But if you will not listen to me, and will not do all these commandments;…
The Divine Legislator of Israel knew well that he must contemplate disobedience as well as obedience to his laws. When he had intimated the fullness of the reward he would bestow on the faithful, he was compelled to pass on to "But if ye will not hearken unto me, and will not do," etc. It is sad to think that it did not need Divine prescience to foretell this issue. Human disobedience is too constantly occurring a factor in human history to require that: it may always be safely assumed. We have now to deal with God's treatment of it; and we see -
I. THAT GOD PUNISHES IT WITH VARIOUS EVILS. (Verses 14-18.) God always says to us, "If ye will not do my commandments, I will set my face against you." To the Israelites he threatened specifically:
(1) bodily sickness;
(2) unprofitable labour;
(3) defeat in battle;
(4) subjection to a hated rule;
(5) ignominious terror and flight.
If we sin we must expect to suffer in mind, body, or estate. Guilt and misery are necessarily conjoined. Sin deserves to suffer: there needs no further explanation of suffering than that God's holy and righteous Law has been transgressed. Yet, while the Divine Lawgiver visits sin with retribution because it is right that it should receive this mark of his holy disapproval, it is also true -
II. THAT GOD'S PUNISHMENT IS MEANT TO BE REMEDIAL. "If ye will not yet for all this hearken unto me" (verse 18). Then it is clear that these providential visitations would be meant to lead to a better spirit, to a disposition to hearken and to obey. God, when he punishes, not only does an act of righteous retribution, which his position as Supreme Judge demands of him, but he also does that which he desires shall lead to penitence and restoration. He smites us in one member that he may heal us altogether. lie takes away a little that he may give very largely, lie sends passing pain that he may give enduring joy. God's retributions are his" corrections," his paternal chastisements, his strong but kind admonitions. By them he lays his hand upon us and says to us, in tones we cannot fail to understand, "Repent and return, and be restored." But we learn from these verses -
III. THAT MAN TOO OFTEN REFUSES TO HEED THE DIVINE CORRECTION. "If ye will not yet for all this hearken" (verse 18); "if ye will not hearken unto me" (verse 21); "if ye will not be reformed by me by these things" (verse 23). Often men do listen and learn and obey when God comes to them in sickness or in sorrow; but only too often they do not. They continue in or revert to their evil course, they fall again into crime, into vice, into unconcern, into indecision.
IV. THAT GOD LAYS A HEAVIER HAND ON PERSISTENT AND OBDURATE IMPENITENCE. He gave to his people fair and full warning of what they were to expect at his hand. They knew that obduracy on their part would entail gathering and growing evils, leading on and down to uttermost destruction. There would come the enmity of the elements, with consequent disaster in the field (verses 19, 20); desolation and bereavement (verse 22); pestilence and famine (verses 25, 26); revolting and unnatural cruelties wrought among themselves (verses 28, 29); exile and dispersion (verse 33); terror of soul (verses 36, 37); national destruction and impending extinction (verses 38, 39). These solemn and fearful threatenings are, no doubt, directed against Israel, the specially instructed people. As God "exalted that land unto heaven" in privilege and opportunity, so he "brought it down to hell" in condemnation and doom. But when we remember with what retribution God visited the sins of the antediluvian world, of the cities of the plain, the Canaanites, the great cities of Babylon and Nineveh, and when we recall the sufferings and humiliations he has brought down on lands and cities in more modern times, we may conclude that those nations which will not learn when God speaks to them in wrath and in "his high displeasure" may look forward to a time of gathering disaster and final ruin. God's retributive dealings with nations have their counterpart in his action toward individual lives. Men who sin and suffer, and who will not learn by the things they suffer, may take to heart the truth that God's manifested wrath will reach them here or will overtake them hereafter; they may well wish that it may arrive soon rather than late, for as time passes and as sin indurates and blinds the soul, there is the less likelihood that the sacred lesson will be learnt before death shuts the book of opportunity, and eternity opens that other book of judgment and award. - C.
Parallel VersesKJV: But if ye will not hearken unto me, and will not do all these commandments;