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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Deuteronomy 32

 

 


Verses 1-52

The Song of Moses

Deuteronomy 32

What interest can we have in the study of events which occurred thousands of years ago? If that is the question which we put to ourselves, no wonder the answer is sometimes disappointing. We do not study the events which happened thousands of years ago. That would be too narrow a way of putting the case; we might then be mere antiquarians, deeply interested in something that transpired innumerable centuries since. We are not studying the events. We are studying the God that overruled them. Persons are apt to imagine that there is nothing in the Old Testament but old history; they forget that God is in the Old Testament, as in a bush that burns but is not consumed. How often we hear the question, Seeing that all these events occurred so long ago, what have we to do with them at this distance of time? The events certainly did occur long ago, but the God who originated them, or sanctified them, or overruled them, is the God who lighted the lamp of this morning. We study God in studying the Old Testament; and in looking into the events which constitute the narrative line and substance of the Old Testament, we look into them as men look into caskets where they expect to find choice treasure. The events are dead, but God lives. The profoundest and most exciting of all questions Isaiah ,—Does the God of the Old Testament reappear in the New? Is he the God of today? He has proclaimed himself the God of the living—in what large sense are we to interpret that term "living"?—does it include all beating pulses, all throbbing hearts, all eyes uplifted that they may find satisfaction in the heavens? We must get rid of all narrow definitions. We must purge the mind of the folly that in reading the Old Testament we are digging in a grave; we are keeping company with Jehovah, we are walking with God, we are being charged by the subtle yet broad consistency which unites all human history, and shows the eternal in the very midst of the mutable. Moreover, true songs are never old; music is the youngest of all angels, with a glorious and incalculable ancestry, yet here today to take up all oldest words, and make them thrill and quiver and vibrate with new energy and new passion.

The preface of the song is in the first four verses. The song opens with a noble appeal:—

"Give ear, O ye heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth" ( Deuteronomy 32:1).

"My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass" ( Deuteronomy 32:2).

What an easy condescension from the sublime to the minute and the comparatively? insignificant! "My doctrine"—that Isaiah , my learning, the truth which I hold, the spiritual philosophy which I grasp and value—"shall drop as the rain"—that Isaiah , shall be handed on and down, shall be regarded as the right and inheritance of the ages. No man is to be the perpetual custodian of God"s truth; doctrine is not to be locked up within any four corners, and to be closeted as a private possession. Whoever has a truth must speak it; he will get two truths back for the one which he delivers. Every man must sow his ideas, and reap great harvests of thought. We spoil doctrine by keeping it within confined air; doctrine must go forth, and challenge attention, and ask for audience, and persuade men to adopt it;—why? Because doctrine is not a mere sentiment, or idea, or high and audacious thought: it is inspiration; it cannot co-exist with indolence, or selfishness, or disregard of human sin and need; wherever the doctrine is benevolence follows it: both hands are put out to help, and the eyes are made quite quick to detect the necessities and errors of all men. Doctrine, therefore, is not a set of words, an elaboration of phrases: it is an inspiration; a movement, an energy in the soul. All inspired thought says, Speak: correct the mistake, run after the wanderer, help the helpless, make the poor rich. A doctrine of that kind was never meant to be shut up within private quarters, or to be claimed as an individual possession; it is the wealth of the race, it is the treasure of God. He who takes natural objects as his symbols and guides will often act very beautifully as well as very exactly or correctly:—"My doctrine shall drop as the rain." The earth without rain cannot grow one tiny grass-blade; when the clouds keep away the flowers hang down their heads, and shrivel and burn, and represent the very spirit of necessity and pain. We must have the black clouds; how welcome they are after a time of drought and scorching, when the earth is opening its mouth and asking for a draught of water! So God"s doctrine is to be poured out upon thirsty souls, burnt and scorched lives, ruined and unproductive natures. The rain-plash is a sweet music, a minor music, a tender appeal, a liquid persuasion. The rain will accommodate itself to all forms and shapes, and it will impartially visit the poor man"s little handful of garden and the great man"s countless acres. Such is the Gospel of Christ: it is impartial, gentle, necessary; it finds the heart when the heart is scorched, and asks to heal its burning, and to make the barren land of the inner life beautiful with summer flowers. "My speech shall distil as the dew,"—it shall come in the twilight, not in the great burning noontide. The sun no sooner goes than the dew says, I must make the best of my time, and give the scorched landscape its nightly bath, and in the morning all the face of the land sparkles and glitters as if a king had poured out upon it all jewellery and precious stones. When does the dew come? How does the dew come? "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so"—and thus it is with the dew. When do the vapours become dew? Who can gather the dew without spoiling it? Who can take one dewdrop into his hands and place it back on the rose-leaf? Some beautiful analogies of nature must exert a fascination over us by suggestion rather than submit to be handled by rude and heavy touch. We cannot tell how the word gets into the heart—how softly, how silently: it is there, and we knew it not; we expected it, and at the very time we were looking out for it, it was already there; it is the secret of the Lord, and it moves by a noble mystery of action, so that no line can be laid upon it, and no man may arbitrarily handle the wealth of gold. "As the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass." There shall be adaptation between the one and the other: if the herb is "tender" the rain must be "small." Do not thunder upon us with thy great power; do not plead against us with all the winds of thine eloquence, for who could stand against the storm? On the other hand, the tenderer the grass the better it can bear even the scudding shower and the heavy downpour. Your big things are broken; your little ones bend themselves until the calamity is overpast, and then they lift up their heads and bless God. Great trees are torn, or are wrenched from their roots, or are thrust down in contempt, but all the grass of the meadow is but the greener for the winds which have galloped over it, or the great rivers that have poured themselves upon the emerald bed. Thus may it be with man: in his pride and vanity, and strength, and fatness the winds scorn him, and all nature says he must be pulled down, and thrown into the dust and trampled upon until he learn to pray. Jesus will bless the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peace-loving; but as for those who in heathen vanity set themselves up against him, he will dash them in pieces like a potter"s vessel. The word does not always produce an instantaneous effect: the word has sometimes to filter well down into the thought and into the heart and the life; and the word does not report itself in the mere quantity of the doctrine, but in the greenness of the young grass, in the beauty and fruitfulness of the tender herb: no statistical return shall be made of the number of discourses heard, or the number of chapters read, but the life shall be the more verdant in spring-like beauty, and the more splendid in all the colouring of summer.

Why are the heavens called and the earth silenced? Why is the doctrine to drop as the rain, and the speech to distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass? What is the occasion? The answer is given in the third verse:—

"Because I will publish the name of the Lord: ascribe ye greatness unto our God."

"He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he" ( Deuteronomy 32:4).

In the fifth verse the whole tone changes:—

"They have corrupted themselves, their spot is not the spot of hit children: they are a perverse and crooked generation." ( Deuteronomy 32:5)

"Do ye thus requite the Lord, O foolish people and unwise? is not he thy father that hath bought thee? hath he not made thee, and established thee?" ( Deuteronomy 32:6).

So human actions are not dissociated from divine economies and heavenly thoughts. Human actions are replies to divine providence; human conduct is a commentary upon the providential method of God. We cannot take our actions and set them up solitarily, and say, We began the action, continued it, and completed it without any reference to heavenly ministries and providential interpositions and judgments. We cannot cut off our actions from the great currents of the universe. The lifting of a hand may be a prayer, or it may be a token of rebellion; the uplifted eye may be a speechless supplication; a cup of water given to a disciple in the name of Christ is given to the Master himself. Every act of condescension and benevolence ought to be considered an echo of a divine appeal. Thus the reference is once more to conscience and to reason:—"Do ye thus requite the Lord, O foolish people and unwise?"—people of a withered heart, people who have put out the lamp of understanding, people who have forgotten the first principles of human responsibility. What is it that has been omitted from the policy and worship of the unwise and foolish people? It is the fatherhood of God:—"Is not he thy father that hath bought thee?" Having got rid of the Father, all the rest is an easy run into the devil"s arms; having accomplished the moral excision—having cut off ourselves from consenting to God"s sovereignty—we become the guest of the enemy, and are easily led into ever-deepening depths of humiliation and disgrace. Is this possible? We will not ask—Is it true? But does not possibility itself shudder at the suggestion, and say, Do not prostitute fancy; break your little moral commandments, trample your ethics in the dust: they are but vain theories of vain minds; but let imagination alone, do not defile the sanctuary of high fancy, the thing which you suggest is impossible? The plea has reason in it, the protest is not without force from a philosophical point of view. It ought not to be possible to forget father, God, law, love, providence; it ought to be impossible for a man to be ungrateful. Are men ungrateful? Can any father testify even to the possibility of an ungrateful child? Unthankfulness ought to be impossible. We find it in this song; we are, therefore, driven back upon our own consciousness once more for confirmation or rebuttal. Have we been ungrateful? Have we forgotten the Father who made us and the God who established us? Have we taken our lives into our own hands, and treated ourselves as if we were almighty and all-wise objects of self-idolatry? Better leave these inquiries; do not ask for replies in terms: the inquiry must be left as its own pregnant and appalling answer.

Now the Psalmist will reason with the people. He will change for a moment the tone of the great Psalm; he will call a council and examine minutely the sacred past:—

"Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he will show thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee" ( Deuteronomy 32:7).

"When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel" ( Deuteronomy 32:8).

"For the Lord"s portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance" ( Deuteronomy 32:9).

"He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye" ( Deuteronomy 32:10).

A beautiful figure represents a portion of the divine way with man:—

"As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings" ( Deuteronomy 32:11).

Prayer

Almighty God, it is a fearful thing to fall into thine hands. Thine arrows are of great number, and when they strike they pierce fatally. Who can set themselves against God and live? Whose arm is strong enough to repel thy stroke? We are consumed before thee; thou hidest thy face, and we are lost in darkness. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Our God is a consuming fire. Them that honour thee thou wilt honour, and they that despise thee shall be lightly esteemed. Now we turn and behold thy mercy, and are amazed at the tearful compassion of God. Our hearts exclaim thankfully, God is love; God is light; he has no pleasure in death: he would that the wicked might turn and live. Thou criest after the lost one that he would return; thou hast the best robe ready for him; yea, thou art waiting to be gracious, to receive us, one and all, wanderers, into thine house, and thou wilt call upon thine angels to be glad. We thank thee for all thy tender mercy, thy loving care, thy pity, thy tears. We live in God"s love; we are upheld by God"s omnipotence; the light of his countenance is our day, and his love in Christ is our hope for eternity. We come to the Cross—the wondrous Cross—the mystery of God, the mystery of eternity; into these things the angels desire to look. Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. We look, and live in the looking; it is thy way: thou hast called us to look unto Christ and be saved; Lord, help us to look, to fasten our eyes upon the dying Sacrifice. We commend one another to thy loving care: hold us, guide us, make us stronger day by day; and then, when the day"s work is well done, call us into rest, and joy, and glory. Amen

The Song of Moses

(Continued)

Deuteronomy 32

Is this true? Do not trifle with the inquiry. First of all, is it possible? As we have already inquired, is it not too astounding to be credible? Does it not shock the imagination? Do strong men cease to pray? Do men who are covered with the fatness of prosperity cease to sing God"s praise? Is there some thing in the world, in time and in sense, that crowds out the divine, the supernatural, and the future? We are able to answer these questions: they are not metaphysical, subtle, out of reach; they come strictly and literally within the lines of our own consciousness and experience; so we can affirm or deny these great historical portraitures of mankind. The history of poverty is more likely to be a history of religion than is the history of wealth. We, perhaps, never see human meanness so conspicuously as when we see foiled, defeated, disappointed men crawling back to the altars which they had abandoned in the time of sunshine and abundance. We easily dismiss our ministers; they soon become a nuisance to our prosperous life; we will call for them in the day of sickness, and ask them to whine out their prayers in our hearing when we cannot pray for ourselves, or when we think Heaven is so offended with us that any prayer of ours would be answered only with contempt. The world does not sit comfortably with true spirituality of mind; they speak different languages, they belong to opposing spheres, they cannot occupy an equal position. To speak of making the best of both worlds is to speak about that which has no relation the one part to the other. One world is to be kept under our foot: it is never to sustain any relation to our head; it is never to come within the operation of our highest and strongest thought; the other world is lined outside with bright blue, flecked here and there with silver and woolly clouds, and at night punctured and enriched with the embroidery of stars,—a high world, out of reach, yet still pouring upon us its light and warmth and eternal comfort We must keep the varying worlds in their places. We, too, have a kind of astronomic sovereignty to maintain. We cannot disturb the relations of the worlds: each star must throb in its own place, each planet burn within its own sphere, and everything must be kept in regular system and exact relation, or we shall be troubled in our thinking and foiled and mortified in our prayers. "Jeshurun" is a diminutive; it is a term of endearment; it Isaiah , so to say, that loving cunning twist in the proper name which indicates the playfulness of affection; it is a fancy name; it was meant to please the Prayer of Manasseh -child to whom it was applied. Even the endeared one "waxed fat, and kicked"—that is to say, grew too prosperous to be truly godly, grew too rich in matter for the hand, to have any real and lasting property in the heart. Who, then, is the rich man?—The man who has laid up treasures where moth and rust cannot corrupt, and where thieves cannot break through and steal; the man of great thought, energetic mind, copious understanding, spiritual insight, love of the invisible and the divine; the soul mighty to triumph in the great art of prayer-war—the violence that storms heaven"s gate and forces omnipotence to terms. God is willing to be thus conquered; he waits to be gracious; he wants to have us press down his almightiness, as the strong man loves the little child to draw him nearer to its own stature. We speak of forcing omnipotence to terms, meaning thereby to pay a tribute to the omnipotence that is willing to be forced. Even the endeared soul may become too prosperous to find in spiritual endearment its richest heritage and noblest blessing. How easily we are led away from the altar! "How hardly"—that Isaiah , with what infinite difficulty—"shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!" Nor is the term "riches" to be taken in its merely monetary or arithmetical sense: whoever is contented with earth cannot pray—in other words, whoever can find satisfaction within the bounds of time and space cannot need a Revelation , and cannot understand one. The Bible is a blank book to blank eyes. Thus there is a place for poverty in the discipline of life; thus there is a sphere in which the black minister called affliction can preach his sombre discourse, and touch with feelings akin to religion hearts that are otherwise likely to be led astray.

"They provoked him to jealousy with strange gods, with abominations provoked they him to anger" ( Deuteronomy 32:16).

Is this little on the part of God? If we say Song of Solomon , we do not understand what we say. This is true of all love, of all spirituality, of all honesty and decency. The purer the object, the more easily is it excited to jealousy—not the jealousy which expresses itself in censoriousness, in petulance, in mean revenge; but the jealousy which expresses a wounded heart, a disappointed love, a mortified trust. That which is but partially honest is not moved to jealousy by felonious action: by its very nature it connives at it; it has a mind skilful in the formation of excuses for outrages so detestable: it attributes them to custom, to the manner of the times, to the atmosphere of the place; it does not judge them in the eternal light and at the infinite bar. The whiter the snow, the more easily it shows every black spot there is upon it; the more vital the love, the more easily does it respond either to the homage which is due or to the humiliation which is undeserved. God thus expresses precisely what we should wish him to express; even here he is not transcending our reason: he is magnifying himself so as to lay a broader claim upon our veneration and trust. It is right that it should be a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God; and it is right because God is love. Outraged love is the severest, the most terrific, of enemies; offended honesty has no pity upon the thief. It is right that it should be so. We must in some quarter of the universe find a throne that cannot be bought, a sceptre that cannot be bribed, an authority that cannot be deterred. All these ideas are gathered up in a final expression and in a sublime representation in the Bible term—GOD.

A very marvellous expression occurs in the seventeenth verse, full of the subtlest sarcasm. There is one set of words in this verse that has upon it the keenness of a sword. Speaking of what apostate Israel did, the song says:—

"They sacrificed unto devils, not to God."

"to gods whom they knew not."

"to new gods that came newly up." ( Deuteronomy 32:17)

"Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that formed thee" ( Deuteronomy 32:18).

How is it that men soon forget the solid, the real, the substantial? What is it that delights men in spluttering rockets, in coloured fountains, in lamps swinging upon trees that are offended by their presence? See the great seething crowd waiting for the coloured fountains to spring up, and for all the little electric lamps confined in tinted globes to shine among the swaying branches! What exclamations of idiotic delight! How stunned is modern intelligence at the marvellous display of colour! Who heeds the quiet moon that looks on with unutterable amazement, and that in her motherly heart is saying,—O that they were wise, that they were less given to toy-worship and to playfulness of that kind! Here I have been shining ages upon ages—who heeds me? Which of all the sweltering, overfed throng turns a bleared eye to my course to watch me in my gently sovereignty? And the stars, too, look down upon the coloured fountains without being moved to envy by their momentary blush and by their unheard splash! We forget the Rock so soon; we prefer the toy; we want something light, something that can be spoken trippingly on the tongue—an easy fluent nothing. We do not care to bow down the head to study, to criticism, to the examination and estimation of evidence, and commit ourselves to the acceptance of sound conclusions. Can we go anywhere to see a coloured fountain? Men who do not travel half-a-mile to the greatest pulpit in the world, or the greatest altar ever built to the God of heaven, would put themselves and their families to any amount of inconvenience and expense to gaze with the admiration of idiocy upon a coloured fountain! Blessed are they who love the permanent stars, the lamps of heaven, and who set their feet broadly and squarely on God"s everlasting Rock. Let us turn to the real, to the substantial, to the very revelation of God"s truth, and abide there; the coloured fountain can only come now and again, but the eternal heavens are always full of light or rich with beauty. How could the Lord meet this case? He says:—

"I will hide my face from them" ( Deuteronomy 32:20).

But withdrawment is not understood by the fattened prosperity of Jeshurun; so God will proceed further. He lays down his policy in the twenty-first verse:—

"They have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God; they have provoked me to anger with their vanities: and I—"

"—and I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation." ( Deuteronomy 32:21)

Men must be met upon their own ground. We cannot address high arguments to men who have blinded their intelligence and dismissed their conscience: we reduce ourselves to a lower level than that upon which we began; and God must bring himself down to that level if he is to inflict upon sinners appropriate chastisement. Jeshurun shall feel the jealousy he himself has provoked. What will God do then? He will put honour upon nations that have hitherto been without name or status: their men shall become kings, their nameless ones shall become famous; they shall arse to dispute the primacy of Jeshurun. Then Israel will begin to think. He will say, Who are these that come up from the north? what men are these, of whom I have never heard before?—and then he will return in memory to old covenants, and promises, and vows, and will ask Heaven"s explanation. There is always an explanation in heaven. Afflictions do not spring out of the dust. Your tower of strength was not thrown down because a feather blew against it. There are no accidents in the great issue and outcome of human life. When competitors arise, and you feel that the standing of your favouritism is imperilled, you will begin to wonder, and he who wisely wonders often timidly prays. The man will talk to himself in plain terms: he will say,—How is this? I have been king; I have had none to dispute my sceptre or my authority; and now the dog barks at me on the streets, and men whom I would not have numbered with the dogs of my father"s flock mock me, and ask for my name, and look upon me as they would look upon some intrusive curiosity. How is this? The elders used to rise at my approach, and strong men owned me first amongst equals: now wherever I put my foot I have a sense of insecurity, and wherever I look I see no beaming face. How is this? The answer is religious: I have forgotten my appointments with God; I have hurried through a Book amid the fruitful pages of which I ought to have lingered with delight and desire and love; I have abandoned the God of my fathers: I have taken interest in new gods that came newly up; this is the reason: I am speaking truly to myself; all this I would not care at first to speak in the hearing of other people, but I will tell the truth to myself, and the truth is that my love of God has cooled, my loyalty to truth has become impaired, my communion with the heavens has become less intimate; I am not the man I was; and now God is permitting chatterers to arise around me who mock me and insult me; I have retained everything but the rod of my strength, the eloquence of my prayer, the almightiness of my faith. When men speak to themselves thus—ruthlessly, sternly, with religious frankness—they will end the monologue by saying, "I will arise, and go to my Father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned." Never did erring child say that to the Father in heaven without the Father calling for festival and music and infinite joy.

God blamed Israel because they were

"children in whom is no faith" ( Deuteronomy 32:20).

Prayer

Almighty God, guide us with thine eye in all the way of life. We need some sense of thy nearness, for the wind is cold, and the way is hard, and the end is not clearly seen. We are hardly born until we die; there is no time for anything upon the earth. Surely this is not all! The days become shorter rather than longer; we thought they would lengthen out and give us light to do some work in, but, behold, they close quickly, and the years are all gone, and there is no time to repair the past or make much of the present. There is no present: it flies whilst we describe it. We are driven on as by a mighty wind; we are withdrawn as by a hand unseen; we are spoken to by voices that have no figure; and, behold, we cannot tell what it is we see, or hear, or do. But thou hast sent word to us of thy nearness and presence and purpose; we are told that thou art a God nigh at hand and not afar off—nearer to us than we can ever be to ourselves,—a mystery of nearness, as if we were part of thee, as if thou wert part of us, as if we were one. This is a great mystery, full of solemnity and full of pathos. That we have done wrong we very well know. It is easy to do wrong: it is easy to eat honey, because it is sweet Behold, we have indeed done wrong, and so far spoiled thy purpose and stained the handiwork of God. But we are sure that we are not so great as thou art. If we have done wrong, the remedy is in thee and not in ourselves. Thou canst not be at peace so long as wickedness remains. Thou hast endeavoured to reclaim us by punishment, and thy penalties have left us harder than ever; thou hast burned us with hunger, thou hast cut us with the sword, thou hast filled the soul with terrors; and we have shed tears of fearfulness and uttered cowardly prayers and promised to be better for fear that we should be crushed; but Pharaoh-like we have turned again in the morning and defied thee to thy face; then thou hast whispered to us and persuaded us with all gentleness, and led us out to a place called Calvary to see thine agony, to behold thy love, to look upon the sacrifice for sins. This is the Lord"s doing: herein is mercy combined with righteousness holding counsel with law, herein is grace abounding over sin. The devil is not Lord, the enemy is not on the throne; he sets up his purposes, and they are foiled and thrown down and buried in the grave of contempt. The Lord reigneth; the Cross is the symbol of triumph; thy Son shall have the heathen for his inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth for his possession. As I live, saith the Lord, the whole earth shall be full of the glory of the Lord. This thou wilt work out in thine own way and in thine own time, but it shall be done, because the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. Surely thou wilt remember us in our low estate; our weakness shall be our plea, our sin shall be the mighty reason of our prayer; because we cannot save ourselves thy power to save shall be magnified. As for our afflictions, difficulties, disappointments, all the black things that make up life, all the miseries that chasten the heart, they are under thy control every one of them: no spark has in it more heat than thou hast entrusted to it, and no chain is longer than the links thyself hast forged. We still believe in God and have no confidence in ourselves, and have perfect distrust of the enemy when we muse upon thine almightiness and see somewhat of thy love. Reconcile us to our lot wherein we cannot amend it. Life is an infinite difficulty to some: the morning brings no light of hope, the evening no shade of rest, and the noontide is a fierce enemy; they cannot fight the battle; the bread they earn is too little, and it is embittered by many a reflection which cannot be controlled or explained; the house is lonely and dark, the children are sickly and unequal to the task of life, the whole day is full of shadows, and the night is a darkness unrelieved;—come to such; explain a little of the mystery to them; if they could but sing one note in the night-time, they would take heart again. Have pity upon those who are too successful; thou art causing them to see what prosperity means, and, behold, we regard them with compassion as they open the glittering parcel to find it full of nothingness. The world grows bitter herbs: all time and sense are like a garden-land bringing forth nothing but bitter aloes; behold, the garden is on high, where the sweet fruit grows, where the pure flowers bloom, where the birds sing God"s gospels. May we set our affections upon things above, and by a mightier gravitation than that of earth be drawn towards the throne that is established for ever. Break the bad man"s purpose; turn his counsel to confusion; set him upside down on the wayside that men may laugh at him who mocked their God. Prosper every good cause: give it energy and hope and secretly-multiplying resources, and may it win the whole battle, and set up God"s standard—pledge of victory, pledge of peace. Amen.

The Song of Moses

(Continued)

Deuteronomy 32

We find a record of what may be called the penal resources of God in the paragraph beginning with Deuteronomy 32:20 and ending with Deuteronomy 32:25. That paragraph is a kind of armoury; it is a special chamber set apart in the great creation into which we may reverently look if we would know some resources which are available in reference to the punishment of sin. The paragraph should be read alone,—that is to say, it should be taken out of its literary setting and perused as a solitary writing. In the New Testament we find an armoury available to Christian soldiers; in that armoury we find sword and shield and breastplate, and all the other parts of an invincible panoply. In these verses we find an armoury which is not to be used by men, but which is to be solely employed by Almighty God himself. Quite a new aspect of the divine character is here revealed. How after perusing such words can we read the sweet message given in sweet syllables—"God is love"? He is a God full of terribleness according to the description given in Deuteronomy 32:20-25 of this chapter. What is God"s penal reply to sin according to this record? It is a reply in the first instance of withdrawment:—"I will hide my face from them"—( Deuteronomy 32:20)—let them see what they can do with life; grant unto them their own hearts" desire, and "I will see what their end shall be"—they claim to be wise, let them light the lamp of their wisdom and see how long it will burn without my presence and blessing. This withdrawment of the divine face is the most terrific punishment that can befall the life of the human soul. It is not a stroke, or a sharp pain, or an open wound out of which the blood flows in a hot flood: all such pains can be borne with some degree of fortitude; possibly some man may have found a balm for such wounds: send for him, pay him well, ask him to make haste, to leave all other patients and clients, to flee to your side because you can reward him handsomely; but here is a punishment man cannot touch: it may be described in a sense as abstract, as purely spiritual. What are we waiting for? We are waiting for light. Who can bring it? It is not carried in the waggons of men; it cannot be fetched by the horses of kings; it lies beyond the line of our arm. For what are we pining?—for a smile. Who can buy it? None can buy it: it is not sold in the market-place for gold. We want a touch, a glance, a feeling of divine nearness; we cannot tell in words what it is we need, but such a necessity never before strained the soul and pained it with agony. So long as we can describe our suffering, our very description becomes a species of mitigation. When words fail, when our attempted utterance returns upon ourselves, the hearer being unable to make out one word we say, then the mind staggers and eloquent lips babble an idiot"s tale.

God will thus punish his people homoeopathically,—an ancient plan, full of philosophy, but failing sometimes even in the hands of God. He will address like to like; he will encounter the sinner in his own mood. Says God,—"They have moved me to jealousy... I will move them to jealousy"—and jealousy falling into collision with jealousy, there shall be destruction of the unholy feeling and return to peace and concord. It is not so in reality. As a piece of abstract philosophy it sounds well; but jealousy does not cure jealousy in this sense. For a time a happy effect seems to accrue, but in the end the wickedness is deeper than before. Says God, They have set up in my place a not-god;—that is the charge he brings against them, namely, that Israel worshipped a not-god. I will vex them with a people that are not a people: I will raise up compeers out of the dust, and rivals shall spring out of the dung-hill, and men who had no name shall stand up as children of renown. That homoeopathic principle also failed. For a time it operated well: Israel began to look around, and to wonder at the mockery and humiliation; but we may become accustomed to miracles, we may become so familiar with providences as to fail to observe them. Now God will be more energetic:—

"For a fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell [sheol, pit], and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains" ( Deuteronomy 32:22).

"They shall be burnt with hunger, and devoured with burning beat, and with bitter destruction: I will also send the teeth of beasts upon them with the poison of serpents of the dust" ( Deuteronomy 32:24).

God will now send another punishment—namely, the "terror within" ( Deuteronomy 32:25). That is worst of all. We can deal with any force that is visible, measurable, and otherwise estimable as to quality and energy; but who can fight a shadow? Who can put down an army of fears? Who has weapons fine enough to fight impalpable ghosts and shed blood where there is none? We cannot account for the fear: the man lies there on his couch visibly and talks with some degree of coherence; his eye has in it no unsettledness, and his voice is as firm and resonant as ever; but he has a fear in his heart: presently he will speak of it; a great terror sits upon the throne of his reason; it is in vain to laugh at the Prayer of Manasseh , or mock him, or challenge him to high and sober reasoning; on all subjects but one perhaps he is sane, clear of mind, but at a certain point he breaks down and is no more a man. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. Halt of the journey we gallop on steeds that cannot tire; and in one moment we are thrown upon the ground and cannot move a limb. The division between life and death is very frail; the partition between genius and insanity can almost be seen through: it is so thin that at any moment the mightiest man in society may be unable to find his own door, to recognise his own children, to return the common salutations of life. So God"s armoury is very large, made up of jealousies and provocations, fires kindled in anger, fires that burn downwards as well as upwards, fires that leap upon the foundations of the mountains as hunger might leap upon food; and as for mischiefs, God piles them up in heaps; and as for his arrows, he spends them upon the wicked as a thunderstorm drenches the earth. Punishment has been exhausted. Where God has failed, let not man attempt to succeed.

Why did God withhold his hand and not carry punishment to extremity? The answer is here:—

"Were it not that I feared the wrath of the enemy, lest their adversaries should behave themselves strangely, and lest they should say, Our hand is high, and the Lord hath not done all this" ( Deuteronomy 32:27).

What charge does God bring against the people?

"For they are a nation void of counsel, neither is there any understanding in them" ( Deuteronomy 32:28).

Now comes a strain—a minor tone; almightiness whispers, the God of thunders lowers his voice, and says:—

"O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!" ( Deuteronomy 32:29).

So the Bible is full of solemn calls, noble and pathetic reflections, calling men to understanding, to the acceptance of counsel, to obedience and Wisdom of Solomon , and the consideration of the end of all things. Pagans exclaimed, Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die! If Song of Solomon , it were a pity to put off death until to-morrow, for a man might "his own quietus make with a bare bodkin" today. Better die before meals than after them, if that be all. The Bible is conceived in another spirit; the Bible utters another tone: the Bible asks us to eat and drink abundantly of spiritual provision; and in asking us to think about eternity it does not relax our industry in any affair of time. The Bible says, in effect, He who studies most the subject of eternity best discharges the duty of the passing day; he who prays best works best; he who loves God most loves his neighbour as himself. The Bible will have no hand-painting or decoration of exteriors; it will have the heart made right, the fountain of life cleansed, the tree itself made good at the very root and core; and then it says, the rest will follow in beauty of foliage, in ampleness and sweetness of fruit.

Prayer

Almighty God, thy way is not open to us that we may understand it. We know not what thou art doing day by day, but we know that when the days are all ended we shall say with thankfulness, He hath done all things well. Thou dost make disappointments help the soul"s life; thus thou dost turn disappointed eyes to heaven. There is no land upon the earth we want when we have been trained to see thy purpose and to behold the things unseen; thou dost fill us with contempt for all time so short, for all space so small, for all earthly joy that plays its frivolous tune for one brief moment. We seek a country out of sight; we are strangers and pilgrims; our eyes are already beginning to look for a city which hath foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God. Thus thou dost train us. We have laid down all our childish entertainments and pleasures and mockeries, and we have laid down much beside, saying, Lo, heaven is not in these, nor is the sky of God in these small blessings. We know that what we want is beyond—beyond the smiling and the weeping, beyond the sowing and the reaping; it is not here. There lies a river between us and what we really need; thou wilt divide the water for us, and we shall pass through the channel as upon dry ground, and not know until we are upon the other side mingling our voices with heavenly music. Now and again thou dost show us somewhat of that land—in dream, in new and daring thought, in rapturous praise, in ecstatic prayer, in some unexpected power of contemplation, when all the heavens show themselves in symbol; then we begin to think somewhat of the upper place and the great reserve. We would use this to our encouragement and inspiration; we would not accept it as a reward for indolence, or a guarantee of self-indulgence, but as an impulse to make haste, and to be true and faithful and wise, waiting in all the dignity of patience for the Lord"s coming, that the waiting and the coming may be of one quality—calm with the tranquillity of thine own throne. We are here for a day or two: we shall be dead and forgotten to-morrow; yet may we live in remembered deeds, in holy charities, in sacrifices acceptable unto God;—for this immortality we would now live. God"s blessing be upon us, a plentiful light filling all the heavens and the earth, yet with no sense of burdensomeness. The Lord"s great love be our defence and our hope, our present inspiration and our lasting reward.

This we say in the sweet name of Jesus—name to sinners dear—Son of Prayer of Manasseh , Son of God, who loved us, and died for us, and gave himself the just for the unjust. His name is our prayer; his sacrifice is thy Amen.

The Song of Moses

(Continued)

Deuteronomy 32

This is an appeal to reason, based upon obvious and indisputable facts. There is a law in warfare; there is a probability in battle, as in every other occupation and event of life. It is unreasonable and incredible that one man should chase a thousand and two men put ten thousand to flight. This must be accounted for. All the probabilities of the case are against the statement; the presumption is a violent one, and we must begin our argument by throwing it out: we must not have the imagination shocked by such a startling contrast of numbers. It is simply impossible that any one man should chase a thousand men, though they be the veriest cowards; their very numbers should give them courage; in a throng there should be some measure of audacity. How, then, is this chasing to be accounted for? The answer is:—"Except their Rock had sold them, and the Lord had shut them up"—in other words, except their Rock had given them over to the enemy, had taken out of them whatever courage might naturally belong to them, and had thus shown that, when the religious passion goes down and the religious intelligence is insulted, even natural bravery turns to helpless cowardice. With the ancient history we have next to nothing to do, but with the moral which inspires it every man ought to feel himself concerned. Why are we driven before the wind? Why do apparently little oppositions cast us down, or fill us with great dismay, or drive us from our standing-ground? Physically we are numerous, and physically we are not without strength, and some little time ago we were not destitute of courage; how comes our present state, and what is the explanation of it? We have lost faith; we have gone down in spiritual quality; we have inverted our prayers, so that they no longer ascend to a welcoming heaven but descend to an unanswering or mocking earth. Failure is to be attributed often to loss of religious faith, loss of communion with God, loss of spiritual inspiration. How to account for the failures that are upon the right hand and upon the left—not failures from the beginning, which may be attributed to some freak of nature in the constitution of the individuals who are defeated, but failures coming after victory, the course of a lifetime turned upside down, the once-victors now suppliants for their fate;—these are the mysteries. Some men are from the beginning without hands or eyes or faculties: whatever they touch they touch at the wrong end, and whatever they look upon withers under their glance; we are not speaking of such now: they are mysteries in providence which we cannot explain, riddles to which we have no answer; but here are men who have fought and conquered, who have spoken with their enemies in the gate, and sent them reeling back in dismay and pitiful weakness,—now, the same men are fleeing a thousand before one and ten thousand before two! Watching the incredible anomaly, we ask, How can these things be? The answer comes from heaven: They are faithless men, they have taken to the worship of themselves; they must be allowed to test their own vanity, and try the new gods with new conditions. God does give men up; God does sell men to the enemy, and shut them up in a corner and turn the key upon them as if they were left in prison. Strange things does God do among the children of men! He will not be mocked; we cannot do so well without him as we do with him. If we think we can demonstrate our independence of him, he may let go his hold and leave us to run swiftly into destruction. Do not mock God. Have your solemn questionings, and now and then it may be your dark doubts; but let there be no self-conceit, no offering to personal vanity, no self-confidence, no mockery of God; when the mind is dazzled, rest awhile: after three days some capable Ananias may call upon you with answers from heaven. The mystery is increased by another consideration:—

"For their rock is not as our Rock, even our enemies themselves being judges" ( Deuteronomy 32:31).

This verse admits of a new setting as to its meaning. It is taken thus by one of the most eminent Jewish commentators, namely: "Their rock is not as our Rock, and yet they have become our judges"—they are following the wrong course, and yet they are exalted above us, and they judge our life, and they condemn us, and they drive us away from their judgment-seat in contempt and scorn; this is a miracle in philosophy, this is an impossibility in morals; their rock is not as our Rock, and yet somehow they have ascended the judgment-seat, and we turn pale before their tribunal and humbly receive the sentence of their scorn. These inversions of natural courses have to be accounted for. We are not at liberty to allow history to perpetrate infinite jests, and to taunt us with incredible ironies. There must be harmony in history; there must be in it a tendency—a central line, always moving onward with nobleness and majesty of revelation and purpose; much that is incidental and. temporary may associate itself with that line but must fall into the harmony of the central movement. But here is an instance which cannot be accounted for on any ordinary principles. Here are people with the wrong god and the wrong law and the wrong policy, and somehow they are on the judgment-seat, and men who have the right theology in sentiment and the right law in the letter stand before them like doomed culprits.

Or take it in the other or more common way:—"For their rock is not as our Rock, even our enemies themselves being judges." We have the larger providence, we are under a more benevolent dispensation than themselves, our God is abler than their god; they acknowledge this, and though this acknowledgment is made to us in theory, yet in practice they seem to have the best of it: they are at home, they are in prosperity, they stand in the midst of their vineyards, they make their bread of the kidneys of wheat, whilst we are strangers and exiles and wanderers. We have the right God, but we are suffering under an afflictive providence. Let it be so anyhow, if only men will think. There is hope of any man who feels an arresting hand upon his shoulder and hears in his ear an accusatory voice, and who asks questions upon the arrest and the accusation: he is dead, but not "twice dead;" he is withered, but not "plucked up by the roots;" he is as a felled tree, but still here and there are signs of sprouting: he yet may fully live. Let every man ask himself how it is that he can have a right theology, and a right Church, and the very book of God, and yet be mocked of the enemy, chased by straws that are driven by the wind, and made afraid by withered leaves that crinkle on the ground. The reason is religious. There is something wrong at the centre; every accident seems to be right, but the central life is wrong.

"For their vine is of the vine of Sodom, and of the fields cf Gomorrah: their grapes are grapes of gall, their clusters are bitter: their wine is the poison of dragons, and the cruel venom of asps" ( Deuteronomy 32:32-33).

So the song rolls on, speaking of vengeance, speaking of the enemies of God, and promising them an awful reward. When the song was ended:—

"Moses came and spake all the words of this song in the ears of the people, Hebrews , and Hoshea the son of Nun" ( Deuteronomy 32:44).

"Because ye trespassed against me among the children of Israel at the waters of Meribah-Kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin; because ye sanctified me not in the midst of the children of Israel" ( Deuteronomy 32:51).

Prayer

Almighty God, thou art our Father, though Abraham be ignorant of us; thou didst not in saving man take on thee the nature of angels, thou didst take upon thee the seed of Abraham; thou didst come in the image and likeness of Prayer of Manasseh , which is in very deed the image and likeness of God. When thou didst so come unto us we knew thee not, for thou wert as one of ourselves, kindred in quality, the same in speech, neighbourly, friendly, social, so that we spoke of thy brethren and thy sisters, thy father and thy mother. We did not know the meaning of our own speech; we could not tell what we said, but we felt that our speech and thy vision were in contradiction; we felt thy greatness. When we did but touch the hem of thy garment we knew that thou wert more than man—than any man known to us—and we ourselves called thee Immanuel: God with us; near us, part of us, one with us; a great mystery of life, an eternal problem, not the less an eternal blessing. We thank thee for all religious thought; we bless thee that the altar elevates whomsoever touches it; we thank thee that we cannot look downward whilst we are thinking of God and the future, truth and immortality, development, and heaven; then the mind kindles; then our nature puts forth its wings and flies up to the gate of the morning and the dwelling-place of the sun, and we love the light and sing in it as birds do. May we always be faithful to the altar, may our inquiry go deeper and deeper every day, and may our love burn until perfectly disinfected of all selfishness and earthliness and limitation, until it become a great flame, aspiring in continual hope and sacrifice to the very throne of God. We bless thee for all Christian fellowship, for communion in Christ Jesus, that we can speak through him and with him, that he is our Advocate and Intercessor: our Priest, eloquent through his own blood, mighty through the weakness of the Cross, the greater for us because so pained in Gethsemane and unable to save himself on Calvary. The Lord send the mysteries of the Cross into our hearts as songs without words, great inspirations, deep and holy comfortings. Amen.

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 32:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/deuteronomy-32.html. 1885-95.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 25th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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