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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Deuteronomy 29

 

 

Introduction

CHAP. XXIX.

Moses admonishes them, that God's covenant with Israel pertains not only to those who were present, but to posterity also; and that God will not spare the disobedient: he tells them what all nations shall say in case of their destruction.

Before Christ 1451.


Verse 1

Ver. 1. These are the words of the covenant Houbigant connects this verse with the last chapter, and begins the present chapter with the 2nd verse: for it is plain, says he, that Moses enters upon another subject in these words, and Moses called unto all Israel, &c. Michaelis is of the same opinion. By the words, beside the covenant which he made with them in Horeb, is meant, that the curses in the 28th chapter are not explicative of those in the preceding chapter, but different from them, and of another kind. The former maledictions are denounced against those who should violate the law of the Decalogue given in Horeb; nor did they threaten punishments to be inflicted only in this present life: on the contrary, the latter maledictions denounce present and public punishments; because God had so bound himself by covenant with the Israelites, as to promise the defence of their republic, so long as they should worship the true God, and manifest by that worship the existence of the true religion in their land: then only to be destroyed and blotted out, when that salt of their country should lose its savour.


Verse 2

Ver. 2. Ye have seen all that the Lord did Not all of those whom Moses addresses had seen the miracles in Egypt; but he directs his discourse to the whole nation, to all Israel, and so, as well to those who had seen those miracles, as to those who had heard an account of them from their fathers: which hearing, or receiving by report, is often called seeing in Scripture.


Verse 3

Ver. 3. The great temptations Or, The great trials.


Verse 4

Ver. 4. Yet the Lord hath not given you an heart to perceive The meaning of this complaint is, not that God was wanting in his assistance, much less that he actually operated upon them to make them stupid and ungrateful; but that, through their own obstinacy and perverseness, the means which God had been pleased to make use of to reclaim them had always proved ineffectual; and all the great and marvellous things that he had done for them in Egypt and in the wilderness had not prevailed with them to repent. See parallel expressions, Matthew 13:11; Matthew 13:58. Maimonides therefore understands these words to import, that they had not disposed themselves to receive grace from God. God had done great things for them; but they rebelled and vexed his Holy Spirit, Isaiah 63:9-10. Le Clerc reads the words interrogatively: Hath not God given you an heart to perceive? As much as to say, that God had given them understanding, but they had not made a right use of it: or, as Jeremiah expresses it, ch. Deuteronomy 5:21 they have eyes, but see not; and ears, but hear not.


Verse 6

Ver. 6. Ye have not eaten bread, neither have ye drunk wine The meaning is, that they were not nourished by the ordinary method of sustenance, but were constantly supported by a miraculous supply from God, who graciously fed them for a course of years, without any labour of their own, with bread from heaven, and water from the rock. It is added, that ye might know that I am the Lord your God. It is read in the Alexandrian MSS. οτι ουτος κυριος ο θεος υμων, That He is the Lord your God.


Verse 7-8

Ver. 7, 8. And when ye came unto this place They were now in a part of the country which they had conquered, ch. Deuteronomy 4:45-46. The sense appears to be this: "As, therefore, God has thus far performed his covenant with you, given you victory over your enemies, and their land for an inheritance to your tribes; do you take care to perform your part in return, and to keep the words of his covenant—that ye may prosper."

REFLECTIONS.—The former covenant was made at Sinai. This is a repetition of it: as they were a new generation, it was needful that they should themselves consent to the gracious terms proposed to them. 1. To induce them thereunto, Moses puts them in mind of God's astonishing interposition to save them from Egypt, his care of them in the wilderness, and the possessions they began to enjoy in Bashan and Heshbon. Past mercies are an engagement to fidelity, and encouragement still to expect greater. 2. He laments their past blindness, unbelief, and murmurings; repeatedly had they given sad proof of these, and to that day they remained in them. Note; (1.) Unbelief is a deep-rooted evil. (2.) 'Till God opens the eyes of our mind, we can neither know him, love him, nor serve him. 3. He charges them to attend now to the words of this covenant: and happy, if, at last, there were such a heart in them, firmly to believe the divine promises, and cheerfully to obey the divine commands; prosperity then could not but attend them.


Verse 11

Ver. 11. Thy stranger—from the hewer of thy wood, unto the drawer of thy water That is, not excepting those who are employed in the very meanest offices: See Joshua 21:27. These words comprehend only the slaves and foreign mercenaries who attended the camp, and were quartered by themselves; the hewers of wood in one place, and the drawers of water in another. These last seem to have occupied the extremity of the whole camp, and to have been reckoned in the lowest rank of slaves.


Verse 15

Ver. 15. Also with him that is not here with us this day That is, say the generality of interpreters, "I renew this covenant with you, not only for yourselves who are here present, but also for your posterity to latest ages." But Houbigant is of opinion, that these words of Moses are of the same import with those of St. Paul, Jews and barbarians; or, the Jew first, and afterwards the Greek: with us, signifying the Jewish nation; the other words, the Gentiles with whom God entered into the same covenant which he made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, because the Gentiles were hereafter to inherit the same faith; and there can be no doubt, he says, that the words, him who is not here with us this day, plainly denote other men than the Jews themselves.


Verse 17

Ver. 17. Ye have seen their abominations, and their idols These words shew, that the practice of idolatry was old and inveterate, both among the Egyptians, and the other nations through which the Israelites passed. This and the preceding verse contain further motives to incline them to enter into covenant with God: first, because God had brought them out of Egypt, and through other nations; and, secondly, because they had an opportunity to discern the folly of these people in worshipping such idols as could not help them. The following verse, to connect with these, should be rendered, take heed therefore that there be not among you man or woman, &c.; but, if it is to be connected with the 15th verse, we must understand it as expressing the end for which God engaged them to renew their covenant with him, that none of them might revolt from the Lord to serve other gods. Lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood, is metaphorical, and signifies, "Lest there should be any false opinion lurking among you, concerning the gods of your neighbours, from which impious consequences might be deduced, and bitter effects ensue." This is that root, which Moses was striving to pluck out of their minds. The word which we translate gall, Dr. Waterland renders poison; and it is thought to signify some poisonous or noxious herb which grows amongst the corn, but what herb is not determined. It is the same word which we render hemlock, Hosea 10:4 and is commonly joined with wormwood, as here, and Jeremiah 9:15. Lamentations 3:19. Amos 6:12. To this passage the apostle alludes, Hebrews 12:15. Lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you; compare also ch. Deuteronomy 3:12 and see Psalms 69:22.


Verse 19

Ver. 19. To add drunkenness to thirst The Hebrew, literally rendered, is, that irrigation, or drinking may put an end to thirst; i.e. "that I may indulge my thirst, and satisfy my lust." The phrase is strongly metaphorical, and expresses an abounding in all manner of wickedness; a giving indulgence to craving, thirsty appetites, and adding sin to sin; which the Scripture calls a drinking up iniquity like water. Job 34:7. See Isaiah 30:1; Isaiah 56:12.


Verse 20

Ver. 20. His jealousy shall smoke against that man i.e. He shall be visited with the several plagues which are the effects of the divine severity. None will be punished more exemplarily than those who abuse the goodness of God, and turn his grace into lasciviousness. Romans 2:4-5. The punishment of the fallen angels, the bringing-in of the general flood, the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, are examples of this kind, written for our admonition; on which account, excellent is the advice of the son of Sirach, Say not I have sinned, and what harm has happened to me; for though the Lord is long-suffering, he will in no wise let thee go, &c. Sirach 5:4.


Verse 21

Ver. 21. The Lord shall separate him unto evil Such a presumptuous sinner may think to escape in a crowd, and flatter himself that the blessings promised to God's people, among whom he lives, will be his portion; but he shall be singled out, and set apart, as a striking monument of God's displeasure, according to all the curses of the covenant.


Verse 22

Ver. 22. So that the generation It is in the Hebrew, and the generation. The paragraph is new, and has no dependence on what precedes; consequently, so that is a translation which misleads the reader. The meaning is, "whenever your impieties arrive at such a height as to bring your nation under the terrible desolation before spoken of, [ch. 28:] Providence will do it in such a manner as shall convince all considerate persons, that it is the effect of the just judgment of heaven upon your disobedience, and a perfect completion of the very threats now left on record."


Verse 23

Ver. 23. The whole land thereof is brimstone, and salt, and burning Utterly desolate and laid waste: the allusion is to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by fire and brimstone, and to the bitumen and salt wherewith the barren plains of those once fertile cities afterwards abounded. See Hosea 11:8.


Verse 26

Ver. 26. And whom he had not given unto them Houbigant renders this, and with whom they had no society. Le Clerc reads, none of whom had given them any thing. Most of the ancient versions, as well as the margin of our Bibles, agree in the latter interpretation.


Verse 29

Ver. 29. The secret things belong unto the Lord our God, &c.— Houbigant renders this verse, the things which were hidden with the Lord our God, are revealed to us and our children for many generations; that we may obey all the words of this law: i.e. says he, "Those things, which, by God's providence, are to happen hereafter, are made known to us by prophesy, that we, who hear how many and great evils threaten our posterity, if rebellious against God, may fear, and obey his laws." The words are spoken in the persons of those who are introduced as speaking in the preceding verses. Grotius understands it in pretty nearly the same sense, abscondita Domino Deo nostro, et revelata nobis; i.e. "those secret things of the Lord our God heretofore secret, are now revealed to us and our posterity." So that, in this view, the words might properly enough be rendered, the secret things of the Lord our God are revealed to us and our children for ever, &c. The reader will observe, that, in our version, there are many words inserted in italics, which frequently render a translation doubtful, as those words are never in the Hebrew. Those, however, who approve our version, (which may in some measure be justified, and rendered more near the Hebrew, secret things are for the Lord our God, and revealed things for us, &c.) may thus understand the passage: Should particular circumstances be inquired into, such as, whether the Hebrew nation will actually revolt from God, and at what time the punishments before described will be inflicted upon them or their posterity, Moses replies, that such events are among the secrets of Providence, which it is not proper for men to know. Mean time, says he, it is sufficient for you to be plainly told the consequences of a wilful breach of those laws which God has revealed to you and to your children. Thus the expression will be much of the same import with that of our Saviour, Acts 1:7. It is not for you to know the times and seasons which the Father hath put in his own power. Dr. Beaumont observes, that, upon these last words of this chapter, the Hebrew text has extraordinary marks, to raise the greater attention to the matter in hand. See Stillingfleet's Origines Sacrae, p. 215.

REFLECTIONS.—We have here the covenant laid before them, and warmly recommended to them. 1. The parties of the covenant: God, as their God, engaging to bless them with every mercy, and confirming with an oath the immutability of his counsel; and they solemnly binding themselves, in return, to be his people, one and all. The captains and officers must subscribe to it: when great men are good men, their examples are greatly influential. Their wives and children are admitted to it. Believers' children are sharers in their covenant mercies; and not only native Israelites, but the stranger, even to the meanest follower of the camp, is invited to come. Note; None are beneath God's regard; to his covenant the poor have as welcome access as the great; and all are called to consent thereto: though sickness or business of necessity prevented personal attendance, all must come under the bonds of the covenant, and, according to their fidelity or disobedience, share the blessings or curses therein contained. 2. The great article of the covenant on God's part, is, his being their God; this comprehending all imaginable bliss and happiness: on their part, he expects (and well he may) that they shall be his people, dependent on his promises, loving him unfeignedly, and cheerfully observant of all his commands and ordinances. Nothing so reasonable as this. Note; The promises of grace must engage us to the duties of obedience. 3. As idolatry was the rock which threatened the most danger, they are especially warned to beware of it. Their abode in Egypt had probably infected them, and the idols of the nations they had passed by had ensnared them; they had need therefore to watch against so besetting, and withal so provoking a sin, lest ruin inevitable and dreadful should come upon them for their idolatry, whether on individuals or the whole nation. [1.] On individuals. None can escape God's eye; none are above his arm, or beneath his notice. We have this apostacy from God set in very striking colours: (1.) It begins in the departure of the heart from God, to some creature-love and idol-service. (2.) The fruit from this root is gall and wormwood, detestable principles, malignant and poisonous, and a conversation corrupt and abominable, adding drunkenness to thirst. (3.) Withal, the sinner, secure and confident, promises himself peace, though walking in these vile imaginations of his heart. But, (4.) His fearful end approaches, and the smoaking wrath of God will seize him in the midst of his fatal security. Hence learn, 1. That many are blessing themselves, over whom the curse of God hangs terrible. 2. That insensibility is one of the most fatal symptoms of a desperate soul. 3. Nothing more effectually serves to stupify the conscience than a habit of drunkenness. 4. They, who now glory in their shame, are like those who got drunk in honour of their idols, and sin with greater aggravation. 5. Let the presumptuous sinner tremble; the wrath of God abideth on him: his smoaking jealousy, like a fiery furnace, shall burn, and none shall quench it; deep as hell, abiding as the days of eternity; under it, the perishing wretch must lie down without pity, without reprieve, and, worse than all, without hope of abatement of his torment, or end of his misery. O that sinners were wise, that they understood these things, that they would consider their latter end! [2.] On the whole nation the same sins would bring the same punishment. Their land would become as the sulphureous plains of Sodom; and to this day, that once fruitful spot of Judea bears the marks of this divine curse, being now almost desolate of inhabitants, and barren as the rocky wilderness. A scene so strange could not but excite the neighbouring nations to inquire into the cause; and the answer is fully satisfactory: Because they forsook the God of their fathers, transgressed his covenant, and turned unto idols; therefore are these curses come upon them, and their desolations accomplished. Note; (1.) The judgments of God should awaken our inquiries into the cause of them, that we may take warning. (2.) They, who have abused the greatest national privileges, may expect the heaviest national visitations. (3.) They, who forsake their fathers' God, deserve to lose their fathers' inheritance. Lastly, He concludes with silencing every objection which might be raised against God's judgments, and with an admonition to follow the plain and clear revelation of God's will. Note; (1.) There are a thousand questions that curious pride would ask, which God forbids to answer. (2.) All that is needful for us to know, we may know, if we consult God's revealed will; where he sets bounds, 'tis our wisdom to be content to be ignorant. (3.) The revelation that God has made is designed not to communicate speculative and useless knowledge, but to engage us to holy practice and dutiful obedience. (4.) In this we cannot be too careful to walk ourselves, and instruct our children to walk, as the surest means of averting all those plagues which are ready to descend upon the ungodly.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 29:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/deuteronomy-29.html. 1801-1803.

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