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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Deuteronomy 7

 

 

Verses 1-26

Prohibitions

Deuteronomy 7

This chapter might be so read as to give great offence. There is in it a tone of pitilessness. The whole chapter is a vengeful speech. The chapter is charged with partiality on the part of God towards one nation, as though other nations were self-created or had been fashioned by inferior deities, and were worthy of nothing but contempt and destruction. Who made the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites,—seven nations greater and mightier than Israel? Were not they also the creation of God? Did they not live because "his mercy endureth for ever"? Why this passion? Why this almost eagerness to get rid of them by violent means? The putting of such questions reminds us that we are living in a different age. We do not read many portions of the Old Testament in the right light. Of course the great mental and spiritual difficulty is to think ourselves back to the exact condition of the time and circumstances under which certain parts of the Old Testament were written. There is a language of the time; there is an atmosphere of history as well as a detail of circumstances and events. This chapter, read in full recognition of that fact, assumes a totally different relation to our mind, and reveals a totally different purpose from that which at first we might suspect and condemn. People must be talked to in their own language. God himself must speak in terms which the people can understand. There is a providence of language. Language is daily changing in aspect and colour and accent; meaning is poured out from vessel to vessel, and many of the old word-vessels are either thrown away or have to be used by some carefully-guarded hand and application of thought and meaning. No ruthless hand must touch some of these vessels, and no untutored mind must undertake to discuss some of those lessons; otherwise God himself and his whole truth will be put in a false light, and will be so expressed as to draw upon themselves the anger and moral indignation of mankind. The language of this chapter is in some parts awful. It is not to be explained by mere criticism, but is rather to be expounded and revealed in its intentions by the New Testament spirit, by the larger providence by which God has revealed his purpose and discovered to the observation of man what all the time he has been endeavouring to do. We must avail ourselves of some such principles as these if we are to get through with any comfort many of the rough places and rocky roads of the ancient record. The language might be changed, and yet every principle remain in its integrity. This is the very lesson which revelation is endeavouring every day to teach us. The revelation is not a matter of mere words or unchangeable expressions, but of what is in the words: the words being the mere wrappage within which we are to find the contents of the divine mind and purpose. The chapter might be rewritten in modern language and yet not one or its principles would be for an instant modified or impaired. We could get rid of the passion and yet retain the justice; we could wholly strip off all vengefulness and yet retain the divine purpose which is to create a Church, a family, a kingdom pure as the purity of God.

Look a little at the detail. All marriages with the heathen peoples were forbidden:—"Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his Song of Solomon , nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son" ( Deuteronomy 7:3). The separation is not final. Within this regulation there is a purpose of purity. The line central and vital is not to be changed in its direction. God is not now making eternal statutes and judgments as to the separation of the nations one from another. His purpose is to have but one nation upon the face of the whole earth—a royal generation, a peculiar people, a new humanity, headed by a new and eternal Adam. Meantime, something must be done of a remedial and mitigatory kind. God"s providence must begin where it can. The world was not prepared for the full blaze of the divine thought and meaning, so even God had to condescend to work in literal commandment, in striking limitation of human liberty, and in such details as of necessity occurred in the outworking of individual and social life. Even God is limited by human conditions, specially by human ignorance, more specially by human sin. He himself under some circumstances can only "stand at the door and knock." Meanwhile, the principle is a perpetual guide in Christian conduct. It is still true that things cannot be combined which are of different qualities, which have no essential and vital relation to one another. Nor is the inculcation or enforcement of this principle operative on one side only. Both the united people would be miserable. God is not only caring for those who are his own: he is also caring for those who are opposed to him—for by all. false alliances and unholy unions both lives are spoiled. The judgment does not fall upon one only: it falls upon both with tremendous force. Change the terms, soften them as much as you will, put them into modern form, and tone them down into modern softness and mellowness,—still there remains the vital principle that two things not being related to one another vitally and essentially, not in their innermost and best nature yearning for one another, can never come together in any form of marriage without involving both sides of the union in unutterable disappointment and distress.

Then the instruction was to deal severely with heathenish institutions and customs. This is proved by the fifth verse:—"Thus shall ye deal with them; ye shall destroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut down their groves, and burn their graven images with fire." That is not the law of this day. It was the only possible law in the early time. Men must grow into right conceptions of force. There have always been men who have been impatient with Jesus Christ himself because he did not go quickly enough to the kingdom. In his own day the people sought to make him a King "by force," but Jesus Christ would have no kingship thus violently and prematurely instituted. The kingship of Christ is a necessity of the universe. The very first courses of the foundations of creation, rightly interpreted, bear upon their masonry this promise:—Jesus Christ shall reign over the whole creation. But the fulfilment of that promise belongs to the providence of time. There we enter into an evolution transcending the imagination and mocking the patience of the most devoted Simeon. The only way in which Israel could deal with the heathen nations was by the way of destruction, breakage, downcutting, and burning. The period was given up to that species of force and urgency. We have come to learn that persuasion is mightier than arms, reasoning is more potent than violence, and prayer will accomplish victories which are impossible to sword and spear. It would seem to be an easy way to get rid of idolatry to burn the idol and reduce their altars to ashes. All this species of inroad might be made upon the idolatry, but idolatry itself would remain untouched, secure in the citadel of the heart"s trust, and hardly less secure in the castle of debased imagination. Only truth can destroy error; only love can burn all evil; only heaven can get rid of hell. So the innermost thought remains. The principle of destruction abides for ever. Everything that is done by the most peaceful and patient servant of God has in it the quality of destruction, only it is spiritual violence, moral conquest, the victory of the soul. "Put up thy sword into the sheath:" "for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword." Nay, Jesus will not have even embattled angels crowding to his side to smite with lightning those who assail him. Jesus Christ says,—Let the truth be spoken in a fair field, and in the long run light will conquer darkness. The harshness was not arbitrary, but logical. God is represented in the tenth verse in these terms:—he "repayeth them that hate him to their face, to destroy them: he will not be slack to him that hateth him, he will repay him to his face." How such words could be read with spitefulness of tone!—as if God were some petulant deity, vain and careful to assiduity about all the decoration of his throne; as if no hand must touch it; as if intruders would be thrust into the sea or burned in the furnace. There is no such meaning in the words. The same law applies in nature. It is the law of agriculture as certainly as it is the law of theology and morals. It is not given to man—poor man—to overturn the divine decree in any realm of life or action. Whoso would try to invert the seasons shall find himself without bread in the day when his garners should have been full; and if some imaginative Moses, gifted with the power of vivid pictorial description, should say, looking upon the empty barns,—"He repayeth them that hate him to their face, to destroy them," he would but vindicate a law which is not arbitrary but gracious—a providential law; and providence is the dawn of grace.

But was the election itself arbitrary, fixed, and wholly independent of the spirit and conduct of those who were elected? The answer is given in the twelfth verse:—"Wherefore it shall come to pass, if ye hearken to these judgments, and keep, and do them, that the Lord thy God shall keep unto thee the covenant and the mercy which he sware unto thy fathers." So election has been misunderstood. Men have not been slow to say,—Once in grace always in grace; being born again we may do what we please; we are not now under the law; we are Jews no more; we are free to sin. Nowhere is that doctrine taught in the Old Testament or in the New. The contrary doctrine is put in every possible variety of words, and is vindicated by every possible variety of event and circumstance in human history. We are committed to the law which demands righteousness. Over all controversies and all endeavours to escape restraint and prohibition there rises this great inquiry,—"What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" That is Christian life,—not some metaphysical mystery which has no practical exemplification, but a profound spiritual mystery which proves itself by conduct as mysterious in its nobleness as its origin is mysterious in its divinity. There are two mysteries in the Christian life: the mystery of its beginning and the mystery of its maintenance,—the mystery of spirit and the mystery of conduct. Whenever a Prayer of Manasseh , smitten on the one cheek, turns the other also, he sustains and completes the mystery of regeneration. The man who is living on metaphysical conceptions, and dreaming away his life in theological contemplation, without unfolding the mysteries of grace in the mysteries of conduct, has abused the covenant, and has committed high treason against the throne of God.

Showing, as he always shows, a most penetrating mind, Moses points to a very subtle temptation which would arise in connection with the progress of Israel. The graven images of the heathen nations were to be burned with fire. Moses says in the twenty-fifth verse,—"Thou shalt not desire the silver or gold that is on them, nor take it unto thee, lest thou be snared therein." How subtle is the temptation in that direction! Might not this ointment have been sold for hundreds of pence? and might not the produce have been given to the poor? Shall we cast in the hideous gods and the valuable gold and consume them both in the unsparing fire? How much better first to strip the god of his golden coat and then burn the wood or clay or grind the stone to powder! Moses, foreseeing this temptation, and by the very inspiration of God, knowing the mysteries of human nature, said,—"Touch not; taste not; handle not." In such abstention is the only possible safety of the Church. The temptation operates today. Men will sustain a questionable mode of earning a livelihood on the pretence that they can gather from the forbidden trade gold and silver which they can melt down and mint with the image and superscription of God; they can allow the devastating traffic to proceed, reeking like the pit of hell, destroying countless thousands of lives, and yet justify the continuance of the iniquity by taking off the gold and the silver and throwing part of it into the coffers of the Church. Missions so sustained are dishonoured. The gold torn from any evil way of getting a livelihood and given to the Church is an abomination to the Lord thy God. He does not want even good gold stolen for his purposes, or gold won by unholy means thrown into his exchequer. His Son could live without a place whereon to lay his head, but he could not live in any house that had in it the Dagon of the Philistines—unholy gains, patronage with a smiling face but with a heart all but too bad to be damned. God"s independence, Christ"s independence, asserts itself in many ways in the Old Testament and in the New; and the Church must be as independent as the God who created it. There is a strong temptation to continue the mischief, and tax it for the good of the heathen or the benefit of the poor. God accepts no such money. It never can be changed; it has no real and permanent value in the sanctuary; it makes the treasury full, but it is the fulness which is the truest and veriest emptiness. Let us give honest money. Let us eat bread unleavened by wrong-doing; there may be little of it, but Christ will break it with his own hands, and it shall be more than our hunger needs.

Marvellous, too, is the prevision of Moses when he lays down the only law or principle by which all these abstentions and all these actions can be sustained. Do not let us ascribe these regulations to the prevision of Moses unless we understand by that term the inspiration of God. What is the principle which guarantees safety and protects the soul from the unclean things of heathen nations? That principle is laid down in the twenty-sixth verse. Speaking of heathen abomination Moses says,—"thou shalt utterly detest it, and thou shalt utterly abhor it." There is no middle feeling; there is no intermediate way of dealing with bad things. "If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off;" "if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out." "Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good." Thus the Testaments are one: the moral tone is the same; the stern law never yields to time,—its phrase changes, its words may come and go, its forms may take upon them the colour of the transient times, but the inner spirit of righteousness is the spirit of God, without beginning, without measure, without end. We are thus called to revulsion. How can this be made plain to every understanding? Perhaps it can scarcely be adequately explained by merely spiritual terms and suggestions, but it admits of some indication from a physical point of view. Imagine any preparation given for food from which the whole nature recoils with unutterable horror. That may be considered the beginning of the meaning of this verse in its spiritual application. Having had such an offer made, the soul loathes it; hunger itself will not look at the offensive bribe given to the agony of its pain; all nature shudders and turns away—if silent, only because the strongest speech would be but a mockery of the intensity of its pain. Thus the body may help the mind to right constructions of divine purposes and spiritual laws. You do not dispute about that which is offered which awakens the sensations of horror, nor do you ask questions about it, nor do you look on with partial approval if, haply, in some way, the inconvenience may be got rid of; but having seen that which is offered, nature, asserting an eternal law, rises, flies insulted and dishonoured. Abstain from the appearance of evil. Touch not, taste not, handle not the unclean thing. Do not allow the mind merely to disapprove of evil, merely to condemn certain social customs and arrangements,—to keep in a kind of hovering relation towards things upon which God has put his veto; but seeing one of them, "thou shalt utterly detest it, and thou shalt utterly abhor it,"—the soul shall rise against it as if God himself had been pained by some sudden and tremendous offence. How is this spirit to be created within us? It is the miracle of Christ; it is the miracle of the Holy Ghost. This spirit is not born with Prayer of Manasseh , or by the will of man: it is born in us by the incorruptible seed of God. This is the wonder of the Almighty, who looking upon the accomplishment of this miracle says,—"It is very good."


Verse 8

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"The Lord loved you."Deuteronomy 7:8

The word love is an Old Testament word.—It would not be difficult to show that the tenderest expressions ever used by heaven to earth are reported not in the New Testament but in the Old.—It is not enough for the people to know that their Lord is almighty, because power may become a terror.—Not only power belongeth unto God but also mercy: this is the complete aspect of the divine nature.—That the Lord loved Israel was shown by long-suffering, by hopeful patience, by pouring down blessing upon blessing, notwithstanding the ingratitude of the people; it would seem as if even sin itself was hardly allowed to block out the light of heaven.—The love of God is the true interpretation of the history of man in all its movement towards nobility and spiritual sovereignty and rest.—Nothing but love could account for the continuance of the world under all its sinfulness and ingratitude.—It is love that explains the greatest revelations of God.—It is love that explains the Cross of Jesus Christ.—It is love that explains the assured progress of redeemed and sanctified souls.—The love of God" excludes all other claims to his attention and interest: thus we are not allowed to say that God"s favours come to us on account of our merit, or ancestry, or excellence above others; whatever we have is of the free mercy and love of God.—The love which explains all the past is the surest guarantee of all the future.—Love never changes.—What is true of divine love in the soul is true of that same love in God himself; it hopeth all things, endureth all things, believeth all things, it never faileth.—It is our joy to believe in a God of love; nay, in our highest moods we do not regard love as an attribute of God, but we say God himself is love.—Love does not exclude discipline.—Love does not exclude anger.—But on the other side, neither discipline nor anger changes or diminishes the love of God.—"Good when he gives, supremely good; not less when he denies."


Verse 9

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"The faithful God."Deuteronomy 7:9

Considerable instruction is supplied by noting the qualifying terms which are often attached to the divine name.—We read of the living God, the mighty God, the glorious Lord God, and in the text of the faithful God.—Sometimes the qualifying terms are rather repellent than attractive, as, for example, "the great and terrible God," and in Daniel we read of the "great and dreadful God."—These terms do not occur in the New Testament, yet even in the later books of revelation God is described as "a consuming fire," and in the Apocalypse we read of "the wrath of the Lamb," so that there is a line of consistency in the Old Testament and the New as regards the description of the character of God.—Perhaps there is no word which is more profoundly comfortable than the word "faithful" as applied to the divine Being.—It would appear as if "love" were more attractive and soothing, but this is an appearance only. Faithfulness is love; without faithfulness love itself would be impossible, because it would become a mere sentiment, liable to be cooled and changed by passing circumstances. It should be observed that even in the Old Testament, in the very text in which the divine Being is described as the great and terrible God, he is further described as "keeping covenant and mercy for evermore with them that love him and observe his commandments."—God is not the less loving because he is "great and terrible."—The Apostle Paul is very fond of applying the word "faithful" to God and to Jesus Christ, thus: "Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it."—"The Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil."—"God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able."—"God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord."—The Apostle John , too, in a remarkable passage, avails himself of the same descriptive term: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins."—Thus forgiveness itself is an expression of faithfulness and justice, and therefore may be accepted as essential and everlasting.—If God is faithful himself, he expects faithfulness in others.—He praises faithfulness in those who have completed their course of life honourably: "Well done, good and faithful servant."—He would see himself in others.—Faithfulness means consistency, permanency, reality of thought and service, and is absolutely intolerant of all fickleness, self-regard, men-pleasing, and time-serving.—"Be thou faithful unto death."

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 7:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/deuteronomy-7.html. 1885-95.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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