Deuteronomy 30
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
The blackness of the picture of Israel's rejection and desolation is relieved by this rim of gold on the further edge. The verses seem to teach, not only that if Israel repent, mercy awaits it, but that Israel will repent; that a day of repentance is ordained for it - a day in which the veil that has been so long left lying on Jewish hearts will be lifted off, and the nation will mourn for him whom it has pierced and has so long rejected (Zechariah 12:9-14; Romans 11:25-33; 2 Corinthians 3:14-16). The result will be the incorporation of the Israelitish people into Christ's kingdom, with possibly restoration to the land given them as a national possession, and blessings, temporal and spiritual, beyond those bestowed upon their fathers (ver. 5). In a wider regard, the passage teaches -

I. THAT IN MAN'S CONVERSION, IT IS THE SINNER, NOT GOD, WHO CHANGES. Israel is saved at last, not by any lowering of the standard of holiness, or by any change in God's requirements, or by any new and easier way of life being discovered than that originally provided, but by Israel coming round to God's way of thinking, and doing in the end what God pleaded with it to do at first (ver. 2). After all their sorrowful experiences, the people are brought to this: that they must submit to do what they were told in the beginning that they ought to do. It is so always. There can be no change on God's part. If the sinner is to be saved, it is he who must forsake his thoughts and his ways (Isaiah 55:7). He must do at last what he now feels he has not the least inclination to do - what, as years go on, he is getting the more disinclined even to think about. Will he do it? Is it likely? Is it certain? If ever it is to come about, what agonies of soul must be gone through before so great a revolution can be produced!

II. THAT CONVERSION IS SOMETIMES A RESULT OF THE EXPERIENCE OF THE HARDNESS OF TRANSGRESSION. It is in the far-off country, broken, peeled, and scattered, that Israel, like the prodigal (Luke 15:14-19), remembers the Father's house. Is not this a reason why God sometimes leaves a sinner to eat of the fruit of his own devices - to take the reins upon his own neck, and plunge wildly away into sin's wildernesses? - that he may taste the hardness of such courses, the bitterness, the emptiness, the essential unsatisfyingness of a life of evil, and so, if by no gentler methods, be brought back to ways of righteousness? The penalties which attend sin are, while retributive, also designed in this world for the sinner's correction (Hosea 2:6-23; Hosea 14.).

III. THAT THE MOMENT THE SINNER RETURNS, GOD IS READY TO FORGIVE HIM. We must not, indeed, post-date the mercy of God, as if that waited on the sinner's self-moved return as a condition of showing him any kindness. God's gracious action goes before conversion - leading, drawing, striving, enlightening, aiding; nay, it is this gracious action which leads to conversion. This is of itself a pledge that when conversion comes, he who has thus drawn us to himself will not say us "nay." But we have express assurances, backed by numerous examples, that whoso cometh he will in no wise east out (Psalm 32:5; John 6:37; 1 John 1:9). There is:

1. Forgiveness, with reversal of sentence of rejection (ver. 3).

2. Redemption from bondage (vers. 3, 4; Colossians 1:13).

3. Restoration to inheritance (ver. 5; Ephesians 1:14).

4. A new heart and spirit (ver. 6).

5. Deliverance from enemies (ver. 7; 2 Thessalonians 1:5, 6).

6. Untold blessings (ver. 9; Ephesians 1:3). - J.O.

Human anger is often an uncontrollable passion. God's anger is directed, not so much against the man, as against his sin. God's anger is the acting of sound principle - a part of his righteousness. Hence, as soon as chastisement produces its designed effect, it ceases. Instantly that the wayward child turns to its Father, the Father turns to his child.


1. Disobedience brings degradation. Moses foresaw that the elect of God would become, for their sin, captives in a foreign land. No chastisement would be more galling to their pride. Their renown as conquerors had spread far and wide. To be crushed, enchained, and exiled was humiliation unspeakable. Such degradation is the native fruit of sin.

2. The curse would be felt the more as a contrast to former blessing. The ploughboy does not bemoan his lot, but for a prince to be tied to a plough would be a galling pain. So the prodigal boy, in the parable, was stung by the remembrance of former plenty.

3. Impression would be deepened by the recollection that this misery had been predicted. It was evidently no casual occurrence. They had brought the disaster upon themselves. They could lay the blame nowhere but on their own folly. Unless the moral nature be utterly dead, such experiences often lead to reflection, sorrow, and repentance.

II. REPENTANCE INCLUDES PRACTICAL REFORMATION. Repentance that expends itself in idle grief is a counterfeit. True repentance takes instant decision to retrace false steps. Darkness had come by turning away from the sun; now the penitent man turns fully toward it. He does not wait for others to act. He is not going to be deterred by others' indifference or by noisy ridicule. Call him "turncoat," if you will; there are worse characters in the world than turncoats. He is more afraid of God's anger than of man's paltry spleen. It is not only a halt in the downward course, but "right-about face." He returns unto the Lord. He now docilely listens to his voice; he honestly endeavors to practice all the Father's will. "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" is his daily prayer. His whole heart goes out in repentance. To repair past follies - this is his special work. So earnest is he in his new life, so marked a change and so beneficent is there in his character, that his children feel the impression, and catch the blessed contagion. As formerly his influence over his family was most baneful, so now it becomes vernal sunshine, like the fragrance of sweetest flowers.

III. REPENTANCE SECURES THE REVERSAL OF THE CURSE. NO sooner do men return to God than God returns to them. Only level the barrier which sin has set up, and reunion of man with God is restored. The return of favor shall be most complete. No matter how far the curse had taken effect; no matter how far the separation had proceeded; no matter to what extremity of woe the rebels have been driven; - from thence will Jehovah gather them, - reconciliation shall be thorough. Omnipotence will outpour itself in benedictions. Let the frost of winter be ever so severe, the summer sun shall melt it. He who created the universe out of nothing can reverse all the wheels of adversity; and, out of ruins, rebuild a glorious city. As sin is the only source of disorder and woe, so repentance is the extinction of the cause of woe. If God takes in hand to restore his people to peace, all opposition is vain. The thing is done.

IV. REPENTANCE LEADS TO ENTIRE RENEWAL OF A MAN'S NATURE. "The Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed." Honest endeavors after a righteous life shows to us a corrupt heart - a heart prone to love evil. The man who begins to pray for pardon soon learns to pray for purity. Nothing will satisfy the mind (when divinely illumined) short of complete regeneration. The repentant Jew discovered that the circumcision of the flesh effected nothing to deter from sin; Now he perceives that circumcision of heart is the only real safeguard. At a later day, this inward change was more clearly pictured: "I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh." To the same effect Jesus promised: "If ye... keep my commandments, I will send you another Comforter, even the Spirit of truth, who dwelleth with you, and shall be in you."

V. REPENTANCE IN MEN AWAKENS PUREST JOY IN GOD. "The Lord will again rejoice over thee for good." So Jesus himself affirmed: "There is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth." For reasons which we cannot fathom, the well-being of man is a matter of the liveliest interest with God. Union of nature, and of interest between man and God is intimate. "His glory is great in our salvation." To bring all his purposes and enterprises to a successful issue - tiffs is a source of loftiest joy to God. "He will rejoice over us with singing." The gladness of Jehovah at the completeness and beauty of creation was great; a hundredfold greater will be his joy at the final success of redemption. Messiah will "see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied." - D.

So certain is the apostasy and the judgment on the land, that Moses assumes it as an accomplished fact, thereupon proceeding to predict a restoration of the "scattered nation" in case of their repentance. There must be the penitent return to God, and then God will restore them and bless them abundantly. It was this principle which was carried out in the restoration from Babylon, and which will be carried out in any future restoration of Israel. We have here the raison d'etre of Jewish missions.

I. THE PENITENCE OF ISRAEL IS THE PRELIMINARY TO THIS RESTORATION. Their captivity and dispersion having arisen from their forsaking God, it is only reasonable that their penitence should precede their restoration. Into the question of the re-establishment of the Jews in Palestine we need not here enter. Dr. Brown, who has written so well on the second advent, and shown conclusively, we think, that it will not be pre-millennial, has also advocated a restoration of Israel to their own land. However this may be, of one thing we may be certain, that the spiritual restoration of Israel will precede any local restoration. They will be restored to God before being restored - if restored they are to be - to Palestine.

II. TO THE EVANGELIZATION OF THE JEWS, CHRISTIAN CHURCHES SHOULD INTELLIGENTLY DEVOTE THEMSELVES. The winning of them by and to the gospel is the most important service we can render them. No movement of the political chess-board is half so important as the winning of them back to God. When, moreover, the local restoration is problematical, while the spiritual restoration is the indispensable preliminary to any further good fortune, - the duty of Christians is most clear. The gospel of Jesus must be adapted to the peculiar circumstances of Israel, and pressed upon their attention with all the sweet persuasiveness Christian grace ensures.

III. JEWISH MISSIONS ARE THE TRUE COMPENSATION FOR THE PERSECUTION OF THE JEWS, TO WHICH, ALAS! THEY ARE STILL IN SOME QUARTERS SUBJECTED. For it must be remembered that the persecution of Israel, though allowed as a just retribution for their rejection of God, may be prosecuted in such an unholy spirit as to entail upon the persecutors the merited curse of God. Because there may be Shylocks among the Jews is no reason why men should wreak their vengeance on them. Indeed, the Lord threatens to put the curses upon their persecutors, when they have turned unto him. If this be so, then it is the duty of Christian people to repudiate all persecution of the Jews as such, and to organize such mission work as may bring the truth and claims of God before the mind and heart of his ancient people. This will prove the true compensation to them. It will solace them under suffering and trial, and enable them to forget in the joys of a new life the pains and judgments of the old. Besides, the mission work undertaken by God's people may avert the judgments of Almighty God deserved by the nations that have persecuted the Jews. It is a matter of great thankfulness that England and America have an open door for Israel, and no sympathy with their present oppressors.

IV. THE FUTURE OF ISRAEL IS TO EXCEED IN GLORY THE PAST. This seems clear from this passage. The Jewish development is to exceed all past developments. They are to have a mighty population, great wealth, and God is to rejoice over them for good again. We do not regard a national organization as essential to influence. Christianity is now, for example, the mightiest factor in human society, and yet it is not, organized nationally. Should the Jews by their rare linguistic powers, by their patient courage, by their singleness of aim, become when converted to Christianity the predominant missionary factor in the world, then we can see in such a restoration a more powerful and blessed influence than if they furnished to the world a new line of famous kings. It is not dynasties, but the devotion of the people, which goes to make a people mighty. The kingdoms over which men rule may not be defined in statute-book or in treaties. There are kingships exercised by humble, devoted, cross-bearing men, which explain the kingship of the crucified Nazarene. It is to this spiritual domination that we trust Israel shall yet come. And this shall prove its glory. For glory consists not in the employment of physical and mechanical force, but in the exercise of self-denial and devotedness of spirit. As Carlyle has said in 'Sartor Resartus,' "The first preliminary moral act, annihilation of self (Selbst-todtung), had been happily accomplished; and my mind's eyes were now unsealed and its hands ungyved." It is they who have realized this who are on the path of real glory. From their money-lending and money-grubbing the Jews, by Christianity, shall yet be delivered, to devote themselves in a more excellent way to the interests of mankind. - R.M.E.

Paul, in Romans 10:6-10, applies these words to the "righteousness of faith," and contrasts them with the voice of the Law, which is, "The man which doeth those things shall live by them" (Romans 10:5). That this application is not a mere accommodation of the words of Moses to a new subject, will be evident from a brief consideration.

I. ISRAEL AND THE "RIGHTEOUSNESS OF FAITH." The constitution under which Israel was placed, while formally a legal, was practically an evangelical one. On the legal footing, on any other footing than that of the "righteousness of faith," the statement that the commandment was neither far to seek nor difficult to obey would not have been true. The Law, as requiring perfect holiness, obedience unvarying and uninterrupted, prescribed as the condition of life (Romans 10:5) that which no one on earth, saint or sinner - the sinner's Savior only excepted - has ever rendered. It was certainly "nigh," but, as a "ministration of death" - "of condemnation" (2 Corinthians 3:7, 9), its nighness was no boon. How, then, was the curse averted or acceptance made possible? Not by the ability of the Israelite to yield an obedience adequate to the Law's requirements, but by the introduction of the principle of grace. Sin was forgiven, and, shortcoming notwithstanding, the sincere worshipper accepted in "his full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience;" or rather, in view of his faith, of that spiritual trust in Jehovah in which these strivings after obedience had their origin (Genesis 15:6; Psalm 32:1, 2). The hidden ground of this acceptance was Christ, now manifested in the preaching of the gospel (Romans 10.). From this point of view, the commandment no longer towered above the Israelite, stern and forbidding, launching out curses against him, and filling him with dread and dismay; but its precepts were sweet and consolatory to him, and only filled him with the greater delight and love the longer he meditated on them or practiced himself in obeying them (Psalm 19:7-14; Psalm 119.). It is in this evangelical spirit we are undoubtedly to read these exhortations of Moses, whose standpoint, therefore, essentially harmonizes with that of Paul.

II. ISRAEL AND THE NIGHNESS OF THE COMMANDMENT. "He hath showed thee, O man, what is good" (Micah 6:8). God had written to Israel the great things of his Law (Hosea 8:12). He had made known his Name, his precepts, the conditions of acceptable service, the way of life; had given that people a revelation, full, clear, adequate, adapted to their mental stature, and to their condition as sinners. This takes for granted the underlying evangelical element above referred to. Without that, the "commandment" would but have mocked their weakness. And it is this evangelical element in Moses' "commandment" which comes clearly to light in Christ, and which is embodied in Paul's doctrine of the "righteousness of faith." The words of this passage apply with increased force to the historical revelation of the Savior. They strikingly suggest:

1. That man needs a revelation.

2. That he instinctively craves for one: "Who shall go up?" etc.

3. That he would sometimes make great sacrifices in order to get one: "Go up to heaven;" "go over the sea."

But the revelation which man needs most of all is the revelation of a Savior. He wants to know how he can escape from sin, from guilt, from wrath, from bondage; how he can be restored to holiness, to peace, to blessedness. The "commandment," in its wider sense, gave him this knowledge in part; the full discovery is in the gospel. The Word, in the preaching of this gospel, as well as in the circulation of copies of the Scriptures, and the innumerable opportunities enjoyed in Christian lands of getting acquainted with the way of life, has now come very nigh to us. It is in our mouths and in our hearts, while the salvation which the Word makes known is as readily available as the Word itself is simple and intelligible. "If thou shalt confess," etc. (Romans 10:9).

III. ISRAEL AND THE PRACTICABLENESS OF OBEDIENCE. The word which Moses gave was one which could be obeyed - nay, obedience to which was easy. Only, however, provided there was circumcision of heart (ver. 6) - a sincere willingness to know and to do God's will (John 7:17). To the natural heart the commandment is hard, and must always remain so. This, again, shows that the obedience Moses has in view is the spiritual, though not faultless, obedience of the believing and renewed heart - the result of possession of and standing in the righteousness of faith. Only through faith relying on a word of grace, and apprehending mercy in the character of God, is such obedience possible. Ability to render it is included in that "being saved," which Paul posits as a result of believing with the heart in the crucified and risen Christ (Romans 10:9). Observe, further, how the Law, with all its apparent complexity and cumbrousness, resolves itself in Moses' hands into one "commandment" (ver. 11). It is this which makes the Law simple, just as it is the simplicity of the gospel that it reduces all "works of God" to the one work of "believing on him whom he hath sent" (John 6:29). Amidst the multiplicity of commands, there was but one real command - that of loving the Lord their God (Deuteronomy 6:4; Deuteronomy 10:12; vers. 6, 10, 16, 20). In love is implied faith - the knowing and believing the love which God has to us. Love is faith's response to the revelation God makes of himself to man. Faith is thus the condition:

1. Of justification.

2. Of acceptableness in obedience.

3. Of power to render obedience. - J.O.

Dishonest minds are wont to plead that religious truth is recondite, self-contradictory, hard to be understood. Its obligations too, they aver, are impracticable, beyond the power of man to fulfill. Self-indulgence and impiety have never yet failed to frame excuses for their rejection of the Divine Word. But excuses avail them nothing. The indolent man has for long ages past learnt to say, "There is a lion in the path." Honest investigation soon finds the truth of God "worthy of all acceptation."

I. OBSERVE THE AUTHORITY OF GOD'S WORD. It is a "commandment." It comes to men with all the character of a law. It is not possible that we should treat it as we please. We are not permitted to mutilate or dismember it - not permitted to accept a part and reject a part. As in a tree the living sap runs into every branch and twig and leaf, so that we cannot pluck the tiniest part without breaking the vital current; so every part of God's Scripture is instinct with high authority, nor can we neglect the least commandment without defying the majesty of heaven. We are bound to bow our wills to it; it will, in no degree, bend its requirements to suit our tastes.

II. THE PERSPICUITY OF GOD'S WORD. Its essential truths are within the compass of every mind. Every man knows what it is to love; that love is due from each man to his Maker. Every child knows what obedience means; that obedience is due to the Father of our spirits. Truly, some facts concerning the eternal world are so profound that, like ocean-depths, human reason cannot fathom them. But these are not the facts which lie at the foundation of man's safety and hope. The practical duties which appertain to virtue and well-being are so plain that even a child may understand. Whatever difficulty lies in the way of human obedience, it does not lie in the haze or uncertain meaning of the revelation. The difficulty is within a man, not without him. The objects of faith are clearly revealed; we want only an eye to discern them.

III. THE ACCOMMODATENESS OF GOD'S WORD. On the part of scriptural truth, there is an exquisite fitness to meet the capacity of men's minds and the needs of their souls. "The word is nigh thee; yea, in thy very heart." There is perfect accord between the constitution of the man and the contents of revelation. The Bible is the counterpart and complement of conscience. It is obvious that the Lord of conscience is Lord of Scripture also. The Bible says, "Thou hast sinned;" and conscience admits the fact. The Bible says, "Thou art helpless to save thyself;" and conscience knows it true. The Bible declares that happiness is inseparable from obedience; and conscience feels that it is so. There is a living witness in every man (until gagged by sin) which testifies to the authority and necessity and reasonableness of God's Law.

IV. THE PRACTICALNESS OF GOD'S WORD. "That thou mayest do it." Religious truth is not revealed to gratify a prurient curiosity, not to afford matter for speculation, but solely to promote obedience. To know God's requirements will bring us no advantage unless we heartily and loyally do them. Accurate and orthodox beliefs convey, in themselves, no life nor joy. Right belief is barren and abortive until it brings forth active obedience. We are not to be judged at God's tribunal for our opinions or theories, nor for our religious creeds; we are to be judged of "the deeds done in the body." "I was hungry, and ye gave me meat," will be the grounds of the judicial verdict. Practical service is the end and purpose of Divine revelation. - D.

We have a very beautiful thought inserted by Moses regarding the proximity and handiness - if we may be allowed the thought - of God's commandments. It is used by Paul in the same connection, and so adapted to the gospel as to show its practical tenor (Romans 10:6-9). And here we would observe -

I. EXTRAVAGANT NOTIONS ARE ENTERTAINED OF WHAT A DIVINE REVELATION OUGHT TO BE. It is thought that it should be some far-away affair, to which none but seraphic spirits could soar; as high as heaven, and requiring vast powers and efforts to reach. Or it is thought to be as recondite as matters lying in the deep-sea bed, demanding such diving apparatus as practically to put it out of reach of ordinary mortals. This is the favorite notion of the self-confident critics, that a Divine revelation must be something attainable only by scholars, appreciable only by the geniuses of mankind.

II. BUT AS A MATTER OF FACT, GOD'S REVELATION COMES DOWN TO EVERY MAN'S DOOR. God came down to Mount Sinai, and spoke to the people directly. The trouble then was that he was too near - too homely; they wished him further away. Then prophets came, and for fifteen hundred years the word was brought very nigh to men. At last God's Son became incarnate, and was each man's Brother, and brought the message so close to men that only the proud escaped it. The whole genius of revelation is contained in the remarkable words, "I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight" (Matthew 11:25, 26). The revelation is for babes; for men of a childlike - not a childish - spirit; for men who have laid aside their pride and presumption, and can take truth trustfully from the Infinite Father. The idea is surely monstrous that God cannot break his Divine bread small enough for his human children; that none but men of a certain mental caliber can get hold of the food or digest it. It is surely a diviner plan to bring the truth so plainly home that none have any excuse for rejecting it.

III. LET EACH OF US GIVE UP OUR GRAND EXCURSIONS BOTH SKYWARD AND SEAWARD, AND RECEIVE GOD'S MESSAGE BROUGHT NEAR US BY HIS SON. Pride is forever leading men upon some aerial or aquatic adventure, searching the heights of heaven on the wing of fancy or of speculation, or exploring the deepest depths, professedly to find truth and God. Philosophy is invoked, and everything brought to the test of it. Now, all this must be sacrificed before we receive the truth. We must humble ourselves, and recognize the truth brought in Jesus Christ to our very door. If we required terrific effort to reach the truth, we would boast that we had succeeded through that effort. If it depended on great mental powers and struggle, we would take credit for both. But the fact is, it is brought so near to each of us, and so plainly home, that not one of us can boast of our discovery, but only chide ourselves that it was so long near us and so long overlooked!

IV. IT IS HERE THAT WE MUST BEGIN WITH THE JEWS. As a rule, they are so puffed up with pride and serf-importance, that the gospel is overlooked in its glorious proximity and adaptation. They think they are such linguists and such thinkers that none can instruct them, and the result is that the simplicity of the gospel escapes their notice altogether. The grandeur of what is simple and comprehensible by all who are not too proud to consider it must be urged with earnestness. The apologetic now needed is, not what follows speculation to its utmost height or utmost depth, and boasts itself of learning as great as the objector has; but what takes its firm stand upon the simplicity of revelation as the supreme proof that it is Divine. It seems to us that some of the apologetic to which we are now treated is as pedantic as those it desires to convince, and, in a contest of mere pedantry, it is sure to be defeated. Rather should we assure men that it is pedantry and pride which keeps them from discovering the wondrous revelation that lies so near us. Let Gentile and Jew give up the weary wandering, the "will-o'-the-wisp" work of pride, and recognize the God who is knocking at each man's door. - R.M.E.

I. AN ALTERNATIVE. Life and death; good and evil (ver. 15); blessing and cursing (ver. 19). An alternative for the nation, but also for the individual. "Life" is more than existence - it is holy and happy existence. "Death" is not equivalent to non-existence. As respects the natural life, it is the separation of the living, thinking principle from the body, and is compatible with the survival of the soul in a future state. As respects the spiritual life - that life which the believer has, and the unbeliever has not, even now, while yet both have conscious being (1 John 5:12) - death is the cessation in the soul of all holy, spiritual functions, implying, indeed, a state of moral ruin, destruction, and disorganization, but by no means the wiping out of consciousness. "Eternal death" - a phrase not scriptural, though "eternal punishment" is (Matthew 25:46) - is not held by any one to mean "eternal existence in suffering;" but it is believed that a being who exists eternally, and exists consciously, whether in actual suffering or not, may yet in a very true sense be "dead." "Death," in this verse (ver. 15), is deemed compatible with experience of "evil." How strange that between such alternatives there should be a moment's hesitation!

II. A WARNING. (Vers. 17, 18.) If the heart is drawn away from God, and turns to idols, i.e. sets up any other objects in God's place, and forbears to give to God his proper love and honor, he whose heart does this, or the nation if it does so, shall surely perish.

1. An awful end.

2. A certain end.

3. An end of which due warning has been given.

III. AN APPEAL. (Vers. 19, 20.) "Therefore choose life," etc. On which note:

1. That choice or moral determination underlies our salvation.

2. That choice underlies the possibility of love to God.

3. That one deep choice in the heart's center underlies all the separate acts of choice involved in a life of obedience.

4. That the choice God wishes involves the choosing of himself, with a view to love him, to obey him, and to cleave to him.

5. That the choice of God is the choice of life, and carries all lesser good with it. - J.O.

The prophet's power to persuade and influence a people is great - unspeakably great; yet it is not irresistible. It has its limits. After all that has been said to him, a man feels that the determination and choice rest within himself. Reason may be convinced; judgment may give a decided verdict; still inclination may inordinately lean to the weaker side, and baffle all prudent calculations. The intense eagerness of Moses for the people's weal is a sublime spectacle of generous devotement - an unparalleled instance of ardent patriotism. Calling up all his powers of persuasive and passionate appeal, he makes a final effort to win the tribes for God. We have here -

I. ALTERNATIVE LINES OF CONDUCT. All possible courses of life are reduced to two - one of which every man must take; a third course is excluded. The two are separately described.

1. The course of loyalty is described:

(1) By the man's state of heart. "To love the Lord thy God." This determines all that follows - the root out of which all flowers and fruits of obedience spring. This love arises from a right appreciation of God. "He is thy life," yea, the life of thy life. Without him, life is a shadow - a dream - outside showy. "In him we live." "Christ is our life" - the Source of all strength and goodness and joy. This love arises from near relationship. He is our God; he has entered into loving covenant with us - joined forever his interests with ours.

(2) By the man's habit of life. He "walks in God's ways." In those ways he finds God. It is the King's highway. He has daily companionship with Jehovah. All his tastes and wishes are gratified. His will is sweetly acquiescent in God's will. He steadily makes advancement in the beauteous life. He does not halt; he walks.

(3) By his practical obedience. "He keeps his commandments and his statutes." He keeps them in memory, and has regard to them in every step he takes. They are written upon the tablet of his heart; they shine out in lustrous characters in all his actions. He guards them from the assaults of others. As the stone tablets of the Decalogue were preserved in the ark of the covenant, so in the more capacious ark of a good man's heart, the commandments of God are kept.

2. So, also, the course of disloyalty is portrayed:

(1) As a dislike of God. "If thine heart turn away." Through ignorance, or prejudice, or pride, or sensual indulgence, men grow in dislike of God, until his very Name is odious - his presence a very hell. Repugnance to God is the livery they wear.

(2) Is wanton deafness. "So that thou wilt not hear." The ear is only an instrument; the effective power comes from a deeper source. We gradually bring ourselves into a condition in which we hear only what we wish to hear. The bulk of men have made themselves deaf to God's voice.

(3) Is weak compliance to temptation. Thou "shall be drawn away." The habit of most men is to float with the stream. They yield thoughtlessly to the influence of public example. They do as others do, speak as others dictate.

(4) As ignoble service of idols. "And worship other gods." Man must worship somewhat. It is a necessity of his being. He is not self-contained; nor can he be satisfied out of himself. He worships power, wealth, fashion, social fame, fate, the devil.


1. The course of loyality secures:

(1) All real good. The good is not always apparent - not always immediate. Yet even the experiences of pain and calamity prove ultimately to the obedient soul a real good. The storms of winter are as needful to the best life as the warm breath of spring. All that is wise, pure, excellent, elevating, noble, useful, is to be gained in the pathway of obedience. Every stage accomplished is a new installment of good.

(2) It secures increase of numbers. Rapid multiplication was, humanly speaking, Israel's security. By this means, they could outnumber their foes. Through our children, blessing and gladness come. So is it in spiritual things. We taste the highest joy when we become the channels of Christ's life to men. We long to have many genial companions in the road to heaven.

(3) It secures Divine blessing. "The Lord thy God shall bless thee." External possessions contain no blessing in themselves. The richest lands - the fairest scenes on earth, are stripped of charm, so long as they are enveloped in absolute darkness. It is the light of God's favor that converts possession into blessing. Hence the little of the righteous is better than the abundance of the wicked. If God's blessing be on our estates, that makes them secure. That blessing is the core and marrow of true prosperity. That blessing alone gives fragrance and gladness to life. This blessing is secured by the oath of God.

2. But the course of disloyalty is marked by the opposite experience.

(1) It is an experience of evil. The table may groan under the profusion of dainty food, but there is a scarcity of food for the soul. The body may be pampered, but there is leanness in the spirit. Riches may increase, but they daily corrupt the mind. There may be noisy laughter, but it only covers inner sadness and hidden grief. No sorrow is sanctified. The real man is starved and ruined.

(2) There is distressing insecurity. We are rich today; we may be paupers tomorrow. "Ye shall not prolong your days in the land." Apart from God's favor, we have not a day's lease of life - not the certainty that any possession of ours shall continue. We dwell on the verge of a volcano. The earth quivers under our feet.

(3) There is a sense of the Divine curse. A life of disloyalty is a life of constant warfare with God - a conflict with Omnipotence. Every plan which impious men make is a plan to elude and defeat God. And they know they cannot permanently succeed. There is a dark pall overhanging every prospect - a night of gloom closing in their little day. The curse of a good man is an awful calamity: what must God's curse include?


1. The destiny of the good man is life. This means life in its fullest measure, in its highest form, in its perpetual developments. Gradually all the elements of weakness and pain and decay shall be eliminated. Compared with the future life of the righteous, the present life is but childhood - the feebleness and ignorance of infancy. The life which is promised to the righteous is nothing less than the life of God. "We shall be like him."

2. The destiny of disloyalty is destruction. "Ye shall surely perish." This includes disappointment - the sudden collapse of all earthly hopes. It embraces shame and public reproach. The disloyal will be the laughing-stock of the universe. They shall be covered with confusion. This dark destiny includes poignant remorse. The unrighteous will know, to their deepest grief, that they might have been saved if they would. Such despair baffles all description.

IV. INSTANT CHOICE DEMANDED. We cannot do other than admire the condescension of God in pleading so pathetically with men.

1. There is full instruction. "I have set before thee life and death." Every element of needed information is furnished; and personal examination of spiritual facts is expected. Every man is bound to investigate, to ponder, to judge.

2. There is authoritative command. "I command thee." On the side of righteous precept there is supreme authority. Every appeal of God is an appeal to the noblest part of our nature - to conscience. Every solicitation of the tempter is an appeal to appetite and passion.

3. There is tender entreaty. To the activities of wisdom and authority is added the impulse of love. If man's benevolent love prompt him to use all measures to turn the disloyal unto God; how much deeper must be the love of God, of which man's affection is but a faint adumbration! With all the pathos which human sympathy can lend to entreaty Moses pleads, "therefore choose life."

4. Heaven and earth are summoned to hear the solemn charge. Angels note the fidelity of God's prophets. All heaven is interested in man's obedience. The joy of heaven rises to new heights with every accession of loyal subjects. And all the inhabitants of earth are interested in our obedience, whether they feel that interest or not. The future history of this world is in our hands - is being molded by our deeds. What we are today determines what the next generation will be. Each man who hears the heavenly summons makes decision straightway, if not in form, yet in reality. Each man is writing the epitaph for his tomb - preparing his verdict for the last assize! Can we not today forecast our final destiny? - D.

In this earnest word which concludes a section of his address to the people, Moses is summing up his deliverance. It has been called by Havernick "the classic passage" upon the subject of death and life as understood in Old Testament times. "Shut out from the true community of life (Lebensgemeinschaft)," says Havernick," the sinner puts in only a pretended life (Scheinleben), without God, enduring and promoting ruin in himself, until death physical, with its terrors, overtakes him. The Divine penalty manifests itself to the sinner as death." Let us consider what is here suggested. And -

I. GOD IS THE FOUNTAIN OF LIFE. He was before all things; in him they live and move and have their being; by him all things consist. Life physical is from him; but so also, and in a much fuller fashion, is life spiritual. The inner man is from him, and depends upon him for sustenance. And when his only begotten Son came into the world, he gave him to have life in himself (John 5:26), so that of him it could alone be said, "In him was life, and the life was the light of men" (John 1:4). We recognize in God, therefore," the Fountain of living waters," from which, to their own great damage, men are separating themselves, as if the broken cisterns of their own hewing could ever slake their thirst (Jeremiah 2:13).

II. LOVE ATTACHES US TO THIS SPIRITUAL FOUNTAIN. As we love God with all our heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, we find that we have begun to live. On the other hand, the loveless life is only a pretended life, and carries within itself the "Anathema Maranatha" (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:22). Love places our heart at a level with God's, and the riches of his life flow into us. As Emerson, writing of gifts, says, "The gift, to be true, must be the flowing of the giver unto me, correspondent to my flowing unto him. When the waters are at a level, then my goods pass to him and his to me. All his are mine, all mine his." It is exactly in this magnanimous spirit God deals with those who love him. All his life and fullness flow down to us; we cannot, of course, take all in-our measure is a small one, but we are filled up to our capacity with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:18).

III. LOVE GIVES BIRTH TO NEW OBEDIENCE. If we love God, we shall keep his commandments (John 14:15). In the eye of love, his commandments are not grievous (1 John 5:3). Our meat is found in doing the will of him that sends us, and in finishing his work (John 4:34). We say with the Master, "I delight to do thy will, O my God; yea, thy Law is within my heart" (Psalm 40:8). And so, in the terms of the passage before us, we walk in God's ways, and keep his commandments and statutes and judgments. Now, this obedience strengthens the spiritual life. Just as exercise invigorates the body, so work of a spiritual kind invigorates the soul. We not only find rest in coming to Jesus, but refreshment in taking on us his yoke and his burden (Matthew 11:28-30).

IV. SUCH A LIFE OF ATTACHMENT AND OBEDIENCE UNTO GOD TENDS TO PERPETUATE OUR POWER AND EXISTENCE. Other things being equal, a religious life tends to perpetuate physical power. The calm which pervades the faculties, the wholesome exercise which devotedness to God administers, the deliverance from fear which religion bestows in face of all possible vicissitude and change, - all this favors health and longevity. Of course, Christianity does not need now such outward testimonies as these. Many saints are sickly, and die young; but religion never made their sickness a whir more serious, nor shortened their career by a single day. They would have been less easy in their sickness, and it would have cut their thread of life more quickly, had they been strangers to its solaces and joys.

V. SEPARATION FROM THE SOURCE OF LIFE IS DEATH INDEED. In this striking passage, while "good" and "life" go together, so do "death" and "evil." The idea in death is not cessation of existence, but separation from God. Adam and Eve died the day they doubted God's love and ate the fruit. They ceased not to exist that day, but died out of fellowship with God. Hence we are not to associate an annihilation view with the Biblical idea of death. Men die when they are separated from God as really as the branch broken from the stem. Sin is the mother of Death (James 1:15). It brings it forth, because it separates the soul from him who is the Fountain of life. The Jews found in their national experience how deadly a thing it is to disobey their God and to depart from him. Nor shall their calamities cease till they return to him. Meanwhile, may we see to it that we cleave trustfully and lovingly to God, and have increasing life in his favor! - R.M.E.

(See for other instances, Deuteronomy 4:26; Deuteronomy 31:28; Deuteronomy 32:1; Isaiah 1:2.) The invocation of heaven and earth as witnesses turns on deep principles. They are "called to record" -

I. BECAUSE THE MIND RECOGNIZES THEIR PRESENCE AS WITNESSES OF ITS TRANSACTIONS. It projects its own consciousness on its surroundings, and feels as if earth and sky, sun, moon, rock, river, tree, mountain, were not inanimate but animate and sympathetic witnesses of its doings. It attaches its own thoughts to the outward objects. In presence of the scene of any great transaction, it feels as if the place retained its memory; still spoke to it of the past; thought, felt, rejoiced, accused, praised, according to the nature of the deed. Define as we will this feeling of a "Presence" in nature - this "sense of something far more deeply interfused," which we inevitably carry with us into our relations with the outward universe - it is a fact in consciousness, and furnishes a basis for such appeals as those of Moses.

II. BECAUSE GOD IS PRESENT IN HEAVEN AND EARTH AS A WITNESS OF WHAT IS DONE. (Cf. Matthew 5:34, 35.) Heaven is his throne; earth, his footstool. He is present in them, upholding them by the word of his power, and through them is a true witness of all we say and do.

III. BECAUSE HEAVEN AND EARTH ARE CREATURES THEMSELVES CONSPICUOUSLY FULFILLING THE ENDS OF THEIR CREATION. The universe as a whole is thus a standing protest against the apostasy and self-willedness of the sinner (Isaiah 1:1, 2). It bears witness against him by its very fidelity to its Creator. "They continue this clay according to thine ordinances, for all are thy servants" (Psalm 119:91).

IV. BECAUSE HEAVEN AND EARTH ARE SIGNAL MONUMENTS OF THE DIVINE FAITHFULNESS AND IMMUTABILITY. (Psalm 119:89, 90.) They testify to the reign of law, to God's constancy of purpose, to the uniformity and inflexibility of his rule. They dash the sinner's hopes of his Word failing, of his threatenings not being put in force.

V. BECAUSE HEAVEN AND EARTH RETAIN AN ACTUAL RECORD OF WHAT IS DONE IN THEIR PRESENCE - a record which may admit of being produced. This is simple truth of science.

VI. BECAUSE HEAVEN AND EARTH ARE INTERESTED SPECTATORS OF WHAT IS BEING DONE. They have shared in the consequences of man's transgression; they will share in the glory of the manifestation of the sons of God. They wait the day of their redemption with earnest expectation (Romans 8:19-23). That Moses, in connection with his appeal to the people, summoned heaven and earth to witness, was an evidence:

1. Of the solemnity of this appeal. It must be a matter of momentous importance when the universe is called in to witness it.

2. Of the rationality of this appeal. Nature and nature's God were on his side. He had the universe with him, though a foolish people might reject his counsel.

3. Of the enduringness of the issues which depended on this appeal. Neither the blessing nor the curse would work themselves out in a day. It needed lasting witnesses to take account of the fulfillment of God's words. - J.O.

The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database.
Copyright © 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2010 by Biblesoft, Inc.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Bible Hub
Deuteronomy 29
Top of Page
Top of Page