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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary
Deuteronomy 1

 

 

Verses 1-26

Deuteronomy 1-7

The title of this book, which translated into English, is "Second-Law," indicates its character; for in it Moses recapitulates and enforces the whole law system to which Israel was committed. Deuteronomy 1:2-3 remind us that the wilderness journey from Horeb, where the law was given, to the border of the land would normally occupy eleven days; they had taken forty years because of their unbelief. The old generation that had been at Horeb had died out and so the law had to be freshly emphasized to the new generation. Once given, the binding force of the law remained, as we saw in our last issue, when considering the closing words of Malachi, written probably about a thousand years later.

As much that is contained here has already been recorded in the earlier books we will consider these chapters in rather cursory fashion, though pausing here and there to consider details that seem to have a special voice to us. In chapter 1 Moses has to remind the people of their own deplorable condition. He had been unable to bear by himself their "cumbrance," or as we might say, their "wear and tear," their "burden," and their "strife." And further, that when God had told them plainly that He had given them the land and they were to go up and possess it, they had insisted on sending the spies to see and report. The Divine word was, Go up in faith and possess in faith. Their response was, We want to act, or not act, on the basis of sight. In result of course they refused to act. The spies saw giants and fortified cities, whereas faith would see God, and obey His word.

Not sight but faith is what we have today. When the Lord said to Paul, "Depart: for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles" (Acts 22:21), he had before him a mission that to sight was an impossible one, yet to faith one that has been abundantly verified. God chooses, "the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty," as was seen when Paul reached Corinth, and by Paul's writings in the Scriptures he has edified millions of Gentiles, during nineteen centuries. In the days of Moses, Caleb and Joshua were the men of faith.

In Deuteronomy 2:1-37 Moses reminds the people of how God had been with them in their earlier conquests. Verses Deuteronomy 24:1-22; Deuteronomy 31:1-30 we should particularly notice. First comes the Divine act: "I have given," or, "I have begun to give." Then comes the exhortation to the people, "Begin to possess." God's gracious dealings with us today are on similar lines, as we see in the New Testament epistles. First, the unfolding of that which He has given us in Christ. Then, the exhortations that we should begin to possess experimentally all that is given, in the power of the Holy Spirit, who indwells us.

Deuteronomy 3:1-29 continues the recital of how the power of God had overthrown the kingdoms on the eastern side of Jordan, and how the territory had been given to the two and a half tribes, on the understanding that their armed men should go with their brethren to conquer the western side, though Moses personally would not be with them. He had to acknowledge God's disciplinary action against him. He would die, and Joshua be their leader. He was only to view the land, but not to enter it.

It is a comfort however to recognize that there is not only wisdom but also an element of grace in the discipline that God imposes on His saints. Moses was spared many a heartbreak that Joshua must have suffered, owing to the failures of the people; and many centuries later he was in the land for a brief moment and Elijah with him. From the top of Pisgah he saw the land filled with the degraded Amorites. On the Mount of Transfiguration he saw not the land but the glory of the One who will at last fill it with millennial blessedness.

In Deuteronomy 4:1-49 we have further touching appeals that Moses made before the people, urging upon them obedience to the law that had been given, and that they should preserve it in its integrity. They were neither to add anything to it nor take anything from it. This command is repeated at the end of Deuteronomy 12:1-32, and enforced also as to revelations God has given, in the closing words of the New Testament. The law given to Israel included "statutes and judgments," as verse Deuteronomy 5:1-33 states, as well as the ten commandments. All these were binding upon them, and Moses tells them in verse Deuteronomy 6:1-25, that the keeping and the doing of them would be, "your wisdom and your understanding." That "wisdom," they never had, nor have we ever had it. The believer today however is "in Christ Jesus," and He is "made unto us wisdom," as 1 Corinthians 1:30 tells us. Here is perfect wisdom indeed!

This chapter also bears witness to the plain and emphatic warning that Moses gave as to the results that would follow their disobedience, verses 25-27 being specially definite. and forecasting their sorrowful history under judges and kings in subsequent centuries. Yet, if in their scattered condition they turned and sought the Lord, in obedience they would find mercy. They had been privileged above all other people, and hence were responsible above all others, yet mercy would be shown. We may remember that at the close of Romans 11:1-36, both Jew and Gentile are considered, and the blessing that ultimately will reach both will be on the ground of mercy - "God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all. We are "looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life" (Jude 1:21). So in the coming age the mercy of God will be displayed in the church on high, as well as in Israel, at last established in blessing on the earth.

The call for obedience that Moses gave is specially clear and pronounced in the opening verses of Deuteronomy 5:1-33. Let us notice the four verbs that appear in the first verse — "Hear," "learn;" "keep," "do." We are not under the law but under grace, yet we may well accept these four verbs as expressing what should mark us as we face the many instructions that fill the New Testament. Verbs one to three are really in view of verb four, since all the truth made known through the faith of Christ, and ministered to us, is intended to govern our lives in this world, while we wait for the Saviour, and to come into expression in our actions. The Apostle Paul, who was to be a "pattern" to others, wrote, "Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me do, and the God of peace shall be with you" (Philippians 4:9).

And further, in these opening verses Moses made it plain that the law was just as really and truly made with those to whom he spoke as to their fathers, some forty years previously. In all dispensations what God has said at the outset stands. We have to remember this. What God laid down through the Apostle in 1 Corinthians 12:1-31; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; 1 Corinthians 14:1-40, for instance, as to the Christian assembly and its order, stands throughout our dispensation and is as valid today as in the hour when first it was written.

So the law covenant was made with the generation to whom Moses was speaking, and he proceeded to rehearse the commandments, that first appear in Exodus 2:1-25, and then he reminded them that their fathers had been filled with fear when they saw the glory of the Lord at Sinai and heard His voice out of the midst of the darkness and the fire. In result, they begged Moses to receive the words of God on their behalf, for they said, "If we hear the voice of the Lord our God any more, then we shall die." Now, why this fear of death?

With them it was instinctive, but for us the answer is clear in the light of the Gospel. "The law worketh wrath" (Romans 4:15), and again it is, "The ministration of death written and engraver in stones... the ministry of condemnation" (2 Corinthians 3:7-9). The Apostle Paul has told us that, "the law is good, if a man use it lawfully" (1 Timothy 1:8), and if the law be used to bring the sentence of condemnation and death into a sinner's heart, it is used in a most lawful way.

In verse Deuteronomy 29:1-29 of our chapter Moses gives us words spoken to him by the Lord Himself at that time. He knew what was lacking on the part of the people. They had not, "such an heart in them," as would incline them to godly fear and obedience. Later in this book we shall find Moses deploring the same thing and speaking of the people as having no "faith." They had, as no other people had, a religion of both sight and hearing, yet without faith it availed nothing. The Epistle to the Hebrews stands in sharp contrast to this. The Christian Hebrew had come, not to the mount that might be touched and to visible and audible things, but to unseen realities, and hence we have the great chapter on faith, and the statement that without faith it is impossible to please God.

Notice also in verse Deuteronomy 29:1-29 the words "all" and "always," or, "all the days." Obedience must be complete and continuous. Under law man is like a boat under strain but held in safety by a chain of many links. If every link is intact all the time, well and good. But, if at any time, just one link breaks, the boat drifts on to the rocks as surely as if every link had snapped. It is a case of all and all the time. This is again emphasized in the last verse of our chapter.

As the opening verses of Deuteronomy 6:1-25 reveal, Moses continued to enforce this fact on the minds and consciences of the people. And what would move them to keep all the laws and statutes that were set before them? Nothing indeed but faith which works by love. Hence in verse Deuteronomy 5:1-33 we get the words which were referred to by our Lord, as recorded in Matthew 22:36 , Matthew 22:37 , and which He called "the first and great commandment." Jehovah is One, in contrast with the many false gods of the heathen world, and If He be the supreme Object of love, obedience will surely follow. Now He had shown His love for Israel by all that He had done on their behalf and this should have drawn out their love toward Him. Yet of course they had not known the great display of God's love in the gift of His Son, as we have known it. We can indeed say, "We love Him, because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19), and we know the love displayed in surpassing degree. Still God had shown His love towards them as a people, as they are reminded in the next chapter. They should have loved Him in return.

Their danger would be forgetfulness, as the succeeding verses show, and the same danger is ours today. Hence the instructions given in verses 7- They were to teach God's laws to their children, to talk of them in their houses, and to write them on their posts and gates. Here, we venture to think, is a word we need to take home to ourselves. We may remark of course that the invention of printing has given us an enormous advantage, as compared with some 3,500 years ago. It has indeed; but if we do not diligently study our Bibles, and then teach and talk of its contents, we are culpable indeed.

This leads us to ask all our readers, Do you not only read the Scriptures for yourself, but do you avail yourself of the many opportunities of attending meetings where the Word of God is read and discussed, or where servants of the Lord minister the Word? When you meet with other believers in your homes, does your talk at all centre around the things of God? We are not self-sufficient in these things; had we been, the Lord would not raise up those who can teach and pastor His saints. If we do forsake, "the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is" (Hebrews 10:25), and so get but little in the way of teaching and exhortation from others, our spiritual life and testimony is not likely to be vigorous. We shall have but a poor enjoyment of the blessings that are ours, or of the responsibilities that flow therefrom. May we all be stirred up as to these things.

This exhortation as to teaching God's Word, talking about it and writing it, is followed by a very necessary warning as to the danger that would face them, when they had entered into the land and were enjoying prosperity there. There, in the midst of pleasant things, they might easily forget the Lord and His commandments and follow the ways of surrounding peoples, going after their gods. Here too is a word for us, and observing it we may be made wise unto salvation from a similar danger.

We may state the matter thus: times of worldly prosperity are times of spiritual danger, and usually of spiritual decline. The history of Israel exemplified this. Swift decline followed the magnificence of Solomon's reign. The earlier history of the church exemplified it, for when the era of persecutions ceased, and under the patronage of Constantine the church emerged into favour and outward prosperity, rapid decline took place. It is not otherwise in some parts of the earth today particularly, we may say, in the English-speaking regions, where many are saying, they never had it so good, and are completely indifferent to spiritual things. And what about ourselves? Are we not too often exemplifying the truth of the Lord's words, "Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold" (Matthew 24:12). One might have imagined that much iniquity would stir saints to increased warmth, but it is not so. Increased prosperity leads to increased iniquity in the world, and it affects saints adversely, diverting them from the spiritual realities in which their true life consists.

So the people are plainly warned in the latter part of this chapter how easily they might forget how the Lord had delivered them when they were but bondmen in Egypt, and had brought them forth that they might serve Him and obey His word. They were told that, if they feared the Lord, and obeyed His statutes, it would be, "for our good always," and that such obedience would be "our righteousness." It would have been legal righteousness, but they never had it. The Gospel does not present this to us, but rather righteousness which is of God.

In the opening verses of Deuteronomy 7:1-26 the people are plainly told that they are completely to exterminate the nations then in possession of the land. They were to make no covenant with them and to show them no mercy. This command has, we believe, been denounced by sceptics as being savage and utterly unworthy of God, if He is supposed to be a God of goodness and kindness. So let us consider it for a moment. Israel did not fully carry it out, tent had they done so, it would have been the third time that God had acted in summary and wholesale judgment.

The first case was of course the flood. Mankind was then wiped off the face of the earth with the exception of eight souls. The second occasion was the destruction of the cities of the plain, including Sodom and Gomorrah, when only righteous Lot and two daughters were saved. On these two occasions the destruction was an act of God — by water and by fire and brimstone. In both cases human corruption had risen to such a height that it could not be further tolerated. This was now the case with the Amorite nations. Some four hundred years previously Abraham had been told, "the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full" (Genesis 15:16), but now evidently it was "full," and God purposed to wipe them out as He had previously done with the antediluvian world, and then with Sodom, only this time using Israel to do it, and hence, as we shall see, using men to do His strange work of judgment, failure came in, and the work was not thoroughly done, as when God acted by the forces of nature.

Israel then were to have been the executioners of God's judgment on these utterly corrupt peoples, and their extermination was designed to have a salutary effect as regards themselves. It would have prevented their making these marriages with daughters of the various peoples, which was the surest way by which they would catch the infection of their awful idolatrous systems. Their subsequent history shows how their failure in this matter largely accounted for their own constant dabbling in idolatrous things, which ultimately brought about their own judgment and dispersal under the Assyrians and Babylonians. Failing in a complete way to judge and destroy the evil, they caught its infection and fell under its power. The separation enjoined was a natural rather than a spiritual one, but a complete necessity, as God well knew.

Now we as Christians are committed to separation of a spiritual sort, as is made very plain in 2 Corinthians 6:14-18. Israel as a nation were the objects of God's love, which was set upon them, not because of anything great in themselves, for they were few and insignificant, but because God was faithful to His oath to their fathers; and since they were thus loved they were to be a holy, or separated, people in all their ways. We Christians are loved in a more personal and intimate way, and therefore our separation and deliverance from this present evil age is even more distinct. We are in the world but are to be kept from its evil, even as the Lord Jesus said, "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world" (John 17:16).

Then as separated from the nations then in the land, Israel was not to fear them, though they were more mighty and numerous than themselves, since God, who had shown His power in dealing with Pharaoh, was still on their side, and would dispossess them "by little and little" - not all at once, but step by step. This is still God's way in dealing with His saints. We do not apprehend everything at once. Step by step we may advance in the things of God. We all begin as spiritual babes, and happy it is if we do indeed move on to become the "young men," and then the "fathers," of 1 John 2:1-29.

Once more, at the end of the chapter, they are warned against loving the silver and gold connected with idolatrous images. So they were not to fear their power, nor to be fascinated with their luxuries. Their subsequent history showed that of the two the ensnaring tendencies of the latter had the more disastrous effect upon them.

And let us remember that the same tendency is operative with us today. Hence the first epistle of John ends with the words, "keep yourselves from idols." Now for us an idol is anything that ensnares, and usurps in our hearts the place that belongs to God alone.

 


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 1:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/fbh/deuteronomy-1.html. 1947.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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