And it shall come to pass, if you shall listen diligently to the voice of the LORD your God…
After the "Amens" from Mount Ebal had been faithfully given, the Levites turned to Gerizim with the detail of blessings, and received from the assembled thousands the grand "Amen." We have in these verses before us the purpose of the blessing. The children of Israel had been brought out of Egypt by a Divine deliverance, they were about to settle in Canaan as the people of the Lord. They were a spectacle, therefore, to the rest of the world of how a people fared at the hands of the Lord in obedience or in disobedience. We must regard Israel as a visible experiment, so to speak, for the instruction of the rest of mankind. Now, the rest of mankind at this early stage could only appreciate such a reward as temporal blessing. Spiritual blessing would have been no demonstration to them, and have made no impression upon them. Hence it was temporal blessing which God in the main gave them. Of course, we do not at all accept the special pleading of Warburton, in his 'Divine Legation of Moses,' in favor of temporal rewards and punishments being all that the Law of Moses contemplates. There are significant references to a future life in the Mosaic books, but for the reason now stated, God was mainly working in the temporal sphere. Let us notice some of the particulars in which an obedient people were to experience blessing.
I. CITY LIFE was to be blessed. It has been said that "God made the country, but man the town." And doubtless the concentration of population in cities is fraught with peculiar temptation and danger. Yet God's Law is sufficiently "broad" to secure right order and government in cities as well as in country districts. If men would only carry out the law of love, if they would live by the golden rule, then cities would soon put on an air of holiness, and wickedness within them would hide its head. It is through the conscience and heart God's Law works, and city life can alone be elevated and regenerated thereby. If we had pious mayors, aldermen, and councilors, pious high sheriffs and officials, then corruption, rapacity, and self-seeking would disappear through a general and conscientious desire for the public good.
II. AGRICULTURE was to be prosperous. Palestine was intended to be occupied by a pastoral people, and peasant proprietors were to fill the laud. It was to flow with milk and honey if man co-operated with God, and did his share honestly. The conditions of the country, as already remarked (cf. Homily on Deuteronomy 11:10-17), fostered faith in God, and success was the outcome of constant dependence upon him. A dependent people wrought diligently and received the blessings of nature as the gifts of a faithful God. There was to be increase of cattle, of swine, of sheep, of the fruit of the field, and of all that is implied by "basket and store." In the basket, as Van Lennep somewhere observes, grapes, olives, and the like are collected, and so the blessing on the basket means general agricultural prosperity. Now, there can be no doubt that piety is an excellent handmaid to agriculture. All the cant now talked in the name of science about God's practical exclusion from the "reign of law," is insufficient to overturn the plain truth that those who try to keep his commandments and live in his fellowship are more likely than others to fulfill the conditions of agricultural prosperity.
III. POPULATION will increase. The fruit of their body was also to be blessed. We can understand how important numbers are to national power. When the population advances in the sunshine of advancing prosperity, the elements of national greatness are secured. The Malthusian scare introduced into political economy was an exaggerated lesson upon prudence. Population progresses with sufficient check upon it in the ordinary struggles of life, without requiring such prophets of evil as the Malthusians have been. The prudence fostered, being of a worldly character, has degenerated, it is feared, in many cases, into licentiousness as legitimate, when marriage, except in most favorable circumstances, is deemed imprudent. Now, it is well known that Palestine must have been very populous, containing about as many human beings to the square mile as the most densely populated countries at the present time, and in its densely filled country districts testified to the general security which then existed.
IV. They will be VALIANT IN REPELLING INVASION. It is noticeable that foreign conquest is not contemplated when they are settled in the land. It is when the enemies rise up against them that the Lord will give them, as obedient people, the power to disperse them. The invasion may take place in one way, but their rout will be complete, they shall flee before Israel seven ways (ver. 7) - the perfect number indicating perfect defeat. The Lord will not encourage them in a "spirited foreign policy," but will make them invincible defenders of their hearths and homes.
V. They shall be in a position to LEND UNTO SURROUNDING NATIONS. Not only would they repel successfully all invasion, but be able to lay other nations under obligation. Now, we see that, in being able to serve others in this way, lies the secret of sovereignty and influence. The thrifty nations that can lend to others, so far get these others into their power. In the lending power God promises to Israel, if obedient, we see the germ of undoubted ascendancy. No wonder, then, that other nations are to fear and to honor them, if this is to be their career. No wonder they are to be the head, and not the tail; to be above only, and not beneath. Obedience will prove the one condition of ascendancy. Now, it is true that the world can think better in these latter days than it did in the days of Moses. Religion does not now need a demonstration of temporal prosperity nor a favored nation. Religion now demonstrates its reality and sustaining power in making poor saints bright and joyful; in making suffering saints patient and hopeful; and in making the sorrowing ones resigned and confident of reunion. These are the "martyrs" now, and the seed of the Church. At the same time, it may be seen written clearly on the order of providence that "righteousness exalteth a nation;" that the religious nations, other things being equal, are the more prosperous. It cannot but be so. As nations get no resurrection as nations, only as individuals, it then comes to pass that as nations they must be judged in this world, and get their reward or punishment, as the case may be, while the individuals composing the nations may be asked in many cases to wait for their compensation and reward in the world to come. - R.M.E.
Parallel VersesKJV: And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the LORD thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth:
WEB: It shall happen, if you shall listen diligently to the voice of Yahweh your God, to observe to do all his commandments which I command you this day, that Yahweh your God will set you on high above all the nations of the earth: