When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not imitate the detestable ways of the nations there.
The process of divination, in its different forms here referred to - "divination," "observing the heavenly bodies," "enchantment," "witchcraft," "charming," "consultation of spirits," "sorcery," and "necromancy" was an effort to discover secrets by unwarrantable methods. It was man's longing for revelation undergoing degradation through the imaginations of men. It had been practiced by the predecessors in Canaan, and in consequence they were being cast out. The Israelites were to deem it abomination, and unworthy of the people of God. From the succeeding verses, it is evident that it is to be contrasted with the Divine order of prophetical inspiration, and in consequence rejected with detestation.
I. OUR IDEAS OF REVELATION SHOULD BE WORTHY OF GOD. We have no right to expect God to degrade himself in the methods of revelation. Our own instincts should lead us to abhor such processes as have been adopted to secure the secrets of the Most High. All the mean and abominable ways which are here enumerated ought to have been renounced by thinking men instead of adopted. They are all unworthy channels for God's messages. Astrology, enchantment, necromancy, - all are miserable makeshifts for a decent mode of revelation. God has in "diverse manners" certainly made known his will to men (Hebrews 1:1). He has used dreams (Genesis 37:8; Job 33:15), revealing to the soul, whose avenues of sensation are temporarily closed, the information it needed. The dream was the condition of the communication (Genesis 28:12-22). God spoke when he had got man's ear shut to other things. And we can see this to be a most worthy way! Then by angelic visits he oftentimes revealed his will, instances of which are many in the Bible. This also was worthy. Last of all, by inspiring men, that is, through human nature, which is also eminently worthy of God. But the divination process is and should have been regarded as mean and contemptible.
II. IT IS EVIDENCE OF THE GREAT CREDULITY OF MEN THAT DIVINATION HAS IMPOSED UPON THEM. In connection with "spiritualism," for example, we have examples of credulity now corresponding exactly to the divination of the earlier times. As if such mean methods would be adopted by the Infinite Majesty, who has spoken in these last days by his Son! The power of belief is incalculable. Credulity is the believing power exercised on false objects and on insufficient evidence. We have ample faith in the world, if we could only get it rightly directed. And sometimes we find men who are most skeptical about religious matters, most credulous about the novelties of spiritualism. They yield to phenomena a credence that they deny to the well-authenticated Word.
III. GOD'S PRESENCE IS TO DETERMINE OUR CONDUCT. When Moses says, "Thou shalt be perfect with (עִס) the Lord thy God" (ver. 13), the idea seems to be that the overshadowing Presence is to determine our conduct before him. We will strive to be perfect as he is, and not look for mean methods from him. - R.M.E.
Thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations.
One reason to shun the practices of idolatry springs from the nature of the evils themselves.
1. They are cruel. Children "pass through the fire." "Cruelty is one of the highest scandals to piety," says Seeker. "The dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty — homesteads of violence" (Psalm 74:20).
2. They are enticing. Divination, enchanter, and witch have their spells. Idolatry, "a shameful creed of craft and cruelty," delights in what fills the sensuous imagination. "Who hath bewitched (fascinated) you, that ye should not obey the truths." (Galatians 3:1.)
3. They are defiling "abominations." Paintings and sculptures, laws and legends, reveal the awful corruptions of the heathen world.
4. They are destructive. "Because of these abominations the Lord doth drive them out." Sin drives away from God here and from heaven hereafter. The fruit of idolatry and superstitions is death (Leviticus 20:23).
That useth divination1.
Different names are here assigned to persons dealing in the arts of magic. "One that useth divination"; professing to gain power and knowledge more than human. "One that practiseth augury" or covert arts. "An enchanter": the original suggesting the serpent, and implying the practice of charming serpent, yet always connected with the arts of divination. "A sorcerer": the Hebrew word signifying one who mutters incantations, but only in the bad sense of seeking help from others than God. "A charmer": a word which suggests binding
as with the spell of enchantment. "A consulter with a familiar spirit": the English phrase signifies spirits who stand in such a relation to the performer that they come at his call
. Of course it is pretended that these spirits are other and greater than human. The original Hebrew (Ob) comes down to us in the African "Obe-man," who still follows the same profession, by means of similar arts. "A wizard" is one who claims superhuman wisdom, the old English accurately translating the Hebrew; the distinctively wise one.
The word is restricted in usage to superior wisdom gained by the arts of magic. "A necromancer": precisely the spiritist of modern times, or rather of all time, who claims to have communion with the spirits of dead men.
2. This analysis of the original words may aid toward some just conception of the associated ideas which cluster round the magic arts of the Hebrew age. Their name and their arts are legion. Think of so many classes — professions — of men and women naturally shrewd, sharp, cunning; practising upon the superstitions and fears of the million; working upon their imagination, haunting them with the dread of unknown powers, bringing up to them ghosts from the invisible world, claiming to give auguries of the future, playing in every way upon their fears and hopes, to extort their money or to make sport of their fears or to gratify their own or others' malice. A system so near akin in spirit and influence to idolatry, which so thoroughly displaces God from the hopes and fears of men, and which seeks so successfully to install these horrible superstitions in His place — a system, which perverts the powers of the world to come to subserve ungodliness, and which practically rules out the blessed God from the sphere of men's homage, fears, and hopes — this system has always been worked by wicked and never by good men, has always subserved all, iniquity, but piety and morality never — this has been a master-stroke of Satan's policy, and one of the most palpable fields of his triumph through all the ages.
The Lord thy God hath not suffered thee so to do.
It is recognised as a principle amongst legislators and magistrates, that the great end of punishment is the prevention of crime. And there is no doubt that, up to a certain point, this object is gained. The public execution will strike terror into many, though numbers, again, more hardened in wickedness, will depart from the spectacle, and perhaps commit the very crime for which they have just seen a fellow creature die. It is not, however, that they actually set at nought the punishment; it is rather that there are always so many chances of escape, the men transgress in the hope that they shall elude detection, The fearfulness of a threatening, even though combined with the certainty of execution, will not always, nor even commonly, deter men from violating the commandments of God. There is no need for having recourse to imagination for the destruction of a people on account of their wickedness, and their inheritance passing into the possession of others. This is only what actually occurred in the instance of the land of Canaan, whose inhabitants were exterminated because of their crimes, and it was then handed over to a new population. There was here what might strictly be called a public execution. There was no giving a secret commission to the angel of death to move through the doomed ranks, and lay them low; which might perhaps have left it doubtful whether or not there had been any judicial interference; but the Israelites were put visibly into the place of public executioners, being charged with the terrible commission — "Thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor show mercy unto them." They were sent expressly to punish a guilty and condemned population. And the first memorable thing, if you examine the Scriptural record, is that God Himself placed no dependence on the influence and effect of the public execution; for His Word is full of warning to the Israelites, that they would fall under the like condemnation if they imitated the practices of those whom they destroyed. So far from its being reckoned on as an insupposable or even an improbable thing, that they who had been commissioned to slay multitudes on account of their sin would themselves practise the sin so fearfully and openly visited, there is the frequent repetition of energetic denunciations of that sin; and Moses is directed to urge the Israelites, with all earnestness and affection, to take heed that they provoke not the Lord by following the example of their predecessors in the land. You must be further aware, that so far from having been unnecessary, the warning actually failed in deterring the Israelites from the accursed practices; so that it was not against improbable danger that Moses directed his parting admonitions. For when the Israelites had destroyed the Canaanites, and taken possession of their land, they quickly gave in to the very abominations which had been visited with all the fearfulness of a public execution. You read of them in the earliest period of their settlement — "They forsook the Lord, and served Baal and Ashtaroth." And their whole history, up to the time when God was provoked to let loose against them the power of the Assyrian, is a record of rebellion under those special and flagrant forms which had marked the guilty career of the tribes which had perished by their sword. Where, then, was the supposed influence of a public execution? What ground is there for the imagination, that even were the Almighty visibly to interfere, and in His character of moral Governor of the universe to anticipate in certain cases those judgments which shall hereafter be poured out on the impenitent, there would be wrought any permanent effect on the great mass of men? — as though the thing wanted in order to repress the actings of unrighteousness were only a more open and express demonstration that punishment is to follow upon sin. And now you may be disposed to ask with what view we have endeavoured to show, that even what might be called a public execution, the present visible descent of the vengeance of God on the perpetrators of certain sins, would probably be ineffectual in deterring others from the practice of those sins — ineffectual even in regard of such persons as had the best means of knowing that the infliction was the direct and judicial consequence of the crime. We have but one object; not that of merely presenting a severe and repulsive picture of the depravity of our nature, but that of shutting you up to the conviction of the necessity, the indispensableness of the Divine grace, in order to your being withheld from the commission of sin. We would withdraw you, if we could, from all reliance on anything but the immediate workings of the Spirit of God, when the matter in question is the being able to resist this or that temptation, or to keep oneself undefiled by this or that wickedness. We would teach you, however harsh the teaching may sound, that there is no wickedness of which you are not capable, and that if you think yourselves secure against a sin just because the sin may be held in abhorrence, or because you may be thoroughly aware of God's purpose of visiting it with extraordinary vengeance, you display a confidence in your own resolution and strength which, as savouring of pride, can only be expected to issue in defeat. This is virtually the doctrine of our text. For you will perceive that God ascribes it wholly to Himself that the Israelites were preserved from the abominations of the heathen. "These nations hearkened unto observers of times, and unto diviners; but as for thee, the Lord thy God hath not suffered thee so to do." They would have been just as bad had they been left to themselves; but God had not suffered them to fall into such flagrant transgression. He had so acted upon them by His grace as to preserve them from sins, of which they had the seeds in their hearts, just as much as others, in whom those seeds were allowed to bring forth their fruits. And though the text speaks only of the past, making mention of preventing grace as having hitherto wrought upon the Israelites, it is clearly implied in the fact of a remonstrance against any future imitation of the heathen, that there would be no security for them except in their being still withheld by the influences of God's Spirit.
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