When you eat and are satisfied, you are to bless the LORD your God for the good land He has given you.
I. WEALTH IS DANGEROUS WITHOUT THE PREVIOUS TRAINING OF ADVERSITY. Those who, cradled in the lap of luxury, have never known struggle and difficulty are rarely persons of meek, humble, chastened dispositions. As rarely are those whose schemes have been so uniformly prosperous as to give color to the thought, "My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth." The former class lack moral fiber, are seldom competent to grapple with the problems of earnest life, shrink from action, and consequently fall an easy prey to the temptations of their wealth. The others are bold, daring, self-sufficient, and superior to religious considerations. They waive God aside from their plans and schemes - "I do not need that hypothesis" - and refuse to worship, honor, pray to, or serve him. Adversity, to a certain extent, tends to correct these faults. It teaches humility and dependence, proves the heart, and forms it to habits which enable it to use wealth rightly.
II. WEALTH IS DANGEROUS, EVEN WITH THE TRAINING OF ADVERSITY, UNLESS THE LESSONS OF ADVERSITY HAVE BEEN IMPROVED. Adversity, unhappily, does not always produce in men's hearts the salutary effects which philosophy assigns to it. It may harden instead of softening and subduing. Multitudes pass through it and are none the better. They are unyielding, unsubmissive, impenitent. They grow bitter in spirit, and accuse the God of heaven. In such a case the return of prosperity, or the gift of it, is no blessing. The heart gets haughtier than ever, and God is defied (Obadiah 1:3, 4). It is a serious question for a nation to put to itself, after passing through a period of adversity, Is it morally the better for its sufferings? For, if not, the revival of prosperity will mean but the revival of the old follies, extravagances, and inflations - the very things which formerly led God to turn his frown upon it.
III. THERE IS A DANGER, WHEN WEALTH COMES, OF THE LESSONS LEARNED IN ADVERSITY BEING AGAIN FORGOTTEN. This is the peculiar danger apprehended in the text. Wealth has so subtle and ensnaring an influence, it draws the affections so stealthily away from God, that no temptation is to be compared with it in point of insidiousness. A threefold danger:
1. Undue elation of heart.
2. Forgetfulness of God.
3. A spirit of self-sufficiency and self-glorification.
The preventive lies in the cultivation of a thankful spirit (ver. 10), and in the recollection that the power to get wealth is not of ourselves, but from God (ver. 18). This is the root-error in the matter - stopping at second causes, putting nature and nature's laws, or our own wisdom, energy, and forethought, in place of him without whom we could not think a thought, move a muscle, or carry through to completion one of our purposes. Best preventive of all is the laying up of treasure in heaven; for, "where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matthew 6:19-22). - J.O.
When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the Lord thy God.
These words occur in Moses' farewell charge to the Israelites. Moses had long stood to his people in the relation of father as well as general, and, like a father, has at the end a good many last words to speak. This whole Book of Deuteronomy is made up of last words; his last will and testament to the Hebrew people. He wanted to clinch the instruction that had been given them already. His anxiety outran his responsibility. He had been their saviour in the past, and now would like to take out a policy of insurance in their behalf for the time to come. And they needed everything in the shape of counsel and insurance that could be given them. They had hardly earned the confidence of their leader. He did not much believe in the Israelites. He did not expect with any confidence that they would bless the Lord when they had eaten and were full. They had hardly been a match for adversity, still less could they be expected to be for prosperity. He had carried them forty years, and been one of them a hundred and twenty. He understood their composition and drift. They were a nation of backsliders. Their history was full of ebb tides. They were not to be trusted. God had kept them worn down into manageableness simply by force of disaster; had always driven them with a curb and a check. Liberty they regularly corrupted into license. The point is reached now, however, where a new experiment is to be tried with them. There are some elements in the case that warrant at least a hope that the experiment will succeed. The wilderness and the manna are now put behind them; in front is the Jordan, and across the Jordan cities and well-watered plains — a land flowing with milk and honey. How will they bear the longer, laxer tether of plenty and prosperity? It, lay in Moses' thought as a question. It is important to understand that it is God's desire for His people to load them as heavily with luxuries and gladnesses as they can bear. Evil and suffering are all around us, but it is a part of our faith in the Fatherliness of God to believe that "He doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men"; and to say with the Psalmist. "I know, O Lord, that Thy judgments are right, and that Thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me." The universe is in the interests of comfort and happiness and joy. It is God's desire that we should eat and be full. Everything looks to a good time coming. Everything is contrived to bend toward a blessing; God started man in Paradise — as good a Paradise as he could bear, and a good deal better; and all that lies after Paradise is preparation for a Paradise improved. There is no sorrow that has not lodged in it the possible seed kernel of fruition. Faith in the Fatherliness of God involves all this. When we experience vexation and tribulation we must always bethink ourselves of the issue to which in our Christian faith we are sure it is divinely designed to conduct. "Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him." The mountain sermon begins with the promise of blessing. A whole octave of blessedness ushers in the Gospel. This is a wholesome reflection for our mind to rest in. That there is sin in the world and suffering we can get along with as soon as we learn to interpret them instrumentally. Suffering is a means of grace, and is education toward a better holiness. It is a singular thing, however, that although gladness is the soul's destination, and a destination that God is concerned to have us reach, yet the fact of the matter with us is that gladness is itself very apt to impair our capacity for gladness, and to hinder our attainment of it. We are in this respect like a sick man who requires nourishment, but has not the power to digest it, and so is harmed by the very thing he needs. Recognising, as we do, that every good gift is from God, it would certainly seem as though everything we obtained from Him would be a fresh reminder of Him and a new bond to bind us to Him. But we know how it works with children sometimes, whose parents, the more they do for their children the less are they regarded and loved by their children. This was the point of Moses anxiety in our text. This fact of the corrupting power of prosperity is a practical and a serious one. Prosperity is dangerous, dangerous for a man, a family, a country; it makes men indifferent, infidel, atheistic, if not in their creed, at least in their life. The more God gives us, the less, as a rule, we have of God. It is not easy to escape being injured by mercies. It is easy to be ruined by success, success is very often failure, and failure success. To our eye God gets eclipsed by His own bestowments. We bless God when we want anything, and congratulate ourselves when we get it. "When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the Lord thy God." It takes considerably more piety to make a man thankful to God for what He has done than prayerfully dependent upon God for what we would like to have Him do. It is for that reason that thanksgiving forms so small an element in our prayers; and one reason, most likely, why our petitions bring us so little that is new, is that our thanksgivings so scantily recognise what is old. It is the tendency of the heart to forget God, and the more sunshiny things are, the more likely is that tendency to become realised. Our thoughts and regards are continually slipping away from Him. Our eyes drop from God to some representation of Him, and we become idolaters; from God to some theories of Him, and we become philosophers; from God to the gifts He confers, and in our fulness we fondle the gift and ignore the Giver. Sunshine is not the only parent of the harvest. Men fell in Paradise. Angels fell in heaven. I do not know that there is any good thing that cannot be given in so great measure as to alienate the recipient from the Giver. The fruits of the Holy Ghost can be produced in us so profusely as to work disaster. You remember how when the Seventy returned from their evangelistic tour they commenced to parade the fact of the submissiveness of the devils unto their word. And the Lord rebuked them, and bade them rejoice rather that their names were written in heaven. We sometimes think it is well and possible for us to have all the grace we are willing to receive. I am not sure of that. I have met people that I thought had more grace given them than they had grace to bear; people that were really so holy as to be conscious of it, Men get puffed up oven by their heavenly enrichments. Any possession or power we may happen to have stimulates self-consciousness, and that alienates us from God. I once heard a professor in one of our popular classical schools make this petition at evening prayers: "O Lord, Thou to whom the darkness is as the light, we commit ourselves unto Thee for the night, praying that Thou wilt care for us in those hours when we cannot so well take care of ourselves. It is so easy to think that we can almost get along alone, and should hardly need to put our trust in God were it not for dark nights, and days that are stormy. It is such facts as these that explain why it is that our lives have sometimes to be made desolate and vacant. Read the entire Book of Judges, and you will find it the continuous repetition of the same sequence of events. When the Israelites had gone across Jordan and tasted the milk and the honey and were full, they stopped blessing God, just as Moses told them not to do, but as he feared all the while they would do. Then the Lord sent in upon them an invasion of Philistines, or of Hivites, or Jebusites, or Moabites, or Midianites, or Ammonites, who ground them, and trampled upon them, and devoured them till they were willing to cry unto the Lord and acknowledge Him again. This gives to us the philosophy of disasters in national life, and explains to us as well the impoverishments and emptinesses that have to be wrought in our individual lives. Men are quite uniformly disposed to be devout when they get into difficult places. Men are like certain kinds of vegetation, which do best in poor soil. I have somewhere met with this illustration: "The Alpine flower does not bear transplanting, and can only thrive, perhaps like some souls, amidst wind and tempest, with only brief summer sunshine and heat." I do not believe there is any man but what prays when there is nothing else left that he can do. It is a large part of the philosophy of distress that it makes us look up. We ask when we are hungry. When we are empty we are devout. "When He slew them, then they sought Him," said the Psalmist. "In their affliction they will seek Me early," wrote Hosea. The prodigal went back to his father when he got down as low as the husks. The bruised flower yields the sweetest perfume, and the finest poetry of the Church has been inspired in seasons of persecution. Horace Bushnell once said: "I have learned more of experimental religion since my little boy died than in all my life before." It was he also who wrote: "Deserts and stone pillows prepare for an open heaven and an angel-crowded ladder." St. John did not receive his revelations till he was shut up in a little sea-girt Patmos. St. Paul's most jubilant epistle was written in gaol; as birds sometimes have their cage darkened in order to teach them to sing. I trust that if we have eaten and are filled with the pleasant outward gifts of the Lord, we are able still to live in distinct and hourly recognition of Him from whom they flow, and to walk with Him in relations of reverent but friendly intimacy. We often pray that God would enable us to bear adversity; there is quite as much need of His grace to keep us from falling in seasons of prosperity.
Thou shalt bless the Lord thy God for the good land
Now that there is no longer need for strenuous effort, Moses fears that, like other conquerors, they will become lax in their morality and luxurious in their habits: that they will forget the help they have received from God, and act as though their own strength or cleverness had secured these blessings.
I. THE NOVELTY OF NEW POSSESSIONS QUICKLY PASSES AWAY. Persons who suffer misfortune often think they must be happy who escape it. They rejoice at the first removal of such misfortune, but soon become so accustomed to their new freedom as to scarcely give it a thought. The pleasure we derive from new joys seldom lasts longer than the novelty. On the other hand, troubles are ever new.
II. POSSESSIONS THAT COST LITTLE PERSONAL EFFORT ARE BUT LIGHTLY VALUED. It is proverbial that receivers of gifts seldom estimate them at sufficient value; also, that those who have not experienced the toil and self-denial needful in acquiring wealth, squander that for which their fathers laboured long years. There is danger that the greatness of God's gifts shall be a cause of ingratitude.
III. PROSPERITY IS A SEVERER TEST OF FAITHFULNESS THAN POVERTY. Then will be the time to see if they can cling to the Lord. Many a man serves God well so long. as he is afflicted, but forgets Him when the affliction is removed. There was a saying of the heathen that altars rarely smoke on account of new joys. Solomon found the possession of wealth his greatest trial. Temptations could be resisted in days of strenuous effort and toil which were yielded to in days of ease and prosperity.
IV. GOD APPRECIATES MAN'S GRATITUDE. To "bless" is really to praise in worship. Yet the thought underlying the conception is that man can render to God that which will add to His joy. Though He is the ever-blessed God, He cares for the love of His children. His nature is love, and therefore He both gives us blessing and craves our hearts in return.
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