with the view of showing that an intelligent acquaintance with the Word of God is, if possible, more important now than ever it was. Many reasons may be urged for this.
I. LET US CONSIDER THE VARIOUS ASPECTS IN WHICH THE BIBLE MAY BE REGARDED. We need scarcely observe (save for the sake of completeness of setting) that our Bible is much larger than Israel's was, and that therefore by so much as this is the case there is much more to be affirmed of it now than could be of the old Book of the Law.
1. In the Bible we have a trustworthy history of Judaism and Christianity, in their origin and meaning. Of the first we have an outline during the main periods of its constitutional history; of the second, during the first generation after its planting. And so important are these features of history, that apart from them the history of the world cannot be understood.
2. We have the noblest ethical standard in the world. The moral law cannot, even in conception, be surpassed.
3. We have a revelation of a great redeeming plan steadily unfolded from Genesis to Revelation.
4. We have a disclosure of God in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
5. We have the manifestation of power from heaven to begin a new creation of grace.
6. We have a body of doctrine for the life that now is.
7. We have glorious glimpses of the life which is to come. In all these respects the Book is unique. It has no compeer in any literature in the world!
II. AS THE CONTENTS OF THE BIBLE ARE UNIQUE, SO ALSO IS ITS OBJECT DEFINITE. (See Psalms 19:1-14; Psalms 119:1-176; Joh 21:1-25 :31, et al.) That object is the regulation of life on earth, and the preparation of it for heaven. And the Book seeks to secure this by enforcement of duty, revelations of truth, disclosures of love, and offers of power.
III. NO AMOUNT OF NATURAL LEARNING CAN EVER COMPENSATE FOR DEFICIENCY OF KNOWLEDGE OR FAILURE IN PRACTICE CONCERNING MAN'S DUTY TO HIMSELF, HIS FAMILY, HIS NEIGHBOR, AND HIS GOD. If he fails here, he fails everywhere. The more splendidly a vessel is fitted up, the more costly the wreck if she dashes on the rocks. To teach natural knowledge and leave out religion, is to furnish the vessel but to fail to make any provision for steering it aright.
IV. NATURAL KNOWLEDGE IN THE HANDS OF OTHER THAN VIRTUOUS MEN MAY BECOME AN INSTRUMENT OF ENORMOUS MISCHIEF. The attempt to blow up the Winter Palace at St. Petersburg is an illustration of what science and skill may do in bad hands. The disclosures after the destruction of the Tay Bridge showed us how science, art, and skill may do their best, and yet the greatest efforts of great men may be blown away in an hour by a single blast, through the weak points which unconscientious work had left, in the hope of being undetected.
V. THE GREATER THE STRENGTH THAT IS PUT FORTH IN ACQUIRING KNOWLEDGE, THE GREATER THE ENERGY DEMANDED IN ORDER TO USE SUCH KNOWLEDGE WELL. The larger the vessel, the more power is required to propel her. So the wider the culture, the stronger does moral principle need to be in order that natural knowledge may be not a veil to conceal, but a book to reveal the Divine.
VI. HENCE THE CONCLUSION FOLLOWS: SO far from the accumulating mass of natural knowledge making the Word of God less necessary as a guide to living well and dying well, the fact is, that the necessity of Bible study is greater than ever! No book can take its place. No study can supersede that of the ways of God to man. Some of the wisest men of the age (so far as science goes) confess themselves hopelessly in the dark with regard to man's origin, nature, and destiny. Ah! in the Book of God, and in that alone, can man learn that which shall make him wise unto salvation. Here alone can we learn the mystery of God's will which was hidden from ages and generations, but now is made manifest. Here alone can he be taught that godliness which hath "promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come."
Faithful words silent accusers of those who heed them not.
In the several paragraphs of this chapter we find that Moses was borne along by the Holy Ghost to take a glance into the future. He had been instructed by God to give a charge to Joshua, and to surrender into his hands the leadership of the host. He had given to the priests their commission to guard the Law for the people. And now there remained but for him to give his final words to the people themselves. The Omniscient One foresaw that, after the death of their leader, they would become corrupt, forsaking the Lord, and ensuring for themselves and their children a heritage of woe. And hence it was mercifully provided that, even in the worst of times, their lawgiver's words should be for them a perpetual standard of appeal; so that, however the people might have fallen from the heights of virtue, they should still have the same trusty words to guide their path, and to direct and restore their life. While at the same time, these words would be a constant and silent witness against them for departing from the ways of the Lord. It is not at all unlikely that our Lord had this passage in mind when he said to the Jews, "Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust." That very Book, which if rightly used is "a lamp" to the feet and "a light" to the path, becomes, if neglected, a perpetual and silent accuser. Very earnestly and solemnly may the Christian preacher press this home "to every man's conscience in the sight of God." That selfsame purpose which was answered by securing permanent records of the Mosaic legislation, is also answered by permanent records of the Christian redemption. The apostles and prophets of the New Testament, like the legislator of the old, spake and wrote as they were borne along by the Holy Ghost. It is, therefore, over the larger sphere that we propose now to illustrate and enforce the truth that neglected teaching becomes a silent accuser.
I. WHEN OUR GOD LODGED IN THE WORLD THE JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN FAITHS, HE LOOKED ONWARD AND FORESAW THE FEATURES OF THE COMING GENERATIONS. (Cf. verses 16-18; see also Acts 20:29, Act 20:30; 1 Timothy 4:1-3; 2 Peter 3:3; Matthew 24:24.) Whatever developments of ungodliness or of unbelief, of immorality or of heresy, may develop themselves, are all known to him who seeth the end from the beginning.
II. WITH FUTURE EVIL FULL IN VIEW, GOD HAS HAD HIS OWN WORD PUT DOWN IN WRITING. The words of Moses, of the prophets, of the Lord Jesus Christ, and of his apostles are faithfully recorded. They have suffered no material change through all the accidents of transition (Philippians 3:1). Paul felt what a safeguard it would be for after ages to have his words written down, and sent to the Churches, that they might be by them guarded, distributed, and taught (see verse 19).
III. THE WORD OF GOD, SO RECORDED, IS A PERPETUAL STANDARD OF APPEAL FOR EVERY AGE. Whatever corruptions may enter into or fasten on the Churches; however oral tradition may change the original form of Divine communication,—the written Word changeth not. How very soon Churches as Churches may drift far away from the true in faith and the holy in life, the Epistles to the Churches in Galatia, Corinth, Ephesus, Pergamos, Thyatira, Laodicea, tell. We see by them how very soon our faith might be seriously obscured or impaired if dependent merely on the oral transmission of any Church.
IV. BY THE PURE WORD OF GOD, ABERRATIONS MAY FROM TIME TO TIME BE CORRECTED. It is by the Church that the Word of God is kept and transmitted. It is by the Word so kept and transmitted that the Church is to be tested. Hence, whatever respect it may he appropriate to pay to the decision of a Church or of Churches, those decisions are valid only as they harmonize with what the Lord hath spoken in his revealed Word. Whatever will not abide the test of an appeal to the Book of God, with it Christian Churches and people should have nothing to do. Of how much importance our Lord regarded this final test is seen by his frequent appeal to what is written. Whether he was in conflict with the evil one, or was himself exposing or denouncing evil, his ultimate reference was to what God had said.
V. CONSEQUENTLY, BY HAVING IN OUR HANDS A PERPETUAL STANDARD OF REFERENCE, WE HAVE A CONSTANT AND UNVARYING GUIDE TO WHAT IS RIGHT BOTH IN FAITH AND PRACTICE. The accounts which we get of the after history of the Hebrew nation show us plainly enough how far adrift the people might soon have gone, if their faith had not been once for all enshrined and guarded in a book. And so it is in the New Testament. For though we get therein hints of the Church's life for but little more than two generations after they were formed, yet the severe lashings and rebukes which the Churches in Corinth, Galatia, and Colosse required, as well as the seven Churches, show with equal distinctness that our most holy faith might soon have been all but unrecoverable from the mass of corruption, if it, too, had not been recorded in the writings of the apostles and evangelists. But thus recorded it was, and through all the ages it has been guarded for us as a perpetual standard of appeal.
VI. IF, HOWEVER, WE ARE GUIDED BY THE VARYING OPINIONS AND SINFUL PRACTICES OF MEN, AND SO NEGLECT TO TAKE HEED TO OUR STANDARDS, THEY WILL BE PERPETUAL WITNESSES AGAINST US. (Verse 21,) So our Lord tells the Jews in reference to the departures from the faith and the corruptions in life which marked his time (cf. Joh 5:1-47 :54). And thus it must ever be. The very fact of having a standard of appeal serves two purposes. Which of the two it will serve so far as we are concerned depends on the use we make thereof. If we abide by it and conform thereto, it will verify our belief and justify our life. But if we depart from it, it can only act as a witness against us to condemn us. Every privilege is this two-edged. If used aright, it helps us; if disused or abused, it will be for a perpetual reproof. So it is with parental advice, with a teacher's counsels, with a pastor's pleadings, with a Savior's invitations: accepted and heeded, they will be a perpetual joy; but if made light of, they will plunge daggers into the soul.
VII. THIS SILENT ACCUSATION GOING ON NOW FORESHADOWS A MORE SERIOUS CRIMINATION AT THE JUDGMENT DAY. (Cf. Matthew 11:22, Matthew 11:24; Matthew 12:41, Matthew 12:42.) The whirl of life, and the surroundings of flesh and sense, conceal from many the spiritual world. But it exists. And when we are summoned hence we shall see it and know it. We shall feel ourselves with God—alone. And this—this will be the beginning of that awful process of judgment which, on the last day, is to be consummated and sealed. And what sore condemnation must await those to whom God has spoken in his Word for years on years, but in vain (see Ezekiel 33:1-33.)!
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
Deuteronomy 31:1, Deuteronomy 31:2
Moses the aged.
I. A MAN MAY BE IN HEALTH AND VIGOR, YET PAST CAPACITY FOR A CERTAIN WORK. Moses' "eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated" (Deuteronomy 34:7), yet he felt that he lacked the fire, the activity, the youthful energy, the elasticity of mind and body, which would have made him a suitable leader for Israel in the new period of her history. Greatness is tested by the magnanimity with which a man long used to power is able to lay it down when he feels that his day for effective service is past. Moses had served his generation nobly. There arose none like him. But, as has been said of Luther, who reached his meridian at the Diet of Worms, and whose end, had Providence pleased to remove him then, would have been like an apotheosis, "It is a law of history that every personality bears within itself a measure which it is not permitted to exceed" (Hagenbach). A new age was opening, and new powers were needed to do justice to its calls. The lawgiver, the prophet, the leader of the desert march, the meek, long-enduring, deep-souled man of God must give place to one more distinctively a soldier. The calm gifts of the legislator and statesman were not those which were most required for the work of conquest and settlement. Moses felt this, and felt, too, that he was getting old. The old man cannot enter as a younger man would into the thoughts, circumstances, and feelings of a new time. He belongs to the past, and is limited by it. His powers have lost their freshness, and can henceforth only decay. This was Moses' situation, and he had the dignity and wisdom to acknowledge it, and to arrange for the appointment of a suitable successor.
II. WHEN A MAN'S DAY OF SERVICE IS PAST, IT MAY BE KINDNESS IN GOD TO REMOVE HIM FROM THE WORLD. Moses' removal was a punishment for sin, but there was mercy concerned in it also. Long life is not always desirable. Had Moses lived longer, he could never have been greater than he is. He might have seemed less. Shades appear in the character of Luther after it had reached its meridian above spoken of—things which disturb and annoy us. Certainly, Moses' position, with Joshua as actual leader in the field, would not have been an enviable one. Joshua must increase, he must decrease. The impetuous soldier, the able strategist, the hero of the battles, would have eclipsed him in the eyes of the younger generation. He would feel that he had over-lived himself. Fitly, therefore, is he removed before the decline of his influence begins. The great thing is to have done one's work—to have fulfilled the ends for which life was given. That done, removal is in no case a loss, and in most cases a boon in disguise (2 Timothy 4:6-9).
III. WHEN THE SERVICES OF ONE MAN FAIL, GOD WILL PROVIDE FOR THE CONTINUANCE OF HIS WORK BY RAISING UP SUCCESSORS. So Joshua was raised up to succeed Moses.—J.O.
Deuteronomy 31:3-8, Deuteronomy 31:23
Joshua a type of Jesus, the true Leader into the rest of God (Hebrews 4:8). God has given him, as formerly he gave the son of Nun, for "a Leader and Commander to the people" (Isaiah 55:4).
I. THE MAN. Joshua as leader was:
1. Divinely appointed (verse 3).
2. Divinely led. "He doth go before thee" (verse 8). The captain had a higher Captain (Joshua 5:14).
3. Divinely assisted. "He will be with thee" (verse 8). Our Leader is Emmanuel—"God with us" (Matthew 1:23).
4. He was to be strong and courageous (verse 7). The ground of true courage is God being with us. It is said of the Savior, "He shall not fail nor be discouraged" (Isaiah 42:4). The perseverance of the Savior is as deserving of consideration as the perseverance of the saints.
II. HIS WORK. While Joshua's and the people's, it was still more God's work (verses 3, 4). With Joshua as leader:
1. The enemy would be overthrown (verses 3-6).
2. All opposition would be overcome.
3. He would conduct the people unto the land of their inheritance (verse 7).
4. He would cause them to inherit it (verse 7), i.e. settle them in their possessions.
Christ in like manner has overthrown the enemy (Colossians 2:15); has won an inheritance for his people (Colossians 1:12); in his victory they are enabled to overcome the world (John 16:33; 1 John 4:4); his cause is steadily triumphing; he is conducting, and has already conducted, many sons to glory (Hebrews 5:10).—J.O.
Deuteronomy 31:9, Deuteronomy 31:24-26
The authorship of the book.
A clear testimony to the Mosaic authorship of the Book of Deuteronomy. The book, as Moses gave it to the priests, has plainly been re-edited, with the additions of Moses' song, Moses' blessing, and the account of his death; but only the wantonness of criticism can see "a different hand or hands" in Deuteronomy 12-26, from that employed upon the earlier chapters, or discern probability in the assumption that Deuteronomy 4:44-19 once constituted a separate book. The unity in style and treatment is so conspicuous throughout—"the same vein of thought, the same tone and tenor of feeling, the same peculiarities of conception and expression"—that unity of authorship follows as a thing of course. The denial of it is incomprehensible. It is less certain whether the "Book of the Law" (verse 26) comprehends Deuteronomy only, or the bulk of the other books of the Pentateuch as well. That Deuteronomy is represented as existing in a written form is plain from Deuteronomy 28:58, Deuteronomy 28:61; Deuteronomy 29:20, Deuteronomy 29:21, Deuteronomy 29:27; and Hoses had probably the written discourses in his band when he delivered them. But Deuteronomy, as a written book, rests so entirely on the history as we have it in the previous books; is so steeped in allusions to it; implies so full and accurate a knowledge of it, from the days of the patriarchs downwards;—that the presumption in favor of that history also existing in a written form, in authentic records, which subsequent generations could consult, is so strong as almost to amount to certainty. It is incredible that Moses should have taken pains to write out these long discourses—discourses based on the history, and inculcating so earnestly the keeping of its facts and lessons in remembrance—and yet have taken no pains to secure an authentic record of the history itself; that he should not have compiled or composed, out of the abundant materials at his command, a connected narrative of God's dealings with the nation, down to the point at which he addressed it; incorporating with that narrative the body of his legislation. Confining our attention to Deuteronomy, there can be no fair question but that it gives itself out as from the pen of Moses. This claim is disputed, and the book referred to about the time of Josiah on grounds of style, of discrepancies with the Levitical laws, and of laws and allusions implying the later date. On the contrary, we hold that the critical hypothesis can be shown to raise greater difficulties than it lays, and that the difficulties in the way of accepting the book as a composition of Moses have been greatly exaggerated. We glance at a few of these difficulties.
I. STYLE. Professor W.R. Smith notes as a crucial instance the laws about the cities of refuge in Numbers 35:1-34; and Deuteronomy 19:1-21. These laws are supposed to have been penned by the same hand within a few months of each other; yet, it is alleged, the vocabulary, structure of sentences, and cast of expression widely differ. But allowance must surely be made for the difference between a careful original statement of a law, and a later general rehearsal of its substance in the rounded style of free, popular discourse. And what are the specific differences? Deuteronomy, we are told, does not use the term "refuge," but "the cities are always described by a periphrasis." But the Deuteronomist simply says, "Thou shalt separate three cities for thee in the midst of thy land" (Deuteronomy 19:2); "thou shalt separate three cities for thee" (Deuteronomy 19:7); "thou shalt add three cities more for thee "(Deuteronomy 19:1-21.Deuteronomy 19:9); and there is no periphrasis. The phrase, "that every slayer may flee thither" (Deuteronomy 19:3), "the slayer which shall flee thither" (Deuteronomy 19:4), is derived from Numbers 35:11, Numbers 35:15. But Deuteronomy and Numbers use different words for "accidentally." Admitted, but the words used are synonymous, and are only used in each case twice altogether—in Numbers 35:11, Numbers 35:15, and in Deuteronomy 4:42; Deuteronomy 19:4. "The judges in the one are ' the congregation,' in the other ' the elders of his city.'" But Deuteronomy says nothing about "judges," and "the elders" who are once referred to in Deuteronomy 19:12, plainly act in the name of the congregation. "The verb for 'hate' is different." Rather, "the verb for 'hate'" does not occur at all in Numbers 35:1-34; but the noun derived from it does (Numbers 35:20), and is translated "hatred," while in Numbers 35:21, Numbers 35:22, a different term, translated "enmity," is employed, which expresses nearly the same sense. Had these words appeared, one in Numbers and the other in Deuteronomy, instead of standing in consecutive verses of one chapter, they would doubtless have been quoted as further evidence of diversity of authorship. So one book, uses the expression "to kill any person," while the other has "to kill his neighbor—a difference surely not incompatible with identity of authorship. "The detailed description of the difference between murder and accidental homicide is entirely diverse in language and detail." But in Deuteronomy there is no "detailed description" of the kind referred to. There is in Numbers (Numbers 35:16-24); but Deuteronomy confines itself to one simple illustration from concrete life, admirably adapted, it will be admitted, to the speaker's popular purpose (Deuteronomy 19:5). The statement in Deuteronomy, it is evident, presupposes the earlier law, and is incomplete without it, occupying only a dozen verses, as compared with over twenty in Numbers, while even of the dozen, three are occupied with a new provision for the number of the cities being ultimately raised to nine (Deuteronomy 19:8-10).
II. DISCREPANCIES IN LAWS. Considering the number of the laws, the alleged discrepancies are singularly few. On the "tithes," see Deuteronomy 26:12; on the "firstlings," Deuteronomy 15:20; "the priests' due," in Deuteronomy 18:3, seems, like the "fleece" of Deuteronomy 18:4, to be in addition to the provision in Numbers 18:11-18; the law of carrion (Deuteronomy 14:21) is slightly modified in view of the altered circumstances of settlement in Canaan (cf. Leviticus 17:15); and so with other instances. The chief modifications arise from the new legislation in regard to the central sanctuary, with the permission to kill and eat flesh at home (Deuteronomy 12:20-24). On this depends the new tithe-laws (provision for the sanctuary feasts), the additions to the priests' portions, and various minor changes.
III. PECULIARITIES IMPLYING A LATER DATE. We need not delay on stray phrases, such as "unto this day" (Deuteronomy 3:14), or "as Israel did unto the land of his possession" (Deuteronomy 2:12). The instances usually cited are not of great force, and are easily explicable as glosses. More important cases are:
1. The central altar. On this, see under Deuteronomy 12:1-32. It suffices to meet most objections to observe that, on the face of it, the Law bears that it was not intended to be put strictly in force till certain important conditions had been fulfilled—conditions which, owing to the disobedience of the people, who during the time of the judges so often put back the clock of their own history, were not fulfilled tilt as late as the days of David and Solomon. For thus it reads (Deuteronomy 12:10), "When ye go over Jordan, and dwell in the land which the Lord your God giveth you to inherit, and when he giveth you rest from all your enemies round about, so that ye dwell in safety; then there shall be a place," etc. (cf. 2 Samuel 7:1; 1 Kings 3:2; 1 Kings 5:4).
2. Priests and Levites. The distinction between priests and Levites, which counts for so much in Leviticus and Numbers, is not, it is alleged, recognized in Deuteronomy. The phrase in use is not "priests and Levites" (which, however, as little as the other, occurs in the earlier books), but "the priests the Levites" (Deuteronomy 17:9, Deuteronomy 17:18; Deuteronomy 18:1; Deuteronomy 24:8; Deuteronomy 27:9). They are not distinctively "the sons of Aaron," but "sons of Levi" (Deuteronomy 21:5; Deuteronomy 31:9). "All Levites are possible priests." But the objection is deprived of its force when we discover, what any one can verify, that these same expressions were freely used, and used interchangeably with others, at a time when it is not doubted that the Levitical system was in full operation. This is the case in the Books of Chronicles, written, it is asserted, in the interest of that system, yet using this phrase, "the priests the Levites," without hesitation or sense of ambiguity (2 Chronicles 5:5; 2 Chronicles 23:18; 2 Chronicles 30:27). "The priests the Levites" mean simply the Levitical priests; and when the tribe of Levi as a whole is meant, it is either expressly designated as such (Deuteronomy 10:8), or the designation is appended to the other phrase as a wider denomination (Deuteronomy 18:1). Nor is the idiom a strange one. At first, the priests," the sons of Aaron," stood out from the people with sharp distinctness, as alone invested with sacred office. The case was greatly altered after the separation of the tribe of Levi; when the designation "sons of Aaron" seems speedily to have been dropped for another identifying the priests more directly with their tribe. "Sons of Aaron" is not found in the latter part of Numbers. Priests and Levites had more in common with each other than either class had with the body of the people; and besides, the priests were Levites. So that to the popular eye, the tribe of Levi stood apart, forming, as a whole, one sacred body, engaged in ministering in holy things to God. Sacerdotal functions are attributed to the tribe, but not necessarily to all members of it (Deuteronomy 10:8; Deuteronomy 18:7).. The counter-theory, that this distinction had no existence under the kings, and first originated in the time of the exile, is without a jot of evidence in the Books of Kings, and only escapes foundering on the statements in Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah, by robbing these books of their historical character.
3. The position of the Levites. Instead of being furnished with cities and pasturages, and enjoying an independent income from the tithes, they are represented as homeless and dependent, wandering from place to place, and glad to be invited, with the stranger, the widow, and the fatherless, to share in charitable feasts. (See on this, Deuteronomy 12:19.) But if a time is sought for the composition of the book when this was the actual position of the Levites, no time is so suitable as that of Moses himself, before the tithe-laws had come into regular operation—when, in truth, there was little or nothing to tithe—and when the Levites would be largely dependent on the hospitality of individuals. The language would have a point and force to Moses' contemporaries, which it would have greatly lost had the circumstances of the Levites, at the time of his address, been more prosperous. They were dependent then, and might from very obvious causes come to be dependent again. Their state would not be greatly bettered in the unsettled times of the conquest. Nothing could be more appropriate in itself, better adapted to create kindly sympathies between Levites and people, or more likely to avert neglect of the tribe by withholding of their just dues, than the perpetuation of these primitive hospitalities. No doubt the Levites suffered severely in the days of the judges and under bad kings, but we are not to forget the power and splendor to which the order attained under David and Solomon, and the revivals it enjoyed under Hezekiah and Josiah. There is no evidence that their condition was so deplorably destitute in the later days of the kingdom as the critics represent.
4. The law of the king (Deuteronomy 17:1-20.). The law, it is thought, is sketched in terms borrowed from the court of Solomon. The objection derives much of its plausibility from not observing that the description of Solomon's court in the Book of Kings (1 Kings 10:26-29; 1 Kings 11:1-4) is, on the other hand, given in terms distinctly borrowed from this law. The familiarity of the writer of the Books of Kings with Deuteronomy is undoubted, and he plainly draws up his account of Solomon's luxury and splendor in such language as will impress the mind by its contrast to the law. We, on the contrary, reading the law, are apt to think of Solomon's reign as if it were the original, and the law the copy. Solomon did what Moses knew too well kings would be prone to do, and there was every reason for the warning that was given. The objections taken to the book cannot, therefore, be allowed to set aside its own decisive testimony to its authorship. If we adopt the hypothesis of the critics, we are involved in graver difficulties than those from which we flee. We must suppose a state of things as existing under the kings, in respect of the Levitical orders, which we have no reason to believe ever did exist, which there is great difficulty in believing to have existed, and which historical documents in the most express language tell us did not exist. We must suppose Josiah and his people deceived about the book, for they unquestionably took it for a veritable book of Moses, grieving that its words had been neglected by their fathers (2Ki 22:1-20.; 23.; 2 Chronicles 34:1-33.). We must explain away a multitude of the plainest allusions to the book, not simply in Joshua, but in the prophets, particularly in Hosea, whose pages are rich in such references (cf. Deuteronomy 7:13; Deuteronomy 8:7-20; Deuteronomy 11:14-16, with Hosea 2:8; Hosea 12:8; Hosea 13:6; Deuteronomy 12:1-32. with Hosea 8:11; Deuteronomy 18:18 with Hosea 12:13; Deuteronomy 17:12 with Hosea 4:4; Deuteronomy 28:68 with Hosea 8:13; Hosea 9:3; Deuteronomy 29:23 with Hosea 11:8; Deuteronomy 30:1-10 with Hosea 14:1-9.; Deuteronomy 25:13-16 with Hosea 12:7, etc.). We must suppose such a passage as Solomon's prayer at the dedication of the temple (1 Kings 8:1-66.), which is saturated with Deuteronomic language, to have been a free and unhistorical composition; though, if this be allowed for Deuteronomy, it need not trouble us with Solomon. Even then we are not out of difficulties, for the book itself is in many respects internally unsuitable to the times to which it is assigned; compare e.g. the mild tone of the book towards Edom—the kindly and brotherly relations which are enjoined—with the hostile tone to which we are accustomed in the prophets, where Edom is a sort of later Amalek, a standing type of implacable enmity to the people of God. If Deuteronomy is not by Moses, it bears false witness of itself, was misconceived by the writers of the later books of Scripture, imposed upon the Jews from the days of its first appearance, and has had its claims endorsed by Christ and his apostles in a way which makes them partners in the general delusion.—J.O.
Deuteronomy 31:9, Deuteronomy 31:24-27
The written Word.
The Law here put in writing and solemnly deposited in the side of the ark, is the foundation of our present Bible. All Scripture is built up upon it. On this consignment of the first installment of the Word, we remark—
I. THE WRITTEN WORD EMBODIES AND IS THE VEHICLE OF AN AUTHORITATIVE REVELATION. The Law was first given, thereafter recorded. Revelation precedes the record of it. But this line must not be drawn too finely. The record is inspired (1 Timothy 3:16), and is to us the revelation of the will of God. It is, as well as contains, the Word of God. The line must not be drawn too finely:
1. Between revelation and its history. The threads of revelation cannot be picked out from the texture of its history, and exhibited apart. They constitute one whole; the record embraces both.
2. Between revelation and inspired prophetical discourses—with psalms, poems, wisdom literature, etc; which unfold the principles of revelation, apply and enforce them, turn them into subjects of praise, or deal with them reflectively. For discourses, psalms, didactic literature, etc; add to revelation as well as unfold its meaning.
3. Between revelation and the written Word. For that, as above remarked, is the revelation to us. It is clothed with its own authority as inspired—an authority the nature and degree of which is a study by itself—and it is clothed with the authoritativeness (objective) inherent in the revelations of which records are preserved.
II. THE WRITTEN WORD IS NECESSARY FOR THE PERPETUATION OF REVEALED TRUTH. It embodies truth in a form which secures its transmission to posterity without material distortion or corruption. Tradition, however carefully guarded, would have been a most unsafe medium for the conveyance of important revelations. A body of facts and laws such as we have in the Pentateuch, or discourses like these of Moses, could not have been entrusted to it without certainty of mutilation. The Law, accordingly, was put in writing. A written revelation is one great proof of the wisdom and care of Goal. Variations in manuscripts rarely affect the substance of the message.
III. THE WRITTEN WORD IS A WITNESS FOR GOD AGAINST THE APOSTASY OF THOSE TO WHOM THE WORD IS GIVEN. (Verse 26.)
1. If it does not prevent corruption of doctrine, it testifies against it. It was by appeal to the Scriptures that Josiah wrought his reformation in Judah (2 Kings 23:1-37.). It was by appeal to the Scriptures that the Reformers aroused Europe against the Church of Rome.
2. If it cannot prevent apostasy in deed, it remains as a witness against the apostates. It holds up the Law from which they have departed. It convicts them of rebellion. It denounces against them the penalties of transgression. While it invites them to repentance, and promise, s, if they return, healing of their backslidings.—J.O.
Reading the Law.
(For an example of fulfillment of this command, see Nehemiah 8:1-18.) Observe—
I. IT WAS TO BE READ AT A RELIGIOUS FEAST. On an occasion of solemnity—at the Feast of Tabernacles (Deuteronomy 31:10). Our feelings in reading the Scriptures, or in hearing them read, ought always to be of a solemn and reverential kind. But it is well to avail ourselves of every aid which may lend solemnity and impressiveness to the reading of words so sacred.
II. IT WAS TO BE READ AT A TIME OF GENERAL LEISURE. In the sabbatical year'' the year of release." Leisure hours cannot be better employed than in making ourselves acquainted with "what God the Lord will speak" (Psalms 85:8). We should avail ourselves of the leisure of others to endeavor to instruct them.
III. IT WAS TO BE READ PUBLICLY. (Deuteronomy 31:11.) The private reading of the Law would doubtless be attended to in many pious homes. But the practice would not be general (scarcity and expensiveness of manuscripts, want of education, religious indifference). The Levites were to teach Israel the Law (Deuteronomy 33:10; Le Deuteronomy 10:11; Malachi 2:7); but they might not do so, or the people might not wait on their instructions. The public reading of the Law, even once in seven years, was thus calculated to be of great advantage. As long as the practice was observed, multitudes would derive benefit from it. The reading was of the nature of a public testimony, but also, as we see in Nehemiah 8:1-18; for purposes of real instruction. The public reading of Scripture, with or without comment, is an important means of edification. Read with intelligence and judgment, the Word commends itself. And such readings are necessary. Many have Bibles, yet do not read them; many read and do not understand.
IV. IT WAS TO BE READ FOR THE BENEFIT OF OLD AND YOUNG. (Nehemiah 8:12.) All are interested in listening to the Word of God. Men and women, little children, strangers, no class but has a concern-in it. None but may be edified by it. Children ought to be more recognized than they are in religious services. Need for making them feel that they too are interested in what is being said; that the Bible has a message for them as well as for their elders.
V. THE END OF READING GOD'S WORD IS THAT WE MAY BE ENABLED TO OBEY IT, (Nehemiah 8:13.)—J.O.
Deuteronomy 31:16-22, Deuteronomy 31:28-30
God's foresight of Israel's declension.
I. THAT THE FUTURE IS PERFECTLY UNVEILED TO GOD. God claims this power as one of his prerogatives (Isaiah 41:22; Isaiah 42:9; Isaiah 43:25, Isaiah 43:26; Isaiah 45:20, Isaiah 45:21). And no one can question but that these predictions have been strikingly fulfilled. The people did corrupt themselves and turn aside, and evil did befall them in the latter days (Deuteronomy 31:29).
II. THAT THE PLAINEST WARNINGS ARE FREQUENTLY DISREGARDED. Israel was under no government of fate. Had the people repented, they would have been forgiven. The predictions are cast in absolute form, only because God saw that warning would not be taken. He would only too gladly have revoked his threatenings, had Israel, roused to alarm, turned from its evil (cf. the case of Nineveh). This, however, it did not do, but, with these woe-laden prophecies spread before it, rushed madly on, as if eager to fulfill them. How like sinners still. The plainest declarations, the most explicit warnings, the direst threatenings, are as little recked of as if no Word of God were in existence. Strange that God's Word should be so disregarded, and yet profession so often made of believing in it (cf. Jeremiah 36:1-32.)!
III. THAT GOD'S WORD HAS ITS USES EVEN THOUGH MEN PROVE DISOBEDIENT. It is to be spoken to them and taught them, "whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear' (Ezekiel 2:7). It tells them the truth. It shows them their duty. It warns them of the consequences of disobedience. It upholds a witness for God in their apostasy (Deuteronomy 31:19). It renders them inexcusable. A solemn responsibility thus attaches to us in the possession of God's Word.
IV. THAT A TIME WILL COME WHEN THE SINNER WILL BE FORCED TO CONFESS THAT GOD'S WORDS AGAINST HIM HAVE ALL BECOME TRUE. (Deuteronomy 31:17.) Only that time may come too late (Deuteronomy 31:18). "Missing God is not true repentance" (Keil).—J.O.
HOMILIES BY R.M. EDGAR
The leadership made over to Joshua.
There is something wonderfully pathetic in the great leader, whose eye is yet undimmed, laying down his trust beside the Jordan. He is a hundred and twenty years old, but the Lord hath denied him the privilege of entering the land of promise. He now meekly resigns his command, and nominates Joshua as his successor. It might have discouraged the people, the loss of their great leader; but he points them upward to the Lord their God, who had been the real Leader in the Exodus and pilgrimage, and who was going at their head across the Jordan. Their faith in the invisible Leader is to be strengthened now that the visible and human leader is to be taken away from them. Besides, they are to have Joshua as the captain of the host. We notice here—
I. THE MEN APPOINTED BY GOD TO SPECIAL OFFICE RECEIVE FROM HIM SPECIAL PREPARATION. Moses himself had received a wondrous preparation, first at his mother's knee, next in the palace of Pharaoh, and next in the solitudes of Midian. And Joshua, who is to succeed him as leader, though not as lawgiver, has also received important preparation. He is first associated with Moses in the mount, as he is receiving the Law. He is thus trained to firm faith in the invisible King, and accustomed to his wonders. He is next exercised in battle, leading the Israelites against Amalek, and proving himself skilful in the field. He had also, as a spy, become minutely acquainted with the land of promise, and brought up with Caleb an encouraging report. None was so fitted as he for high command. Just, then, as the twelve were carefully trained to be the apostles of the Church, so was Joshua trained, and so is every one selected for important work.
II. THE ASSURANCE THAT GOD WAS ASSOCIATED WITH THE INVASION GAVE THE INVADERS THE BEST POSSIBLE STIMULUS. God is to go with them; they need in such a case fear no evil. Their foes may be gigantic, but greater is he that is for them than all that can be against them. Their vantage-ground is that they can be "strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might."
And this is the one question to be asked always: Is God with us? If so, all is well. The work always succeeds of which he is the head.
III. THE WORK BEFORE THEM IS TO BE JUDGMENT. They are to enter Canaan as destroyers. It is iconoclasts that have been brought from Egypt. Their commission is death to the old religions of the country, and to the incorrigible devotees. They enter as "the scourge of God." And such a mission must have proved a warning to themselves. If called to be the executioners of the apostates of Palestine, they will surely guard against apostasy.
IV. IN THE INVASION THEY MUST ADHERE TO THE LETTER OF THE COMMANDMENTS. It is a terrible mission; but God leaves no loophole for them to escape it. He leaves nothing to license; he gives them strict orders, and these must be carried carefully out. Thus are the rigors of the invasion brought under the shadow of his throne, and he, who is Sovereign and legitimate Avenger, commissioned Israel to execute his orders amid the criminal population of Palestine.—R.M.E.
The literary executors of Moses.
It must have been a solemn act on the part of Moses, after having nominated Joshua as his successor in the leadership of Israel, to summon the priests and the elders, that they might be the custodians of his manuscripts, and deal with them as he desired. It was to the ministers of religion, and to the rulers elected by the people and ordained of God, that he gave this important charge. Of course they could not, as nowadays, publish in multiplied copies the carefully written Law. But they were directed to have a great congregation every seven years, at the time of the Feast of Tabernacles, for the public reading of the Law. Hence in this sabbatic time, when no rain need be feared, but brightness and peace reigned by night and day in the land of promise, they were to make public, through reading, this important Law. This interesting arrangement suggests such lessons as these—
I. THERE IS NOTHING SO PRECIOUS AS GOD'S WORD. No wonder that special officers got special charge of it, when the first installment was given and completed. It was a sacred deposit such as no other nation possessed. The Jew had surely a great advantage, inasmuch as there were committed to him "the oracles of God" (Romans 3:2).
II. THE WIDEST POSSIBLE PUBLICATION SHOULD BE SECURED FOR IT. No better arrangement in times before printing can be imagined than this one of a great congregation with perfect publicity thereat. What an audience every seventh year! And amid the solemnity of the year of release, the sabbatic year, when time lay plentifully on their hands, they could not better spend a portion of the year than in meeting together to learn God's Law. It was a splendid, periodic publicity.
And is it not typical of that wider publicity which the printing press is now giving to the Divine Word? Assuredly it is a striking fact that the circulation of the most successful human publication dwindles into insignificance compared with the circulation of the Word of God. Men are trying to make it as widely known as possible.
III, SPECIAL SEASONS FOR THE STUDY OF GOD'S LAW ARE EMINENTLY DESIRABLE, Had this direction of Moses been faithfully followed, there would have been a revival of religion every seventh year. A new start would thus have been given to the study of God's will, and greater devotedness of spirit have been created throughout the many thousands of Israel.
Similarly, congregations and Churches should have grand assemblies for the express purpose of the public study of God's Law, not merely on the Lord's day each week, but at special and stated seasons. The "camp meetings" of America may have objectionable elements attaching to them; but it would be a good day for all the Churches, if some grand reunions could be devised, when the highest aim of mankind would be carried out in the study of God's Law.
IV. THE CHILDREN AS WELL AS ADULTS SHOULD BE MADE SHARERS IN THE SPECIAL STUDY AND BLESSING. The purpose of the arrangement was not only to publish truths as widely as possible among the adult portion of the population, but to interest also the children in the doctrines and discipline of the Church. Hence the meeting was to be an aggregation of families. It was to be "a gathering of the clans;" young as well as old were to hear the wonderful works of God and his gracious commandments.
The special religious service, then, which the Churches should aim at, will be of the widest character. It should contemplate the presence of the young as well as the old, and be adapted to the revival of the Lord's work in all sections of the Church. There is power in the aggregation of individuals for religious purposes. The children must be kept in view in every effort to extend the kingdom. The family must be lifted, if possible, all of a piece, as a unit of God's own making, and in the elevation of families will come the elevation of nations.
There is something peculiarly bright and happy in the picture. The sky is cloudless and the people are living in booths "without carefulness." They have met together for the purpose of celebrating a feast, but there is to be a special study of the Law for the benefit of young as well as old. Old heads and young are bowed before the Majesty of heaven, anxious to know his will and how to do it. In such circumstances surely religion must be promoted. May we have grace to imitate such an excellent example!—R.M.E.
The Lord's charge to Moses and Joshua.
Moses, in making over the leadership to Joshua, was only anticipating a more formal assignment of it by God himself. He directs the old leader and his successor to repair to the tabernacle, and there to receive their respective charges. The Shechinah appeared to convince the people of the reality of the Divine interview with the leaders. Moses is first informed of his own approaching end, of the certain apostasy of the people, and of the desirability of laying before them a song which would testify to the wickedness of the apostasy when it took place. Then Joshua is encouraged by the Lord himself and promised his presence.
I. LET US NOTICE THE EXPRESSION THAT MOSES IS TO "SLEEP WITH HIS FATHERS." The words (&עם־אֲבֹתֶיךָ שֹׁכֵב) are literally, "lie down with thy fathers," and in this connection are surely significant. They point assuredly to fellowship and rest with the fathers in another life. They cannot refer to any depositing of the remains of Moses in the same tomb as his fathers. His sepulcher was solitary and sacred; his lying down with his fathers, therefore, can only refer to the fellowship in a future life. This is the only place in the Pentateuch where this particular expression occurs, although we meet it in the Books of the Kings no less than twenty-six times. It was undoubtedly an intimation to Moses that he was about to enter into restful fellowship with his fathers, and was most welcome consolation at this peculiarly trying time.
II. APOSTASY NEVER TAKES GOD BY SURPRISE. He foresees it and makes provision for it, preparing his servants for its appearance, and preparing a proper recompense for the apostates themselves. It must be a remarkable experience to be in such a position as God, and to have prevision of all the future, so that there can be no element of surprise for him. His resources are so adequate that he is outside the region of finite surprises and difficulties.
III. SKEPTICISM IS THE DAUGHTER OF ABUNDANCE RATHER THAN OF WANT. It will be, the Lord says, when Israel has entered into the Promised Land, and enjoyed its milk and honey, and when they have waxed fat, that they shall turn to other gods and be guilty of apostasy. In the same way, our modern skeptics are men for the most part in comfortable worldly circumstances, and out of these spring doubts about the existence of God and suspicions that we can do very well without him, and with minor majesties. "It is on the bed of luxury," says Mr. Martineau, "not on the rock of nature, that skepticism has its birth And while from the center of comforts many a sad fear goes forth, and the warmest lot becomes often filled with the chillest doubts, hidden within it like a heart of ice that cannot melt, you may find toiling misery that trusts the more the more it is stricken, and amid the secret prayers of mourners hear the sweetest tones of hope."
IV. PROPHECY IS A WITNESS SUBPOENAED BEFOREHAND AGAINST GOD'S ENEMIES. We have here God giving a certain song which is to be a witness against Israel in the coming apostasy. And prophecy is the retaining of a witness long beforehand for the coming trial. It is proof positive that no varying moods of men can ever surprise God or thwart his magnificent designs. The substance of this song we are presently to consider.
V. JOSHUA RECEIVES ENCOURAGEMENT ABOUT A SUCCESSFUL LEADERSHIP AND THE PERPETUAL PRESENCE OF GOD. This means immediate success as a set-off to the sad intelligence about ultimate apostasy. Joshua is assured that God will be with him and ensure the success of the invasion. Hence Joshua is only to be a lieutenant-general under the invisible Leader and King. And Joshua desired nothing higher. The great honor was in being a fellow-soldier with God. It was God's battles he was going to fight, and it would be God's victories which Israel would win.
VI. IT IS A GREAT BLESSING AT LIFE'S CLOSE TO HAVE A SUCCESSOR TO CARRY ON OUR WORK, AND AN ASSURANCE THAT WE OURSELVES ARE SAFE BEYOND THE BORDER. There was much sadness about the close of Moses' career. He was reminded of his sin in his exclusion from Canaan. But he had compensation in Joshua taking up his work, and in the assurance of" rest beyond the river." He was going over to a better land than lay beyond the Jordan. He was passing on to peace with the sainted fathers who had preceded him. He had thus calmness and blessing given in the midst of his pain.
May we have work worth carrying on after us, and some one to succeed us in it; and may we have rest like that of Moses after our demise!—R.M.E.
The Divine testimony deposited in the ark.
Moses, being thus commissioned of God to utter the inspired warning, loses no time in summoning the congregation. But while doing so, he gives precise directions to the Kohathites, who had charge of the ark, to deposit his manuscripts within it. Is anything to be learned from this consignment of the sacred books?
I. THE SACRED BOOKS ARE NOT COMPLIMENTARY TO HUMAN NATURE. The Pentateuch, in its tremendous charges and indictments against mankind, is in unison with the rest of the Word. It is a sustained witness against the human race. "Others may perhaps suspect," says Henry Rogers, "that Jewish vanity led the writers thus to ignore or treat lightly the affairs of all nations except their own. The answer is concise, but conclusive. Let Jewish vanity in general be what the reader pleases, these writers would seem to have had none of it. If they have passed by the glorious achievements of secular history, they have recorded all the infamies of their own nation; and, indeed, their principal references to other nations are as 'scourges' of their own—scourges justly sent, they confess and avow, for apostasies which had wearied out the patience of Heaven!" The marvel is that the Jews and Christians should conspire to preserve what is a most humiliating account of the race.
II. THE ARK WAS THE TREASURE-HOUSE OF GOD PROTECTED BY HIS PRESENCE. It was the "safe" of Israel, not, alas! "fire-proof," like Milner's, as the Babylonians demonstrated, yet as durable and as sacred as the times allowed. It was fenced around by the holiest sanctions. Nowhere could the manuscripts be so safe. Now, the ark is regarded as a type of Jesus; and if so, then the depositing of the Law within the ark would convey the idea of the Law of God being within the heart of Christ (Psalms 40:8). In other words, Jesus Christ embodies the Divine Law or will, add is at once its most brilliant exposition and the most tremendous indictment of human nature. The Jews were not so careful of the living Law as their forefathers were of the written Law. They recognized its charge against themselves: the charge had become oral; it walked before them; it was something that they could not shake off except through the desperate alternative of assassination. They killed in Christ their living Conscience.
III. WE SHOULD LEARN FROM THE EXAMPLE OF CHRIST TO TREASURE UP GOD'S LAW WITHIN OUR OWN HEARTS. We cannot have too much of the Bible in our minds and memories. The more we study it, the more like Christ shall we become. He whose "delight is in the Law of the Lord, and in his Law doth he meditate day and night," is blessed, and he shall be like the tree whose roots are in the waters, duly fruitful and ever green (Psalms 1:2, Psalms 1:3). His conscience shall be reinforced and become increasingly tender; his heart shall be elevated in its affections and longings; and his mind shall be trained to what is high and holy. Thus is the whole being enriched and the life enlarged. May we deposit the Word of God with as much care in our hearts as the Levites did the rolls of Moses in the ark!—R.M.E.
HOMILIES BY D. DAVIES
Putting off the harness.
Faith in God anticipates every event without distress. If God's plan cut across the grain of our own inclination, faith inspires us to say," His plan is best." By virtue of a living faith, we can face death without anxiety, and advance to meet the last foe. We see in this passage—
I. FAITH ACQUIESCENT IN BODILY DISSOLUTION. Splendid triumphs were in sight. The Jewish host was about to complete its conquest; just about to realize full success after forty years of patient trial. Such an hour is the most precious in a man's history. Yet the faith of Moses saw a nobler conquest yet—a conquest over self, a conquest over the unseen foe. A voice from within—the voice of failing nature—whispered that he was no longer equal to the fatigues of a military campaign. And a voice from above told him that his work was done; and, though high reward was in store, justice exacted satisfaction for an earlier misdeed. Even a single blemish in a good man's life entails on him loss. We cannot cheat God. Without a murmur, Moses, like a little child, yields to his Father's decree, and meekly prepares to die.
II. FAITH REJOICING IN OTHERS' PROMOTION. In every age, faith has worked to the production of love. It is the extirpator of selfishness. Moses found as much pleasure in announcing that Joshua should lead the people to conquest, as that he should himself lead. Indeed, Moses felt that Joshua could do better than he could. He had been emphatically a legislator; now a warrior was needed. If God removes one servant, he provides a better. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I am nobler than thou." Each man has a place and an office of his own. If only God's work is well and truly done, faith will rejoice in the means.
III. FAITH CONVINCED THAT GOD AND MAN MUST CO-OPERATE FOR THE TRIUMPH OF THE KINGDOM. "The Lord thy God, he will go before thee;" and "Joshua, he shall go over before thee" (verse 3). The presence of man, in action or in warfare, does not exclude the presence of God. Joshua could gain no triumph if he had gone alone. God has chosen to work through human agencies. By his wise appointment, Divine and human co-operation is a necessity. "The Lord shall give them up before your face, that ye may do unto them according to his commandment" (verse 5). Nor is Moses' power and influence to be quite absent from the conflict. Being dead, he yet acted. His commandment regulated their conduct. His word was still a mighty spell. Each man can add something to the aggressive activity of God's truth.
IV. FAITH ASSURED OF GOD'S SELF-CONSISTENCY. God had succored Israel in the past; therefore he would succor them again. He had begun to dislodge the Canaanite kings before Israel, therefore he would go on until he completed for them the conquest (verse 4). Jehovah had foreseen all the weaknesses and unfaithfulness of Israel and yet he had commenced to give them triumphs. On what reasonable ground would he do this, unless he purposed to repeat his favors, and to subdue for them every foe? Half a conquest would be no boon to them. This would be a vexation to Israeli and a dishonor to God. The man of faith knows that God can never be at variance with himself. When we have discovered the method of God's procedure, we should act along this line in order to enjoy his help. In his footsteps let us plant our feet.
V. FAITH IN ONE STIMULATING IN OTHERS LATENT QUALITIES OF ENERGY. Although it appears that Moses was lacking in martial skill and prowess, his faith in God enabled him to stir up the hidden gifts of others. Faith foresees the victory, and confident hope is a great inspirer of strength. Like new nerve-power, it interlaces and braces all the active energies of a man. The voice of robust faith has always a magical charm over us. We perceive forthwith that the demand is most reasonable, and that largest exertion is our highest glory. It is easy to be strong when Infinite Strength is awaiting us. Every endeavor we make enlarges our capacity to receive more strength. The weaker parts of our nature perish under the strain, but newer and nobler elements fill up the room. And if God be with us, then fear of man departs. Faith is a prolific parent of courage.
"Fear him, ye saints, and ye will then
Have nothing else to fear."
And God can never fail the man of faith. Having pledged his presence, we are well ensured. For him to forsake his friends is an impossibility. "The mountains may depart, and the hills be removed; but never shall the covenant of his faithfulness fail."—D.
Deuteronomy 31:9-13, Deuteronomy 31:24-29
The honor appertaining to God's Law.
As our Lord, in the near prospect of death, employed his thoughts in comforting and instructing others, so Moses, instead of centering his thought upon himself, is only more eager to provide for the people's future obedience. Inasmuch as his days on earth were now very few, he yearned to crowd into them as much counsel and kindly warning as it was possible. To be of service to Israel—this absorbed the passions and desires of his soul.
I. GOD'S REDEMPTIVE LAW IS EMBODIED IN A WRITTEN FORM, To Moses it had been revealed that it would not suffice to instruct the people orally in the lines of religious duty. So pregnant with importance is the Law of God, that it must be reduced to writing, and carefully preserved. God's law concerning our bodily life—how to use food, how to heal disease, how to prolong our days—all this is revealed in other modes: this Law is written by the finger of God on the very structure of man. In such matters, God's will is to be discovered by investigation and by experiment. But the law of the soul's life is disclosed to us in a different way. How sin can be pardoned; how reconciliation between a guilty man and his Maker can be secured; how inward purity can be gained, and immortality reached;—all this is disclosed by God through his prophets, and reduced to a written form. If a perverse disposition prevails in a man, he may refuse to read the record, and so "count himself unworthy of everlasting life."
II. GOD'S REDEMPTIVE LAW IS COMMITTED TO TRUSTY STEWARDS. The Law of God written by Moses, touching purification and obedience, was placed in the custody of the priests (Deuteronomy 31:9), and secured in the ark of the covenant. This was both a realized fact and a symbolic figure. That ark is an emblem of Christ's Church, and the sons of Levi were the early representatives of genuine believers. The Christian family has become a royal priesthood; and one of their delightful duties is to conserve God's Law so as to hand it on to coming generations. By the loving care of loyal disciples, the oracles of God have been preserved intact. The vigorous life of the Church today is displayed in revising the exact text, translating it into other tongues, and unfolding it to the understanding of the people. We are "stewards of the mysteries of God."
III. GOD'S REDEMPTIVE LAW IS TO BE PERIODICALLY EXPOUNDED. Moses required this to be done once in every seven years. By this method, the recollections of those who had heard it aforetime would be revived, it would be impressed on memory with fresh force, and many would rise to a higher understanding and appreciation of its meaning. The recurring period is symbolic. Once every seven days the privilege now returns. Nor have we to journey to some metropolis to hear the sacred record. Printing has multiplied the copies of God's Law on every side; and it would be spiritual obtuseness if we did not recognize this modern invention as a new agency in God's hands for enlightening the human race. The Law was ordained to be "read in the year of release, and at the Feast of Tabernacles." This was the anniversary of the Sinaitic revelation; this festival was signalized for its unusual joyousness. And this fresh revelation of God's truth, in each septennial period, would add new zest to gladness. Good men would say, "Thy words were found, and I did eat them, and they were to me as the joy and rejoicing of my heart."
IV. GOD'S REDEMPTIVE LAW IS TO BE BROUGHT WITHIN THE UNDERSTANDING OF ALL. The wisdom and the loving-kindness of God are displayed in his care for children. As he has abundantly provided for their bodily and mental wants in their long dependence upon parents, so too he provides for the enlightenment of their consciences by the ministry of his Word. Right impressions are very early made. It is the highest wisdom to entwine the tender affections of children around God and truth and heaven. Before they "know anything" else, God commands us to see to it that "they hear, and learn to fear the Lord our God." To neglect the religious training of the young is heinous sin. This is to deprive the host of God's elect of young recruits. "instead of the fathers, must come up the children." God's will is abundantly revealed, to the end that we may do it.—D.
Deuteronomy 31:14, Deuteronomy 31:15, Deuteronomy 31:23
The official investiture of Joshua.
It was fitting that a public transference of authority should be made from Moses to Joshua. The nobleness of Moses comes prominently into view. As John said of Jesus, so substantially Moses said of Joshua, "He must increase, but I must decrease."
I. THE OCCASION. The occasion had an aspect of mournfulness. Moses was about to die; nevertheless, no tinge of grief is in his words. He contemplates the event with calm serenity. His chief concern is a competent successor. The good of others was still Moses' uppermost desire. Promptly he responded to the Divine call.
II. THE PLACE. God had appointed the meeting to take place in the tabernacle. All great enterprises should be consecrated in the sanctuary. Here we touch the fountain head of effectual blessing. God has engaged to be found by us here. "This is my rest forever ' here will I dwell!"
III. THE APPEARANCE "The Lord appeared in a pillar of a cloud." So ineffably dazzling is the native glory of God, that no mortal eye can look upon it. We should be blinded by the excess of light. In accommodation to human weakness, God tempers his brightness by an attendant cloud. Such was the form in which he was pleased to appear upon the mercy-seat. Such was the mode of his manifestation on the Mount of Transfiguration. In our present imperfect state we need the intervention of the cloud.
IV. THE CHANCE. God's charge came to Joshua through human lips, yet none the less was it God's charge. We must suppose that Joshua was lacking that susceptibility of soul which is essential for the hearing of God's voice. Some can hear that voice direct; some can hear it only through transmission of others' speech. God's charge and Moses' charge were one, "Be strong and of a good courage." What God commands, God first gives. Says he to men, "Here is my entrusted strength: use it well! More is ready as soon as it is needed." Best of all, he adds, "I will be with thee."—D.
Deuteronomy 31:16-22, Deuteronomy 31:29
The last precaution against idolatry.
We cannot trace into all its ramifications the subtle influence of a good man's life. If it does not accomplish all that he has desired, it often achieves more than he imagines. It operates in directions he had not designed. The presence of a good man will often repress an evil which he cannot eradicate. All the faith and piety of Moses had hardly restrained the people from idolatry; his removal will be the loosening of the flood-gates which had held in check the wayward passion. We have in this paragraph—
I. GOD'S FORECAST OF ISRAEL'S FUTURE SIN. "This people will rise up, and go a-whoring after the gods of the strangers" (Deuteronomy 31:16). Moses himself had surmised this result. With hidden sorrow, he had observed the base tendencies of the people towards idolatry. As he forecast the time when warfare should cease, and the tribes should find themselves among the relics of idols, he trembled for the result. And now this surmise on his part was confirmed by a revelation from God. It is now a foreseen reality: "They will forsake me, and break my covenant." Worldly success and self-indulgence would lead to impiety. Yet this foreknowledge of Israel's certain sin did not deter God from promising to Joshua military success, nor did it deter God from using all practical measures to dissuade from sin. We conclude that God sees it best to employ all remedial measures, even when it is known that in the chief end they will fail.
II. WE HAVE GOD'S ANNOUNCEMENT OF CONSEQUENT CALAMITY. "My anger shall be kindled against them … and I will forsake them." The series of evils that would spring from idolatry is vividly set before them; and no other motive can be conjectured for this than a generous desire to deter from sin. Love is more conspicuous in portraying the certain miseries of misconduct, than in promising the rewards of obedience. The former duty is done with personal painfulness; the latter is a delight. And not only will the severity of the punishment be keenly felt, but the people will also apprehend the reason of the calamity. They will trace it up to God's displeasure; yet will they not repent. Men are woefully blind to the iron force of sinful habit. Today it is a silken thread; tomorrow it is an iron chain.
III. GOD'S LAST EXPEDIENT TO PREVENT SIN. Moses, the servant of God, was about to die; but his death was to be a sleep, and he should die with a song in his mouth. At first sight, it seems a strange expedient as a deterrent from sin. But the intention was, that by the sweet and flowing sounds of rhythm, the main facts of God's covenant might be kept vividly alive in the people's memory. In the absence of printing, and cheap circulations of written documents, poetic forms will live when prose is quite forgotten. God condescends to employ every possible method by which a sense of religious duty might be preserved and perpetuated. The song would live by the action of known law, when the full sense would be ignored. Thus the song of Moses, "familiar in their mouths as a household word," would be an abiding witness against them. Said God, "It shall not be forgotten." By such gracious methods the Most High would win men unto obedience and life. The mightiest power is in gentleness. If this fails, all fails.—D.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 31". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20