These are the words of the covenant, which the LORD commanded Moses to make with the children of Israel in the land of Moab…
After the extensive list of curses to be recited amid the mountains, Moses proceeds to speak of the perfect providences of the pilgrimage as a loud call to obedience out of gratitude. He points out not only the miracles connected with the Exodus, but also the arrangements of, as we should say, the commissariat. They had not to manufacture bread, for the manna fell from heaven; they had not to carry with them wine or strong drink, for the pure water out of the smitten rock followed them all the way. Nor had they to concern themselves about clothing, for their clothes defied the march of time, and their shoes stood intact all the rough journey of the wilderness. We have only to consider what such an arrangement saved them, and how at the end of the forty years' march, instead of "ragged regiments," they presented themselves in bright and impressive array, to conclude that this merciful care of their clothing as well as of themselves was a crowning experience of the wilderness. It has indeed been suggested that all here implied is a providential blessing upon their ordinary endeavors and barters with the surrounding tribes; but we imagine there is much more in this reference to their time-defying garments. We are led to speak again of the "philosophy of clothes" (cf. Deuteronomy 22:5).
I. THE PURPOSE OF CLOTHES IS TO COVER OUR NAKEDNESS, This was shown in Eden, and as Carlyle says about his alter ego (Teufelsdrockh), "The utility of clothes is altogether apparent to him; nay, perhaps he has an insight into their more recondite and almost mystic qualities, what we might call the omnipotent virtue of clothes, such as was never before vouchsafed to any man Society, which the more I think of it astonishes me the more, is founded upon cloth." And into this most proper purpose of hiding our nakedness, let us observe, the Lord entered in Eden and afterwards. Man is a spirit, but it is also evident that in this present world he was meant to wear clothes and to conform to decency thereby.
II. THERE IS NO VIRTUE IN RAGGEDNESS. In fact, one of the prophets, in order to convey impressively the worthlessness in God's sight of our self-righteousness, uses this very figure: "But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away" (Isaiah 64:6). Suppose that Israel had reached the land of promise in desperate raggedness; it would have been no credit to themselves or to their God. It would, on the other hand, have made the invasion more perilous. But when, instead of "ragged regiments," they came with unworn uniforms from the wilderness, the very freshness of the appearance of the host struck terror into their adversaries.
III. THE FACT HAD EVIDENTLY FAILED TO STRIKE THE ISRAELITES AS IT OUGHT TO HAVE DONE. "Yet the Lord," says Moses, "hath net given you an heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day" (ver. 4). The unchanging, well-appointed host had ceased to be a marvel to itself, although it must have been a marvel to all other observers. The bright, unfading, well-kept dresses continually before their eyes failed to make adequate impression. They took God's goodness, as we are too prone to do, as a matter of course.
IV. GOD'S PROVISION FOR MAN'S BODY WAS A TYPE OF HIS PROVISION FOR MAN'S SPIRIT. The spirit of man has its hunger and thirst and nakedness, just as well as the body. And we are accustomed to see in the manna, which satisfied the hunger of the Israelites, a type of him who, as the Living Bread, came down from heaven (John 6:49, 50); in the water from the smitten rock, which satisfied their thirst, a type of the Spirit, proceeding from the Son, to refresh the souls of men (John 7:37-39). And why, we ask, should we not discern in the time-defying garments, which God so wonderfully preserved, a type of that righteousness with which he clothes our spiritual nakedness, which is unto all and upon all them that believe (Romans 3:22)? Round the human spirit, as Carlyle has put it, there lies a "garment of flesh contextured in the loom of heaven... it is sky-woven, and worthy of a God;" but around it he is pleased to place another garment, of which the unworn uniforms of Israel were types, the righteousness of Jesus Christ, which is sufficient to cover all our nakedness, and which stands defiantly against the powers of time. It is in this array and panoply that, as pilgrims, we shall reach the land of eternal promise. Vicissitude and change will work no havoc in this garment of God. In contrast to all man's "shoddy" and "ragged righteousness," it stands in perennial brightness, the time-defying clothing out of the commissariat of God. May we all be arrayed in none other as we approach the Jordan! - R.M.E.
Parallel VersesKJV: These are the words of the covenant, which the LORD commanded Moses to make with the children of Israel in the land of Moab, beside the covenant which he made with them in Horeb.