Deuteronomy 4
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Law, being the utterance of righteousness, is unalterable as righteousness itself, permanent amid all the mutations of human affairs. Its requirements are statutes, stable as the everlasting hills.

I. LAW IS THE VERITABLE VOICE OF GOD; the manifestation of his thought; the mirror of his mind. "The Lord spake unto you." "Out of the midst of the fire" the flame of holiness and zeal - issues every command. If man's moral nature has an open ear, it may often detect the imperial voice of Heaven. 'Tis not to sight God reveals himself, but to the ear. His messengers are emphatically "a voice." "Faith comes by hearing."

II. LAW, IN ITS SPHERE, IS PERFECT. Over every work of his hands God pronounces the verdict "Very good;" and Law, being the instrument with which he works, is "holy, just, and good." For unrighteous man there may be something more precious than Law; but when restored to God, Law is his delight. In the domain of belief we cannot augment or diminish God's Law without self-injury. Perfection cannot be improved upon. In the sphere of practice, to halt short of the line of duty, or to go beyond the line, is alike an offence. Self-mutilation, or blemish, is the effect.

III. THE VERACITY OF LAW ATTESTED BY ACTUAL EXPERIENCE. Every honest minded man may discover whether or not the written Word embodies a Divine Law. If a genuine Law, its authority is ratified by an honest conscience; as sanctions, whether of commendation or curse, are witnessed by every clear-sighted eye. Every truthful man is a witness that God's laws (whether written in external nature, in man's constitution, or in Scripture) bring life to the obedient, death to the transgressor. Not a Law is revealed in the Scriptures, but it tends to righteousness, happiness, life!


1. Over the intellect, for it demands attention, investigation, comparison, and discrimination.

2. Authority over the affections, for it demands reverence, esteem, choice, and love.

3. Authority over the moral faculty; for it demands assent, response, and loyalty.

4. Over the active powers, for it requires watchfulness, self-restraint, uninterrupted deference, and uncompromising service.

V. LAW IS THE PATHWAY TO TRUE EMINENCE. Every successful application of science to practical life is simply a treading of the pathway of law. So long as man finds the footprints of God's Law, he moves onward. There is no real progress in any department of human life, except along the line of God's Law. To find that, and to follow it, is success. This is equally true in the spiritual province. This is the quintessence of wisdom - the stepping-stone to eminence! What men - what nation - have ever reached to permanent greatness, save they who have trodden the path of Divine Law?

VI. LOYALTY TO GOD'S LAW BRINGS US NEAR TO GOD. As when we follow up the footprints of a man rapidly enough, we at length come up with the man himself; so, as we pursue the pathway of Law, we come soon without the hallowed precincts of God's presence. We see the working of the heavenly machinery, the movements of God's thought and purpose. We move with it, and ever come nearer to the central light and love. It is a narrow path, and few they are who find it.

VII. A SPIRIT OF OBEDIENCE IS SELF-PROPAGATING. Like plants in the garden, every righteous man bears seed after his own kind. Without formal teaching, the beauty of his life will be a living lesson - the fragrance of his deeds will be contagious. They who love God's Law will be zealous to teach God's Law, and to commend it to others. A fine trait in Abraham's character comes into view when God said, "I know Abraham, that he will command his children and his household after him." Every man bequeaths to posterity a large legacy of blessing or of bane.

VIII. THE LAW OF GOD B DESTINED TO HAVE PERMANENCE IN HUMAN LIFE. There was high significance in the fact that the Decalogue was written, not in rays of light upon the sapphire firmament, nor in legible characters upon parchment, but on stone. The stone of Sinai is said to belong to one of the oldest formations - the granite period. The forms and modes of law may undergo change to meet the growing necessities of men; but the inner sense - the kernel - of every law still abides. "Heaven and earth may pass away," all material stricture may undergo radical change - but the words of God can undergo no change. What is true once is true always! What was right a myriad of ages since, retains all its authority today, and will be obligatory world without end. The sum and substance of moral law is writ by the finger of God, and graven on the solid rock! - D.

Idolatry is the general bias of fallen humanity, the perversion of an innate principle, the misgrowth of the religious instinct. Men everywhere "feel after God, if haply they may find him." Absolute atheism cannot long endure anywhere. If men reject a personal Deity, they invent an inferior God, and practically worship that. The wildest atheist which the world has seen, must admit that there is some power or force in the world superior to himself. There is no resting-place for reason, short of a spiritual God.

I. IDOLATRY WAS THE PREVALENT DANGER OF THE PATRIARCHAL AGE. During the childhood of men, they are under the domination of the bodily senses. They demand a god whom they can see and handle and hear. The kindred of Abraham were addicted to idolatry. The wife of Jacob furtively abstracted the teraphim of her father, and held them in a measure of reverence. Even Moses yearned for a visible Deity. "I beseech thee, show me thy glory!" The absence of Moses from the camp for forty days sufficed for the people to relapse into idolatry. Throughout their history, every decline in relic, ions feeling showed itself in a fresh lapse towards idolatry.

II. IDOLATRY GROSSLY CORRUPTS ITS VOTARIES. The object which is at first selected to be a symbol of the Deity, soon detains on itself the homage of the worshipper, and becomes his Deity. Matter is at the antipodes from spirit. The laws and forces working in material nature may help us to understand the Divine Being, but matter itself never. Apart from a written revelation, we best rise to the knowledge of God through the contemplation of our own minds and consciences. The object of our worship molds us after itself. The worshipper of beasts becomes bestial. "They that make them become like unto them." This is God's law.

III. MATERIAL IMAGES DEGRADE THE GODHEAD. For God is a Spirit, and cannot be represented by material images. For matter can convey no impressions of omnipresence, or of eternity, or of moral qualities, or of emotions, affections, or joys! Representation by material images strips our God of all that is noblest in his nature, cf. all that is distinctive in the Godhead. It cloaks his perfections and eclipses his glory.

IV. IDOLATRY ANNULLED THE COVENANT BETWEEN GOD AND ISRAEL. That gracious compact required upon the part of the Israelites the honest recognition and worship of the One Jehovah. Unfaithfulness on this vital point invalidated the entire covenant; God had pledged himself specially to be their God, on condition that they were his loyal people. All the resources of God's kingdom were pledged to Israel in that covenant. It was an act of mercy that God should bind himself in any form to his creatures, and this superabundant grace ought to have held their homage by closest and tenderest ties. His part of the covenant, God had conspicuously observed in the release of his people from the "iron furnace." Was not every sign and wonder wrought in Egypt a fresh seal upon the heavenly bond? This covenant, between a gracious God and undeserving men, idolatry destroyed.

V. OUR KNOWLEDGE OF GOD IS DESIGNED AS A REGULATIVE FORCE. There are limitations to our knowledge of God imposed by our constitution, and further limitations imposed by our sin. These latter can be removed at once by the redemptive power of Christ; and the first named shall gradually be relaxed in the resurrection state. Fire does not represent God, except so far as it consumes, and this illustration is meant to check our presumption; 'tis not for the satisfaction of a curious intellect, but to restrain a wayward life. Knowledge of God, which is honestly reduced to practice, becomes larger and clearer knowledge. "Then shall we know if we follow on to know the Lord."

VI. INIQUITY BECOMES ITS OWN PUNISHMENT. Throughout the Scriptures this doctrine is taught, that sin ripens and culminates in punishment. The penalty threatened upon the idolatry of the Jews was this, that they should be driven into a heathen land, and be compelled to serve the senseless blocks of wood and stone. The punishment of avarice is this, that the sensibilities become as hard as gold. The penalty of drunkenness is this, that the morbid appetite grows into an uncontrollable passion! The voice of doom says, "He that is filthy, let him be filthy still."

VII. PRESENT PUNISHMENTS ARE THE TYPE OF FUTURE PUNISHMENTS. The penalty to be imposed on the Jews for disloyalty, was banishment from Canaan - defeat, scattering, death. So the final penalties revealed for reprobate men are exclusion from the heavenly Canaan; banishment to the darkness they have preferred; utter destruction. Each man "goes to his own place."

VIII. SUFFERING FOR OTHERS, A PATHWAY TO HUMAN HEARTS. In connection with these fatherly counsels, Moses again reminds the people of his privation on account of their sins. The blame of his exclusion from Canaan he attributes to them. He who aforetime had prayed that, for the sake of Israel, his own name might be blotted out of God's book, now submits to this chastisement for the people's good. But Moses would not throw away the advantage which this fact might bring. In his desire for the people's good, he converts it into a persuasive argument, by which to confirm their loyalty to God. As if, should every other appeal fail, this appeal to their sensibility might succeed. It is as if he had said, "Remember what I am called to endure for you! Let your requital be unswerving obedience to my God." Here he serves as a feeble type of Jesus. - D.

I. ITS BASIS - the Divine command. "Statutes and judgments." Action originating in self-will, however correct in moral form, is not obedience. It is God's command which is the rule and starting-point. Recognition of his authority is essential. Kant distinguishes religion from morality thus" Religion is the doing of all duties as if they were Divine commandments." The objective rule is found in the inspired Scriptures.

II. ITS CHARACTER. It must be:

1. Entire, not partial. Having respect to all that God reveals.

2. Honest, neither altering, mutilating, adding to, nor subtracting from (cf. Matthew 5:19; Matthew 15:6, 9).

3. Persevering.

III. ITS REWARD. "Life," possession of blessings. This reward not legal, but of grace through Christ, as on the legal basis no one can attain to it (Romans 3:20). But though, as sinful, we cannot have life through obedience, we still have it in obedience. "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 7:21; Romans 2:7). - J.O.

Moses here reminds Israel of the privilege it possesses as a nation in having the oracles of God committed unto it (Romans 3:2). He urges obedience upon them as the one purpose for which they are to be introduced into the Promised Land. National prosperity depends upon this. And here we have to notice -

I. DISOBEDIENCE HAS ALREADY PROVED FATAL. He recalls the terrible experience in connection with Dual-peer - how the people in large numbers became lewd idolaters with the Israelites (Numbers 25.), and how fierce anger from the Lord visited the people. In Canaan they shall be exposed to similar temptations, but the chastisement at Baal-peor must not be lost upon them. Past judgments are to secure more complete obedience.

II. GOD'S NEARNESS TO THEM SHOULD PROVE A HALLOWING PRIVILEGE. How gracious is God to dwell among them, always near at hand to be inquired of, a most serviceable King! He dwelt in their midst as a Pilgrim with his people. Upon his accessibility and wisdom they could always calculate. This distinguished Israel from the other nations. Such a privilege should of itself hallow them, and make them to abide under his shadow. Equally near is God still to all of us who seek him.

III. HIS LAW IS WISER THAN ALL MAN'S DEVELOPED LEGISLATION. The surrounding nations had their laws and customs, but the superiority of the Mosaic code was admitted by all acquainted with it. It was an immense moral advance for Israel, as great an advance as in that rude age they could take in. Similarly, the morality of the gospel is ahead of all jurisprudence. Indeed, enlightened legislation and reform tend towards the scriptural ideal. God is wiser than man, and the Bible better than all acts of parliament.

IV. THE LAW WAS GIVEN AS A RULE OF LIFE FOR A COVENANT PEOPLE. They were redeemed from bondage, and then received the Law at Sinai to guide their redeemed lives. Obedience should be a matter of gratitude for deliverance, and would prove the secret of success. It is so still. "Christ redeems us from the curse of the Law, being made a curse for us." But as grateful and saved people, we feel that we are "under the Law to Christ" (1 Corinthians 9:21). And this grateful obedience proves the secret of comfort and success. It is the meat of life to do the wilt of him who hath sent us, and to finish his work (John 4:34). Palestine becomes "paradise regained" to the grateful and obedient souls. We find a Promised Land where God's precepts are gratefully observed by redeemed souls. It is the attitude within, rather than the circumstances without, which constitutes life a blessed country and an antepast of heaven. - R.M.E.

I. A NATION POSSESSING GOD'S WORD IS SUPREMELY FAVORED. (Ver. 8.) Even to have such a Law as Israel possessed exalted her to a position of unique greatness. The knowledge of the true God - light on the great principles of conduct-equitable statutes-institutions adapted to promote material, moral, and spiritual well-being. Our own nation is exceptionally favored in the plentiful enjoyment of religious privileges - Bibles, churches, Sabbath schools, evangelistic agencies, Christian literature, etc., bringing the highest knowledge within the reach of the humblest; while the laws, institutions, etc., under which we live, as the fruit of a Christian civilization, are not surpassed by any on the earth. God has indeed, favored us to an unexampled degree in every religious respect.

II. A NATION ENLIGHTENED BY GOD'S WORD IS SUPREMELY WISE. To have is much, but to be truly "a wise and understanding people," we must "keep and do" (ver. 6). It is not in knowing, but in adopting, the wise course that we show ourselves truly wise. Wisdom is the course that conduces to the formation of a brave, noble, resolute, happy, and contented people; and the nation that loves God's Word, fears God himself, and applies the teaching he has given it in the various spheres of domestic, social, commercial, and political existence, is indubitably in possession of that wisdom. It is to be regretted that the nations most peculiarly privileged do not always set that store upon their privileges which they should do, or make a good use of them. The amount of irreligion, infidelity, and general indifference to the Word of God in our own land is a startling omen for the future. Britain's greatness will soon wane if she abandons her respect for the Bible, the Sabbath, and the guiding principles of revelation,


1. Rests on a solid foundation.

2. Is built up under conditions that ensure its permanence.

3. Is secured by a special blessing of God. And this is a matter admitting of ample historical verification. Compare:

1. Pagan nations with Christian.

2. Unbelieving nations with believing (France: Britain).

3. Roman Catholic nations with Protestant (see Laveleye on 'Protestantism and Catholicism in their bearing upon the Liberty and Prosperity of Nations').

4. Sabbath-desecrating nations with Sabbath-keeping. It will be found that the Bible-loving, Bible-obeying, Sabbath-keeping nations exhibit:

(1) an intellectual superiority;

(2) an ethical superiority;

(3) a superiority in political institutions;

(4) a superiority in material respects (trade, commerce, wealth, etc.).

IV. A NATION OBEYING GOD'S WORD WILL HAVE THE SOURCE OF ITS GREATNESS ACKNOWLEDGED BY OTHERS. (Ver. 6.) They will not only own to its eminence, but they will discern its true cause, and acknowledge that it springs from its religious faithfulness. Numerous testimonies of this kind exist to the source of the national greatness of our own country. Lessons -

1. Value our religious privileges.

2. Seek the furtherance of religion in the community.

3. Be diligent in the training of our children (ver. 9).

4. Extend our blessings to others. - J.O.

1. God's way of handing down the fruits of present privilege.

2. God's way of maintaining his witness in the world.

3. God's way of extending his Church.

The natural law of the increase of population leads, where parents are faithful, to a constant increase in the number of the godly. - J.O.

A revelation -

I. OF THE SPIRITUALITY OF GOD'S NATURE. "Ye saw no similitude" (ver. 12). A wonderful truth to be impressed on the minds of a people fresh from contact with the debasing idolatries of Egypt. A truth:

1. Difficult to grasp.

2. Elevating in its influence.

3. The apprehension of which is necessary for spiritual worship (John 4:24).

II. OF THE HOLINESS OF GOD'S CHARACTER. The lightnings that played about the mountain, the fire burning in the midst of it (ver. 11), the fiery law that was given, - all bespoke the awful and terrible holiness of him whose voice was uttering words of dreadful import to transgressors.

III. OF THE VERITIES OF GOD'S LAW. Then were spoken the ten commandments (vers. 10, 12) - the sum and substance of moral duty - the rule of life to believers - the Law which condemns and slays transgressors. Christ is "the end of the Law of righteousness to every one that believeth," and only in him can we escape from its condemning power (Romans 8:1; Romans 10:4).

IV. OF THE TERRORS OF GOD'S MAJESTY, God surrounded himself with these signs of his greatness, power, wrath, and holiness:

1. That we may reverence and fear him.

2. That we may be kept from presumption in our approaches to him.

3. That we may feel the awfulness of his Word. Recalling this scene, the Israelites should have been preserved from ever trifling with it. God's Word should be handled and read with a deep feeling of reverence.

4. These terrors suggested that the Law, in itself considered, is not a saving, but a destroying power. The whole manifestation was overcast with threatening. - J.O.

I. THE ORIGIN OF HEATHEN IDOLATRY. The result of a "corruption" (Per. 16). Not a stage in the advance upwards from fetishism, etc.; but, as inquiries are tending more and more to show, the consequence:

1. Of a depravation of the idea of God.

2. Of a corruption of the worship of God.

3. Arising in turn from the substitution of the creature for God in the affections (cf. Romans 1:20-26).


1. Hero-worship (ver. 16).

2. Animal-worship (vers. 17, 18).

3. Nature-worship (ver. 19).

Greek idolatry furnishes conspicuous instances of the first; Egypt was notorious for the second, so Hinduism; while Parseeism, and the early Vedic worship illustrates the third (cf. Job 31:21).


1. A degraded intellect.

2. Degraded affections.

3. Degraded morals (Romans 1.).

Therefore Israel must not "corrupt" themselves. - J.O.

The great temptation of Israel was to idolatry. Images were worshipped by all those nations among whom they came, and they were in constant danger of conforming to the sinful practice. Hence this warning and statement about the Divine jealousy. Let us observe -

I. THAT JEALOUSY PRESUPPOSES LOVE. Love must be strong as death, else jealousy will not be cruel as the grave; nor will its coals prove coals of fire, having a most vehement flame (Song of Solomon 8:6). The God who proves so jealous is he whose essence is love. If God did not love men so much, he would not be so jealous when they turn away from him. He knows that, as a wife cannot be happy separated from her loving husband, no more can the human spirit be, away from him. Israel then and we now have to deal with a God of love.

II. GOD IS JEALOUS WHEN MEN GIVE HIM VISIBILITY. Idolatry is trying to help worship through the aid of the senses. The image is not regarded as the god, but his likeness. Man embodies his ideas of God in outward forms. But imagination is not creative; it combines in new relations what has already been given to it. Hence idolatry has never done more than place the creatures, whether beast, or bird, or fish, or reptile, or the heavenly bodies, in new relations to the invisible Divinity. God resents this visibility as degradation. He knows that man becomes degraded by such associations. Hence his deserved wrath against idolatry.

III. IF GOD BE NOT OUR KINDLING FLAME, HE WILL IN JEALOUSY BE OUR CONSUMING FIRE. It is at the torch of the Divine that the human soul becomes enkindled. The flaming fires of Pentecost sublimate the soul and fit it for primeval powers. It is this warning, elevating influence that is love's natural action. But when rebellious man turns the grace of God into lasciviousness; when love is ignored instead of returned, and the soul seeks in the things of sense what God only cad give, - then love begins to burn as jealousy with a vehement, consuming flame.

IV. IT BECOMES US CONSEQUENTLY TO WORSHIP GOD IN THE SPIRIT. We must keep upon the serene heights of faith, and not fall into the degradation of superstition. We are made for better things than weakly to associate in our minds the invisible and eternal God with the creatures of sense. Let us give faith proper scope, and the worship of God will prove both possible and delightful. But the worship of God through images makes stocks and stones of men. "They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them" (Psalm 115:8). May our worship raise us and not degrade us! Superstition degrades, but worship of the invisible God in the Spirit elevates and ennobles our souls. - R.M.E.

God had passed his people through a hot furnace in the terrible sufferings they endured in Egypt, but with the gracious purpose of ultimately delivering them, and giving them an inheritance in Canaan. We learn -

I. THAT GOD'S PEOPLE ARE SOMETIMES SUBJECTED TO SUFFERINGS OF INCREDIBLE SEVERITY. The expression an 'iron furnace," i.e. a furnace for smelting iron, conveys no weaker an idea. We know that in fact it sometimes is so. Bodily anguish - mental anguish - stroke after stroke of heaviest trial. An instance in the history of Job. Shakes faith to its foundations - seems to argue that God has utterly forsaken them.

II. THAT THESE SUFFERINGS ARE APPOINTED, AND SERVE DISCIPLINARY ENDS. The use of the figure of a furnace implies a purpose in the sufferings. Iron is put into the furnace deliberately, and with a design. Trials, difficult enough to bear in the faith that God sends them, would ofttimes be absolutely intolerable without that faith. The furnace acts on the tough, hard, impure iron to separate it from dross, and make it soft and workable. The severe sufferings through which God passes believers:

1. Purify character.

2. Make the nature plastic to God's will, and subdue it to meekness.

3. Fit the man thus sanctified for new and higher uses.


1. Their sufferings fit them to be God's inheritance. "To be unto him a people of inheritance." He has to melt, mold, and spiritually prepare for his own indwelling those whom he chooses.

2. Their sufferings fit them for the inheritance which God gives them (1 Peter 1:3-10). By creating a pure, chastened, heavenly disposition. By strengthening faith, brightening hope, and increasing love. By subduing pride, rebellion, and impatience; and making the will absolutely pliant in the hands of the Divine. - J.O.


The history of the Jews is an unanswerable argument in favor of the truth of prophecy and the reality of Divine revelation. The singularity of that history is such as can only be fully accounted for on the idea of a supernatural Providence interesting itself in their fortunes; but the strangest fact is in that, their own sacred books, this wonderful history is predicted with minute precision. The Book of Deuteronomy furnishes a series of these predictions, the extraordinary character of which is not removed by any date to which the book may be assigned. We may read this passage first as a prophecy, then as a warning.

I. A PROPHECY. It does not, as several later passages do, put the backsliding of the Jews hypothetically, but states the fact plainly that they will backslide - takes it for granted (ver. 25). There is a prediction:

1. Of national apostasy. The whole history of Israel, beginning with the time of the judges (Judges 2:19), is a commentary on this statement.

2. Of national rejection (vers. 26-29). How remarkably has this testimony been fulfilled in the rooting out of both Judah and Israel from their own land; in their scattering throughout the nations, in every region and country under heaven; in their preservation amidst all vicissitudes as a distinct people; in the conformity to alien worships, customs, and beliefs, to which they have so often been compelled; in the miseries and indignities which they have endured! Surely we are entitled to ask from the unbeliever that he should give us, when rejecting revelation, some satisfactory explanation of these coincidences.

3. Of national repentance (vers. 29-32; cf. Deuteronomy 30.). Though yet unfulfilled, there can be little doubt in the minds of any who study past fulfillments, that this prophecy of the repentance of Israel will in God's good time receive its accomplishment also (Zechariah 12:10; Romans 11:26).

II. A WARNING. We learn the truths:

1. That backsliding is possible from a state of high attainment.

2. That backsliding is commonly of gradual development (ver. 25).

3. That backsliding may assume very aggravated forms.

4. That backsliding exposes to severe punishment from God. But, finally, and for our encouragement:

5. That backsliding, if repented of, will be graciously forgiven. - J.O.

After stating the fact of God's jealousy in the matter of graven images, Moses goes on as a prophet to declare that, if they corrupt themselves in this way in Canaan, the result will be their destruction and dispersion. But in dispersion, if they turn with all their hearts to God (ver. 29), they shall find him and be restored. God is merciful as well as jealous (ver. 31). The following thoughts are hereby suggested: -

I. JUDGMENT IS WITH A VIEW TO AMENDMENT. Of course, the incorrigible stage may eventually be reached. But until this spirit is manifested, judgment is remedial. The dealings of God with Israel, as we know from the history, were in hope of national amendment. Defeat at the hand of their enemies, exile in Babylon, and all the severe dispensations were to bring them to their senses and lead them to return to God. Judgment, in fact, is first the servant of mercy.

II. TRIBULATION SHOULD AT ONCE LEAD US TO HEART-SEARCHING. It is not an infallible sign of special sin, as the case of Job proves. But the probabilities are in favor of supposing that some special sin has called for special sorrow. Let self-examination, then, be the rule in the midst of all our tribulations. God is calling us in trumpet-tones to return to his embrace.

III. MERCY FINDS IN TROUBLE A SPLENDID SPHERE. The riches of God's grace and mercy can be displayed only in the permitted extremities of human experience. Tribulation, exile, the bitterness which no earthly intermeddling can relieve, are so many worlds into which mercy enters to assert its power and to reign. The permission of evil has here the only explanation which the present life allows. We shall learn more afterwards, but meanwhile this is all we can learn here.

IV. THE MERCIFUL ONE COUNSELS SOULS TO RETURN AT ONCE TO COVENANT RELATIONS. A loving God is jealous of the defections of his people - hence the judgment and the tribulation. But in mercy he counsels return, and promises to receive them into covenant relationship again. Here alone can we have peace and satisfaction of a permanent character. Outside the covenant there can be no real comfort or joy. In covenant relations with God, there is a charmed circle, and peace passing all understanding. As Israel returned after the exile, may we return from our backslidings to the consolations of the covenant again! - R.M.E.

The knowledge of his own deceitful heart, and his observation of others' waywardness, convinced Moses that, in spite of all warning and appeal, the people might yet wander into evil ways. But Moses had also such a comprehensive vision of God's mercy, that he foresaw that there would be room for repentance even in the land of exile, and that Divine mercy would be available in every extremity of distress. Since God had designed to show mercy unto Israel, Moses felt assured that he would not allow his gracious designs to be frustrated.

I. AFFLICTION OFTEN REVEALS TO OUR MINDS OUR NEED OF MERCY. Amid the joyous excitements induced by earthly prosperity, men forget the deeper needs of the soul. They spend life as if they had no soul, as if this earth were their all. But the deep gashes, which suffering makes, become mouths through which the imprisoned soul makes herself heard. When events defeat our selfish plans, or when health is interrupted, we are made to feel that there is a higher Power than ourselves, who reigns upon the throne, and often, in sheer despair of other help, we appeal to him for mercy; like Manasseh, who had long hardened his heart against God, yet, when he was in sore affliction, sought Jehovah's face. When brought to the lowest ebb, the prodigal son bent his steps homeward. Affliction often serves as the shepherd's crook.

II. EARNEST APPEAL FOR GOD'S MERCY IS NEVER UNSUCCESSFUL ON EARTH. From the furthest limit of apostasy the cry for help is heard. 'There is no spot on earth front which lines of connection with heaven will not be found. Our God is not wont to hide himself in secret places, where the eye of faith cannot find him. If only the bow be well bent by the arm of spiritual earnestness, and the arrow be feathered with faith, and aimed by heavenly wisdom, it must penetrate the skies. Without gracious influences from above, men will not pray; but whensoever they do pray, they shall be heard. The prayer of the rich man in his torments was unheard, because it was a godless and a selfish prayer, and because we have no ground for expecting mercy when life has closed; in his case there was no appeal for mercy.

III. GOD'S MERCY IS THE MOST ATTRACTIVE REVELATION OF HIMSELF FOR SINNERS. So far as we know, this revelation of his merciful character was reserved for guilty men. In the construction of this material universe, we see chiefly a forth-putting of amazing power. In the creation of sentient beings, capable of deriving pleasure from the processes of natural law, we see in active exercise the qualities of wisdom and benevolence. In the Divine treatment of apostate angels, we discover brilliant coruscations from the flames of justice. In the provision of pardon and hope for human transgressors, we see in God's nature the fascinating quality of mercy. This mercy manifests itself in a thousand ways, and is a prolific parent of blessing. It restrains from flagrant sin. It envelops the sinner in a network of heavenly influence. It holds back the hand of justice from summary destruction of the culprit. Though men forsake God, he does not forthwith forsake them. Retaliation finds no place in the Eternal Mind. It is negative and positive good.

IV. THIS MERCY IS SECURED TO MEN BY COVENANT. A covenant is a compact or treaty made between two persons, and which is intended for the advantage of all parties interested. But it is a pure act of condescension, when God undertakes to bind himself in solemn engagements with his feeble and fallen creatures. This gracious procedure is taken in order to encourage our trust, and to pierce unbelief through and through with a two-edged sword. Now that God has made a covenant with men, and repeated it age after age, his truth and faithfulness and integrity are pledged for our salvation. He made a covenant with Christ, by which he secured to him an ample recompense of redeemed men, and our Lord pleads in prayer for the fulfillment of his Father's covenant. So gracious is the covenant that God makes with us - the new covenant - that he writes it on the tablet of our minds, yea, deeply engraves it upon the soft affections of our hearts.

V. THIS MERCY IS MADE CONSPICUOUS BY THE MIGHTY DEEDS OF GOD. Moses reminds the Hebrews of the splendid tokens of God's goodness they had seen; for every one of these was a pledge of unchanging love. God's signal emancipation of the people from the iron bondage of Egypt; his care over them throughout the desert pilgrimage; his unprecedented revelation of himself on Horeb, in fire and cloud and voice; - all these things were tantamount to fresh covenants - earnests of yet larger blessing. In deeds, more eloquent than words, he assured them that all his resources were available for them. And we, in New Testament times, can make this argument stronger still. Calvary serves as a platform, on which we may erect a magnificent structure of expectation. If God had meant to desert us, would he have shown to us such kindnesses as these?

VI. GOD DISTRIBUTES HIS MERCY IN VARIOUS MEASURES, He did for the Hebrews what he did not do for other nations of that period. In the way of providence, and in the way of revelation, he deals differently with separate nations, and with individuals. We cannot understand all the rules and methods by which he is pleased to work, but we can leave it to himself to justify his ways. Because mercy snatched the crucified thief from the jaws of perdition at the last moment of life, it is criminal presumption for any other man to expect mercy in his last hour.

VII. MERCY FLOWS TO MEN THROUGH A VICARIOUS CHANNEL. God assured that generation of the Jews, that they were blessed for their fathers sake. Not on the ground of personal merit, nor on the ground of personal claim, did God show them his distinguishing favor, but because he had loved Abraham their father, and for his sake loved his seed. Learn here how greatly God loves a good man! Abraham was not destitute of fault; yet so conspicuous was his practical faith, that God could not do enough for him during an earthly lifetime. The benediction of God overflowed (like the oil on Aaron's head), and descended to the skirts of his posterity. So, and much more, the love which God bears his only Son flows to us for his Son's sake. The same rich quality of love God cherishes for his Son, he cherishes for us. The gift of salvation can flow to us in no other way than through this channel of vicarious merit. "God, in Christ, reconciles the world unto himself."

VIII. GOD'S MERCY A POTENT INDUCEMENT FOR LOYAL OBEDIENCE. When all other methods have failed to elicit a man's loyalty, the unexpected display of mercy has often succeeded. Justice, and honor, and all sense of obligation in man have been appealed to over and over again, and always in vain. No appeal moves his callous nature, except the plaintive voice of love. We may tell him of the measureless power of Jehovah, of his inflexible justice, of his inviolable truth, of his fixed determination to root out sin from his kingdom; he hears it all unmoved. But tell him of Jehovah's overflowing mercy, of his tender love for the chief of sinners, of the costly provision of salvation; and by the gracious application of this by the Divine Spirit, man's nature relents, becomes docile, and enshrines the Law of God in its inmost center. "Man!" says the silvery voice of mercy, "thy sins are forgiven thee." And the swift response is, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" - D.

I. THE WONDERFULLNESS OF REVELATION AT ALL. (Ver. 33.) It may be argued with great propriety that man needs a revelation; that if there is a God, it is probable he will give one; that the absence of all special revelation would be a greater wonder than the fact of a revelation being given. Yet, when the mind dwells on it, the sense of wonder grows at the thought of the Eternal thus stooping to hold converse with finite, sinful, dying men on earth. Whatever enhances our conceptions of God's greatness, intensifies in the same measure our wonder at the condescension, grace, and love implied in special revelation (Psalm 8.).

II. THE WONDERFULLNESS OF GOD'S REVELATION OF HIMSELF IN ISRAEL'S HISTORY. (Vers. 34-39.) God revealed himself to Israel; but, inasmuch as the calling, deliverance, and whole history of the nation was full of the supernatural, he was revealed also in Israel - in its history. The miraculous element in the history of Israel is urged as a reason for rejecting it. But remark:

1. It claims to stand out as something absolutely unique in time. This is no case of the vulgar supernatural, begotten of a childish, miracle-loving age. Moses is as conscious of the marvel, of the exceptional character of the occurrences he narrates, as any of his critics; probably more so. He rises to the grandeur of the subject he speaks of, and puts it on the express ground that nothing like it was ever known, or rumored, in history.

2. An adequate reason existed for these wonders. The interposition of God, as narrated in these verses, the whole revelation, with its terrors, its signs and wonders, its fire, its lawgiving, - is abundantly worthy of the Being who is said to have revealed himself, and of the ends for which that discovery of himself was made. On the other hand, it rises high above what man would naturally have imagined God to do, had he set himself to invent a story of the kind.

3. The wonders are well attested. Moses appealed to a generation, the older part of which had witnessed them. Critics dispute the Mosaic authorship of the address; but apart from this, it is to be said that the whole after-history of the nation rests on their reality. There is, however, an inherent sublimity, fitness, vividness, sense of reality in the narratives, and in this appeal to eye-witnesses, which speaks of itself for the truthfulness of the history. When narratives of the same kind, presenting the same marvelous characteristics, can be produced from other literatures, and laid alongside of these, we will be able to believe in their legendary or invented character.

4. These wonders established a unique claim on Israel for obedience and fidelity (vers. 39, 40).

III. THE WONDERFULNESS OF GOD'S REVELATION OF HIMSELF IN ISRAEL IS SURPASSED BY HIS REVELATION OF HIMSELF IN CHRIST. These wonders in Israel were but the earlier acts in a great drama, of which the later belong to the dispensation of the gospel. While Moses appeals to the limited character of the former revelation as enhancing its wonder (ver. 34), it is the greater marvel of the revelation in Christ, that it is universal in its scope, and brings in a redemption which all can share. We think here of the incarnation, the miracles of Christ, the resurrection, the outpouring of the Spirit, the miraculous spread of the gospel, subsequent reformations and revivals, conversions, the supernatural power exhibited in the renewal and sanctification of souls, the successes of missions, etc. (cf. Hebrews 2:1-5). The appeals of Moses, and his exhortations to wonder and obey, come down to ourselves, accordingly, with enormously enhanced force. - J.O.

Moses would have the Israelites to regard God's deliverance of them from Egypt as a matter for the most grateful admiration. There had been nothing like it since the beginning of the world. There was direct and immediate communion with God; there was deliverance of the people from Egypt by unexampled judgments; and all was to show his character as a sovereign and loving God. The effect of such a discipline should be filial obedience. It suggests the following lessons:-

I. THE LORD'S PEOPLE SHOULD GRATEFULLY STUDY THEIR DELIVERANCE. The marvelous Exodus from Egypt and communion at Sinai were deserving of the most faithful study. No people had ever been so favored before. But our personal deliverance from the bondage of sin, our march through the wilderness of life, our fellowship with God from the mountain-top of ordinances, the entire experience of a spiritual soul, combine to eclipse even the discipline of Israel. Each one is prepared, who understands his state, to say, "Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul" (Psalm 66:16).

II. UNPARALLELED EXPERIENCE FROM GOD ARGUES AN UNPARALLELED GOD. For it is a revelation of his powers and character he makes in these matters, and we are expected to reason from our experience up to himself. "Unto thee it was showed," said Moses, "that thou mightest know that the Lord he is God; there is none else beside him." He moves in an unparalleled fashion, that we may recognize in him the unparalleled One. The use of personal experience is, therefore, to reach the Divine side of it, and see what reflection of Deity it presents.

III. IT WAS GOD'S LOVE WHICH HE ILLUSTRATED IN BRINGING ISRAEL FROM EGYPT TO CANAAN. The casting out of the Canaanites, the extermination of the idolaters, was judgment justly exercised upon them; but it was love towards Israel. Hence one of the psalmists makes these conquests a proof that "his mercy endureth forever" (Psalm 136:17-22). And God's dealings with his people always are to illustrate his love, They find how all things work together for good unto them (Romans 8:28).

IV. IT IS FILIAL OBEDIENCE HIS PEOPLE SHOULD RENDER. The similarity between ver. 40 and the fifth commandment of the Decalogue is certainly remarkable. The idea of God's fatherhood is as certainly in the mind of Moses and of the filial obedience of Israel. Long life is attached to their filial obedience to God, as it is attached in that commandment to the filial obedience we render to man. And indeed this "fatherhood of God," with its correlative "sonship of man," constitutes the crowning relation into which God and man come. How glorious it is l Earth becomes the school of God's children; the promise of the life that now is cheers them on, and heaven contracts the kindly light of home. We should never rest contented till our study of God's dealings leads us into assurances and hopes like these. The Israelites were to be obedient, and in consequence successful children; and the same blessed conditions become ours by faith! - R.M.E.

We learn, taking this verse with the context -


1. Their piety.

2. The love he bore them.

3. His promises.

4. Their prayers.

II. THAT THE PIETY OF ANCESTORS IS A FREQUENT GROUND OF LONG-SUFFERING AND FORBEARANCE. It was SO with Israel (Deuteronomy 9:5); Solomon (1 Kings 12:12), etc.

III. YET THAT THE PIETY OF ANCESTORS WILL NOT OF ITSELF SECURE SALVATION. The Jews were not to be exempted from chastisement for personal transgressions. If "they abide still in unbelief" (Romans 11:23), they cannot be saved. There cannot be salvation without personal faith and obedience. - J.O.

Regard for human life is more important than regard for private property. With legislative prescience, Moses secured three cities on the east of Jordan as sanctuaries for fugitives, before the land was allocated to their several families. Still further security for the unwary manslayer was obtained by the decree that these cities should be occupied by families of the Levites.

I. GOD'S HIGH REGARD FOR HUMAN LIFE. This Divine thoughtfulness for men is impressive. Not a life was to be wantonly wasted. Human life, it is plain, was counted inferior in value to the interests of public justice; but it was to be sacredly protected against private revenge. This humane provision was all the more required at that time when Israel had been commanded to slay such vast numbers of Canaanites. Inevitably, human sensibility would be blunted, and a grave peril arose that human life would be cheaply rated. The entire land, purchased at such great cost, was a temple - a sacred enclosure - which God had chosen for his abode, and the shedding of innocent blood would degrade and desecrate the hallowed soil. Human life, sustained by God with exquisite pains - capable of eminent usefulness - is appraised by God as of great value.

II. THE JUDICIOUS ADJUSTMENT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS AND PITY. Both these are sentiments implanted in the breast by a Divine hand; both serve the interests of humanity; and both have a fitting sphere in which to move. For the nation's good, the conscience of every man should be kept in healthful activity. It needs illumination, discipline, vigor. The moral sense is as liable to injury, disease, and decay, as any other faculty of mind. It may be deficient in wisdom; it may be overburdened with sensitiveness; it may magnify molehills into mountains; it may act with precipitate haste. Side by side with unrelenting hostility for sin, should dwell honest pity for the sinner. This provision of "sanctuaries" in Israel was in no wise an interference with the proper procedure of justice. By the decision of competent magistrates the fugitive might yet be handed over to the executioner. It gave full opportunity for investigation. It safeguarded a suspected man, if he were innocent of the greater crime. It taught men to draw a deep line between unintentional injury and premeditated murder. It shielded from needless death many a useful life.

III. PROMPT AND SEVERE EXERTION WAS THE CONDITION OF ESCAPE. When a man was killed, his next of kin was expected to avenge his blood. This rough ministry of justice was needful in those early days. It strengthened family ties. It fostered a spirit of brotherhood. It was a shield for the weak and defenseless. If one man had slain another, the presumption was that it had been maliciously done, and prompt vengeance was preparing for him. He had placed himself (inadvertently, it may be) in a serious plight. He was exposed to a sudden reprisal. Before an hour his own life might be forfeited. If his conscience told him that he was innocent, there was a possibility of escape. But he must promptly flee. He must bid a hasty adieu, or none at all, to wife and children, and run at highest speed for the refuge city, for vengeance is swift-footed as an antelope. Every muscle must be strained to the utmost; his eye must be on every bush and rock, lest the foe should be lurking in ambush; his last resource of strength must be expended upon his flight; he must go direct as an arrow for the provided sanctuary. So for every guilty son of Adam there is a refuge provided on the hill called "Calvary;" and because Death rides apace upon our heels, we are charged to flee - to flee for very life - to this capacious Refuge. So run, that ye may be safe! - D.

After the discourse contained in the preceding portion of this book, Moses seems to have taken a breathing time, during which he designated Bezer in the wilderness, Ramoth in Gilead, and Golan in Bashan, as cities of refuge. To these the manslayers were directed to flee, when they had been guilty, not of murder, but of manslaughter. In this way a distinction was introduced in the Mosaic code between manslaughter and murder, which did not obtain in the code of revenge among the other nations. And here let us observe -

I. RETALIATION CONSTITUTED THE RUDE JUSTICE OF THIS EARLY AGE. Vengeance seems dreadful to many because we live under an organized system of public justice. But if we were translated to some uncivilized country, where each one is forced to fight for his own hand, we should regard it less painfully. We should recognize it, in fact, as a necessary assertion of justice. "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord," seems dreadful only to those who have not appreciated the need of a perfect public justice. The Divine vengeance will be public and perfect, from which there will and can be no appeal.

II. RETALIATION, SUCH AS THE MOSAIC CODE PRESCRIBED, DEMANDED COURAGE AND SELF-DENIAL. The kinsman was directed to pursue the manslayer, and to seek the payment of life for life. It was not one of those feats which would be lightly undertaken. In fact, it was one of those dangerous duties, which a person would shirk if he could. The command reinforced the courage and sustained the self-denial of the people (cf. Mozley's 'Ruling Ideas in Early Ages,' pp. 180-221). And in the Divine vengeance - with reverence would we say it - there is needed courage and self-denial. The infliction of it is forced upon him.

III. THE CITIES OF REFUGE AFFORDED PROTECTION TO THE MANSLAYER WHO DID NOT DELIBERATELY TAKE AWAY LIFE. Here the manslayer lived in lonely exile till the death of the high priest. This milder sentence, however, was preferable to a violent death. The opportunity was afforded of examining himself and of being penitent for his sins. The sojourn in the city of refuge corresponds to the spiritual experience of those who have betaken themselves to Jesus under a sense of their sin and blood guiltiness, to find under his wings freedom from condemnation (Romans 8:1), and the necessity of great watchfulness and circumspection. If the manslayer had left the city of refuge, he would still have been liable to the avenger.

IV. BUT WHEN THE HIGH PRIEST DIED THE MANSLAYER REGAINED LIBERTY AS WELL AS LIFE. "Life in Christ" is indicated by the sojourn in the city of refuge. But liberty through the death of Christ is indicated by the release at the death of the high priest. It takes many relations to bring out the truth as it is in Jesus. He is our God, or Avenger, as we have seen where he says," Vengeance is mine." He is our City of Refuge; he is our High Priest, whose death secures the return of the exile. May Jesus be all in all to us! - R.M.E.

These verses are manifestly introductory to the discourse of the succeeding chapters. Moses is about to declare the "testimonies" (הָעֵדֹת), what comes forth from God to indicate his will; and the "statutes" (הַחֻקִּים), the defined duties of moral obligation; and the "judgments" (הָמִּשְׁפָּטִים), or mutual rights of men. The conditions of his speech are here detailed.

I. THE ISRAELITES HAD RECEIVED AN EARNEST OF THE PROMISED INHERITANCE. They had got, as we have seen, the land of the Amorites. The kingdoms of Og and of Sihon were already in the hands of the two and a half tribes. Moses had a vantage-ground, therefore, from which to plead the claims of God. And so, when we get an earnest of the promised inheritance in the gift of the Spirit, we are more likely to yield ourselves to the Divine demands (Ephesians 1:14). We have an inheritance on this side the Jordan of death, more important than the pastures of Bashan, and God, having given us this, may well make demands upon us.

II. THE EXPERIENCE THROUGH WHICH THEY HAD PASSED WAS ALSO MOST IMPORTANT. For the temporal inheritance in Moab and Bashan was a minor part of their gifts from God. Their fellowship at Sinai, their wanderings through the wilderness, the chequered experience of judgment and of mercy, all combined to make the Israelites in Moab a favored people. No other nation had had such an experience and history.

III. THE REITERATION OF THE LAW WAS IN THE MIDST OF HAPPIER CONDITIONS. At Sinai their fathers and themselves had witnessed awe-inspiring wonders. The mount was the center of quaking and fear. Even Moses had to yield to the panorama of terror, and to say, "I exceedingly fear and quake." But now in Moab all around them is bright and hopeful. Mercy encompassed them, and so they were more likely to enter into the spirit of the Law, which Moses makes out to be love (Deuteronomy 6:1-5).

IV. WE LEARN FROM THIS THAT GOD FIRST GIVES BLESSINGS AND THEN ASKS OBEDIENCE. It is here that we see plainly the essence of the gospel. The glad tidings consist of the offer of a full and free salvation to the sinner, on the ground that he is a sinner and cannot save himself. The salvation is saddled with no condition. This is the trouble - it is too good news to be true, in the sinner's sight. He can hardly credit such free gift - he would rather pay something for it. But God is firm, and will make no half bargains. But when the sinner has been redeemed from Egypt and brought to God, he is expected in gratitude to obey God's Law. It is his rule of life, and he renders obedience to it willingly. People "put the cart before the horse," and fancy God will take something in part payment, and could not think of refusing them! Nothing is so important just now as clear views about the plan of salvation. - R.M.E.

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

Bible Hub
Deuteronomy 3
Top of Page
Top of Page