Now if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God and are careful to follow all His commandments I am giving you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth.
Zechariah 1:6). The blessing of God is a vera causa in human life. It is not to be resolved entirely into natural tendencies. A cheerful mind conduces to health; virtuous habits tend to prosperity, etc. But this is not the whole. Conspiring with natural tendencies, we must recognize a special providence, a designed direction of the beneficent powers of nature and life, so as to pour treasures of goodness on the favored individual. Virtue has its natural reward in the approval of conscience; but it would not of itself suffice to bring about the exceptionally fortunate condition in the outward lot which these verses represent. So strongly was this felt by the philosopher Kant, that, as is well known, he postulates the existence of God, for the express purpose of bringing about an ultimate harmony between virtue and felicity.
I. THE SPHERE OF THE BLESSING. The covenant rested largely on temporal promises. Jehovah was doubtless felt by the believing soul to be a better portion than any of his gifts (Psalm 16.; 73.), and the relation which he sustained to his worshipper could not but be thought of as subsisting beyond death, and yielding its appropriate fruit in a future life (Psalm 16:11; Psalm 17:15; Psalm 48:14; Psalm 49:14, 15; Hebrews 11:9-17). Yet, inasmuch as "life and immortality" had not been clearly brought to light (2 Timothy 1:10), his favor was specially exhibited in the abundant communication of earthly blessings. A higher order has supervened, and the temporal promises of these verses are swallowed up in better and more enduring ones (Hebrews 8:6). The gospel does not sever the connection between godliness and prosperity. It gives it a new sanction (1 Timothy 4:8). Were the obedience of God's children more uniform and perfect, and piety more widely diffused in communities, the connection would be more manifest than it is. But on the whole, temporal prosperity occupies a lower relative place in the New Testament than in the Old.
1. The spiritual man, serving Christ, and witnessing for him amidst the evil of the world, is more frequently exposed to persecution (Matthew 5:11; Matthew 10:24, 25; John 4:15-21). He has more occasion to take up the cross (Matthew 16:24). He may require to sacrifice all he has, with life itself, for Christ's sake and the gospel's (Mark 10:29, 30).
2. Temporal prosperity is in every case subordinated to spiritual good (2 Corinthians 12:7-10 3John 2). Bacon's saying has, therefore, truth in it, "Prosperity is the blessing of the Old Testament; adversity is the blessing of the New, which carrieth the greater benediction, and the clearer revelation of God's favor." Adversity, however, even in the New Testament, is but a step to something higher. Spiritual compensations now; hereafter, "a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory "(Mark 10:30; 2 Corinthians 4:17).
II. THE OPERATION OF THE BLESSING, It is viewed as pervading every department of the earthly life. It mingles itself with all the good man is, with all he does, with the circumstances of his lot, with the powers of the natural world which constitute his environment. It rests on his person, on his household, on his possessions. It helps him against his enemies, making him wealthy and powerful (Abraham, Job), and exalting him to a position in which others are dependent on him. It attends him in city and field, in his coming in and going out, so that whatever he does prospers (Psalm 1:3). These promises demonstrate:
1. That the providence of God, in the sphere of the outward life, is free, sovereign, all-embracing.
2. That there is under this providence a connection between outward events and circumstances and spiritual conditions.
3. That, subordinately to higher ends, piety and virtue, under this providence, will be rewarded by prosperity. (See a valuable treatment of this subject in M'Cosh's 'Method of the Divine Government,' bk. 2. Deuteronomy 2.) Yet glorious as these promises are, they "have no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth" of the promises of the New Testament. Promises:
1. Of salvation (Romans 5:9, 10).
2. Of spiritual blessings (Ephesians 1:3).
3. Of a heavenly inheritance (1 Peter 1:3, 4).
4. Of "riches" of goodness which will remain unexhausted through eternal ages (Ephesians 2:6, 7).
III. THE CONDITION OF THE BLESSING. Obedience (vers. 1, 2, 9,13, 14).
1. Legally, perfect obedience.
2. Evangelically, obedience habitual and sincere, albeit imperfect.
The meritorious ground of a believer's acceptance, and of the blessings he receives, is the obedience unto death of Christ (Romans 5:19-21). Christ expiates his sins, and fulfils de novo the condition of the covenant. It is well to remember, as explaining anomalies in the histories of righteous men under the old covenant, that the promises in these verses were primarily national. They could be realized to the individual only in connection with the obedience of the nation as a whole. When apostasy provoked God's judgments, pious individuals suffered in the general calamities. They suffered, too, as drawing upon themselves the hatred of the wicked. Hence the development in the Psalms and Prophets of the idea of the "Righteous Sufferer" - One whose afflictions are entailed on him by the hatred and injustice of the wicked, or who, innocent himself, suffers as a member of the body politic. This idea, which has throughout a Messianic reference, culminates in the prophecy of the" Servant of Jehovah" (Psalm 52., 53.), who, by the holy endurance of sufferings for others, makes their sin his own, and vicariously atones for it. - J.O.
Obey the voice of the lord thy god.I. WHAT IS THE RULE OF OBEDIENCE? The written Word.
II. WHAT ARE THE RIGHT INGREDIENTS IN OUR OBEDIENCE TO MAKE IT ACCEPTABLE?
1. Obedience must be free and cheerful, else it is penance, not sacrifice (Isaiah 1:19). Willingness is the soul of obedience; God sometimes accepts of willingness without the work, but never of the work without willingness. Cheerfulness shows that there is love in the duty; and love doth to our services, as the sun doth to the fruits, mellow and ripen them and make them come off with a better relish.
2. Obedience must be devout and fervent: the heart must boil over with hot affections in the service of God.
3. Obedience must be extensive, it must reach to all God's commands (Psalm 119:6). True obedience runs through all duties of religion, as the blood through all the veins, or the sun through all the signs of the zodiac.
4. Obedience must be sincere — namely, we must aim at the glory of God in it, in religion the end is all. The end of our obedience must not be to stop the mouth of conscience, or to gain applause, but that we may grow more like God, and bring more glory to God.
5. Obedience must be in and through Christ, "He made us accepted in the Beloved."
6. Obedience must be constant, "Blessed is he who doeth righteousness at all times." True obedience is not like an high colour in a fit, but it is a right sanguine; it is like the fire on the altar which was always kept burning.
III. WHENCE IS IT THAT MEN DO NOT OBEY GOD?
1. The not obeying of God is for want of faith: "Who hath believed our report?" Did men believe sin were so bitter that hell followed at the heels of it, would they go on in sin? Did they believe there were such a reward for the righteous that godliness were gain, would they not pursue it?
2. The not obeying God is for want of self-denial. God commands one thing, and men's lusts command another, and they will rather die than deny their lusts; now, if lust cannot be denied God cannot be obeyed.
IV. WHAT ARE THE GREAT ARGUMENTS OR INCENTIVES TO OBEDIENCE?
2. There is nothing lost by obedience. To obey God's will is the way to have our will.
( T. Watson.)
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