Deuteronomy 8:2
And you shall remember all the way which the LORD your God led you these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you, and to prove you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments, or no.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
THE REMEMBRANCE OF THE EXODUS.

(2) And thou shalt remember.—The whole of the remainder of this exhortation, to the end of Deuteronomy 10, is chiefly taken up with this topic. Israel must remember (1) the leading of Jehovah, and (2) their own rebellious perversity in the journey through the wilderness. The same recollection is made the occasion for a separate note of praise in Psalm 136:16 : “To him which led his people through the wilderness; for his mercy endureth for ever.”

The way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years.—Not so much the literal journey, but “the way:” i.e., the manner. The details of the actual journey are of course included, but only as incidents of “the way.” In the Acts of the Apostles the Christian life is in several passages called “the way.” In all these things the Israelites were types of us.

To humble thee, and to prove thee.—The way in itself is described as “three days’ journey into the wilderness,” so far as the leading to Sinai is concerned (Exodus 3:18), and “eleven days’ journey from Horeb to Kadesh-barnea” (Deuteronomy 1:2). It was in the power of Jehovah to bring Israel from Egypt to Canaan, had He so willed it, without delay, in a very little time. And just so with “the way” of salvation. There is no intrinsic or necessary impossibility in the immediate turning of mankind, or of any individual, from darkness to light. And this change might be followed by immediate removal from “this present evil world” into the place which Christ has gone before to prepare for us. But manifestly the formation of human character by probation and training would vanish in such a process as this. There could be no well-tried and deliberate purpose to serve our Creator and Redeemer in any of us—or, at least, no proof of our deliberate preference for His service—under such circumstances. Nor, again, could there be that humility which arises only out of self-knowledge. The transitory nature of all mere human resolutions and impressions for good demonstrates to the man who knows himself, better than anything else could do, the power and patience of his Redeemer, and the moral cost of his redemption. This human transitoriness and feebleness is strikingly illustrated by the story of the Exodus.

To know what was in thine heart.—“To know” is not simply that He might know (“Hell and destruction are before the Lord; how much more then the hearts of the children of men! “), but that the knowledge may arise—to determine, disclose, discover. So in 2Chronicles 32:31 : “God left him (Hezekiah) to try him, to know all that was in his heart.” What God Himself knows by omniscience He sometimes brings to light by evidence for the sake of His creatures. (Comp. Ephesians 3:10 : “To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by (by means of) the church the manifold wisdom of God.”)

Deuteronomy

THE LESSON OF MEMORY

Deuteronomy 8:2
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The strand of our lives usually slips away smoothly enough, but days such as this, the last Sunday in a year, are like the knots on a sailor’s log, which, as they pass through his fingers, tell him how fast it is being paid out from the reel, and how far it has run off.

They suggest a momentary consciousness of the swift passage of life, and naturally lead us to a glance backwards and forwards, both of which occupations ought to be very good for us. The dead flat upon which some of us live may be taken as an emblem of the low present in which most of us are content to pass our lives, affording nowhere a distant view, and never enabling us to see more than a street’s length ahead of us. It is a good thing to get up upon some little elevation and take a wider view, backwards and forwards.

And so now I venture to let the season preach to us, and to confine myself simply to suggesting for you one or two very plain and obvious thoughts which may help to make our retrospect wise and useful. And there are two main considerations which I wish to submit. The first is -what we ought to be chiefly occupied with as we look back; and secondly, what the issue of such a retrospect ought to be.

I. With what we should be mainly occupied as we look back. Memory, like all other faculties, may either help us or hinder us. As is the man, so will be his remembrance. The tastes which rule his present will determine the things that he likes best to think about in the past. There are many ways of going wrong in our retrospects. Some of us, for instance, prefer to think with pleasure about things that ought never to have been done, and to give a wicked immortality to thoughts that ought never to have had a being. Some men’s tastes and inclinations are so vitiated and corrupted that they find a joy in living their badnesses over again. Some of us, looking back on the days that are gone, select by instinctive preference for remembrance, the vanities and frivolities and trifles which were the main things in them whilst they lasted. Such a use of the great faculty of memory is like the folly of the Egyptians who embalmed cats and vermin. Do not let us be of those, who have in their memories nothing but rubbish, or something worse, who let down the drag-net into the depths of the past and bring it up full only of mud and foulnesses, and of ugly monsters that never ought to have been dragged into the daylight.

Then there are some of us who abuse memory just as much by picking out, with perverse ingenuity, every black bit that lies in the distance behind us, all the disappointments, all the losses, all the pains, all the sorrows. Some men look back and say, with Jacob in one of his moods, ‘Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life!’ Yes! and the same man, when he was in a better spirit, said, and a great deal more truly, ‘The God that fed me all my life long, the Angel which redeemed me from all evil.’ Do not paint like Rembrandt, even if you do not paint like Turner. Do not dip your brush only in the blackness, even if you cannot always dip it in molten sunshine.

And there are some of us who, in like manner, spoil all the good that we could get out of a wise retrospect, by only looking back in such a fashion as to feed a sentimental melancholy, which is, perhaps, the most profitless of all the ways of looking backwards.

Now here are the two points, in this verse of my text, which would put all these blunders and all others right, telling us what we should chiefly think about when we look back, and from what point of view the retrospect of the past must be taken in order that it should be salutary. ‘Thou shalt remember all the way by which the Lord thy God hath led thee.’ Let memory work under the distinct recognition of divine guidance in every part of the past. That is the first condition of making the retrospect blessed. ‘To humble thee and to prove thee, and to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep His commandments, or no’; let us look back with a clear recognition of the fact that the use of life is to test, and reveal, and to make, character. This world, and all its outward engagements, duties, and occupations, is but a scaffolding, on which the builders may stand to rear the true temple, and when the building is reared you may do what you like with the scaffolding. So we have to look back on life from this point of view, that its joys and sorrows, its ups and downs, its work and repose, the vicissitudes and sometimes contrariety of its circumstances and conditions, are all for the purpose of making us, and of making plain to ourselves, what we are. ‘To humble thee,’ that is, to knock the self-confidence out of us, and to bring us to say: ‘I am nothing and Thou art everything; I myself am a poor weak rag of a creature that needs Thy hand to stiffen me, or I shall not be able to resist or to do.’ That is one main lesson that life is meant to teach us. Whoever has learnt to say by reason of the battering and shocks of time, by reason of sorrows and failures, by reason of joys, too, and fruition,-’Lord, I come to Thee as depending upon Thee for everything,’ has wrung its supreme good out of life, and has fulfilled the purpose of the Father, who has led us all these years, to humble us into the wholesome diffidence that says: ‘Not in myself, but in Thee are all my strength and my hope.’

I need not do more than remind you of the other cognate purposes which are suggested here. Life is meant, not only to bring us to humble self-distrust, as a step towards devout dependence on God, but also to reveal us to ourselves; for we only know what we are by reflecting on what we have done, and the only path by which self-knowledge can be attained is the path of observant recollection of our conduct in daily life.

Another purpose for which the whole panorama of life is made to pass before us, and for which all the gymnastic of life exercises us, is that we may be made submissive to the great Will, and may keep His commandments.

These thoughts should be with us in our retrospect, and then our retrospect will be blessed: First, we are to look back and see God’s guidance everywhere, and second, we are to judge of the things that we remember by their tendency to make character, to make us humble, to reveal us to ourselves, and to knit us in glad obedience to our Father God.

II. And now turn to the other consideration which may help to make remembrance a good, viz., the issues to which our retrospect must tend, if it is to be anything more than sentimental recollection.

First, let me say: Remember and be thankful. If what I have been saying as to the standard by which events are to be tried be true; if it be the case that the main fact about things is their power to mould persons and to make character, then there follows, very plainly and clearly, that all things that come within the sweep of our memory may equally contribute to our highest good.

Good does not mean pleasure. Bright-being may not always be well-being, and the highest good has a very much nobler meaning than comfort and satisfaction. And so, realising the fact that the best of things is that they shall make us like God, then we can turn to the past and judge it wisely, because then we shall see that all the diversity, and even the opposition, of circumstances and events, may co-operate towards the same end. Suppose two wheels in a great machine, one turns from right to left and the other from left to right, but they fit into one another, and they both produce one final result of motion. So the moments in my life which I call blessings and gladness, and the moments in my life which I call sorrows and tortures, may work into each other, and they will do so if I take hold of them rightly, and use them as they ought to be used. They will tend to the highest good whether they be light or dark; even as night with its darkness and its dews has its ministration and mission of mercy for the wearied eye no less than day with its brilliancy and sunshine; even as the summer and the winter are equally needful, and equally good for the crop. So in our lives it is good for us, sometimes, that we be brought into the dark places; it is good for us sometimes that the leaves be stripped from the trees, and the ground be bound with frost.

And so for both kinds of weather, dear brethren, we have to remember and be thankful. It is a hard lesson, I know, for some of us. There may be some listening to me whose memory goes back to this dying year as the year that has held the sorest sorrow of their lives; to whom it has brought some loss that has made earth dark. And it seems hard to tell quivering lips to be thankful, and to bid a man be grateful though his eyes fill with tears as he looks back on such a past. But yet it is true that it is good for us to be drawn, or to be driven, to Him; it is good for us to have to tread even a lonely path if it makes us lean more on the arm of our Beloved. It is good for us to have places made empty if, as in the year when Israel’s King died, we shall thereby have our eyes purged to behold the Lord sitting on the Royal Seat.

‘Take it on trust a little while,

Thou soon shalt read the mystery right,

In the full sunshine of His smile.’

And for the present let us try to remember that He dwelleth in the darkness as in the light, and that we are to be thankful for the things that help us to be near Him, and not only for the things that make us outwardly glad. So I venture to say even to those of you who may be struggling with sad remembrances, remember and be thankful.

I have no doubt there are many of us who have to look back, if not upon a year desolated by some blow that never can be repaired, yet upon a year in which failing resources and declining business, or diminished health, or broken spirits, or a multitude of minute but most disturbing cares and sorrows, do make it hard to recognise the loving Hand in all that comes. Yet to such, too, I would say: ‘All things work together for good,’ therefore all things are to be embraced in the thankfulness of our retrospect.

The second and simple practical suggestion that I make is this: Remember, and let the memory lead to contrition. Perhaps I am speaking to some men or women for whom this dying year holds the memory of some great lapse from goodness; some young man who for the first time has been tempted to sensuous sin; some man who may have been led into slippery places in regard to business integrity. I draw a ‘bow at a venture’ when I speak of such things-perhaps some one is listening to me who would give a great deal if he or she could forget a certain past moment of this dying year, which makes their cheeks hot yet whilst they think of it. To such I say: Remember, go close into the presence of the black thing, and get the consciousness of it driven into your heart; for such remembrance is the first step to deliverance from the load, and to your passing, emancipated from the bitterness, into the year that lies before you.

But even if there are none of us to whom such remarks would specially apply, let us summon up to ourselves the memories of these bygone days. In all the three hundred and sixty-five of them, my friend, how many moments stand out distinct before you as moments of high communion with God? How many times can you remember of devout consecration to Him? How many, when-as visitors to the Riviera reckon the number of days in the season in which, far across the water, they have seen Corsica-you can remember this year to have beheld, faint and far away, ‘the mountains that are round about’ the ‘Jerusalem that is above’? How many moments do you remember of consecration and service, of devotion to your God and your fellows? Oh! what a miserable, low-lying stretch of God-forgetting monotony our lives look when we are looking back at them in the mass. One film of mist is scarcely perceptible, but when you get a mile of it you can tell what it is-oppressive darkness. One drop of muddy water does not show its pollution, but when you have a pitcherful of it you can see how thick it is. And so a day or an hour looked back upon may not reveal the true godlessness of the average life, but if you will take the twelvemonth and think about it, and ask yourself a question or two about it, I think you will feel that the only attitude for any of us in looking back across a stretch of such brown barren moorland is that of penitent prayer for forgiveness and for cleansing.

But I dare say that some of you say: ‘Oh! I look back and I do not feel anything of that kind of regret that you describe; I have done my duty, and nobody can blame me. I am quite comfortable in my retrospect. Of course there have been imperfections; we are all human, and these need not trouble a man.’ Let me ask you, dear brother, one question: Do you believe that the law of a man’s life is, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself’? Do you believe that that is what you ought to do? Have you done it? If you have not, let me beseech you not to go out of this year, across the artificial and imaginary boundary that separates you from the next, with the old guilt upon your back, but go to Jesus Christ, and ask Him to forgive you, and then you may pass into the coming twelvemonth without the intolerable burden of unremembered, unconfessed, and therefore unforgiven, sin.

The next point that I would suggest is this: Let us remember in order that from the retrospect we may gain practical wisdom. It is astonishing what unteachable, untamable creatures men are. They learn wisdom about all the little matters of daily life by experience, but they do not seem to do so about the higher. Even a sparrow comes to understand a scarecrow after a time or two, and any rat in a hole will learn the trick of a trap. But you can trick men over and over again with the same inducement, and, even whilst the hook is sticking in their jaws, the same bait will tempt them once more. That is very largely the case because they do not observe and remember what has happened to them in bygone days.

There are two things that any man, who will bring his reason and common-sense to bear upon the honest estimate and retrospect of the facts of his life, may be fully convinced of. These are, first, his own weakness. One main use of a wise retrospect is to teach us where we are weakest. What an absurd thing it would be if the inhabitants of a Dutch village were to let the sea come in at the same gap in the same dyke a dozen times! What an absurd thing it would be if a city were captured over and over again by assaults at the same point, and did not strengthen its defences there! But that is exactly what you do; and all the while, if you would only think about your own past lives wisely and reasonably, and like men with brains in your heads, you might find out where it was that you were most open to attack; what it was in your character that most needed strengthening, what it was wherein the devil caught you most quickly, and might so build yourselves up in the most defenceless points.

Do not look back for sentimental melancholy; do not look back with unavailing regrets; do not look back to torment yourselves with useless self-accusation; but look back to see how good God has been, and look back to see where you are weak, and pile the wall, higher there, and so learn practical wisdom from retrospect.

Another phase of the practical wisdom which memory should give is deliverance from the illusions of sense and time. Remember how little the world has ever done for you in bygone days. Why should you let it befool you once again? If it has proved itself a liar when it has tempted you with gilded offers that came to nothing, and with beauty that was no more solid than the ‘Easter-eggs’ that you buy in the shops-painted sugar with nothing inside-why should you believe it when it comes to you once more? Why not say: ‘Ah! once burnt, twice shy! You have tried that trick on me before, and I have found it out!’ Let the retrospect teach us how hollow life is without God, and so let it draw us near to Him.

The last thing that I would say is: ‘Let us remember that we may hope. It is the prerogative of Christian remembrance, that it merges into Christian hope. The forward look and the backward look are really but the exercise of the same faculty in two different directions. Memory does not always imply hope, we remember sometimes because we do not hope, and try to gather round ourselves the vanished past because we know it never again can be a present or a future. But when we are occupied with an unchanging Friend, whose love is inexhaustible, and whose arm is unwearied, it is good logic to say: ‘It has been, therefore it shall be.’

With regard to this fleeting life, it is a delusion to say ‘to-morrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant’; but with regard to the life of the soul that lives in God, that is true, and true for ever. The past is a specimen of the future. The future for the man who lives in Christ is but the prolongation, and the heightening into superlative excellence and beauty, of all that is good in the past and in the present. As the radiance of some rising sun may cast its bright beams into the opposite sky, even so the glowing past behind us flings its purples and its golds and its scarlets on to the else dim curtain of the future.

Remember that you may hope. A paradox, but a paradox that is a truth in the case of Christians whose memory is of a God that has loved and blessed them whose hope is in a God that changes never; whose memory is charged with ‘every good and perfect gift that came down from the Father of Lights,’ whose hope is in that same Father, ‘with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.’ So on every stone of remembrance, every Ebenezer on which is graved: ‘Hitherto hath the Lord helped us,’ we can mount a telescope-if I may so say-that will look into the furthest glories of the heavens, and be sure that the past will be magnified and perpetuated in the future. Our prayer may legitimately be; ‘Thou hast been my help, leave me not, neither forsake me!’ And His answer will be: ‘I will not leave thee until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.’ Remember that you may hope, and hope because you remember.Deuteronomy 8:2. Thou shalt remember — Call to mind and meditate upon the wisdom and goodness of God toward thee, and the power exerted on thy behalf. All the way which the Lord led thee — All the events which befell thee in the way, the miraculous protections, deliverances, provisions, instructions, which God gave thee; and withal, the severe punishments of thy disobedience. To know what was in thy heart — That thou mightest discover thyself, and manifest to others, the infidelity, inconstancy, hypocrisy, and perverseness which lay hid in thy heart; the discovery and manifestation whereof God saw would be of peculiar use, both to them and to his church in all succeeding ages. It is well for us, likewise, to remember all the ways both of God’s providence and grace, by which he has hitherto led, and still leads us through the wilderness, that we may trust in him, and cheerfully serve him.8:1-9 Obedience must be, 1. Careful, observe to do; 2. Universal, to do all the commandments; and 3. From a good principle, with a regard to God as the Lord, and their God, and with a holy fear of him. To engage them to this obedience. Moses directs them to look back. It is good to remember all the ways, both of God's providence and grace, by which he has led us through this wilderness, that we may cheerfully serve him and trust in him. They must remember the straits they were sometimes brought into, for mortifying their pride, and manifesting their perverseness; to prove them, that they and others might know all that was in their heart, and that all might see that God chose them, not for any thing in them which might recommend them to his favour. They must remember the miraculous supplies of food and raiment granted them. Let none of God's children distrust their Father, nor take any sinful course for the supply of their necessities. Some way or other, God will provide for them in the way of duty and honest diligence, and verily they shall be fed. It may be applied spiritually; the word of God is the food of the soul. Christ is the word of God; by him we live. They must also remember the rebukes they had been under, and not without need. This use we should make of all our afflictions; by them let us be quickened to our duty. Moses also directs them to look forward to Canaan. Look which way we will, both to look back and to look forward, to Canaan. Look which way we will, both to look back and to look forward will furnish us with arguments for obedience. Moses saw in that land a type of the better country. The gospel church is the New Testament Canaan, watered with the Spirit in his gifts and graces, planted with trees of righteousness, bearing fruits of righteousness. Heaven is the good land, in which nothing is wanting, and where is fulness of joy.The silver or gold that is on them - The silver and gold with which the statues of the gods were overlaid. Paul is probably alluding to this command in Romans 2:22; and his accusation of the Jew thus shows that the prohibition of the text was very necessary.

Lest thou be snared - As by the rich ephod made by Gideon: compare the marginal reference.

2, 3. thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness—The recapitulation of all their checkered experience during that long period was designed to awaken lively impressions of the goodness of God. First, Moses showed them the object of their protracted wanderings and varied hardships. These were trials of their obedience as well as chastisements for sin. Indeed, the discovery of their infidelity, inconstancy, and their rebellions and perverseness which this varied discipline brought to light, was of eminently practical use to the Israelites themselves, as it has been to the church in all subsequent ages. Next, he enlarged on the goodness of God to them, while reduced to the last extremities of despair, in the miraculous provision which, without anxiety or labor, was made for their daily support (see on [121]Ex 16:4). Possessing no nutritious properties inherent in it, this contributed to their sustenance, as indeed all food does (Mt 4:4) solely through the ordinance and blessing of God. This remark is applicable to the means of spiritual as well as natural life. All the way, i.e. all the events which befell thee in the way, the miraculous protections, deliverances, provisions, instructions which God gave thee; and withal the frequent and severe punishments of thy disobedience.

To know what was in thine heart, i.e. that thou mightest discover to thyself and others that infidelity, inconstancy, hypocrisy, apostacy, rebellion, and perverseness, which lay hid in thy heart; the discovery whereof was of singular use, both to them and to the church of God, in all succeeding ages. And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness,.... For this was now the fortieth year of their coming out of Egypt into the wilderness, into which they quickly came after their departure from thence, and had been in one wilderness or another ever since, in which God went before them in a pillar of cloud and fire, and directed their way; and now they are called upon to remember all the occurrences in the way, what favours and mercies had been bestowed upon them, what provisions had been made for them, what enemies they had been delivered from or overcome, as well as what afflictions and chastisements had attended them: and so the people of God should call to mind how they were brought to see their wilderness state and condition by nature; how they were brought out of it, and stopped in their career of sin, and turned from their evil ways, and led to Christ; what gracious promises have been made to them; what light has been afforded them; what communion they have had with God; what pleasure in his ordinances; what food they have been fed with; what temptations have befallen them, and how delivered out of them; and what afflictions have been laid upon them, and how supported under them, and freed from them:

to humble thee; under the mighty hand of God, to bring down the pride of their hearts and hide it from them; to lay them low in their own eyes, and clothe them with humility, that the Lord alone might be exalted: and

to prove thee; whether they would be obedient to his laws, or how they would behave towards him both in prosperity and adversity, and to try their graces, their faith and patience, fear and love:

to know what was in thine heart; that is, to make it known to themselves and others; for God knew all that was in it, the wickedness of it, the unbelief, rebellion, and frowardness of it, and needed not any ways and means to get into the knowledge of it; see 2 Chronicles 32:31,

whether thou wouldest keep his commandments or no; which they had in such a solemn manner promised to do; Deuteronomy 5:27.

And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to {b} prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no.

(b) Which is declared in afflictions, either by patience, or by grudging against God's visitation.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
2. thou shall remember all the way] Another of the many calls in D to remember God’s Providence (Deuteronomy 5:15, Deuteronomy 7:18, etc.), but this time to fresh aspects of that Providence, cp. Deuteronomy 29:5.

forty years in the wilderness] See on Deuteronomy 2:7.

humble thee, to prove thee] Cp. Deuteronomy 8:3; Deuteronomy 8:16, Deuteronomy 13:3. On prove (whether as here of man by God, or of God by man) see on Deuteronomy 4:34, and Driver’s note on Exodus 17:2 (E). J also speaks of the manna as God’s proof of Israel. Exodus 16:4.

to know what was in thine heart] Cp. Deuteronomy 13:3 (4), and note on Deuteronomy 7:9.

whether thou wouldest keep his commandments] Steuernagel’s argument, that because the law was not yet given at the time of the provings described, therefore this clause must be regarded as a later addition, is quite insufficient. For either we may take it as implying some previous charges by God to Israel, without which Israel could not have set out in the wilderness (so Bertholet); or better, we may take these trials as of the people’s personal confidence in Jehovah and anticipatory to His entrusting them with His laws. Cp. Exodus 16:4, J.Israel had no need to be afraid of them, as Jehovah was in the midst of it a mighty God and terrible. He would drive out the nations, but only gradually, as He had already declared to Moses in Exodus 23:30-31, and would smite them with great confusion, till they were destroyed, as was the case for example at Gibeon (Joshua 10:10; cf. Exodus 23:27, where the form המם is used instead of הוּם), and would also deliver their kings into the hand of Israel, so that their names should vanish under the heaven (cf. Deuteronomy 9:14; Deuteronomy 25:19; and for the fulfilment, Joshua 10:22., Deuteronomy 11:12; Deuteronomy 12:7-24). No one would be able to stand before Israel.
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