You are to follow the LORD your God and fear Him. Keep His commandments and listen to His voice; serve Him and hold Him fast.
1. The case supposed is one in which the prophet contradicts a revelation already received.
2. The prophet does not dispute the evidence of that earlier revelation. On the contrary, he admits it. He stands within the lines of it. He professes to speak under its authority. Yet he asks the people to violate its fundamental laws. This of itself was sufficient to convict him. His pretensions are disposed of by the simple fact that, professing to speak in the Name of God, he gives the people a message contradictory of what he admits God to have previously revealed. No sign and wonder can accredit contradictions. The prophet is inconsistent with himself, and is not to be listened to. Nay, his message had been anticipated, and the thing he bids the people do, expressly forbidden. Notice, then -
I. EXTERNAL MIRACLES DO NOT OF THEMSELVES ACCREDIT A REVELATION AS FROM GOD. (Vers. 1-3.) This prophet gives a sign or wonder - presumably a predictive word - and it actually comes to pass. The failure of his sign, according to Deuteronomy 18:21, 22, would have been a proof of falsity. The converse of this, however, that he speaks God's word because his sign has not failed, is not immediately to be admitted. There are other tests to be applied. In this case, the prophet's message is condemned because contradictory of what he himself allows to have been a true revelation. This raises the question of the value of miracles as credentials of revelation. That they have a value is not disputed, but not as mere signs and wonders. This will be best seen by contrasting the sign or wonder given by this prophet with the evidence of the earlier revelation. If we take the Scripture account of the founding of the Mosaic dispensation, it is impossible to question the magnificence and convincingness of the displays of Divine power and holiness therein contained. In founding his dispensations (Mosaic and Christian), God has not only given evidence, but an amount and kind of evidence which put the source of the revelation - admitting the facts to be as stated - beyond all cavil. For here, it is not merely the fact of miracle which is to be regarded, but the number, nature, magnitude, variety, spiritual quality of the supernatural events, in connection with the self-evidencing divineness of the revelation itself. The difficulty as to whether the miracle proves the doctrine, or the doctrine the miracle, or in what proportions the two factors combine, has little place in the actual evidences of revelation. The two cannot be separated, either in thought or in fact. Grant the authenticity of the miracles of the Gospels or of the Pentateuch, and it will not be disputed that they originated with God, not with Beelzebub. To this mass of evidence, overwhelming in its sublimity and convincingness - evidence- embracing the wonders of Egypt, the displays of God's power, love, and grace in the events of the Exodus, the miracles of the desert, the stupendous revelations of Sinai, etc. - the prophet opposes a few stray signs and wonders. Which were the people to believe? Plainly, no sign or wonder would have justified an Israelite in believing a prophet whose teaching contradicted the first principles of his revelation; as no sign or wonder would justify us in believing teachings contradictory of the first principles of ours.
II. THE RISE OF FALSE PROPHETS IS TO BE ANTICIPATED. (Ver. 1.) The passage takes it for granted that they will arise. They did arise in Old Testament times, and they will do so again. Their appearance is predicted in connection with "the last days" (Matthew 24:11; 1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Peter 2:1). "Signs and wonders" will not be wanting (Matthew 24:24; 2 Thessalonians 2:9, 10). False teachers are included under the category of false prophets (Matthew 7:15; 2 Peter 2:1). They assert as the truth of God principles and doctrines subversive of the revelation God has given. The readiness of people to believe them arises from want of knowledge (Ephesians 4:14); from the itch for novelties (2 Timothy 4:3); from a diseased craving for the marvelous - witness the credulity displayed in connection with spiritualism (2 Thessalonians 2:9-13); above all, from the adaptation of their teachings to the inclinations of depraved hearts (2 Timothy 3:1-8).
III. THE RISE OF FALSE PROPHETS IS PERMITTED FOR THE SIFTING OF THE CHURCH. (Ver. 3.) God has thus much to do with their appearance that he permits it as a means of proving and sifting the Church. The trial is a searching and real one. The plausibility of their errors may occasion, even to believers, much mental conflict, But out of this conflict they come forth strengthened and purified, with firmer hold upon the truth, and clearer insight into Scripture. Those willing to be deceived are, on the other hand, led by the spirit of delusion. False prophets shake all but "the very elect" (Matthew 24:24). The heresies, schisms, controversies, etc., which have agitated the Church, with the teachings of antichristian philosophy and science outside of it, have always had this effect of sifting, while in the end they have subserved the progress of the truth.
IV. THE TEACHING OF FALSE PROPHETS IS TO BE REJECTED.
1. Their doctrine is to be tried by its conformity with the rule of faith (Isaiah 8:20). John bids us "try the spirits," giving as the reason that "many false prophets are gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1).
2. Their doctrine, if found contradictory of Scripture, is to be unhesitatingly rejected.
3. Of old, the prophet whose teachings struck at the foundations of the theocracy was to be put to death (ver. 5). This rule no longer applies. But it is the duty of the Church, in the exercise of her judicial functions, to deprive such a teacher of office and status in her ministry (see also 2 John 1:10, 11. - J.O.
Ye shall walk after the Lord your God.Genesis 5:22, and Genesis 17:1): — You see that these three fragments, in their resemblances and in their differences, are equally significant. They concur in regarding life as a walk — a metaphor which expresses continuity, so that every man's life is a whole, which expresses progress, and which implies a goal. They agree in saying that God must be brought into a life somehow, and in some aspect, if that life is to be anything else but an aimless wandering, if it is to tend to the point to which every human life should attain. But then they diverge, and, if we put them together, they say to us that there are three different ways in which we ought to bring God into our life. We should "walk with" Him, like Enoch; we should "walk before" Him, as Abraham was bade to do; and we should "walk after" Him, as the command to do was given to all Israel.
I. "Enoch walked WITH God." Two men travelling along a road keep each other company. "How can two walk together except they be agreed?" The Companion is at our side all the same, though the mists may have come down and we cannot see Him. Enoch and God walked together, by the simple exercise of the faith that fills the Invisible with one great, loving face. The one thing that parts a man from God, and makes it impossible for a heart to expatiate in the thought of His presence, is the contrariety to His will in our conduct.
II. And now take the other aspect suggested by the other little word God spoke to Abraham: "I am the Almighty God, walk BEFORE Me and be thou perfect." That suggests, as I suppose I do not need to point out, the idea not only of communion, which the former phrase brought to our minds, but that of the inspection of our conduct. As ever in the great Taskmaster's eye, says the stern Puritan poet, and although one may object to that word "Taskmaster," yet the idea conveyed is the correct expansion of the commandment given to Abraham. Observe how "walk with me" is dovetailed, as it were, between the revelation "I am the Almighty God" and the injunction "be thou perfect." This thought that we are in that Divine Presence, and that there is silently, but most really, a Divine opinion being formed of us, consolidated, as it were, moment by moment through our lives, is only tolerable if we have been walking with God. We must first walk "with God" before the consciousness that we are walking "before" Him becomes one that we can entertain and not go mad. When we are sure of the "with" we can bear the "before." A master's eye maketh diligent servants. "Walk before Me" and you will be perfect. "If you will walk before Me you will be perfect."
III. Lastly, take the other relation, which is suggested by the third of my texts, where Israel as a whole is commanded to "walk AFTER the Lord" their God. In harmony with the very frequent expression of the Old Testament about "going after idols," so Israel here is to "go after God." What does that mean? Communion, the consciousness of being judged by God will lead on to aspiration and loving, longing effort to get nearer and nearer to Him. "My soul followeth hard after Thee," said the Psalmist, "Thy right hand upholdeth me." That element of yearning aspiration, of eager desire to be closer and closer, and liker and liker, to God must be in all true religion. And I need not do more than remind you of another meaning involved in this same expression. If I walk after God, then I let Him go before me and show me my road. Do you remember how, when the ark was to cross Jordan, the commandment was given to the Israelites to let it go well on in front, so that there could be no mistake about the course, "for ye have not passed this way heretofore." Do not be in too great a hurry to press upon the heels of God, if I may so say. Do not let your decisions outrun His providence. Keep back the impatience that would hurry on, and wait for His ripening purposes to ripen and His counsels to develop themselves. Walk after God, and be sure you do not go in front of your Guide, or you will lose both your way and your Guide. I need not say more than a word about the highest aspect which this third of our commandments takes: "His sheep follow Him, "leaving us an example that we should follow in His steps."
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
I. YE SHALL WALK AFTER THE LORD YOUR GOD. This means follow Him, i.e. go whither He would have you go. We must follow as the sheep follows the shepherd. But, again, we are not simply like sheep. When Israel came out of Egypt the trumpets were blown, and all followed in order behind them. This is of the first importance, that men should joyfully obey the cry. Follow Him — follow after Jesus!
II. FEAR HIM. Those who resolve to follow Him must so do it that they shall honour Him and remember that He has power to withstand those who oppose Him. God's people must be filled with a sense of His greatness, majesty, and righteousness as revealed in the Redeemer. Without the sense of this, we lose the attitude of mind in which we can best honour Him. Those who seek to follow Him without this fear are likely in time to become rebels in His kingdom.
III. YE SHALL KEEP HIS COMMANDMENTS. God has given commands "Thou shalt"; "Thou shalt not." The fear of God impels to the keeping of these. Not a cringing dread is this fear. This would make the keeping of the commandments merely a secondary matter. God must be so feared that what He has commanded shall be our delight to perform.
IV. YE SHALL OBEY HIS VOICE. Even when His way seems enigmatic, and also when He gives special intimations of His will besides the commands laid down, just as He led Israel by ways they knew not, etc. On the way of life we must ever be on our guard so that we may find the right way, so much the more as snares are laid in our way by the adversary — from which we cannot deliver ourselves, but which we shall be able to avoid if we listen to the voice of the Spirit, who teaches us to be circumspect, and points out the way to us.
V. YE SHALL SERVE HIM, i.e. we must not be autocrats, but servants of God only. Thus we learn to please Him in self-denial and in a jealous care for His glory. Then, too, we shall gladly be found where the honour due to Him is offered with prayer and adoration.
VI. YE SHALL CLEAVE UNTO HIM, i.e. ye shall seek His presence with burning desires, and with deepest love and warmth of heart and spirit. When we have reached thus far, that we cleave to Him and Then grow up in Him, as the branch in the vine stem, great shall be our gain I may it be said of us, "Where I am, there shall also My servant be!"
(J. C. Blumhardt.)
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