Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. EXTERNAL EVIDENCES OF RELIGION HAVE BEEN SUPPLIED TO SOME PERSONS ABUNDANTLY.
1. The Hebrews had every possible demonstration of God's existence. The Most High deigned to reveal himself to the eye and to the ear, in forms adapted to produce complete conviction, and to overthrow all doubt. The people were more than content. They asked that such overpowering displays of the Godhead might be withdrawn.
2. They were convinced of the regal power of Jehovah. To resist him they plainly saw was an impossibility. Pharaoh was the personation of worldly power; yet Pharaoh and his captains and astrologers and host had been completely swept away by the breath of Jehovah's power. The irresistible might of Jehovah was as evident as their own existence.
3. They saw that the Omnipotent God was the Friend of men. That all the resources of Jehovah were employed on behalf of his friends, not one in the Hebrew camp could question. God had used every plan to persuade Pharaoh to yield compliance, and it was only after long waiting and repeated warning that vengeance was decreed.
4. They had plainest proof of the judicial faithfulness of God. For they had themselves suffered his chastisements. Resistance of Divine authority had been followed by judgment among the Hebrews, as among the Egyptians. Favoritism, exceptional treatment, escape from magisterial detection, - these things were out of question. The inviolable rectitude of God's administration was clear as noon-day.
II. EXTERNAL EVIDENCES SERVE AS A MEASURE OF RESPONSIBILITY.
1. They satisfy all the requirements of intellect. Responsibility depends on two things, viz.
(1) sufficient information;
(2) ability to obey.
If between opposing probabilities there is the smallest preponderance in favor of belief in God, such balance of probability must determine our conduct. Hereafter, hesitation is criminal. Every piece of additional evidence is additional responsibility. It relieves us from the weakness of recurring doubt. God makes due allowance for deficient knowledge. "The times of human ignorance God winked at," i.e. overlooked.
2. External demonstration does not ensure spiritual impression. The diligent inquirer will find a thousand evidences of duty where an indolent man will see none. So where within a man feeling is susceptible, a tithe of existing knowledge will suffice to produce glad obedience. It is incumbent on men to weigh well all the evidence of religion they possess, and to respond, in feeling and affection and active effort, to every claim which conscience recognizes.
3. It is a duty to ascertain our personal responsibility. We may find benefit in comparing our privileged position with the position of others. If, with the measure of knowledge we possess, we are still rebellious, what is likely to be the conduct of those less privileged? If we, to whom special revelation has been made, waste the possession, will not our own children pronounce our condemnation, because we have denied to them the help of our testimony?
III. EXTERNAL EVIDENCES MAY ONLY INJURE OUR SOULS.
1. Misuse of superior knowledge is a crime. If God has condescended to give us instruction respecting himself and his purposes of mercy, it is sheer ingratitude on our part to neglect it. Blindness has deprived us of the highest good.
2. Resistance of conscience does permanent injury to the soul. The abuse of any material instrument is an injury. The conscience is an instrument of the soul's life. To neglect its magisterial voice is to make ourselves deaf. To resist its instincts is to strangle them. Not to act according to our enlightened reason, is to injure reason as an instrument. If we recklessly nip the first buds of affection, we necessarily destroy its proper fruit. In thoughtless resistance of truth, men are preparing the elements of a direful doom. While obedience to God makes a man strong, rebellion effeminates all the nobler powers of the soul. It enervates, corrupts, destroys.
3. Unfaithfulness to convictions will necessitate severest retributions. It is an ascertained fact that punishment will be in proportion to desert. The servant ignorant of his Lord's special requirements is counted worthy of some stripes; but he who knew his Lord's will, and flagrantly neglected it, is awarded "many stripes." The mere possibility of Israel's unfaithfulness kindled the earnest anxiety of Moses. - D.
gratitude, which is God's invariable plan. But in these verses before us, Moses takes what we may call the converse method. He calls up in succession the judgments with which God visited both the Egyptians and their own forefathers on account of disobedience. He calls upon them to recognize (וִידַעְתֶּם) the "chastisement" (מוּסַר) with which God had signalized the disobedience of the Egyptians and of the Israelites. The following lessons are in these verses suggested.
I. GRATITUDE IS THE FOUNDATION OF NEW OBEDIENCE. This is God's plan. He does not say, "Obey, and I will save you for your obedience," but "Take salvation as a free gift, and then obey me as a matter of gratitude." "If ye love me, keep my commandments." He secures the love by sovereign mercy, and receives obedience as his return upon his investment. Obedience is God's dividend upon his investment of love. Those who would make "good works" the root of salvation instead of the fruit of salvation, are reversing the whole procedure of God.
II. GRATITUDE MAY BE REINFORCED BY A STUDY OF THE CONSEQUENCES OF INGRATITUDE IN OTHERS. For what God strikes at is ingratitude. The Egyptians were ungrateful. They should have recognized God's mercy in their fertile land, in their civilization and advancement, in the mission of Moses, and in the character of the earlier plagues. God had visited Egypt with his love - love which was undeserved, love which remained unrequited. When he revealed "his greatness, his mighty hand, and his stretched out arm," it was against Egypt's ingratitude and consequent disobedience. The denouement at the Red Sea was judgment upon ingratitude and persevering impiety. Now, the study of all this, here recommended by Moses, was well fitted to foster gratitude in the hearts of the Israelites. Here was unrequited love receiving its vindication in the series of disasters which culminated in the Red Sea. "We must be thankful," they might well say, "that our ingratitude in past years has not been similarly treated, and for the coming time we must cultivate gratitude and the obedience it secures."
III. GRATITUDE MAY ALSO BE REINFORCED BY A STUDY OF THE CONSEQUENCES OF SELF-CONFIDENCE. For this seems to be the idea of Moses in bringing forward the case of Dathan and Abiram. As descendants of Reuben, the firstborn of Jacob, they imagined that they had the right to the primacy in Israel. Hence they disputed the rights of Moses and of the priestly line of Aaron. They insisted on their right of primogeniture as valid in the government of God. But God recognizes no such personal claims, and he visited the presumption with swift destruction. The study of this "chastisement" would deliver Israel from all confidence in themselves. They would recognize that personal claims are not accepted by a sovereign God; that in consequence they must in humility approach him, thankful for spared lives and continued mercy, and anxious to testify by obedience to their genuine thankfulness.
IV. OBEDIENCE WILL BE FOUND TO BE THE SECRET OF STRENGTH AND SUCCESS IN THE INVASION. For while obedience rests on gratitude, it elicits gratitude from God. If God expects us to be grateful for his love, he shows us the example in being grateful for ours. "I love them that love me," he says (Proverbs 8:17); and again, "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him" (John 14:21; see also ver. 23). Now, this is what we do not hesitate to call Divine gratitude. Hence Israel found that obedience rendered thankfully to God received a grateful reward from him in strength to invade and conquer the land of Canaan, and, secondly, in strength to prolong their days in it. A similar experience is realized by God's servants still. Obedience is rewarded graciously and gratefully. Strength is found equal to our day, as we make our pilgrimage to God. How important, then, to obey from a proper motive, and at the same time to receive with proper delight the gracious return which a grateful God bestows! - R.M.E.
I. THREE PHASES OF GOD'S INSTRUCTION OF HIS CHURCH.
1. The shattering of worldly power hostile to the Church (vers. 3, 4). Pharaoh, in his pride and obstinacy, is a type of world-power universally, in its opposition to God's kingdom (Romans 9:17). But though again and again the waves have thus roared, and the floods have lifted up their voice (Psalm 93:3, 4), the Lord on high has shown himself mightier than the noise of many waters, yea, than the mighty waves of the sea (cf. Psalm 83.; Isaiah 37.; 1 Macc. 4.; Acts 4:23-34; Revelations 19:19; 20:8, 9).
2. The preservation and guidance of the Church itself (ver. 5). In securing the perpetuation of a godly remnant in times of greatest apostasy (1 Kings 19:18; Romans 11:5; Revelations 3:5; 11:3; 12:17); in providing her with a succession of godly teachers (Matthew 28:20; Ephesians 4:11-14); in supplying her necessities, spiritual (John 6:32, 33; 1 Corinthians 10:4; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Ephesians 3:16; Philippians 4:19) and temporal (Matthew 10:9, 10; Acts 4:34; 1 Corinthians 9:14; Philippians 4:15, 16); in opening up the path of duty (Acts 16:10; Romans 15:30, 31; 2 Corinthians 10:13-17), in conducting her from one stage of attainment to another (Ephesians 4:12, 13).
3. The overthrow of antichristian rebellion within the Church (ver. 6). The insurrection of Korah and his company may be taken as representative of antichristian movements generally. These are bound to arise, but will infallibly be crushed (2 Thessalonians 2:3-13; 1 John 2:18; Revelation 17.).
II. OBLIGATIONS ARISING FROM EXPERIENCE OF GOD'S WONDERFUL WORKS. The older portion of that generation had personally witnessed the wonderful works referred to. This gave them a certain advantage, and made disobedience doubly culpable. These works of God had been:
(1) in origin, supernatural;
(2) in kind, of stupendous magnitude; and
(3) had extended over a long period of time.
Those who have lived through any period signalized by remarkable workings of God on behalf of his Church, or whose individual experiences have been remarkable, may learn a lesson. Apply to reformation times, times of religious revival, of deliverance from persecutions, of the forth-putting of God's power in missions, etc. (2 Chronicles 31:25, 26; Ezra 3:10-13; Ezra 6:22; Esther 9:27; Psalm 40:10; Psalm 116:6-9; Acts 15:12). Such experiences:
1. Furnish peculiar evidences of God's grace and power, of the reality of his working in salvation and judgment. These evidences, while not losing their value to later generations, are necessarily of greatest force to those who witness the events.
2. Create impressions of God's character and attributes not so readily created by report. It is much to hear of the wonderful works of God from credible witnesses, but hearing with the ear cannot equal, in impressiveness and force, seeing with the eye (Job 42:5).
3. Imply a personal discipline which others have not had the benefit of. The lessons of our experiences may be conveyed to posterity, but the results of them in personal character remain with ourselves. All this lays on those who have had such experiences very special responsibilities. These relate
(1) to personal obedience (ver. 8); and
(2) to the education of children (vers. 18-21).
How are our children to know of God's mighty works in former days, or get the benefit of our own experiences; how are they to be convinced, moved, or instructed by these things, save as the result of diligent parental teaching? - J.O.
I. THAT COMMANDS MAY CARRY A SUPREME OBLIGATION, THOUGH SPOKEN BY MAN.
II. THAT OBEDIENCE IS VAIN, UNLESS IT COVERS THE WHOLE AREA OF DUTY.
III. THAT COMPLETE OBEDIENCE IMPARTS STRENGTH TO THE WHOLE MAN.
IV. THAT SUCH STRENGTH PRESSES INTO THE POSSESSION OF NEW KINGDOMS.
V. THAT THE OATH OF GOD, AND THE DEVOUT ACTIVITY OF MAN, CO-OPERATE FOR THE HIGHEST ACQUISITIONS. - D.
I. ITS CONTRAST WITH EGYPT. (Vers. 10, 11.) Not, like Egypt, a land rainless and artificially watered. It had no Nile. It drank in water from the rains of heaven. It was thus in a peculiar way a land dependent upon God. Egypt's fertility depended on God also, but less directly. Its contrivances for irrigation gave it, or might seem to give it, a semi-independence. Palestine was a land, on the contrary, whose peculiar conditions made it dependent for fruitfulness on the direct gift to it of rains from heaven. It was a land requiring a providential adjustment of conditions - a daily care - to make it yield the utmost it was capable of (ver. 12). The truth here figured is that God wills the believer to put his life day by day under his immediate care. The worldly man may desire, and in a measure may be allowed to attain, a position of relative independence of God: he may get (within limits) the ordering of his own plans and ways, and by ingenious contrivances and manipulations of laws of nature, he may think to put himself beyond the power of God's interference with him. But the godly man will neither desire this nor be content with it. He wishes God's eyes to be upon his lot day by day, "from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year." There is, within the ordinary providence of God, a special providence to be recognized over God's people, over Christ's Church, and over nations that adhere to God's ways.
II. THE RESULTS OF THIS CONTRAST TO THE INHABITANTS. (Vers. 13-18.) The directness of the dependence of Canaan on God's care made it, to a greater degree than Egypt could have been, suitable for the operation of a system so intimately bound up with temporal rewards and punishments. Should the people prove obedient, God engages to bless them with rains, and make the land fruitful (vers. 13-16). [But should they disobey, the peculiar conditions of the land put it in his power to scourge them, as he so often did, with drought and famine (1 Kings 17:1; Joel 1.; Haggai 1:10, 11). So he threatens (vers. 16, 17). It is a blessed but a perilous position which God's people are called to occupy. It secures to them unwonted favors, but it exposes them also, if disobedient, to chastisements and punishments of a peculiarly direct and severe kind. The higher the position of nearness to God, the greater the responsibility which that position entails upon who enjoy it. - J.O.
I. A MORAL PURPOSE UNDERLIES THE GEOLOGICAL CONFIGURATION OF OUR GLOBE. God can never experience surprise in the beneficial coincidences of events. "Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world." If heaven has been undergoing a process of preparation from a period anterior to the formation of our globe, we need feel no surprise that, in arranging the strata of the earth, God should have been animated with motives of righteous benevolence towards men. And if the structure of hill and valley is the visible projection of a generous moral purpose - a part of the plan for the religions education of men - we may conclude that all the forces and phenomena of nature have vital connection with the religious development of our race. Israel was sent into Canaan because amongst its hills and valleys its history and fortunes could best be unfolded.
II. GOD'S PATERNAL CARE OF MEN EXTENDS TO THE WHOLE OF THEIR ENVIRONMENT. The sagacious love of God condescends to every minutiae of human life. Our God has infinite leisure for everything. His eyes are daily upon our farms and shops. He is our Bulwark and defends our coasts. He knoweth what we have need of.
III. THE RICHEST EARTHLY POSSESSION LEAVES MEN WHOLLY DEPENDENT ON GOD. Instead of our possessions liberating us from dependence on God, they increase our dependence; for now we need his protection for our property as well as for ourselves. Possessions (so called) are only channels through which true blessing flows, and our great business is to keep the channel clear. The hills of Canaan obtained their irrigation from the springs of heaven, and only obedient faith can unlock these springs.
IV. FILIAL OBEDIENCE SECURES MATERIAL PROSPERITY. Such prosperity is the picture and symbol of spiritual good. But material benefits were the only rewards which these Hebrews could appreciate. "Godliness is" still "profitable for al things." The source of all real prosperity is in heaven.
V. EVEN SECRET SIN SETS IN MOTION A SERIES OF GIGANTIC EVILS. The heart is easily taken by semblances and promises of good. The falsehoods of Satan are very plausible. A sentinel needs to be placed at every portal of the soul. Self-deception ends in total destruction. We do not sin alone, nor suffer alone. - D.
I. THAT CANAAN WAS A SPLENDID LAND IN WHICH TO TRAIN UP A SPIRITUAL PEOPLE. It was not naturally so fertile as either the valley of the Nile or the valley of the Euphrates. Hence famine touched it more quickly than either Egypt or Assyria. But it was fitted to foster dependence upon God and hope in him. If the inhabitants were obedient, then the land might flow with milk and honey; if disobedient, it might become brown and bare through the withholding of the rain. Hence we find, in Egypt and in Assyria, a turning of the people to the worship of the inorganic and the organic forces of nature respectively. The valleys, being in some measure more independent of the changing seasons, seem to have nurtured independence of God; while the hills of Syria, like the Highlands of Scotland and of Switzerland, fostered more faith in the Supreme. "Those Syrian hills," says a living writer, "are the Spirit's throne, where, lifted above the deserts of earth, it sits nearest to heaven, while spread beneath it on either hand, resting on the desert's level as their home, are nature's twin provinces of matter and life, rich and green with the beauty and greenness of time, always imposing and often victorious in the region of sense; but doomed, like all things visible and temporal, to fall before the power which shall yet clothe itself with their glory, and which is itself unseen and eternal."
II. THE BLESSINGS WERE GUARANTEED ON CONDITION OF MAN LOYALLY CO-OPERATING WITH GOD. Canaan was no land for indolent lotus-eaters; it was not -
"A land where all things always seem'd the same!" It was a land where man must co-operate with God in order to the blessing -'s land where man realized the dignity of being a "fellow-worker with God." It would be a land of promise and of real blessing on no other condition. If man were asked for no effort, if everything grew to please his taste and palate spontaneously, if daily bread came without even the trouble of asking, it would be a land of danger and of moral death. Better was it for Israel to have themselves bound by a wholesome destiny to dependence on God and co-operation with him, than if the land bore spontaneously all man's needs. III. WE NEED LOOK FOR NO OTHER LAND OF PROMISE IN THIS WORLD OR THE NEXT. The idea of "independence" is the great danger of the human heart. We would be indebted to nobody, not even God, if we could. Alas, for our pride! Now, it so happens that we cannot become independent of God's bounty, no matter how hard we try. And it is best so. The land of promise is the land where we depend humbly upon God, and are thus most independent of persons and things around us) The land of promise is where we do our honest share of public work, and get our share of the fruits of industry. And in the life beyond death we need not desire an inglorious idleness, which is some folk's notion of "everlasting rest," but we shall have there the privilege of serving God "day and night in his temple." A life of consecration is the true" land of promise." It is the only deep enjoyment, it is the only worthy inheritance. Let us then resolve (1) to trust God so lovingly as never to harbor even in thought the hope of independence of him; and (2) to co-operate with him as life's highest privilege and honor. We have entered "the land of promise" when we have learned to trust God; and we are enjoying it when we have learned to be "fellow-workers with him." - R.M.E.
III. WE NEED LOOK FOR NO OTHER LAND OF PROMISE IN THIS WORLD OR THE NEXT. The idea of "independence" is the great danger of the human heart. We would be indebted to nobody, not even God, if we could. Alas, for our pride! Now, it so happens that we cannot become independent of God's bounty, no matter how hard we try. And it is best so. The land of promise is the land where we depend humbly upon God, and are thus most independent of persons and things around us) The land of promise is where we do our honest share of public work, and get our share of the fruits of industry. And in the life beyond death we need not desire an inglorious idleness, which is some folk's notion of "everlasting rest," but we shall have there the privilege of serving God "day and night in his temple." A life of consecration is the true" land of promise." It is the only deep enjoyment, it is the only worthy inheritance. Let us then resolve
(1) to trust God so lovingly as never to harbor even in thought the hope of independence of him; and
(2) to co-operate with him as life's highest privilege and honor. We have entered "the land of promise" when we have learned to trust God; and we are enjoying it when we have learned to be "fellow-workers with him." - R.M.E.
I. TRUTH, POSSESSING THE HEART, BECOMES THE FOUNT OF ALL RIGHTEOUS PRINCIPLE. As the pulverized soil is the proper home of seed; as the housewife's dough is the proper home of leaven; so the heart of man is the proper abode of truth. On stony tablets, in books, or in speech, it is only in transit towards its proper destination. Received and welcomed into the soul, it begins a process of blessed activity; it vitalizes, ennobles, beautifies every part of human nature. It is the seed of all virtue and goodness - the root of immortal blessedness.
II. RIGHTEOUS PRINCIPLE DOMINATES ALL OUR ACTIVE POWERS. The hand is the servant of the heart. What the mind plans, the hand executes. To bind God's precepts upon our hands is to remind ourselves that the hand, as the representative of active faculty, belongs to God. Embargo is laid upon it to do no violence to others' persons or to others' property. It must not strike nor steal, for it has become an instrument sacred to God. Nor must it be defiled with idleness, for it is the property of him who incessantly works, nor may the eye wantonly wander after forbidden objects. The eye led Eve into transgression. "Let thine eye look straight before thee." "Look not upon the wine when it sparkles in the cup." The eye is a potent instrument for evil or for good.
III. RIGHTEOUS PRINCIPLE, SPRINGING OUT OF LOVE OF TRUTH, MAKES US WITNESSES FOR GOD. As on the high priest's forehead there was inscribed the motto, "Holiness unto the Lord;" so, in substance, the same truth is written on every servant of God. He is a consecrated man. His finely arched brow is his glory, and his glory is devoted to God. In every circumstance he desires to magnify his God. His house is God's house; hence on gate and lintel the precepts of God are conspicuous. Hospitality and contentment, peace and kindness, dwell there, for it is the home of God.
IV. RIGHTEOUS PRINCIPLE MOLDS POSTERITY. What we are, in great measure our children will be. Moral qualities are entailed. In their tender years, their young nature is plastic and impressible. If our hearts are full of God's truth, it will rise and overflow our lips as water from a well. Far from being an irksome task to speak God's truth, it will be a pleasurable instinct. All time, from early morn till evening repose, will be too short to utter all God's truth. "Living epistles" describe the office of the godly.
V. RIGHTEOUS PRINCIPLE SECURES PERMANENT ENJOYMENT. Truth in the heart is translated into righteousness in the life, and righteousness makes heaven. No enjoyment can be perfect in which our children do not share; and in sharing our joys with our children, we multiply our joys beyond all arithmetical measure. Such days of consecrated service will be "days of heaven upon earth." - D.
Deuteronomy 6:6-25, Moses again insists on the words of God being preserved among the people by faithful family instruction. The "home school" is, in fact, the great factor in national success. Education must give due prominence to the family institution, as the providential unit of mankind. And here let us notice -
I. GOD'S WORDS ARE TO BE RECEIVED FIRST OF ALL INTO THE HEART. It is when individuals, and especially parents, receive God's testimony into the heart, as Lydia did Cf. Sir Henry Taylor's 'Notes from Life,' Essay 2., 'Humility and Independence.' (Acts 16:14), that it is likely to bloom out in a fitting public profession. It is "with the heart man believeth unto righteousness," and then "with the mouth confession is made unto salvation" (Romans 10:10). As the ark received the tables of the Law, so the heart of man is to be the depository of the Divine commandments.
II. GOD'S WORDS ARE TO BE KEPT BEFORE OUR OWN EYES AND THE EYES OF OTHERS. This seems to be the idea about the frontiers between the eyes - in this way others had the words displayed for their benefit; whereas the placing them upon the hand was for the individual's own memorial (cf. Isaiah 49:16). So the person heartily interested in God's Word will make arrangements to remind himself continually of it, and also to keep it before the minds of others. Religion thus becomes not only a constant personal experience, but a constant public profession.
III. GOD'S WORDS ARE TO BE THE STAPLE OF HOME TRAINING. The children are to be taught them at home, when the "home school" is gathered together. God's words are also to be the staple of conversation when parents and children are enjoying their saunters together. And the first thought of the morning and the last at night should be of God's commandments. In this way the indoctrination of the rising generation is to be secured. Well would it be for us still if these old Jewish rules were practiced.
IV. THE HOUSEHOLD IS TO MAKE PUBLIC PROFESSION OF RELIGION AS WELL AS THE INDIVIDUAL. Some individuals content themselves with a personal concern in religion, and are willing to be members of a household which does not collectively identify itself with God. But the Jew was to write God's commandments on the doorposts and on the gates of his house. The household was thus to be God's. The fact is that households need conversion just as individuals do. There is as much difference between a religious household and a worldly one as there is between a converted and an unconverted individual. The direction given consequently to the Jews covered the household as well as the person, and was thus perfect.
V. THE RESULT OF SUCH FAITHFULNESS WILL BE COMPLETE SUCCESS, The Lord engages to drive out the nations from before them, even though they be greater and mightier than Israel. He will make the obedient ones resistless. He will make the fear of them to fall like a nightmare on their enemies, and not one of them will be able to stand before them. And surely all this is but a type of the success which still waits upon God's obedient people. Not, of course, that temporal success is the form of success desired or granted now. Many of God's people continue poor, but they succeed in life nevertheless. When they have grace to show a contented spirit amid their limited resources, they succeed in demonstrating that God is all-sufficient, and are the best testimony to the reality of religion before men. When the saints can sing with Habakkuk, "Although the fig tree shall not blossom," etc., "yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation" (Hebrews 3:17, 18), they have really prospered in all life's essentials. It is thus in various ways the Lord fulfils his covenant engagements, and. makes all that his people do to prosper (Psalm 1:3). Obedience is consequently the charter of success. But we leave to our loving Father to determine what our success will be. We do not insist on its assuming the form of gold and silver, venison and champagne. The success of self-conquest, the success of being public benefactors, the success of serving our generation by the will of God ere we fall on sleep, - this is better far than the success of invading hosts with the laurels dipped in gore.
"Not fruitless is thy toil "For each net vainly cast, "The time, the place, the way,
"For each net vainly cast,
"The time, the place, the way,
I. VICTORY OVER ALL ENEMIES. (Ver. 23.) The strongest spiritual foes will go down if we cleave to God. Though greater and mightier than we, they shall be overthrown.
II. ENLARGEMENT OF BOUNDS. (Ver. 23.) They would grow numerous, fill the land, and spread beyond it. A wider prospect is held out to the Church. Her possession is the earth. If faithful, she has the means within herself to spread abroad her conquests, and occupy from sea to sea.
III. MORAL SUPREMACY. (Ver. 25.) Israel's power would be acknowledged - her influence felt. Men would dread her hostility. The felt presence of God in a man, or in a Church, has a power to inspire fear. Its awing effect is felt often where it is not acknowledged. - J.O.
I. LOYAL OBEDIENCE GENERATES LOVE. It is quite true that love is the mother of obedience; it is also true that obedience fosters and intensifies love. The earth receives heat from the sun, but it gives out heat likewise. The sentiment of love in the breast will dwindle and die unless it have practical exercise. Diligent and thoughtful service will bring us nearer God, make God more precious to us, and bind us to him in tenderer bonds. There is an interlacement of affection. Our desires send deep their roots in God, and an indissoluble alliance is the result.
II. UNION WITH GOD SECURES HIS PRACTICAL AID. We are required" to cleave to him." The effect is that he will cleave to us, and prove a real Ally, an almighty Helper. He will drive out all our foes for us, however great and mighty they be. Our foes become his foes. He identifies himself with our cause; or, what is the same thing, we identify ourselves with his.
III. DIVINE ASSISTANCE MAKES US ALL-CONQUERING. "No man shall be able to stand before us." Good men will be drawn to us in sacred friendship; bad men will be held fast in the mysterious spell of awe. We shall be known as the friends and allies of God; and, in proportion as we are like him, men will feel for us the dread they feel for God.
IV. SUCH VALIANT STRENGTH WILL INTRODUCE US TO UNIVERSAL INHERITANCE. "Every place whereon the soles of our feet shall tread shall be ours." In such covenant alliance with God, we shall walk through his universe as "his heirs." Every element of material substance, every event in time, every circumstance and experience, shall conduce to our profit. The world shall be laid under tribute to our best life. We shall extract advantage and joy from adversity itself. - D.
I. GOD SUMMONS US TO DECISION.
1. His revelations lay the ground for it. "Light is come into the world" (John 3:19).
3. They shut men up to it. When light comes, decision is inevitable. We must settle what our attitude towards it will be. In decreeing not to choose, we in reality do choose.
II. THE DECISION TO WHICH GOD SUMMONS US TURNS ON A SINGLE POINT. The point is obedience. Will we obey or will we not (ver. 27)? It was so under the Law, and it is so under the gospel. What the gospel asks from us is" the obedience of faith" (Romans 16:26). This tests our disposition thoroughly. True faith carries with it the surrender of the will to God and Christ. It is the root and principle of all holy obedience. Men will not come to Christ; why? The reason is that they cannot bring themselves to yield up their wills to him as he requires. They "love the darkness rather than the light" (John 3:19-22). Refusal to decide for Christ is equivalent, for the time being, to deciding against him (Matthew 12:30).
III. THE DECISION TO WHICH GOD SUMMONS US INVOLVES THE ALTERNATIVE OF A BLESSING AND A CURSE. That was what it came to then, and it is the same still. Blessing or curse; life or death. Whether God is to be our God, blessing us, renewing our inward life, enriching us with his Spirit, bestowing on us grace here and glory hereafter; or whether we are to live beneath his frown, withering up under it in body and soul, and vanishing at last into outer darkness. It is an old question whether a man can voluntarily choose what is for his hurt. Possibly he cannot without first listening to the tempter who bids him believe that the course he pursues will not be for his hurt. But none the less is every sinner taking the path which ends in destruction (Matthew 7:13). His interest, did he but see it, or would he but believe it, is entirely in the line which God wishes him to follow. The terminus of the one road is death (Romans 6:21), of the other life everlasting (Romans 11:22). - J.O.
I. THE REVELATION OF GOD'S WILL MAY BE A SOURCE OF ABSOLUTE BLESSING. Such revelation is the disclosure of man's true paradise. It is the opening of the door of God's own palace; and, unworthy though we are, we may enter and find rest. To do God's will is to be Christ-like - is to be a true son, and to possess a son's joy. Every step we take along that way of obedience is a step nearer God, from whose smile we obtain exquisite pleasure, and in whose society we find our heaven.
II. WE CANNOT REMAIN THE SAME, AFTER OBTAINING THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD'S WILL, AS WE WERE BEFORE. Necessity requires that we should be either better or worse. You cannot dwell for an hour in the society of a good man, and continue in the former state of feeling. The fire that does not melt, hardens. To know God's will, and not to do it, inflicts unspeakable mischief upon the soul. Resistance of inward convictions begets callosity of heart, and blasts the budding life of conscience. Wanton treason against God is incipient hell. It is the darkening of the understanding, and the enslavement of the will. No blacker curse can enwrap a man than this.
III. MATERIAL NATURE FORECASTS THE ALTERNATIVES OF BLESSING OR WOE. The visible universe is a projection of God's thought, and all the forces of nature are the agents of God. We find upon this globe elements that minister to our development and strength and joy. We find also elements that are repulsive, menacing, and destructive. The cloud-capped peaks may draw around us the lightnings of vengeance, or may melt the laden cloud and distil showers of blessing. The twin mountains of Ebal and Gerizim were baptized as perpetual preachers of life and death. We may find "sermons in stones," lessons in leaves, counsels in running brooks.
IV. MATERIAL POSSESSIONS ARE NOT ABSOLUTE BLESSINGS. God here distinctly assures the Hebrews that they shall enter Canaan; but whether they should dwell under the frowning peaks of Ebal, or on the sunny slopes of Gerizim, was suspended on their loyal obedience. Even to the possessors of the Promised Land, there stood the dark possibility of the curse. Neither money nor learning makes a man; it is the power to use it. - D.
I. GOD'S MINISTERS, LIKE MOSES, ARE CONSTANTLY TO SET BEFORE THE PEOPLE THE SOLEMN ALTERNATIVE OF A BLESSING OR A CURSE. The gospel is the offer of a blessing to those who are willing to trust God as he asks them to do; while, on the other hand, it is of necessity backed up by a threatened curse, if men refuse to trust him, and will not humble themselves before him. Each one chooses for himself either the blessing or the curse, and there is no use in laying the blame on others.
II. THE REJECTION OF THE GOSPEL IS AFTER ALL A PREFERENCE OF OTHER GODS TO THE ONLY LIVING AND TRUE GOD. The idolatry which was the danger and temptation of Israel is reproduced in all who reject the mercy manifested in Christ. Some other object of worship has really been selected; the 'world, or wealth, or self, or power is expected to do for the unbelieving soul what God alone can. His attributes are made over to these creatures, and a false confidence takes the place which the true should occupy. Unbelief is really idolatry at bottom.
III. THE SOCIAL STUDY OF GOD'S PROMISES AND THREATENINGS IS MOST IMPORTANT. Moses, to impress the people more, directs them to assemble at Gerizim and Ebal, and there, dividing into two congregations, to go through the blessings and the curses publicly. The solemnities of that occasion would doubtless be greatly sanctified. In the very same way, the private study of God's Word is not sufficient. "The Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob" (Psalm 87:2). The solemn and leisurely study of God's Word in public is owned more than any private study of the Word can be. Both are needful, but our expectation should be highest in connection with the public preaching of God's Word. When a minister takes the people in an interesting manner through the truth contained in a paragraph, or even in a verse, there is much more realized than in the more hurried private reading. The sanctions of social worship are most important, and he is not in a safe way who despises them.
IV. NATURAL ASSOCIATIONS MAY OFTEN BE HELPFUL TO THE CAUSE OF TRUTH. Scenes of great historic deeds become in a measure sanctified. They are "holy places' to the human race. Battle-fields, birthplaces, senates, forums, as well as churches, become hallowed to the historic mind. The laws of association secure a perennial influence. The soul must be dead indeed who can visit such scenes unmoved. It was this law of association which Moss brought, into play in connection with Gerizim and Ebal. Never afterwards would they be visited by the descendants of these Israelites without a solemn feeling, and a recall of some at least of the blessings and the curses uttered there. Without any sympathy, therefore, with the "consecration of places as generally understood, which may savor largely of superstition, we cannot but admit that natural associations should not be disregarded. Indeed, it is in this way the world is becoming richer with the years. Places are becoming every year associated with noble deeds - Gerizims are being multiplied as scenes of blessing; on the other hand, Ebals are also increasing, like beacons, on the dangerous places of human experience; but both undoubtedly meant by Providence to influence for good, and, through the law of association, our race. And some souls have the place of mercy" marked clearly in their experience, and can sing -
"Oh, sacred hour I oh, hallowed spot, And when from earth I rise to soar
And when from earth I rise to soar
Deuteronomy 27.). This putting of the blessing and the curse on Gerizim and Ebal had significance -
I. AS A SOLEMN TRANSFERENCE OF THE BLESSING AND THE CURSE TO THE LAND OF POSSESSION. Blessing and curse, representing the award of eternal righteousness, must follow us so long as disobedience is possible. "If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die" (Romans 8:13). "That which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned" (Hebrews 6:8). In heaven there is "no more curse" (Revelation 22:3), but only because, confirmed in holiness, God's servants can no more fall away.
II. AS A SOLEMN REMINDER OF TEE TENURE ON WHICH THE LAND WAS HELD. We cannot render perfect obedience, but our duty is to aim at it. The condition of inheritance is that we are doers of the Father's will (Matthew 7:21).
III. As CONNECTED WITH A SOLEMN RENEWAL OF VOWS. Fitting on such occasions that both blessing and curse should be remembered. - J.O.