Comments On The Book Of Deuteronomy
Deuteronomy completes the books of Moses, and being a fifth book of Scripture, is a review of Israel's history and of the laws given them, with more detailed explanations and application of the law, thus reminding us of the judgment seat of Christ at the end of our wilderness journey.
Three major divisions will be helpful, In our study of this book. The first, ending with Chapter 4:43, is a resume of Israel's history. The second, from Chapter 4:44 to Chapter 30:20, is an explanation and expansion of the laws previously given to Israel. The third (Chapter 31 to the end) is mainly prophetic, though chapter 34 is necessarily added by a different writer, for it records the death of Moses. It may have been Joshua or Eleazar the high priest who wrote this, but we have no need to know.
Not only is Moses the writer of Deuteronomy, but he gives the record of what he spoke to Israel in this book. The instruction is not addressed to the priests as much of Leviticus is, and some of Numbers also, but to all Israel. for in the summing up of our history each of us individually must give account of himself to God (Rom.14:12), therefore each is responsible to take to heart the truth God gives in His Word for our welfare in our earthly history.
THE COMMAND TO LEAVE HOREB
In Numbers 32 Israel is seen to remain in the area east of Jordan long enough for the two and a half tribes to build cities. Thus God required no haste as to their entering the land. These addresses of Moses in Deuteronomy were delivered at that time, spoken to "all Israel" (v.1). Moses must have maintained a powerful voice (at age 120 years) to be able to make possible 3,000.000 people hear him!
Verse 2 tells that from Horeb by way of Mount Seir to Kadesh Barnea is eleven days' journey. It was when Israel was in Kadesh Barnea that God told them to enter the land of Canaan and Israel refused (Num.13:26). Thus this Scripture emphasizes that if Israel had been obedient to the Lord they might have entered the land only 11 days after leaving Mount Horeb, but because of disobedience the time was lengthened to about 40 years. Moses spoke to them here just one month before the forty years was complete (v.3). This tells believers today that our wilderness history does not necessarily have to be long, but because of our natural selfish propensities it is necessary for God to put us through the trial of hard circumstances in order to learn that obedience is the only way of blessing.
Only after two special enemies had been killed (Sihon and Og) Moses gave these addresses, for the victory over these two enemies held the prediction of further victory in the land (v.4). Israel had been afraid of entering the land before because of such enemies (Og was a giant -- Deut.3:1l), now God had given them an object lesson in experience that should encourage them.
Thus Moses began to explain the law (v.5), telling Israel first that God has spoken to them in Horeb, where they received the law, saying they had dwelt long enough there (v.6). The law cannot be any permanent resting place, for it points onward to something far better, as the Book of Hebrews shows (Heb.6:1-2; 10:1-10). Israel were to take their journey therefore to the mountains of the Amorites, to the plains as the great River Euphrates (v.7). All this territory is eventually to be theirs, though they did enter Canaan they did not by any means take possession of all the land to the Euphrates River. This will be possessed only in the Millennium. Still God beforehand clearly declared what was their proper inheritance. God had sworn this to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (v.8), to be made good to their descendants (Gen.15:18-21).
SHARING ADMINISTRATIVE RESPONSIBILITY
In these verses we find details added that were not mentioned in Exodus 18:13-27 when Moses, at the advice of Jethro, appointed "rulers of thousands, rules of hundreds, rulers of fifties and rulers of tens."
While Exodus 18:25 speaks of Moses choosing theses men, yet here in Deuteronomy 1:13 Moses says he asked the tribes to choose "wise, understanding and knowledgeable men." Thus he graciously took them into his confidence and when they presented the men confirmed them as his choice. Verse 15 makes this clear.
Moses gave firm orders to these rulers to judge righteously any cases that arose between the people. They must carefully avoid partiality in judgment, showing the same respect to small as to great (v.17). Cases too hard to decide were to be brought to Moses. In the Church too elder brethren can decide many things, but if anything is too hard, these must be brought to the Lord in humble, dependent prayer.
ISRAEL'S REFUSAL TO ENTER CANAAN
Moses only briefly mentions the journey of Israel from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea, though he speaks of the wilderness as "great and terrible" (v.19). The experience in such a desert ought to have given them a strong incentive to enter the promised land as soon as they could.
At Kadesh Barnea Moses addressed them again, telling them they had come to the mountains of the Amorites and it was time to carry out what the Lord had spoken, to take possession of the land of promise (vs.20-21).
Here in Deuteronomy (v.22) we learn that the people had appealed to Moses to send spies into the land first. They did not say they wanted this in order to find out whether it was safe for them to go in or not, but said rather that in this way they could find out what way they should take said rather that in this way they could find out what way they should take and into what cities they should first come. This suggestion pleased Moses well, he says. In fact, in Numbers 13:1-2 it was God who gave orders to Moses to send the spies into the land, which orders were no doubt given after Israel had required this.
The spies had gone into the land, spying it out bringing back some of the fruit of the land, with the report that the Lord's word concerning it was true: it was a good land (vs.24-25).
"Nevertheless," Moses says, "you would not go up, but rebelled against the commandment of the Lord" (v.26). Instead of being inspired with courage to go forward, they complained against the Lord because the spies told them that the inhabitants of the land were greater and taller than the Israelites (vs.27-28). Why then did they refuse to believe His word in regard to His promise to put down their enemies? Their fear and apprehension defeated them before they took one step forward. Do we not also defeat ourselves by our fears of what might happen, even when we have the Lord's word for acting?
Moses was not intimidated by the apparent power of the enemies, but rather encouraged Israel to be unafraid because the Lord had promised to go before them and fight for them. Since He had sustained and kept them trough the wilderness, would He be any less able to Strengthen them to face their enemies? (vs.29-31).
"Yet for all that, you did not believe the Lord your God." Thus Moses reproved their unbelief in the face of God's constant care for them in regard to finding places on the way to pitch their tents and to direct them by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.
CONSEQUENCES OF REBELLION
Israel needed to be reminded of the Lord's anger against fathers on this occasion, and His pronouncement that none of that generation should enter Canaan except Caleb because "he wholly followed the Lord" (vs.34-36). In verse 36 Joshua is not mentioned because he was identified with Moses in leadership of Israel, and Caleb was one of the people otherwise -- one clear example for all of the common people.
But also, Moses said, the Lord was angry with him for Israel's sake and told him he would not enter the land (v.37). The reason is seen in Numbers 20:7-13. But Joshua would not only enter the land: he would become the leader to bring Israel in (v.38). So the Lord told Moses to encourage Joshua.
However, their children, then under 20 years of age (Num.14:29), whom they feared would suffer, God would bring into the land (v.39). It was this generation whom Moses was now addressing.
This sentence against Israel jolted them sufficiently that they decided to change their minds and go to fight against the Canaanites (v.4). But it was too late. They did not really feel the guilt of their sin but did feel the pain of God's sentence against their sin. To excape this they were willing now to go to battle. But this was only another form of rebellion. God had told them to rerturn to the wilderness. Moses therefore warned them not to try to fight, for they would be defeated (v.42). Again they refused to listen, but went to battle, with the result that they suffered a humiliating defeat (v.44). Their weeping then before the Lord (v.45) did not change God's mind, for their weeping was not because of their sin but because of having to suffer the cobsequences of their sin. So they remained many days in Kadesh (v.46). They did not immediately turn back into the wilderness. Because we are slow leareners, the Lord sometimes has to keep us in such a place as Kadesh to remind us of our failure and give us ample time to meditate upon the reasons for His hand of disciple restraining us as it does. We cannot but feel this as painful chastening, but it is the wisdom of a faithful and gracious Father that thus seeks to produce in us the lowly submission to His will that we never seem to learn apart from painful measures. We may feel God is being extremely stren, but it is His pure love that is working in us for good.
From Kadesh Barnea Israel had to virtually retrace their steps, going back toward the Red Sea. Believers today find similar experiences because of lack of faith. Instead of progressing in the path of obedience to God, we must go back to learn afresh what the Red Sea deliverance means, for this speaks of the judgment of sin in the flesh by means of the cross of Christ, and if we do not learn it properly as we begin our wilderness history, we shall have to backtrack in order to more rightly understand it. This is really wandering instead of going steadily forward. Psalm 107:4 speaks of Israel wandering in the wilderness in a desolate way. Too many believers take almost their whole life to learn this lesson.
After some length of time the Lord again instructed Moses to return northward, going by way of the Edomites, descendants of Esau (v.2-4). Yet they were not to meddle with Edom for God had given it as a possession to Esau. They would be permitted to buy food and water from them. The historical record does not say that they bought anything from Edom, however (Num.30:14-21), for Edom strongly refused to allow them passage through their land.
Yet the kindness of God was constantly shown to Israel in forty years of their trudging through the wilderness (v.7). Thus they passed by those whom God calls their "Brethren, the descendants of Esau," and came by the way of the wilderness of Moab. As with Edom, however, Israel was not to attack Moab for the Lord had given that land to the descendants of Lot (v.9).
It is noted in verse 10 that the Emims had previously possessed that land. They were giants as great and numerous as the Anakim. Since the Moabites had dispossessed them, could Israel not dispossess the inhabitants of Canaan when they had the Lord with them? Similarly, the Horites had previously dwelt in Seir, but the descendants of Esau had dispossessed them (v.12).
This tells us that because certain people possessed a certain territory first, this does not give them indisputable rights to it. God had decreed that Edom was to have Seir and that the Moabites were to have the present country of Moab, just as He has decreed that Israel is to have the land of Canaan. Whoever fights against this will not prosper.
Israel was now told to proceed further, for it had been 38 years since leaving Kadesh Barnea at the time of their refusal to enter the land and the men of that previous generation had died as the Lord had told them they would (vs.14-15). They crossed the boundary of Moab and came near to Ammon. But they were told not to harass or interfere with Ammon, for God had given it to those descendants of Lot (v.19). As with Moab, it is said that giants had possessed that land, called Zanzummins. But since God had decreed that the Ammonites were to have this, the Lord destroyed the giants before them (vs.20-21).
These three peoples, therefore, Edom, Moab and Ammon, God had settled in their respective lands by His dispossessing the previous inhabitants. Since God had done this, then Israel was not to interfere. God had also determined what Israel's inheritance was to be. They are told therefore to rise and take journey across the River Arnon where they were to take possession of the land of Sihon the Ammorites (v.24). The time had come to begin their conquests, though not having yet crossed the Jordan. God was to put the fear of Israel in the minds of the nations who would hear the report of Israel's conquests (v.25).
CONQUEST OF SIHON AND HIS CITIES
Sihon was an Ammorite. This race descended from Ham through Canaan (Gen.10:15-16). Moses sent messengers to Sihon with a peaceful intention, asking to pass through his land strictly by the highway, offering to pay for food and water (vs.26-27). They had done the same in regard to Edom, but this time the results were different. The Amorite was not their brother as was Esau.
In both cases they were refused permission to pass. In the case of Edom, Israel turned away from them and around that land. But God hardened the spirit of Sihon with the object of delivering him into Israel's hand (v.30). Sihon came out against Israel to battle and Israel soundly defeated him, destroying men, women and children and taking possession of his cities (v.34). They took their livestock and other spoil, but spared none of the people (v.35). But they did not touch the people of Ammon, for they descended from Lot, the nephew of Abraham (v.37).
In later history there was occasion for David to attack and defeat Ammon because of Ammon's insult to David when he showed kindness (2 Sam.10:1-19 and 2 Sam.12:26-31). But Israel initiated nothing against them.
OG, KING OF BASHAN, DEFEATED
The history of Og's defeat is in Numbers 21:33-35. Moses recounts this. Og and his people came out against Israel to battle, just as the ungodly would oppose the truth of the God of Glory. The Lord encouraged Moses to have no fear, for He had decreed the defeat of this particular enemy (v.2). As God had promised, so He gave Og and all his people into the hands of Israel with the result that no survivors remained (v.3). At the same time they captured all of Og's sixty cities, though they were well fortified with high wails, gates and bars, as well as a great number of rural towns (vs.4-5). The people were totally destroyed, men, women and children, and only the livestock and other spoil were kept by Israel (vs.6-7).
Considering verses 8 to 11 it appears that Bashan was connected with the Amorites, two of whose kings were mentioned as being dispossessed of their land by lsrael at this time. Without doubt the cities spoken of here (v.10) are significant from a spiritual point of view, but it may be safer not to attempt an interpretation of this significance.
However, in speaking of these things, it was the intention of Moses to encourage Israel to be unafraid to enter the land of Canaan and dispossess their enemies there. The terrible, indiscriminate slaughter of a whole culture may seem to us naturally reprehensible. But God is wiser than we. He knows what He is doing. He had told Abraham years before, "The iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete" (Gen.15:16). But now the time had come when it was complete. Idolatry and demon worship had risen to such a height that there was no hope of recovery (1 Kings 21:26). Little children would be better dead than exposed to the evil indulged in by their parents, and parents would be better dead than left to continue in the abominations that were prevalent in their whole society.
ln that area of the Amorites we are told that Og was the last of the giants (v.11). His bedstead was kept as a relic in Rabbah of Ammon, its length being nine cubits (at least 13.5) feet) and its width four cubits (at least 6 feet). His great size must have been intimidating to his enemies, but not to the God of Israel.
LAND DIVIDED BETWEEN THE 2.5 TRIBES
Moses now publicly confirms the way in which he had divided the land already conquered between the two and one half tribes who had desired to remain on the east of Jordan. What had been taken from Sihon king of Heshbon was divided between the Reubenites and Gadites (v.12). The rest of Gilead and all Bashan was given to the half tribe of Manasseh. This area had been called the land of the giants (v.13).
A leader named Jair of the tribe of Manasseh was foremost in capturing the region of Bashan and called Bashan after his own name, Havoth Jair, meaning "villages of Jair" (v.14). Verses 16-17 give a little more detail as regards the possessions given to the Reubenites and Gadites.
Thus Moses reminds them of his command that all the men of war from these tribes should cross over Jordan armed for battle, while their wives, their children and livestock would remain in the cities they had possessed until the Lord gave the enemies of Israel into their hands, then the warriors from these tribes could return (vs.18-20). This tells us that, though they wanted to settle in an area short of their crossing the Jordan, they were not excused from the unity of bearing the same conflict that the rest of Israel bore. Thus, today, if some believers do not have the spiritual energy and faith to enter fully into the blessings of our inheritance in heavenly places, yet they are expected to take part in fighting "the good fight of faith" (1 Tim.6:12) by which conflict they are identified with all the people of God, and not with an ungodly world.
Moses then speaks of commanding Joshua at the same time that, since Joshua had seen the way in which the Lord had defeated Sihon and Og, then Joshua must have confidence that the Lord would as easily defeat all the kingdoms whose opposition they had yet to encounter. Because Moses was now giving authority into the hands of Joshua, he insisted that Joshua must not fear his enemies, "for the Lord your God Himself fights for you" (vs.21-22)
MOSES REFUSED PERMISSION TO ENTER CANAAN
We can well understand why Moses would plead with the Lord, as they were nearing Canaan, that God would change His mind and allow Moses to enter the land with Israel. He felt that God had only begun to show Moses His greatness, and he was so impressed with the majesty of God's glory that he longed to go over Jordan and see Israel established in their land. but Moses reports to Israel that God had sternly reproved him for his pleading this way, telling him, "Enough of that! Speak no more to Me of this matter" (v.26). He would see the land, but not enter it (v.27). Joshua would take his place as leader of Israel (v.28).
MOSES INSISTS ON OBEDIENCE
Because God had already blessed Israel and intended to bless them more greatly still. Moses urges them to "listen to the statutes and judgments" he is teaching them, for these are their very life and the basis for their possessing the land God had given them (v.1). How vitally true this is for us today also. It is the Word of God by which we live (Mt.4:4), and it is that Word by which we enter into the blessings "in heavenly places" that are given us "in Christ Jesus" (Eph.1:3).
Well may we therefore take to heart the warning of verse 2, "You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it." This is found in a book of history (Deuteronomy). A similar warning is given in Scripture poetry, "Do not add to His words, lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar" (Prov.30:6), and another such warning in the prophecy of Scripture, "If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone take away from the words of this book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the book of life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book" (Rev.22:11-19).
Moses reminds Israel also of the corruption that led to judgment at Baal-Peor (Num.25:1-9). This sinful association was a violation of the Word of God, and the Lord God destroyed those Israelites who mixed with the women of Moab (v.3). Compromise with the enemy will ruin a testimony for God. "But you," Moses says, "who held fast to the Lord your God are alive today" (v.4). This is an encouragement. Moses tells them he has taught them statutes and judgments just as the Lord had commanded him. This brings to mind Paul's address to the elders of Ephesus in Acts 20, where he tells them, "I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God" (v.27). This was in his last message to them.
To obey the Word of God would be Israel's wisdom and their understanding in the sight of other peoples who would hear of these statutes (v.5). When they would see the effect God's Word had on Israel, others would recognize that Israel was a wise and understanding nation. And Moses asks the question, "What great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the Lord our God is for us, for whatever reason we may call upon Him?" (v.7). For the Church today too. how wonderful is the emptiness of the world around us!
The statutes and judgment God had given Israel also were far superior in truth and righteousness to those of any other nation (v.8). This was true of the law as God gave it. How much more superior are the provisions of God's grace to the Church today -- grace that brings out a response of godly devotion and faithful action on the part of believers (Tit.2:11-12).
Just as Timothy was told, "Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine" (1 Tim.4: 16), so Israel is told, "Take heed to yourself, and diligently keep yourself, lest you forget the things your eyes have seen" (v.9). We may too easily forget things that have at one time greatly impressed us, so that we need constant reminders. As they were told to teach these things that have at one time greatly impressed us, so that their children and grandchildren, so we need the same admonition. It is too often the case that the passing of only one or two generations the truth has been so let slip that there appears hardly a shadow of it left. This happened in Israel too.
Moses reminds Israel of the day of the giving of the law in Horeb (v.10), when He had sought to impress them with the law's impotence, so that by this Israel would learn to fear God in practical life and they would teach their children. None of those to whom he spoke now had been over 20 years of age at that time, so that most of them had not witnessed the sight at Mount Horeb, though they would have been told about it. Still, Moses says, "You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain and the mountain burned with fire to the midst of heaven, with darkness, cloud and thick darkness" (v.11). Whether it was the same people or not, it was the same nation.
The Lord spoke out of the midst of the fire. Israel saw no form, but they heard His voice (v.12). God declared His covenant and accompanied it by writing the ten commandments on two tables of stone (v.13). At the same time He commanded Moses to teach Israel His statutes and judgments, not only for the wilderness journey, but in view of their crossing into the land of Canaan (v.14). The passing of forty years in the wilderness made no difference as to Israel's responsibility to keep the law, and keep it consistently in the land of Canaan.
WARNING AS TO IDOLATRY AND ITS RESULTS
Again Moses insists that Israel saw no form when the Lord spoke to them at Horeb, for the danger was present that they might corrupt themselves by making a carved image, whether in the form of a male or female or any animal, bird, reptile or fish (vs.16-18). Israel's history had illustrated the need for such a warning, for immediately after the law had been given they made the golden calf, breaking the first law they had promised to keep (Ex.32:1-4).
Also, if they lifted their eyes up to heaven, beyond the level of earthly creatures, let them be sure to look above the sun, moon and stars (v.9), to the One who had created all these things, rather than to worship these visible works of God's hands. Faith believers in the One "whom no man has seen or can see" (1 Tim.6:16). Though God has created these wonderful heavenly bodies, they are there only to direct our attention to their unseen Maker. Yet Israel later turned again to worship idols of every sort (Ezek.8:9-12), as well as the sun (Ezek.8:16). Then Isaiah 47:13 speaks of the multitude of Israel's counsels by "the astrologers, the stargazers and the monthly prognosticators." Thus there were star worshipers and moon worshipers (true of monthly prognosticators). These same evils are prevalent in the knowledge of the Word of God.
Again Moses reminds them that the Lord had brought them "out of the iron furnace" of Egypt's bondage and persecution, that they should be His people, a special inheritance for Him (v.20). Yet God was teaching Israel that He was indeed a God of true holiness when He denied Moses permission to enter the land of Canaan with them, telling him he would die in the land east of Jordan, while Israel would cross over to inherit the land of Canaan (vs.21-22).
Earnestly Moses repeats his warning to Israel not to forget the covenant the Lord had made with them (v.23), and degrade themselves by making any carved image, whatever form it might take. "For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God" (v.24). Fire is the most evident single element in the universe. Every star, our own sun included, is a ball of intense hot fire. The earth is stored with fire, covered by a crust only 30 miles thick, broken through periodically by volanic action, often with startling suddenness, spreading grim death and desolation in their wake. Our very atmosphere, scientists tell us, if changed a little in the measure of its components, would provide fuel for an earth-encircling holocaust. So fire is a striking witness to the awesome holiness of God in judgment. Let Israel, and all people, beware of insulting a God of such burning power and majesty!
Yet the fire of the sun is wonderful in the warmth it provides for mankind. This tells us also that God is a God of love, and all who submit to His authority will find the warmth of His love a marvelous blessing, a pleasant fire rather than a consuming fire. Jealousy in God's case is perfectly right, just as it is right for a man or woman to be jealous of the affections of his or her spouse. The measure of God's love to Israel in the same measure of His hatred against all that causes people harm to Israel. Since God loves people. He must hate sin which causes people harm and damage. If people take sides with their sin against God, then they must suffer the same judgment that their sin incurs.
The same government of God was to continue through Israel's history. When children and grandchildren replaced the present generation, the same danger would be there of corrupting themselves with idolatry to provoke God to anger (v.25). If they did this, then both heaven and earth would bear witness against them to cause them to "utterly perish from the land" (v.26). We know that this was not only a warning, but a prophecy of what actually happen. For they would then be scattered among the people of other countries and left few in number (v.27). There they would serve idols, the work of men's hands, "which neither see nor hear nor eat or smell" (v.28). God who has done this is certainly not mere image with no life in it!
GOD'S RESTORING MERCY
Yet God would not give Israel up indefinitely to the folly of idolatry. Moses tells them that in the area where they have been scattered they will eventually again seek the Lord God and will find Him in seeking with all their heart and soul. We know they will not do this of their own volition, but God will work in their hearts to drive them back to Him, as is illustrated in Ezekiel's vision of the valley of dry bones (Ezek.37:1-14). It will be the Lord Himself speaking who causes these bones of the whole house of Israel to come together and have flesh put on them, a figure of God's raising Israel from their state of helpless, inanimate ruin.
God will make Israel feel the distance of their condition "in the latter days," to cause them to turn to the Lord and obey His voice in contrast to their former rebellion (v.30). "For the Lord your God is a merciful God" (v.31). Though He will allow Israel to suffer the painful results of their disobedience, He will not forsake nor destroy them. In spite of their breaking of the covenant of law, God will not forget or break His covenant established with their fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob long before the covenant of law was introduced.
When Moses appealed to Israel to consider that in all their past history God had proven Himself wonderfully gracious and faithful. They were urged to inquire if, from the beginning of the history of mankind, there had been any great thing like the way God had dealt with Israel (v.32). What nation had ever heard God Himself speaking out of the midst of a fire such as at Horeb (v.33)? Or, did God ever take any other nation out of the midst of a nation by means of trials, signs and wonders, by a hand of mighty power, inflicting great terror on the oppressing nation (v.34)? This was an amazing thing that ought to have bowed people's hearts in adoration of One so great, so powerful, so faithful and gracious. There was every evidence to prove to them that the Lord Himself is God, the only true God (v.35).
God had spoken out of heaven, showing His great glory in the consuming fire, from the midst of which He spoke (v.36). Because He loved their fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, therefore He blessed not only them but their descendants also, and brought them out of Egypt (v.37). Believers also today should be constantly reminded that God has delivered us from the miserable bondage of our sins, so that we should never be inclined to return to such bondage.
Besides this the Lord was driving out from before Israel nations greater and mightier than they in order to give Israel their proper inheritance (v.38). This pictures the defeat of satanic forces by the power of God, that believers might enjoy their inheritance "in heavenly places in Christ Jesus."
Since God has so worked by His grace and power on behalf of Israel, every evidence was before Israel's eyes that "the Lord Himself is God in heaven above and on earth beneath. There is no other" (v.39). This being so, it was only right that Israel should keep God's statutes and commandment's (v.40). Such obedience was the means by which things would go well with them and with their children, to give them longer days in the land. He does not say that this would keep them interminably in their land, for he knew that eventually they would disobey and be scattered out of their land.
THREE CITIES OF REFUGE
As Moses had before been instructed (Num.35:9-15), he now begins the work of setting apart certain cities of refuge. The three cities to the west of the Jordan would have to wait (Josh.20:1-9) till that land was conquered, but the three east of the Jordan were appointed by Moses -- Bezer, Ramoth and Golan. Bezer means fortification. a place enclosed and safe from outside attack. This speaks of Christ, the only true safety for one who had before been linked with those who crucified Him, but has no attitude of hatred toward Him. Such an one is welcome if he flees to the Lord Jesus, but if he hated him he would not flee to Him. Ramoth means height, speaking of the place of exaltation to which every believer is brought through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, raised up and seated in heavenly places (Eph.2 :6). What a contrast to the place of lowest shame and humiliation that was ours because being guilty of the death of Christ! God provides such a refuge for all who have judged themselves in view if the cross of Christ.
Golan means Joy or exultation, for when the Lord receives one into the refuge if His presence, then we find more than protection, more than a high position, but "joy inexpressible and full of glory " (1 Peter 1:8). It would be a joy for a manslayer to reach the protection of the city, but for a believer today our joy is not only in our safety, but we "rejoice in Christ Jesus" (Phil.3:3) who is personally the refuge of our souls. This is an exulting joy that lifts us high above the level of our circumstances.
A REVIEW OF THE LAW
Verse 44 begins a second major division of Deuteronomy, in which the law is reviewed and expanded. Moses speaks from the viewpoint of Israel's having already conquered the land of Sihon and that of Og king of Bashan, which included a large amount of territory. The fact of Israel's conquest of this eastern land by the power of God is intended to add emphasis to the responsibility of Israel to closely observe God's commandments. He had already greatly blessed them, therefore He was certainly entitled to their respect and obedience. These verses introduced the subject began in chapter 5.
A REVIEW OF THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
At the beginning of the wilderness journey God had given Israel the ten commandments. Now at the end of the journey it was necessary that these same commandments should be strongly pressed upon them. They were now to enter the land, but were to have no smug thoughts of so having obtained what was promised them that they would be able to relax and ignore the laws of God.
Moses, now at the age of 120 years, had not declined in the energy of his speaking, but declared, "Hear, 0 Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your hearing today, that you may learn them and be careful to observe them" (v.1).
He reminds Israel that God made a covenant with them in Horeb, not with their fathers, but with them (v.3). This was literally true of all those who were now over forty years of age, though those younger than this had not yet been born. Still, that law was applicable to all who were there alive now that Moses is speaking. Of course those who were living at the time would remember that God had spoken to them from the midst of a fire (v.14). How could they forget that awesome sight?
Moses stood between the Lord and Israel at that time (v.5). Thus he was the mediator, typical of Christ who is today the "one Mediator between God and men" (1 Tim.2:5). For the presence of God was forbidding then, and would be just as forbidding now if we did not have this Mediator who is the only Way of approach to God.
The ten commandments are introduced by the initial declaration of the Lord, "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage" (v.16). This certainly should awaken Israel's utmost respect and attention.
The first commandment is absolutely basic, "You shall have no other gods before Me" (v.7). For immediately another god is introduced, whatever people say about it, it is not merely added as an object alongside of God, but it is always put before God. Some may claim it is only intended as a reminder of God, but this is Satan's deception, for such things will always give a wrong conception of God.
The second commandment is related to the first, forbidding the making of images of any created thing, whether in heaven or earth or in the waters (v.8). Bowing down to such things or worshiping them is an insult to God. Israel did this in the case of the golden calf (Ex.32:1-8), but God is rightly jealous of His own glory, and if the fathers are guilty of such iniquity, God will visit the results of this upon the children to the third and fourth generation (v.9). It is always true that our children will suffer because of our disobedience to God. This does not affect the question of eternal salvation, for any one of the children may still call on the Lord and be saved, but their lives on earth will be affected by their parents' wrongdoing. If a man is a robber, his children will suffer on earth because of this, but they can still be saved eternally by receiving Christ as Savior.
The third commandment forbids taking God's name in vain (v.11). This may be done seriously or flippantly. One may seriously swear by God that he will do a certain thing, and then not do it. People are so irresponsible that such things become commonplace to the point of then using God's name flippantly, so that they don't care how offensively they talk. But God is not mocked: He will execute judgment on all who are ungodly, not only for their ungodly deeds, but for "all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him" (Jude 15).
The fourth commandment occupies four verses (vs.12-16), insisting on Israel's observance of the Sabbath day. It was to be sanctified apart from all other days. Though they could labor for six days, labor was to cease of the seventh day, which of course is Saturday. This restriction extended to every family, children and servants, and included their animals. We must remember that the law was given to Israel, not to Gentiles, who are not to be judged in reference to Sabbath days (Col. 2:16). Under grace no law demands the keeping of any special day, but those who have appreciated the grace of God are glad to give the Lord's Day, the first day of the week, a place of special importance, for it was on this day the Lord rose from the dead, the day he appeared in the midst of His gathered disciples (Jn.20:19, the day also "when the disciples were gathered together to break bread" (Acts 20:7). It has been a great mercy of God that He has led in allowing the western nations at least to set aside this day that He might be specially honored -- not as a law, but as a spiritual privilege.
These first four commandments we have considered emphasize the responsibility of Israel toward God. This lesson of putting God first must surely not be confined to Israel. Believers today should gladly delight in putting God first, since He has saved us through the sacrifice of His Son.
The last six commandments deal with Israel's responsibilities toward others. Thus the fifth commandment is "Honor your father and mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may be well with you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you" (v.16). Ephesians 6:1 refers to this as "the first commandment with promise." Israel soon sadly failed in this, as is exampled in Absalom, son of David, who rebelled against his father and sought to kill him (2 Sam.17:1-4). His days were not long on the earth. It may be that a father is hard and cruel, but his children are still to honor him; a mother may be even irresponsible, but her children are to honor her that is, to show proper respect. Though this is not a legal commandment for believers today, yet Ephesians 6:1 shows it to be of moral importance still. Our motives are not to be those of submitting to legal demands, but of delighting to please God.
The sixth commandment, "You shall not murder," must be considered from the viewpoint God intends (v.17). Israel had already killed many enemies that God had told them to, and in the land of Canaan would be required to kill the inhabitants. God commanded this because the inhabitants were given up to idol worship. Similarly, when justice demands the death of a criminal, it is not murder for the authorities to put him to death. But no individual is at liberty to kill another as he sees fit. As we have seen before, Scripture makes a distinction between murder and manslaughter (ch.4:41-42).
"You shall not commit adultery" is the seventh commandment. Adultery is the corruption of the marriage bond, and the prohibition would certainly extend to every kind of such corruption whether persons are married or not. In the New Testament, though the words, "Ye shall not" are not used, yet the evil of fornication is no less warned against (Acts 15:29; 1 Thes.4:3-4). Homosexuality is worse still -- a most flagrant corruption of the bond of marriage (Rom.1:26-27).
The eighth commandment, "You shall not steal" (v.19) is one that nearly all cultures acknowledge as right, though the law does not keep people from stealing. Again, the New Testament does not use the expression, You shall not steal," but goes even farther with an appeal to every Christian heart, "Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give to him who has need" (Eph.4:28). Thus, the Lord Jesus so changes hearts by new birth that people want to do positive good rather than to only refrain from doing bad.
The ninth commandment reads, "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor" (v.20). To bear false witness is cruel and gross evil, but this commandment was coldly disregarded by too many Israelites. Jezebel deliberately bribed wicked men to falsely accuse Naboth to have him put to death (1 Kings 21:8-13). Even the chief priests of Israel sought false witnesses to testify against the Lord Jesus, the Son of God (Mk.14:55-59). How refreshing is the contrast in what people said of John the Baptist, "All things that John spoke about the Man (the Lord Jesus) were true (Jn.10:41). Thus, in the New Testament we are not told, "Thou shalt not," but rather, "Therefore, putting away lying, let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor" (Eph.4:25).
The last commandment strikes, not at the things people do or say, but at the thoughts of their hearts, "You shall not covet." To covet is to crave something that another has. Though one may not steal from another, yet only the craving for his possessions is sin. Paul focuses on this one law in Romans 7:7, where he clearly shows that he would not have considered covetousness as sin unless the law had declared this. Who has not been guilty of such desires? Nor can we get rid of this covetous attitude unless the Lord Jesus works in our hearts by new birth, causing us to willingly judge our motives and seek to live by wholehearted faith. Then, instead of being envious of others, we shall know how to unselfishly "rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep" (Rom.12:15). We shall be glad if others are blessed even if we are deprived, and this, not because the law commands not to covet, but because the grace of God is working in our hearts. It is the grace of God that teaches us "that, denying ungodliness and worldly lust, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present age" (Tit.2:11). The law told people to live in such a way, but it was unable to teach us, as grace does.
Moses tells Israel it was this law that God gave him in the mountain, attended by the cloud, fire, thick darkness and a loud voice, and that He (God Himself) wrote the laws on two tables of stone. this reminder should have deeply affected the people.
THE PEOPLE'S FEAR OF GOD
Moses reminds Israel that when the people had seen the awesome manifestations of the forbidding majesty of God, the heads of their tribes unitedly approached Moses, acknowledging that God had spoken to them, but fearful that God's continued speaking to them would involve His anger in consuming them by fire (vs.23-25). For if God is to speak only in righteousness, how terrible must be the results! They were therefore too frightened to come anywhere near to where God was. So they asked Moses to go near and hear what God would say and afterward tell them (v.27). They did not want to be exposed to judgment, but they did not mind if Moses was exposed! However, in this Moses is a type of Christ, the Mediator.
The Lord responded to their plea by telling Moses they were right in what they said (v.28), that is, that only Moses could approach God at this crucial time. But He added a striking comment, "0 that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever" (v.29).
Thus, God desired, not only their outward obedience, but that they should have hearts delighting in obedience. However, this can only be true for Israel under the new covenant (Jer.31:31-34). Meanwhile, they were to return to their tents (v.30) with unchanged hearts, while Moses remained in the presence of God to hear the commandments, statutes and judgments to be taught to Israel. Thus Moses again urges upon the people to be careful to do as the Lord commanded, turning neither to one side or the other, either to excessive legality or to careless laxity (v.32). "You shall walk in all the ways which the Lord your God has commanded you." No point of the law was to be disregarded, as is confirmed strikingly by James 2:10, "For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all." Therefore, and attitude that defended any disobedience was treachery against God, and would certainly shorten Israel's days in their land (v.33).
THE GREATEST COMMANDMENT
The ten commandments have been reaffirmed in chapter 5; now Moses emphasizes and enlarges upon the significance of the four commandments, which we have seen deal with Israel's relationship to God. He introduces this in verses 1-3 by again pressing on Israel the importance of obedience. This would prolong their days in the land and that would thus multiply greatly in accordance with the Lord's promise as to their land flowing with milk and honey.
Moses appeals also to the people on the ground of their concern for their sons and their grandsons (v.2). How deeply we should be concerned, not only for our present generation, but for children and grandchildren, for our character now will effect on these.
"How, 0 Israel, The Lord our God is one" (v.4)! This is basic to every department of our lives as it was to Israel's. There is no division in the Godhead: therefore God is the absolute. He is absolute in truth, absolute in supremacy, absolute in authority. Since this is true, it is only right that Israel be told, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength" (v.5). In Luke 10:25-27 a lawyer who tested the Lord quoted this verse (Deut.6:5) and added from Leviticus 19:18, "and your neighbor as yourself." However, Deuteronomy 5 confines itself to loving God, for this must come first. What a law was this! Who could dare to say that the one absorbing object of his heart and soul is God? -- and that his entire strength is devoted to God's pleasure? This law is a perfectly righteous one, but man in the flesh is totally incapable of obeying it. The Lord Jesus is the only one who has done so.
Yet Israel was to lay up these words in their hearts and to teach them diligently to their children, talking of them when sitting or walking or lying down (vs.6-7). God's standard was to be standard for believers today. The only acceptable Standard for us is Christ. Certainly no one measures up to this Standard either, but we can allow no lower standard. How good to teach Christ to our children, to speak of Him while sitting or walking or lying down. How much more precious is this than teaching law!
Binding these laws as a sign on Israel's hand is not literal, but rather speaks of applying these laws to the works of their hands. As frontlets between their eyes speaks of their seeing everything from God's viewpoint, consistently (v.8). Writing them on the doorposts of the house and on their gates is intended to keep Israel reminded of the law whether going out or coming in (v.9).
GUARDING AGAINST DANGER
God was graciously bringing Israel to a land of beauty and prosperity and Israel is told to keep in mind that they did not develop this land: it was already prepared for them by the previous inhabitants whom God was dispossessing. Houses, wells, vineyards and olive orchards were there for them to possess and benefit by (vs.10-11).
But prosperity has its very real dangers and Israel was told to beware lest they forget the Lord (v.12). We can easily begin to depend on our Lord. Let Israel cultivate the true fear of the Lord and serve Him, not influenced by other gods such as the nations served (vs.13-14). How great a temptation it is to believers today also, to want to be in some measure like the nations! We see what they do and what they have and in seeing this we allow our eyes to wander from the Lord and are tempted to imitate those who are ungodly. But the Lord is a jealous God, jealous of our affections, and cool disobedience may incur His present judgment (v.15). By such disobedience Israel could be destroyed. Therefore let them not tempt the Lord as they did at Massah when complaining against His dealings with them (v.16).
"You shall diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God. His testimonies and His statues which He has commanded you" (v.17). This would require their applying themselves to learn and to obey, to "do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord," that they might prosper in possessing the land God promised them, from which He would cast out their enemies (vs.18-19).
They could be sure that in due time their sons would be asking questions. What was the meaning of all the commandments of the Lord that caused a clear separation of Israel from all the nations (v.20)? The answer would take them back to the days of Israel's slavery in Egypt and the great intervention of God in bringing them out of this slavery with great signs and wonders against Egypt and Pharaoh (vs.21-22). God brought them out that He might bring them in to the land He had promised (v.23). Therefore, He had a special claim on Israel, and commanded them to observe all His statutes, giving proper reverential fear to Him who had so greatly blessed them (v.24).
Verse 25 is specially interesting, "Then it shall be our righteousness, if we are careful to observe" etc. If Israel had perfectly kept the law, this would be their righteousness. But they miserably disobeyed and for centuries now, in spite of their disobedience, "being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, they have not submitted to the righteousness of God (Rom.10:3). If they would submit to God's righteousness by true confession of their guilt before Him, they could find that God will impute righteousness to them on the basis of the sacrifice of Christ -- the only place now where anyone can find true righteousness. But it is tragically sad to see Israel clinging to a law they have badly broken, and ignoring God's beloved Son!
ISRAEL SEPARATED TO GOD
Again the Lord emphasizes the importance of Israel's sanctification from the nations. When they entered the land, God would give them victory over the inhabitants, as He had promised, seven nations greater and mightier than they (v.1). But on Israel's part there was to be no mercy shown to these enemies. They were to utterly destroy them (v.2). This is a picture of believers today being responsible to destroy the deception of evil spirits in opposing the truth of the Word of God in such a way as to deprive us of our rightful inheritance. We must not in any way compromise with satanic pressure.
Marriages with these enemies are expressly forbidden (v.4), for the foreign spouse would influence the Israelite to serve idols. All Scripture has consistently warned against such mixtures, and 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 is clear and decided as to this question, "Do no be unequally yoked together with unbelievers." If an Israelite was told to avoid a yoke with a Gentile, how much more today is a believer to form no bound with an unbeliever. This is God's Word, which is enough for every obedient heart, but if one is disobedient, he can expect to suffer painful consequences.
Israel was to have no hesitation in destroying the altars of these enemy nations, their sacred pillars and all their images (v.5). However attractive these things looked, they must not dare to spare any of them. In spirit of such clear laws from God, king Ahaz of Judah saw an altar in Syria and required the high priest to pattern one after this for Jerusalem (2 Kings 6:10-13), displacing the altar of God's design (v.14). Today in the professing church many similar things have been done (in a spiritual way) that are insulting to the living God.
Israel was "a holy people" to the Lord, who had chosen them as a people for Himself, a special treasure above all others (v.6). Since they were exclusively His, they should both deeply appreciate this honor and act constantly in positive testimony for Him, which is contrary to the course of the world.
As for Israel, so for the Church today, the Lord did not set His love on them because of their large population, for they were few in number (v.7). His love for them was sovereign, not influenced by natural considerations, but moved by pure divine wisdom, wisdom that had chosen their fathers and promised their fathers marvelous blessing that could come to their descendants. This love had already accomplished their amazing liberation from Egypt, so it was proven beyond doubt to them (v.8).
Therefore Israel was to fully recognize that God is absolutely faithful, perfectly dependable in keeping the covenant He had made, however many generations would follow. If Israel would keep God's commandments they would find Him true to His Word in blessing them (v.9). But also, if they refused to obey, they would find Him true to His Word in repaying their wrong doing in destroying them (v.10). Therefore, it was only wisdom to fully observe God's commandments, statutes and judgments.
BLESSINGS RESULTING FROM OBEDIENCE
Promises of blessing from God on condition of Israel's obedience ought to have induced them to be diligent in observing His laws. He promised them that if they would obey, He would keep His covenant which He swore to their fathers (v.12). Actually, whether they obeyed or not, God will eventually keep that covenant made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, for it is unconditional. Yet if Israel had obeyed God, they would have reaped the benefits of the covenant in the land, from which they would never to put out as long as they obeyed.
God would love and bless and multiply Israel on the ground of their obedience. He would bless them with children, bless the fruit of their land, prosper their crops of grain, wine and oil, and increase their livestock (v.13). He would bless them above all other nations, with not one male or female barren, whether of humans of livestock (v.14). This would have been marvelous indeed, though we know it did not take place. In the millennium it will be so, however, because God's covenant with the fathers cannot fail, and the grace of God will accomplish what law never could.
They would suffer no sickness nor any of the terrible diseases they had known in Egypt, which instead their enemies would suffer (v.15). They were again warned to destroy all the inhabitants of the land, not showing any pity and not being deceived by their idolatry (v.16). If they were tempted to fear these nations because they were greater than Israel, they must not give in to such fear, but remember well what the Lord did to Pharaoh and Egypt, including the great signs and wonders that proved Him superior to every enemy, for God would as effectively destroy all the power of those in the land as easily as He disposed of Egypt's power (vs.17-19).
In fact, God would send the hornet among their enemies, striking fear into their hearts, so that Israel would have no difficulty in destroying them (v.20). A hornet is a small, insignificant insect, but the weapons of an army cannot withstand an attack of hornets. The soldiers would not stand and fight Israel while pursued by hornets! Whether this is entirely literal or not, still it teaches us that God can use the most trifling means of putting His enemies to flight. Israel was warned therefore not to be terrified (v.21). We today need to be reminded by the words of the Lord Jesus, "Do not be afraid of them who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should fear. Fear Him who, after Has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him" (Lk.12:4-5)!
Yet Israel is told that God would not abruptly destroyed the enemies all at once, but drive them out a little at a time, for if the land was not immediately repopulated, wild animals would so increase as to cause another problem. But Israel must not be discouraged by the length of time this would take, for God would without fail enable them to finish the work (vs.22-23).
God would deliver the kings of the nations into their hands to be destroyed. They must burn their carved images, and not even desire the silver and gold of which the idols were made. All was to be devoted to utter destruction, for any remaining semblance of these evils would be a snare to Israel (vs.24-25). In God's sight the entire idol was abomination. No part of it could be sanctified to Him. More than this, Israel was told to detest and abhor such idols, not only to avoid them, but to hate them (v.26), for they were under the curse of God.
REMEMBER! DO NOT FORGET!
Israel was left no opportunity to say they did not understand what God was telling them. He repeated it in many different ways and insisted on it in no uncertain terms. Verse 1 emphasizes again that Israel must observe every commandment God gave, that they might live and multiply in possession of their land.
They must remember how the Lord God had led them all through their forty years of trial in the wilderness. That history was designed by God to humble and test His people, to bring out what was in their hearts, to prove whether they were willing to walk in His laws. Today, God has seen fit to leave believers in the world which is a wilderness indeed, with many occasions of trial that serve to humble us. We need this in order to learn well that we do not live merely by the food we eat, but by the Word of God (vs.2-3). In fact, the food God gave Israel was miraculous, that which was unknown before, and not derived from the lands they passed through. They would not understand that the manna was typical of the spiritual food by which believers are sustained in all their history on earth. The manna speaks of the Word of God concerning Christ in His lowly path of humiliation on earth. Israel ought to have learned through their wilderness experience they were totally dependent on the Word of God.
How amazing it was too that their clothing did not wear out in all that time, nor did their feet swell through walking. Such grace shown them, Israel should have realized that, as they disciplined their children, so it was right that the Lord should discipline them.
Insisting that Israel remember to keep God's commandments, Moses gave as an incentive the promise of the Lord to bring them into "a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs that flow out of the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey," in which they would have no scarcity, a land producing iron and copper (vs.6-8).
However, when blessed with all this abundance, then Israel ought to be deeply thankful to the Lord, remembering that they were dependent utterly on His great goodness (v.10). The danger would be present of their forgetting the Lord because they were prospering. The possession of material things might become such an object that God's goodness and God's commandments would be forgotten (v.11).
When they found food plentiful in the land, when they built beautiful houses, when their herds and flocks multiplied, their silver and gold and other possessions increased, then their hearts might be lifted up in such self-complacency that they should forget the Lord who had brought them from the hard bondage of Egypt (vs.12-14). Could they forget that God had led them in mercy through the great and terrible wilderness, with its serpents and scorpions, bringing water from the rock for their thirst, feeding them with manna (vs.15-16)?
In spite of this they might (and did) say in their heart, "My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth" (v.17). How harmful to himself is this self-centered pride of man! As Israel later succumbed to it, so in the Church of God today, many have been deceived in this way, and God's Word is in large measure forgotten. Again therefore Moses urges Israel to remember the Lord their God, for it is He only who gives power to anyone to prosper, and He did this to Israel to prove His faithfulness expressed in the covenant He had made with their fathers (v.18).
If Israel would forget the Lord God and follow and serve the idols of the nations, then God's Word would be carried out also in causing Israel to perish. Just as the nations of Canaan would be destroyed before the Lord, so Israel would suffer the same because of their disobedience (vs.19-20).
David and Solomon are object lessons as regards prosperity and its results. In all David's history of suffering he showed a lovely character of depending on the Lord. He needed the Lord and thirsted after the Lord when circumstances were against him. When he became ruler over Israel he did not stand out so beautifully as a man of faith, and failed badly in some instances, taking bad advantage of his prosperous conditions, such as in the case of his sin against Bathsheba and her husband (2 Sam.11); yet still the lessons of early years remained to remind him of his need of the Lord. He did sorrowfully confess his sin and returned to the Lord. But Solomon came to the throne of Israel amid wealth and splendor, and it was not long before he married many wives who turned away his heart from the Lord, and go so far away that we never read of him repenting, as David did.
For believers today too there will be disastrous consequences for disobedience and leaving the Lord out of their practical lives, not eternal judgment, but suffering under God's governmental hand on earth.
WARNINGS BECAUSE OF PREVIOUS REBELLIONS
In spite of Israel's many failures in the wilderness. God would keep His Word to bring them to the land of promise. Israel is told to go in and dispossess the nations greater and mightier than themselves, with great fortified cities, the people great and tall, descendants of the Anakim who were giants, who had a reputation of being invincible (vs.1-2). But Israel must understand that it was the living God who went before them "as a consuming fire" to render the enemy helpless before them (v.3).
As well as needing such encouragement in the Lord, Israel needed serious warnings, for they might think in their heart that the Lord was fighting for them because of their righteousness, which was far from the truth. Rather, the wickedness of these nations had risen to such a height that God was driving them out (v.4). Moses insists in verse 5 that it was not because of Israel's righteousness that they would possess the land, but because of the wickedness of the nations who then possessed it, and also that God would thus fulfill His promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Was Israel really a righteous nation? No, Moses tells them, they were a stiff-necked people, that is, stubborn and rebellious. Then he goes on to recount to them the many proofs in their history of their sinful character. "Remember!" he tells them, "Do not forget" (v.7). They had provoked the Lord to anger from the beginning of their wilderness journey. Also in Horeb their guilt was enormous, so that God was on the verge of destroying them. Moses had gone up to the mountain to receive the tables of stone on which the ten commandments were written, being there 40 days and 40 nights without food or water (v.9). He brought the tables down when the Lord told him Israel had corrupted themselves in making a golden image (v.12).
At that time the Lord threatened to blot our Israel's name from under heaven, and offered Moses the opportunity of becoming the head of a greater and mightier nation (v.14). Moses does not, in recounting this, tell how he had pled for Israel and God had relented (Ex.32:11-14), but he does speak of coming down the mountain, seeing the golden calf Israel had made, and throwing the two tables of stone on the ground and breaking them (vs.15-17).
Israel's sin caused Moses then to fall down before the Lord a second time for 40 days and 40 nights, without food and water, for he was afraid of the anger of the Lord against Israel, and he interceded for them before God, and the Lord listened (vs.18-19). God was angry with Aaron also, and only the intercession of Moses preserved Aaron from judgment (v.20). Moses, burned the golden calf, crushed it into particles like dust and threw it into a brook of water (vs.20-21). These two verses describe what happened before Moses' 40 days of fasting and prayer.
Moses then speaks of other cases of Israel's rebellion, first at Taberah (Num.11:1-10), their complaining about their food; then at Massah (Ex.17:2-6), complaining about the lack of water; then at Kibroth Hattaavah (Num.11:32-34), when the Lord showed mercy in giving Israel quails and they responded by greedily devouring them without any recognition of His goodness (vs.22-23). Also, Moses reminded Israel of their rebellion against the Word of the Lord at Kadesh Barnea when they refused to go into the land (Num.14:1-10). All of this proved Israel to be unworthy of the blessing God was going to give them in the land. How could they possibly boast then that the prosperity given them was because of their righteousness? As Moses says, they had been rebellious against the Lord from the day he knew them (v.24).
Verse 2 refers back to verse 18 to impress on Israel how dependent they were on an intercessor, for if they had gotten what they deserved it would have meant their destruction. Believers today also depend on the intercession of the Lord Jesus for our being borne with and sustained in our earthly wilderness history.
Moses' prayer at the time was not based on any hope that Israel would improve in their conduct, but on two great facts, first that God had claimed Israel as His own inheritance by redeeming them from Egyptian bondage (v.26), and secondly, on the fact of who their fathers were, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to whom God had given His unconditional promise (v.27). Thus, he asked God to remember these servants of His and turn His eyes from the stubbornness of Israel.
Moses used another powerful argument in verse 28. If God destroyed Israel in the wilderness, the Egyptians would say that God was not able to bring Israel into the promised land, but had rather shown hatred to Israel by killing them. Yet, in spite of all their miserable failure, Moses reminded God the children of Israel were His own people, His inheritance, whom He had brought by His great power out of Egypt (v.29), and could He cancel the value of that work by their destruction?
The history reminds us that we today are also fully dependent on the intercession of the Lord Jesus for our preservation and blessing.
THE SECOND GIVING OF THE LAW
While Moses had spoken of events later than the giving of the law insist on the moral lessons of Israel's disobedience through the wilderness (ch.9:22-23), he returned in verse 25 to his intercession for Israel at the time of the giving of the law. Now he recalls God's instructions to hew two more tablets of stone (v.1), and bring them to the mountain of God. But He adds, "and make yourself an ark of wood." God would write the commandments again on these stones, which Moses must put in the ark (v.2).
The ark was not mentioned at the first giving of the law, and the tablets were broken. But the ark speaks of Christ, the only One in whom the law is safe from the danger of breakage. So that this second giving of the law did not put Israel under absolute law, but rather involved the mediatorship of Christ as between the people and the law There was grace in this from God, and yet Israel was not put under grace, for this can only be now that Christ has suffered for sins and been raised again (Rom.6:5-14). But when the tablets were put in the ark, this signified that Israel was under law, but law tempered with mercy.
Moses therefore obeyed the Lord in making the ark and hewing the tablets of stone, taking them up the mountain (v.3). When the Lord had written on these, Moses brought them down and put them into the ark (vs.4-5). This answers to the words of the Lord Jesus in Psalm 40:8, "Your law is within My heart." The only place the law is safe from abuse is in the heart of the Lord Jesus.
Verses 6-9 form a parenthesis in speaking of Israel's journeys after this, for it was long after this that Aaron died, but it appears that Moses is indicating God's answer to Moses' prayer in the death of Aaron and the succession of Eleazar to the priesthood. Also, since Eleazar is a type of Christ in resurrection, there is connected with this the abundant blessing of the Spirit of God, as is symbolized in Jotbathah (v.7), meaning "a well with much water," showing that God answered Moses' prayer beyond all that Moses asked or thought.
Connected with this, though it had actually occurred long before, was the separation of the tribe of Levi to bear the ark of the covenant and to minister before the Lord, having no inheritance with the other tribes (vs.8-9). This is recorded in Numbers 8:9-26 at the beginning of the wilderness history, but Moses speaks of it here to connect Levitical service with the priesthood of Eleazar, the type of Christ in resurrection. For us today, the Levitical service in which every believer is to engage, is directly connected with Christ as the High Priest in resurrection, the Source of all direction and all power for such service.
As on the first occasion of the giving of the law, so on the second occasion, Moses remained in the mountain forty days and forty nights, and his intercession for Israel availed to avert God's judgment (v.10). Rather than destroying Israel, God gave Moses orders to proceed on the journey to the land of Canaan (v.11).
WHAT GOD REQUIRED OF ISRAEL
How perfectly right it was of God to require of Israel to fear Him, to walk in all His ways, to love Him, to serve Him with all their heart and all their soul, to keep His commandments and His statutes (vs.12-13). Yet, in considering carefully each of these things, could Israel possibly be confident of obeying them? In fact, from the very outset, God's legal requirements as regards Israel were doomed to fail, for people will never do what is required of them. Thus law requires, but the grace of God provides.
Moses proceeds to show how the Lord had perfect title to Israel's obedience, for heaven and earth belong to God (v.14). Yet more, God had shown true delight in the fathers of Israel, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, choosing them and their descendants above all other nations (v.15).
Therefore he tells them to circumcise the foreskin of their heart, that is, cut off the selfish, fleshly desires of their heart; and "be stiff-necked no longer" (v.16). Being stiff-necked refers to the stubbornness of wanting our own way. But would Israel be corrected by being told this? Sadly, no! Only the New Testament shows the way of proper correction.
"For the Lord your God is a God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe" (v.17). How important that we, as well as Israel, should meditate well on these arresting statements. Whatever people may call "gods," all of these are totally subservient to the one living God, or whoever may be "lords," having authority in some small realm, they are themselves under the supreme authority in some small realm, they are themselves under the supreme authority of the one Lord of the universe. A similar expression to this is used of the Lord Jesus in Revelation 19:16, "King of kings and Lord of lords."
This great God of Israel who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe, is shown rather to administer justice for the fatherless and widow and shows love toward strangers (v.18). How totally in contrast to this are the great majority of rulers in the world today! Law courts too frequently show sad disregard for justice. The poor will commonly suffer gross injustice while the wealthy use their money to pervert judicial action in their own favor. Believers may well be deeply thankful for a God who is perfectly just and faithful.
Because God loves strangers as well as Israel, then Israel is told to love the stranger, for they were at one time strangers in the land of Egypt (v.19). They should therefore understand the feelings of a stranger. Showing kindness to strangers would be consistent with their fearing the Lord and serving Him, as well as taking oaths in His name (v.20). Taking oaths was consistent with their being under law, but the Lord Jesus changed this in saying, "But I say to you, do not swear at all, neither by heaven, for it is God's throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. No shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black" (Mt.5:34-36).
The Lord God was to be their object because of who He is and what He has done (v.21), which included His multiplying Israel from 70 persons to well over 2,000,000. this was in fact far more than the number of stars they could see in the heavens.
SOWING AND REAPING
This chapter emphasizes the results of obedience in contrast to the consequences of disobedience. It begins with the commandment to love the Lord their God, which of course is the motivating power for keeping God's statutes (v.1). Yet, though told many times to love the Lord, Israel did not respond to this. For love cannot be legislated, as Israel learned by experience. It must be spontaneous and voluntary. The New Testament makes this clear, "We love Him because He first loved us" (I John
Moses spoke to those who had seen the many manifestations of God's power and grace to Israel (v.2). These were under 20 years of age when they saw these things, and should certainly have well remembered all the signs God wrought in Egypt, His bringing Israel safely through the Red Sea and destroying the Egyptians in the waters, then of all He had done in the wilderness, including the judgment of Dathan and Abiram in being swallowed up by the earth opening (vs.3-7). They themselves (not a previous generation) had witnessed all this.
With all this in mind Israel should be stirred to keep every commandment God gave them. Such obedience would make them strong to possess all their inheritance (v.8). Also this would cause them to prolong their days in the land, "a land flowing with milk and honey" (v.9). Milk speaks of the Word of God (1 Peter 2:2), while honey symbolizes the ministry of the Word of God (Song.4:11), that is, the sweetness believers have gathered from the Word and minister to others.
For the land of their inheritance was not like Egypt, which depended on men's methods of irrigation, watered by "foot," but a land of hills and valleys, dependent on rain from heaven (vs.10-11). This pictures the spiritual inheritance of Christians today, blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly place in Christ, in contrast to the earthly, material blessings of the people of the world. Thus, we are dependent, not on our surrounding circumstances, but on the blessing of God from heaven. So, Israel's land was the object of God's care all year through (v.12).
On condition of Israel's earnest obedience to God's commands, God would give rain to the land in its season, the early and the latter rain, which would be neither too little or too much for their crops of grain, wine and oil. Their livestock would be sustained by sufficient grass in their fields (vs.13-15).
Verse 16 again warns Israel against being deceived in turning to serve and worship other gods, which would arouse the anger of the Lord, so that He might withhold the rain and cause famine in the land, with its resulting decimation of the people (v.17).
Therefore God's words should be laid up in the hearts of Israelites, bound as a sign on their hands and placed as frontlets before their eyes (v.18). Being in their hearts would imply being the motivating power, while bound on their hand speaks of the control of their actions. As frontlets before their eyes indicates that their eyes were to be kept centered on the truth of God rather than looking in other directions for help or guidance. Israel did not respond to the significance of these things, but such things are written for us today, that we should realize the spiritual blessing of having the truth always delighting our hearts.
The laws given to Israel were to be taught to their children. They were not to be used merely in public gatherings, but applied daily, to be spoken of anywhere and at all times. They were even to write them on their doorposts and on their gates (v.20). Thus it was a matter of being constantly reminded. We today have more vital things than these to keep in remembrance, all the marvelous truths concerning the Lord Jesus, His incarnation, His life on earth, His sacrifice of Calvary, His resurrection, His ascension, His present High Priesthood at God's right hand for us, His promised coming again, His subduing all creation under His feet, His reign of 1000 years, His Great White Throne judgment and His eternal glory with its infinite blessing for all believers. But the knowledge and enjoyment of Christ in all these things will have wonderful effect in keeping us diligently following Him more fully than Israel could have done.
Obedience would multiply the days of the Israelites and their children in the land, "like the days of the heavens above the earth" (v.21). Thus their hearts would be lifted up in calm, lovely dignity above the level of the their circumstances, to realize their blessings really came from heaven. Today our blessings not only come from heaven; they are secured for us in heaven in the person of the risen Lord of glory.
Again, on condition of obedience, Israel is told that the Lord will drive out the nations of Canaan before them, though they were greater and mightier than Israel (v.23). Wherever their feet trod would become theirs. The bounds mentioned are from the Euphrates River westward to the Mediterranean Sea (v.24). This has never yet been fully possessed by Israel, but will be in the Millennium. God's power was such that no man could stand against Israel (v.25), though Israel failed to take advantage of this power.
In verse 26 Moses speaks of setting before Israel a blessing and a curse. Which would Israel reap? This depended on what they sowed. If obedient they would reap the blessing (v.27); if disobedient, then the curse (v.28). Two mountains in the land were to symbolize these, the blessing put on Mount Gerazim and the curse on Mount Ebal (v.29). This was carried out by Joshua soon after Israel entered the land (Josh.8:33-34).
ONE CENTER OF WORSHIP
To prepare for proper worship in the land, Israel must utterly destroy those in which the nations before them served their idols. This was commonly done in high places, in mountains and hills and in lovely wooded areas (v.2-3), just as many people today tell us they need no gathering of saints to the name of the Lord Jesus in order to worship, but feel closer to God when they are outside enjoying the beauties of nature. But this kind of worship was to be totally destroyed by Israel, by breaking down their pillars, burning their wooden images and cutting down their carved images. No vestige of these things was to be left, for Israel was not to adopt any such thing as part of their worship (v.4).
They had no choice even as regards where they were to worship. Rather, God had decided this matter and Israel was to seek only the place God had chosen (v.5). When they entered the land, God would leave no doubt as to where that center of worship was. Their worship in that place would require "burnt offerings, your sacrifices of your tithes, freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks." Notice that all of these things speak of Christ in some way, and emphatically Christ crucified. This must always be the prominent theme of worship. Worshiping the beauties of nature is an insult to God, for nature is under God's curse because of sin. Worshiping Christian worshiping the One who has borne the curse of our guilt on Calvary.
On such a basis too they were privileged to eat before the Lord and rejoice in the blessing the Lord had given them (v.2). The Lord expects this spirit of thankfulness and rejoicing before Him when people have been blessed, rather than an attitude of each person independently doing what is right in his own eyes (v.8). This too frequently happens when people are prosperous. If they have difficulties and hardship, usually people are drawn more together, to help one another.
Israel was yet traveling when Moses spoke, but when the Lord would settle them in the land beyond Jordan, then He would designate the place where His name would abide (vs.9-l1). To that place they were to bring their burnt offerings, sacrifices, tithes, heave offerings and all choice offerings, and all choice offerings, and in that center they were to rejoice before the Lord, together with their families, their servants and the Levite who resided in the area, since the Levites did not have a distinct inheritance (v.12). For us today, Christ and Him crucified is the Center of our worship, not a geographical location, but a living Person.
Only God's choice was to be allowed as a place of worship for Israel (v.13). We know from later history that Jerusalem was that center, its name meaning "the foundation of peace." In the New Testament the center for the Church of God is not a physical location, but Christ in resurrection is the Center, as He Himself declares, "For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them"
(Mt.18:20). Thus, it is opposing Scripture to be gathered to a denominational name or to gather to a certain doctrine or doctrines. God has chosen His Son to be the only allowable Center. May we deeply value this and show our appreciation in gathering to Him alone, apart from the party names or party doctrines so popular today.
However, when animals were not offered as sacrifices, it was permissible for Israel to slaughter these at their homes and eat the meat. In this case even those who were unclean could eat (v.15). Thus the Lord Jesus received sinners and eat with them (Lk.15:2). But He ate the Passover only with His disciples (Lk.22:14). Scripture does not forbid a believer to eat a common meal with an unbeliever (1 Cor.10:27), but it does forbid any yoke with an unbeliever (1 Cor.6:14). But in any case, the blood of the animal was never to be eaten (v.16).
Verse 17 insists that none of those things that were offered to God were to be eaten "within your gates," that is, in their home circumstances: they were to be given a marked distinction and eaten only in the place the Lord would choose. Thus their worship was to be totally sanctified from their ordinary home life, and their entire family and servants were included in this, when they could rejoice exclusively before the Lord (v.18).
Neither must they forsake the Levite, for Levites were servants to the priests and had no specified inheritance because they were God's servants to care for the spiritual needs of the people (v.19).
Verses 20-22 reiterate the permission of God for Israel to eat meat in their homes, so long as the animal was not offered as a sacrifice to God, but with the restriction added as to eating no blood (vs.23-25). The repetition of such things was necessary in order that Israel might take to heart the truth of the Word of God.
The holy things, all that were to be offered to God, were to be taken to God's center of worship. There they were to be offered to God, with the blood of the animals poured out on the altar, while the offerers were permitted to eat the meat (v.27). These were peace offerings of which they were allowed to eat after God was given His portion, the fat, the entrails and kidneys (Lev.3:3-5); and the high priest and his sons also being given the breast and the thigh (Lev.7:31-32).
This section is ended by another pressing insistence from God that Israel should obey what He commands, that they and their children might reap favorable benefits from this (v.28).
WARNINGS AGAINST FALSE WORSHIP
In view of Israel's being planted in their land by God's dispossessing their enemies, Moses strongly warns them of the danger of Satan's temptation to snare Israel into adopting and following the false gods of the land (vs.29-30). Israel might foolishly think that their enemies had prospered because of their particular worship, just as today some Christians think the ungodly prosper because of their attractive forms of professed worship and adopt such forms that are actually idolatrous.
People may think this only another way of really serving God (v.31), as though Confucianism, Buddhism, Mohammedanism, Shintoism, Mormonism, Christian Science, etc. are only alternative styles of worshiping the same God. but all of these are absolutely false and opposed to the worship of God as revealed in His beloved Son Jesus Christ. Such religions can sink into such a low state that people dare to even burn their children in the fire as sacrifices to their gods. Though some of these do not go that far literally today, yet by teaching unholy doctrines to their children, they are virtually sacrificing them to the flames of hell!
The only real protection we have from such evil is in obedience to the Word of God (v.32). How vital it is that we should take to heart the words of this verse: "Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it: you shall not add to it nor take away from it." This verse is found in the history of Scripture. In that history there is no slightest error. It provides all that is necessary for us to know as regards what is past, and nothing must be taken from it. Another similar warning is found in the poetry of Scripture (Prov.30:5-6); and another in the prophecy of Scripture (Rev.22:18-19). Whether in its history, poetry or prophecy, the Word of God is absolute and full in its truth. We must not dare to add to it nor subtract from it, but treat it with utmost reverence.
JUDGMENT OF FALSE PROPHETS
Just as Paul warned the Ephesian elders that "savage wolves" would enter in among New Testament believers, and men from among themselves would teach perverted things to draw away disciples after them (Acts 20:29-30), so Moses warned Israel here of what might happen among them, and did happen. A prophet or dreamer of dreams might arise, prognosticating something about to happen and using this to back up his leading others to serve idols. The thing that he prophesied might come to pass. In this case, some would be inclined to think the prophet must be right. But actually, the fact of his prophecy being correct proved something far different. Israel was not to listen to his words (v.3), but rather firmly hold fast to the truth of God and walked in His ways (v.4).
More than that, such a prophet was to be put to death (v.5). His accurate prophecy only proved that he was influenced by satanic power. God was by this means proving Israel, as to whether they would put His word above the word of the most persuasive false prophets. Only by the death of the false prophet could the evil be put away from Israel's midst.
Even if the closest relative, brother, son, daughter, wife or any friend were to secretly entice one to serve other gods, whether gods previously unknown or the gods of the nations of the land of Canaan, however near or far, the seducer was not only to be refused a hearing, but was to die without mercy, and that by the hand of the relative or friend he had tried to lead away (vs.6-9). At least these witnesses must be first called upon to take part in this judgment (v.9).
Such swift judgment as this would awaken Israel to "hear and fear," to prevent any recurrence of such wickedness (v.11). Such false worship is just as abominable to God now as it was in Israel, though today is the day of grace, when God delays His judgment in desire that people will judge themselves and be saved. Yet such wickedness persisted in will eventually reap a harvest of more dreadful judgment than has ever yet been known.
CORRUPTION INVADING A CITY
It might occur in Israel that a report would reach the ears of anyone to the effect that a city has been influenced by corrupt men to adopt the practice of worshiping false gods (vs.12-13). Then those who hear the report become responsible to check on its accuracy. They must not judge unrighteously, nor on the basis of what they first hear, but must "inquire, search out, and ask diligently" (v.14). Only when the fact was established without question that such idol worship was practiced, then the city must be attacked with the edge of the sword, with everything in it devoted to destruction, not a thing taken even as plunder (vs.15-16).
Only when the evil was judged totally in this way would the fierce anger of the Lord be abated, so that Israel would again be favored with His compassionate mercy, because in this case they had listened to the voice of the Lord to keep His commandments. Similarly, if in the Church of God evil doctrine or wicked moral practice raises its head, when there is found doubt of the evil, then it must be fully judged. If it is found only in an individual, that person must be put away from fellowship. If such evil is protected by any gathering, that gathering must be excommunicated. This is solemn work, but it is the only way to avoid the more serious displeasure of God.
THE VAIN SHOW OF MOURNING
The dignity of Israel's outward relationship to God as sons required them to act with proper dignity. The ungodly nations practiced such things as cutting themselves and shaving the front of their head to show how they respected people who had died. This was vain hypocrisy, a show of religiousness intended to draw attention to themselves. The Lord Jesus reproved even the loud weeping and wailing of people around the house of Jairus at his daughter's death (Mk.5:38-39). Cutting oneself, shaving the hair, weeping and wailing, can do nothing for the person who has died. In fact, if it is a believer who has died, this is really cause for quiet thankfulness that he or she is with the Lord. If an unbeliever, it is too late then to be of any help, though hearts should be subdued before God. It is perfectly right that one should weep in feeling the loss of a loved one, as the Lord Jesus wept in sympathy with Mary and Martha (Jn.11:32-35), but to put on an outward show is repulsive.
Israel ought to specially regard this instruction for they were a holy people, chosen by God, a special treasure above all other people (v.2). The Church of God today has a higher dignity than this, for she is invested with heavenly blessings, her inheritance being in heaven (Eph.1:3).
CLEAN MEATS CONTRASTED TO UNCLEAN
Leviticus 11 has before laid down laws concerning this subject, and these verses reinforce them. A number of animals are listed as being clean and therefore fit for meat for Israel (vs.4-5). These included animals that had cloven hooves and also chewed the cud. Any animal that lacked one of these were not fit for Israel's consumption (v.6). A list of some of these is found in verses 7 and 8.
As to water creatures, all having fins and scales were permitted for food: if not, they were not to be eaten (vs.9-19) No particular feature is mentioned as to birds, however, that were to be refused. Yet those that are mentioned are those that feed on carrion (vs.12-19). In all of these things there is vital spiritual significance. For though under grace there is no longer any restriction as to eating these creatures (1 Tim.4:4-5), yet if we feed on what is spiritually unclean, we shall be badly affected by it. The believer has so much excellent spiritual food that he should fully avoid what is harmful. How well it is that we take to heart the Lord's words, "As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feed on Me will live because of Me" (Jn.6:57). Can we dare to make room for a diet that is contrary to this pure and living food?
Clean animals chewed the cud, speaking of the character of meditation, which is vital to every believer. Having cloven hooves speaks of a balanced walk, which preserves from being trapped in mud and enables a more sure-footed walk in rocky paces. We need this in a world of adversity. As to water creatures, fins propel the fish through the waters, a contrast to the inert settling down that unbelievers prefer. Scales are a protection also which we need from the elements of the world. The unclean birds teach us that we are not to accept that which feeds on corruption.
Israel was not to eat anything that died of itself. Yet they were allowed to give it to an alien or sell it to a foreigner, for these were not under the same laws as Israel, and could decide for themselves what they would eat. There is no indication that such things would be harmful physically. Of course one should be cautious in case of animal died of poisoning.
An interesting note is added here that a young goat was not to be boiled in its mother's milk, for the milk is intended as nourishment, just as the Word of God is intended to nourish young believers (1 Pet.2:2), not to boil them! We should be careful how we use the Scriptures, for young believers need the nourishment and encouragement of God's Word. If we use the Word against them in a harsh, critical way, this is like boiling a kid in its mother's milk.
We read of Abram tithing all the spoils of his victory in battle, giving this to Melchizedek, a priest of the Most High God (Gen.14:18-20). This tithe was totally voluntary, not because of any law. Jacob promised to give a tithe (one tenth) of all that the Lord would give him (Gen.28:22), but there is no record in Scripture of his every paying it.
But the law in Israel required everyone to tithe all the increase of whatever kind, whether grain, wine or oil, or the firstborn of their flocks and herds. In Numbers 18:21 we read of all the tithes in Israel being given to the Levites for their support, and of the Levites being required to give a tithe of the tithes to the Lord (v.26). Yet it seems here in Deuteronomy 14 that the people were allowed to eat of their tithes "before the Lord your God," sharing those tithes with the Levites (vs.27-29).
If they lived a long distance from Jerusalem, they were allowed to sell the tenth of their produce for money and bring that money to Jerusalem, where they would spend it for whatever food they desired to eat "before the Lord" (vs.24:26). For the Lord desired them to rejoice before Him rather than to consume their produce with selfish greed, apart from God's presence.
However, their providing for the Levites was to be every third year, when they were to store up the tenth of their produce. The Levites were entitled to this, along with strangers, fatherless and widows who might be with them. When comparing this with Numbers 18:21-24, we may not clearly see the exact way in which all this was done, but Numbers 18:24 speaks of the tithes the children of Israel "offered as a heave offering to the Lord" as being given to the Levites. This may explain why there seems to be a contradiction in these accounts. For we know God never contradicts Himself.
In the New Testament, rather than being commanded to give tithes, believers are encouraged to give only as they may purpose in their hearts, in appreciation of the pure grace of God. How good to be reminded that "God loves a cheerful give" (2 Cor.9:7).
SEVENTH YEAR RELEASE OF DEBTS
Out of compassion for the poor God required creditors to release debtors from their debts at the end of seven years. This surely reminds us of the grace of God in forgiving our great debt of sin by means of the sacrifice of His beloved Son. This was evidently a general year of release, not a release of any particular debt after seven years (v.9). some people might take advantage of this to borrow money just before the time of release, but notice verse 9. Certainly one should not borrow money unless he is in need, and then he ought to be concerned to pay off his debts as soon as he can. The release however did not apply to foreigners who borrowed from Israelites (v.3).
The Lord would greatly bless Israel in the land to the point that there would be no poor among them. If this were the case, and in spite of this debts were incurred, verses 3 and 4 indicate that the release would not apply because the debt was not on account of poverty.
God's blessing in this way however would be dependent on Israel's carefully obeying the Lord, observing all His commandments (v.5). So that this was a conditional promise. Israel failed to keep the conditions, and poverty was not abolished, so that the Lord Jesus told His disciples, "The poor you have with you always" (Jn.12:8). This will change only after the Lord's judgment and His establishing Israel in the future blessings of the millennium.
God would allow Israel to lend to many nations, but told them not to borrow from the nations. Israel is certainly not blessed in this way now, for she is anxious to borrow huge sums from the United States, whose national debt is already so great that it appears impossible for her to ever pay it off. Though Israel was to rule over many nations, and will yet do so in the millennium (v.6), yet because of her disobedience to God, the situation has been the reverse; many nations have ruled over her, and she has suffered tragic debasement over centuries past.
CONSIDERATION OF THE POOR
For whatever reason one might be poor, the Lord did not excuse Israel from the responsibility of helping with material support. Some have dared to say that if one is poor it is his own fault, but whether we think this way or not, it is our fault if we fail to give him help. This was true in Israel, and it is fully true in our dispensation of grace. The apostles were united in their urging this liberality (Gal.2:10), and Paul devotes two chapters to this important matter (2 Cor.8 and 9).
So, in verse 8 Israelites are told to "open your hand wide," without the least grudging, to willingly lend a poor person whatever he needs. This was under law, and the person was responsible to pay it back if he was able, though the debt would be released in the seventh year. In the New Testament believers are encouraged to give, not merely to lend, for if we give as to the Lord, the Lord will take full account, as is seen even in Proverbs 19:17: "He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord, and He will pay him back what he has given." Therefore, how good it is to gladly give with no strings attached. Faith can surely depend simply on the Lord.
If there were a case of genuine need, even though the year of release was near, this could not be an excuse for refusing help at the time (v.9), though it was then almost certain that the debt would never be repaid. But God always repays faith. Therefore, they should willingly give with a full heart, expecting nothing in faith. Therefore, they should willingly give with a full heart, expecting nothing in return, for when this is our attitude, God will always reward it in the most appropriate way.
The exception seen in verse 4, in case there were no poor in the land, is seen to be an impossibility in verse 11, which tells us, "the poor will never cease from the land," for the poor would cease only if Israel obeyed the law, which God knew they would not. Therefore, they should be willingly generous toward the poor.
THE LAW AS TO BONDSERVANTS
It might be that a Hebrew became so poor as to sell himself as a slave to his countryman. If so, after six years of service his master was required to set him free (v.12). Yet more than this, he was to supply his slave liberally with produce that would enable him to live in some comfort (vs.13-14). This was a remarkable provision made by God, so that no one would be so reduced as to become homeless, as many are today in the U.S.A. So long as one was willing to work, he would thus find means of support.
The responsibility to care for slaves in this way was impressed on Israel with the reminder that Israel had been in slavery in Egypt and that the Lord had redeemed them from such bondage. Let them have the same attitude toward slaves as the Lord had shown toward them.
It might be that a slave had such respect for his master that he did not want to go free, but preferred to remain a slave to his master (v.16). If so, the master was told to thrust an awl through the servants ear into the door in token of a total committal to the service of his master (v.17), for his ear was now committed to hearing only the instruction of his master, while the door speaks of his master's glad reception of such service.
This is all beautifully of the perfect Servant, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, because of love for His Master, God the Father, His love for the Church, and for every individual believer, has pledged Himself to a life of service forever. The pierced ear reminds us of His willing sacrifice of Calvary by which He has committed Himself to such willing service. As regards freeing a servant at the seventh year, Israel is told it must not seem hard to them to do so, for the slave had been worth double the value of a hired servant (v.18). Besides, the Lord would reward the willingness of a master in letting the servant go free.
AS TO FIRSTBORN MALE ANIMALS
Israel also was required to observe God's rights as Creator in regard to the flocks and herds each individual might own. The firstborn males were to be set apart for the Lord. They were not to use the animal to work for them, nor were they even to shear the firstborn sheep (v.19). The Lord did not take these from them, but required that they bring them to the place of His choice (Jerusalem) and there eat them as before the Lord. These were peace offerings, offered to the Lord, with the Lord having a share, the priest also have his share, but the reminder eaten by the offerer and his household (v.20).
An exception was made in the case of an animal having any defect, for in this case it could not be offered to God (v.21), for the offering is typical of Christ in whom there is no spot or blemish. An animal with a blemish might be eaten at home, however (v.22). But again the eating of blood is expressly forbidden (v.23).
INSTRUCTIONS AS TO THE PASSOVER
The Passover, held in the first month of the year, was to celebrate Israel's deliverance from Egypt (v.1), but more importantly, to look forward to the death of the Lord Jesus -- "Christ our Passover.... sacrificed for us" (1 Cor.5:7). Of course, Israel did not understand that spiritual significance, but God did. The first Passover was held in Egypt (Ex.12), the second in the wilderness (Num.9:5), the third in the plains of Jericho (Josh.5:10) as Israel entered the land. But the Lord commanded that when they were established in the land the Passover was to be observed only "in the place where the Lord chooses to put His name" (v.1). That center is Jerusalem.
The gathering center today for the Church of God is the person of the Lord Jesus, who tells us, "Where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them" (Mt.18:20). God allows no other center such as all the divisions of Christendom have conceived.
The Passover feast was to continue for seven days, during which no leavened bread was to be eaten, for leaven speaks of sin which has been totally judged in the cross. This seven day observance was intended to keep Israel reminded all their life of the day of their deliverance from Egypt (v.3), just as the Lord's supper is a reminder of the Lord's death by which He has delivered believers from their former bondage to sin.
Leaven was not to be found in Israel all those seven days, and none of the meat of the Passover lamb was to remain overnight (v.4). Exodus 12:10 had commanded that anything left was to be burned, that is, it went up in fire to the Lord; for God can appreciate everything about Christ, if we cannot.
Again verses 5 and 6 insist that the Passover was to be sacrificed only in the place of God's choice, the time for it being in the evening, and the method of cooking, roasting (v.7). On the seventh day of the feast a solemn assembly was to take place, with no work done.
THE FEAST OF WEEKS
The feast of firstfruits is not mentioned here, as it is in Leviticus 23:9-14. This feast closely followed the Passover, when the sheaf of firstfruits was waved before the Lord. From that time seven weeks were to be counted, so that the fiftieth day would be the feast of weeks, or Pentecost. On this day a freewill offering was to be presented to the Lord in the place that He would choose, Jerusalem, so that this would require another journey for the purpose of rejoicing before the Lord, in which they were to include all their family and household servants, as well as any Levite living there, and "the stranger, the fatherless and the widows" among them (v.11). We shall see in verse 16, however, that it was only all the males who were required to be at Jerusalem on these three occasions, not their families.
THE FEAST OF TABERNACLES
The feast of Trumpets and the Great Day of Atonement, spoken of in Leviticus 23:23-32, are passed over here, and the Feast of Tabernacles is emphasized. This was on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, including seven days following (Lev.23:34), after the harvest had been gathered in. Again this was to be a time of rejoicing for each family, their servants, the Levites and the needy who were connected with them in any way (v.14). The Feast of Tabernacles is typical of the great blessing of the millennial day when Israel will have cause to remember the great goodness of God toward them in restoring them after centuries of self-will and rebellion.
The reason that only the above three feasts are included here is seen in verse 16. At the time of these three feasts all the males in Israel were required to appear in Jerusalem before God. Nor were they to appear before the Lord empty-handed, but to bring what they were able to offer before Him (v.17). This was before ordered in Exodus 23:14-19, and tells that believers today should have real concern about appearing at Bible conferences whenever it is possible, with a desire to give to the Lord what is becoming and right.
In the land Israel was to appoint judges and officers who would judge the people righteously (v.18). They are warned solemnly against any perversion of justice, including partiality for one against another, and against taking any bribe (v.19). Such things are so common in the world that Israel must be sternly warned against this. In the New Testament Timothy is given a serious charge by Paul, "I charge you before God and the Lord Jesus Christ and the elect angels that you observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing with partiality" (1 Tim.5:21). Among believers such an admonition should hardly be necessary, but it is.
Israel was to follow what is altogether just, for this would have a direct bearing on their practical inheritance of the land (v.20). Also the nations planted groves as places of idol worship. Israel is told not to plant a tree as an image in proximity to an altar built for the worship of the Lord. They were allowed to build either a stone or earthen altar (Ex.20:24-25), but no suggestion of idolatry was to be allowed. "A sacred pillar" might be considered as a reminder of spiritual things, but the Lord hates this. If His Word is not a sufficient reminder, then we are in a bad spiritual state which will not be helped by material objects. Let us greatly value the Word of God and refuse to add to it.
(This Continues the subject of)
(chap.16:13 to 17:11)
This continues the subject of righteous government. The guilt of offering a blemished sacrifice to the Lord must incur severe judgment (vs.1-2) for transgressing God's covenant, as was true in the case of any who worship other gods, whether the sun or moon or the stars which may seem to men on such a high level that worshiping them would be permissible.
If a report came of any such abuses, then Israel was to inquire diligently to be absolutely certain that the report was true (v.4). When this was established without question, then the offender, whether man or woman, must be brought to the gates and stoned to death (v.5). In the present day idolatry is no less abhorrent to God, but in grace He is delaying His judgment until the future. Yet any such guilt on the part of one who professes to be a Christian requires us to firmly refuse him any fellowship (2 Cor.6:14-18; 2 Tim.2:16-21).
However, the testimony of one witness would not be sufficient to pass a death sentence: there must be two or three witnesses (v.6). Also the witness would be required to be first in putting the offender to death (v.7). This would make people slow to witness if they were not persuaded fully of the guilt of the accused.
There may also be cases that were too involved to enable a prompt decision, cases too hard to discern. At the end of the dispensation of grace we are warned that the times would be difficult (2 Tim.3:1). "Perilous times" (KJV) is rightly rendered "difficult times," implying hard to bear with and hard to deal with. If such a case arose in Israel, the matter was to be taken to God's center, Jerusalem (v.8) and submitted to the priests, Levites and to the judges in authority at the time, and their judgment of the case was to be final and binding (vs.10-11). In the Church of God today there is no such earthly center of human authority, but Christ is the Center, and His own presence alone will settle such things. We need concerted, united dependence upon Himself, for He is the one Judge we may depend on. The priests would answer today to those believers who act in genuine priestly capacity in intercession for the saints of God. In communion with the Lord (the Judge) they may then communicate His answer to the people. This will always be properly guarded by consulting and obeying the Word of God.
One might act presumptuously, asserting his own will as being superior to the decision of the judges, and such a person must be put to death. Sadly, there are many today who have this proud, self-assertive attitude which can work havoc among the saints of God. Though we cannot put them to death, we can and should publicly rebuke them (1 Tim.5:20), that others also may fear, as Israel would fear in the death sentence passed on one of them. If the rebuke is not effective in restraining this haughty attitude, it may become necessary to refuse the offender all practical fellowship (Mt.18:17).
A KING MUST BE SUBJECT
Though God knew that Israel would only aggravate their difficulties rather than solve them through having a king, yet He knew too that they were so self-willed that they would eventually demand a king "like all the nations" (v.14). Thus, God would allow them their way, just as He often allows us our way in order that we may learn the end results of our folly.
Yet God would not allow them to choose their own king, but rather accept one whom God chose (v.15). Government "for the people, of the people and by the people" was never God's way. Nor was Israel to have a king from any foreign nation. In spite of this the Herod who ruled at the time of the Lord Jesus was an Edomite. Yet believers today are to submit to whatever government God sees fit to allow, to thank God for those in authority and to pray for them (1 Tim.2:1-2). We are like those who are ambassadors in a foreign country (2 Cor.5:20), not interfering in their politics, but subject to their authority. "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Phil.3:20).
But a warning is given to any king who might arise: he was not to multiply horses nor send his people to bring horses from Egypt (v.16). Of course war horses were considered necessary for the protection of the kingdom. Could faith not depend on God for such protection rather than on horses? See Psalm 33:17; Hosea 14:3. In spite of this warning, Solomon, wealthy king as he was, "had horses imported from Egypt." as well as chariots (1 Ki.10:28-29), So that it is reported he had 40,000 stalls of horses (1 Ki.4:26). These did not protect the kingdom from division soon after the death of Solomon (1 Ki.12). Depending on these things is not depending on God.
Nor was a king to "multiply wives for himself" (v.17), for this would turn away his heart from the Lord. In this also Solomon grossly disobeyed God, having 700 wives as well as 300 concubines, and "his wives turned his heart after other gods" (1 Ki.11:4). Not only did this Scripture (Deut.17) warn him, but he reports himself that his mother warned him, "Do not give your strength to women, nor your ways to that which destroys kings" (Prov.31:1-3). His great wisdom did not preserve him from sin.
Also a king was not to "greatly multiply silver and gold for himself" (v.17). The Lord promised Solomon that He would give him "riches and wealth and honor" (2 Chron.1:12), but this was not sufficient for Solomon, just as other wealthy men grasp after more and more. For Solomon fitted merchant ships to greatly increase his wealth (1 Ki.10:22-23), and he laid heavy taxes on the people (1 Ki.12:3-4;11). In fact, Solomon's mother had also urged him to show kindness to the poor (Prov.31:8-9) but Solomon showed the opposite. Sad comment on the influences of prominence, wealth and wisdom!
Whether Solomon obeyed verse 18 and 19 may be a question, but it would seem that if he had written a copy of the law and had read it every day of his life, this might have preserved him from the sad failure and disobedience that caused him such grief in his later years. For the reading of God's Word would have such effect that it might keep him from having his heart lifted above his brethren (v.20), for the pride that comes from prominence can work severe havoc with a king, as it sadly did with Solomon. In all of this we are taught that if one is to rule rightly, he must first learn to be fully subject to the rule of the Lord.
In beautiful contrast to Solomon, the Lord Jesus, in all His life on earth, has shown perfect subjection to God. Though He is God's appointed King, yet in all His wondrous life of sorrow and love, He took no place of prominence, but displayed rather a perfect spirit of subjection as a Servant, not taking authority, but obeying the authority of God. This lowly subjection has qualified Him to eventually take the throne as King of kings and Lord of lords. What confidence too believers can have in Him, having seen Him tested in His lowly life of sorrow and obedience. He is the only One worthy to be given the place of supreme honor and dignity, for He has proven Himself in humiliation.
PRIESTS AND LEVITES: THEIR DUE
The proper support of the priests and Levites is again insisted on. Since they were given no inheritance in the land, and were separated to care for the interests of God among the people, then they were entitled to eat of the offerings that Israel made to the Lord (vs.1-2). this portion of the offerings consisted of the shoulders, the cheeks and the stomach of a bull or sheep. This was not from the burn offerings, which were all offered to the Lord in fire, except for the skin (Lev.1:6-13; 7:8). But the priest had his part of the peace offering and of the sin offering, if the blood of the sin offering was not brought into the holy place (Lev.7:14-15; Lev.6:26).
The firstfruits of their grain, wine and oil and the first of the fleece of sheep were to be given to the Levites also (v.4). Since they were to represent God's authority, then these things were primarily given to God, as is true today in ministering to God's servants.
It is insisted that the Lord had chosen Levi to stand to minister in the name of the Lord, and this was passed on from father to son (v.5). such succession for servants is not the case in the Church of God today, but rather each servant now has a distinct call from God, apart altogether from natural relationship. See Galatians 1:1 and 2 Timothy 2:2.
Levites were scattered among the tribes, but if a Levite desired with a longing heart to serve the Lord in the place of God's choice (Jerusalem), he was to be welcomed there among other Levites (v.7), and share equally with them in the offerings brought to the Lord.
WARNINGS AS TO WICKED PRACTICES IN THE LAND
In the land of Canaan the evil of the nations had risen to an intolerable level: their iniquity was full: therefore God was judging them before Israel. So God warns Israel against adopting any of the evil practices that caused His judgment. These included making sons or daughters pass through the fire (v.10), a thing the nations considered a religious ceremony (Deut.12:31), sacrificing their children to idols. To quote from Fausset's Encyclopedia (p.485), "Kimshi represents Moloch as a hollow brass human-like body with ox's head, and hands stretched forth to receive. When it was thoroughly heated the priests put the babe into its hand whilst drums were beat to drown the infant cries, lest the parents should relent." Is seems hard to understand how such wickedness could be justified by religious zeal, yet such is the seduction of satanic power.
Practicing witchcraft or soothsaying was also firmly forbidden, as well as the claim of interpreting omens, that is, anything that appeared to be unusual, to which superstition might attach some hidden meaning. One who pretended to have discernment to interpret such things was the victim of satanic deceit. Sorcery, also forbidden, is the practice of delving into spiritism by the use of drugs.
Verse 11 adds to this the evil of conjuring spells, that is, hypnotism, and also the wickedness of one acting as a medium, which means one who is a go-between, bringing messages from an evil spirit to another person. A spiritist is similar, that is, one having contract with evil spirits. One who calls up the dead is one who claims to actually bring a dead person in contact with a living person. This is deception, for it is actually a familiar spirit who impersonates the dead person. The witch of Endor was asked by King Saul to bring up Samuel (1 Sam.28:11), but when the woman saw Samuel she was terrified (v.12), for she was accustomed to the deceit of a familiar spirit. But God intervened in this one case to make a striking exception.
All those engaged in such contracts with evil spirits were "an abomination to the Lord," and it was because of such things that God was driving them out of the land before Israel (v.12). Let Israel therefore avoid every such thing, and be blameless before the Lord (v.13).
A PROPHET LIKE MOSES
In contrast to the deluded prophets of idolatry, the Lord would raise up a prophet like Moses (but infinitely greater than Moses) from the midst of Israel (v.1). Israel is commanded to listen to Him. Moses was at the point of being taken away in death. But God remembered how Israel had been terrified at the thought of hearing God Himself speaking to them at Sinai (Ex.20:18-20), and had asked for an intermediary between themselves and God. Therefore the Prophet spoken of in verse 18 is the "one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim.2:5). He would speak faithfully the words He received from God (v.18).
If one would not listen to God's words spoken by this Prophet, God would require it of him. God would make this a serious issue that the guilty person could not escape. The Jews asked John the Baptist if he was that Prophet (Jn.1:21), for they did not understand that this Prophet could only be the Messiah of Israel. He is the One Prophet whom everyone is responsible to recognize and believe.
While God's Prophet was to be obeyed, on the other hand anyone who assumed to be a prophet speaking in God's name, when God had not given him such a message, was to be put to death (v.20). If there was any question as to whether the message was from God, then Israel was to observe whether the person's prophecy took place as he said. If not, this was not from God,, and the false prophet might give a sign that proved correct, but when he used this with the object of seducing others to serve false gods, then he must be put to death, for the case proved that he was energized by satanic power. In this case in Deuteronomy 18:20 it may not be satanic power involved, but the prophet was speaking presumptuously, and must be put to death.
CITIES OF REFUGE
We have seen in Deuteronomy 4:41-43 that Moses set aside three cities east of the Jordan as cities of refuge. Now Moses gives instructions to Israel that, when God should cut off the nations of the land and Israel was established there, they should separate three cities on that side of Jordan, each in a distinct area, as cities of refuge (vs.1-2).
They were to divide the land into three parts on that side of Jordan, with roads that would be helpful in denoting the bounds of those divisions as well as making it more simple to flee to a city of refuge when a road led in that direction (v.3).
Now God carefully repeats the proper terms under which one could claim the shelter of the city of refuge. It was a provision for a manslayer, not for a murderer. He might kill another unintentionally. An example of this is given here also. One might swing his axe to cut down a tree, and the axe head slip off the handle, accidentally killing another person (vs.4-5). In such a case he could flee to the city of refuge where he would be safe from "the avenger of blood." This person would be a close relative or friend of the victim, and might feel himself justified in taking vengeance on the manslayer.
These three cities are spoken of in Joshua 20:7 as Kadesh in Galilee, in the north, Shechem, about midway in the land, and Hebron in the south. Added in verses 8 and 9 is the promise that if the Lord enlarged their territory and if they would keep His commandments, they were to add three more cities of refuge. It seems this refers to the same three cities that Moses set apart in Deuteronomy 4:41-42. Perhaps they had not yet been established at that time, however, in spite of being indicated.
God by means of these cities showed His concern that one must not suffer unfairly (v.10). But on the other hand, a murderer could not be allowed to take advantage of this provision. If one had been guilty of motives of hatred or intentionally murdering another, if he fled to the city of refuge, then the elders of his own city must send to the city of refuge, where the guilty person must be given up to return to his own city and face the retribution of the avenger of blood (vs.11-13).
There is a typical lesson in this that we must observe. All mankind has been guilty of the death of the Lord Jesus. Yet He could say, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do" (Luke 23:34). If our guilt is through ignorance, there is a refuge for us and forgiveness in now receiving Christ as Savior. But if we have rejected Him through malicious hatred, "there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment" (Heb.10:26-27). Thus the murderer was not to be spared, not to be pitied (v.13), for only by his death could Israel put away the guilt of innocent blood.
LANDMARKS MUST REMAIN
If one did not respect the life of his neighbor, it might well be that he would not respect his neighbor's landmarks, so Israel is warned not to remove these. These were marks to indicate the borders of the people's possessions. They had been established by "men of old." These are typical of truths that are basic to the testimony of the Church of God, -- truths that will enable us to remain within the borders that God has prescribed for the order of His Church. These may be called traditions, but true traditions are good. If they are merely men's traditions, we must refuse them. But too often efforts are made to negate truths that are taught in Scripture by calling them "traditions." This is removing the old landmarks. May we not be guilty of this.
WITNESS MUST BE TRUE
Two or three witnesses are necessary as regards making a decision in any matter. One witness may be mistaken or prejudiced, or even dishonest. If two people have a controversy, they must stand before the judges and have the matter thoroughly investigated. If one testified falsely, he must suffer the judgment he desired against his opponent (vs.18-19). Under law there was no mercy -- eye for eye, tooth for tooth.
WARFARE REGULATED BY GOD
God certainly never did approve the saying, "All's fair in love and war." Rather, God gave explicit instructions to Israel as to how to conduct their warfare. But first, he insists that no matter how strong the enemy appears to be, Israel was to have no fear of going to battle against them, for these were the enemies of God who was with Israel, and who was requiring Israel to drive them from the land (v.1).
As a battle was to take place, the priest (the high priest) was first to address the people, telling them to have no fear of the enemy, for the Lord was with them to fight for them and save them from defeat (vs.3-4). Let us remember that believers today are called to fight, not against flesh and blood, but against the deceit of satanic enmity that seeks to keep us from enjoying our heavenly inheritance (Eph.6:12). This conflict involves our learning and standing for the truth of the Word of God in the face of many attempts to undermine or degrade it.
After the priest had delivered his message, then the military officers were to exempt from service men for various reasons. If one had built a house, not having dedicated it to live in, he was to be excused, or if one had planted a vineyard and had not reaped its fruits as yet (vs.5-6). These two exemptions would not apply to any in Israel at the time Moses spoke this, for Israel was not yet in their land, but they would apply when in the land.
Also one who was engaged to be married was to be excused, lest he should die in battle and therefore never be married (v.7). These three cases show us that attachment to the present things of life will unfit us in some measure for the spiritual warfare that is attached to heaven. Today, it is possible for us to put the things of God first even when having to deal with questions of property, food and human relationships. In fact, it is not only possible, but it is spiritually moral.
But another test was to be taken, one not likely to be copied by any another nation. The officers were to ask if any man was fearful or fainthearted. If so he was told to return home, lest this fearfulness would infect other men too (v.8). To show fear before the enemy will only mean defeat. Most of us must admit that we do have fears, but courage will enable us not to show fear, for the Lord is greater than our fears. Confidence in the Lord will give courage to overcome fear.
The officers were then to appoint captains, thus organizing the army in an orderly way. When they approached a city to attack it, they were to proclaim an offer of peace to the city, and if the city received this offer, then the city was to be placed under tribute to Israel. If the offer was refused, God would give the city into the hands of Israel, who were told to kill every man in the city, but they keep the women alive, the children and livestock, and all would be considered as plunder for Israel (vs.13-14).
However, this applied only to cities far from the land of Canaan, not to any of the cities of the land. As to these, God had before commanded that men, women, children and livestock should all be killed (vs.16-17). The reason for this we have already seen. These nations had sold themselves to the service of demonism and idolatry: their cup of iniquity was full, and none were to be spared (Deut.18:9-12). God knew that if they were allowed to live they would teach Israel the same evils to which these idolaters had become accustomed (v.18).
In besieging a city, no fruit trees were to be cut down for use in the attack (v.19). Tree that did not bear fruit could be used for this (v.20). Fruit trees are for man's nourishment, not for judgment. So, in the Word of God there are truths for nourishing and building up. But there are other truths that require the pulling down of strongholds (2 Cor.10:4). It is important that we use the truth for the purpose that God intends, not to misuse it.
If one was killed and his body found removed from any city or town, the murderer being unknown, then elders and judges of Israel were required to ascertain what was the nearest city. Then the elders of that city must take the responsibility of facing this righteously.
This involved taking a young heifer that had never been worked or yoked for service, bringing it down to a valley where there was running water, a valley in its pristine condition. There the elders were to break the heifer's neck (v.4). This was not at all a sacrifice, no matter of bloodshed. In fact, it is a reminder of Exodus 13:13, "Every firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb; and if you will not redeem it, then you shall break its neck." This is judgment rather then sacrifice. It would therefore be a condemnation of the murderer, though it was not known who he was.
In the case of a person found dead in a field, when the elders had broken the neck of the heifer, the priests were to be present as witnesses to the declaration of the elders of the city nearby, who were to wash their hands over the heifer in token of their hands being clean in reference to the murder that had taken place (v.6). This was no confession of guilt, but the opposite. Then they were to make the declaration as representing the city itself, that their hands had not shed this innocent blood, nor did they have any knowledge of the incident (v.7).
They bring no offering to make atonement for the guilt, because the guilty person was not known, but they were to ask the Lord to provide atonement according to His own perfect wisdom, and that He would not charge Israel with the guilt of this murder (v.8). Thus they would clear themselves fully from any identification with the evil. God would Himself provide atonement on their behalf, and the guilt of innocent blood would be put away (vs.8-9).
If in battle with nations outside the land Israel took captives, it could be that a man would see among the captives a woman whom he desired as a wife (vs.10-11). Of course the men from that nation would have been killed (Deut.20:13-14). The woman could be brought home to the house of the man who desired her, have her head shaved and her finger nails trimmed (for it was part of the religion of ungodly nations that they had long finger nails and hair intertwined with idolatrous jewels), change from the clothes of a captive, and remain in the house for a full month to mourn for her father and mother, before she could be married to her suitor.
If, however, the man was disappointed in the woman, he was to set her free, not selling her and not treating her brutally. The month in which she stayed in his house would be enough for him to observe whether he was satisfied with her, so that, if not, there would be no reason to marry her.
AS TO RIGHTS OF INHERITANCE
If a man had two wives (as Jacob did), one favored above the other, and the less favored bore his first son, then he must not deprive the son of his firstborn status to give this to the son of his favorite wife (vs.15-16). He must bequeath a double portion to the firstborn in acknowledgment of his prime place (v.17). Men were not allowed to change this, though God on some occasions did set aside the rights of a firstborn to give these to a younger son, as in the case of Ishmael and Isaac (Gen.17:18-21), of Esau and Jacob (Gen.25:23) and predominantly of Adam and Christ (Col.1:15).
REBELLION TO BE PUNISHED
One might think that if he was the firstborn he had a right to be rebellious, or another might be rebellious because he was not the firstborn. But God does not tolerate rebellion, which springs from the pride of thinking that only one's own opinions are worth considering. God has instituted parental authority, and one stubbornly rebellious against his parents was to be brought by them to the elders of the city, the place of judgment (the gate) (vs.18-19).
The witness of his parents was then sufficient to the effect that their son was stubborn and rebellious, a glutton and a drunkard. In this case he had become unmanageable, and sentence was to be immediately executed by the stoning of the young man to death (vs.20-21). This was the law, judgment without mercy. While rebellion is no less evil today in God's eyes, yet in the present day of grace God is patiently delaying judgment in desire that men may repent and be saved. But under law, judgment was carried out to make others fear the consequences of rebellion.
HANGING NOT TO BE PROTRACTED
When the death penalty was incurred because of a crime, only certain crimes called for hanging the body, for this indicated one dying under the curse of God (v.23). It was intended as a public disgrace and a warning to others. But that disgrace was not to be continued beyond the day of hanging. Galatians 3:13 shows this to be predominantly applicable to the Lord Jesus, who was on Calvary made a curse for us, subjected to the most dreadful disgrace for our sakes. But this awful course was confined to that one day. When His great work of atonement was finished, the body of the Lord Jesus was taken by those who loved him and laid in a grave (Jn.l9:38-42). We shall never understand the depths of agony He suffered under the curse of God for our sakes, but we thank God His work has been so perfectly done that He has been raised from the dead and is alive forevermore, thereby assuring believers of their eternal redemption. The result of His bearing that curse of God is blessing for Himself for eternity, and blessing for all those who have put their trust in Him.
LAWS THAT TEST TRUE DISCERNMENT
The laws in this section require a proper consideration of God's creation, whether of humans, animals, birds or even inanimate things. This involves our discernment of things from God's viewpoint. If someone's ox or sheep went astray, then one who saw this was responsible to see that it was brought back to its owner (v 1). If the owner was not known, the finder was to keep the animal until he found its owner (v.2). This is just as proper today as it was then. The same was to be true of any animal or with anything else belonging to another (v.3).
If a donkey or an ox should accidentally fall on the road, then it was only right that one who witnessed this should help to get the animal on its feet again, irrespective of who the owner was (v.4).
Verse 5 forbids a woman to wear man's clothing or a man to wear women's clothing, for it is an abomination to thus try to pass as a member of the opposite sex. If God has created one as a man, it is an insult to God for him to outwardly take the place of a woman, and similarly for a woman to take a man's place. Let us rather be thankful for what God has made us and seek to bear faithfully the responsibilities of that place as well as to enjoy the blessings of it.
We may not understand why the eggs or young birds of a mother bird could be taken from her, but the mother not taken, but this must have a spiritual significance which escapes us (vs.6-7).
In a land of flat roofs, on which people commonly walked, the law required a parapet to protect anyone from falling (v.8). This is proper concern for the safety of others. We should be concerned also that they be protected from spiritual dangers.
In sowing a field, seeds were not to be mixed, but kept distinct (v.9). This reminds us of such truths as that of 2 Corinthians 6:14: "Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers." Mixtures, whether of people or of principles, are not scriptural and will lead to confusion.
Verse 10 is similar, forbidding plowing with an ox and a donkey together. Thus, a believer is not to join with an unbeliever in doing the Lord's work. Verse 11 refers to the garments worn, that two kinds of cloth were not to be used together. Garments speak of habits. Let them be clear and distinct, not compromised in any way.
The tassels on the four corners of one's garment (v.12) are more fully explained in Numbers 15:38-40. The tassels were to have a blue thread in them. These were evidently on the lower edge of the garments, so that when one looked down, he has reminded to look up, for the blue speaks of heaven. The word "tassel" evidently means primarily a flower bud, speaking of fruitfulness and beauty in contrast to the drab desolation of the wilderness world through which we pass.
LAWS CONCERNING SEXUAL CONDUCT
If a man had married a woman and afterward charged her with not being a virgin when he married her, the case was heard in the gate (the place of judgment). If her parents brought the clear evidence before the court that she had indeed been a virgin, so that her husband was falsely accusing her, then the man should be punished, being fined one hundred shekels of silver, which was given to the father of the young woman. But he would be required to keep her as his wife and was forbidden to divorce her (vs.13-19). We should naturally question, Was this fair to the wife? But this is one of the results of being under law. The wife would have to wait for eternity to balance this matter. How different is the case under grace, where believers have received the grace of God, so that they may show grace to one another. In the world today there are cases far more unfair than this one, but what a difference will be made if only souls are saved by faith in the Lord Jesus!
On the other hand, if the wife had been guilty of fornication and had hid this from her husband, she was to be stoned to death (vs.20-21). This was solemn judgment, but again, this was under law, and the same judgment cannot be carried out under grace, though the crime is abhorrent to God. But grace seeks to restore rather than to condemn.
In the case of a man committing adultery with a woman married to a husband, both the guilty man and the woman were to be put to death (v.22). This is justice. If such a sentence were carried out today, how many people would die! But too many people, taking advantage of God's patient grace, think they can get away with much evil. What a shock it will be for many who have not actually received the .grace of God by faith, when they find themselves faced before God with all the evils they have so lightly practiced!
A young woman might be engaged to be married, yet consent to have sexual intercourse with another man. If the man enticed her, being in a city, she could cry out for help (vs.22-23). If she did not, then she was implicated in the guilt of adultery, and both were to be put to death.
In contrast to being in the city, where a woman's cries for help could be heard, a man may have, in the country, forced a betrothed woman against her will in spite of her cries for help (v.25). This was rape, for which the man must die and the woman be held innocent (vs.26-27).
If a man and woman who were not married nor engaged were guilty of having sexual intercourse, the man must pay fifty shekels of silver to the woman's father and keep her as his wife, being forbidden to ever divorce her (vs.28-29). In all of these things God shows the seriousness of having sexual relationships. He intended this only within the marriage bond, and those who today violate this can expect unpleasant consequences, as well as the displeasure of the Lord.
Finally, a man was not to take his father's wife, that is, his stepmother. Whether his father had died or not, this was forbidden. Even among the Gentile nations this was recognized as thoroughly wrong (1 Cor.5:1). How much more so for Christians! Yet a man in the Corinthian assembly was guilty of this evil and had to be excommunicated (1 Cor.5:1-13).
A man who was emasculated in any way could not be recognized as one of Israel's congregation (v.1). Such mutilation deprives one of his proper masculinity. The Lord makes a clear distinction between men and women, and in the present day each has distinct functions in the assembly of God. So that the spiritual lesson for us is that we fully assume the responsibilities of our God-given place. Of course in the Church of God today one's physical deformities make no difference to his spiritual blessings.
One of illegitimate birth was to be excluded from the congregation of Israel, and this would extend to the tenth generation of his descendants (v.2). Again, this cannot be literally applied today, but the case is typical of one who is not actually born of God, but born of corruption. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh" (Jn.3:6), and has no place in the Church of God.
Ammonites and Moabites were placed in the same category, with no reception of them even to the tenth generation (v.3). They had been opposers of Israel from the time Israel came out of Egypt, Moab even hiring Balaam to curse Israel (v.4). Ammon (meaning "peoplish"), whose king was called "Nahash" (meaning "serpent") is a picture of satanically inspired religion and its cunning false doctrines, such as Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Science, etc. As to Moab: "Moab had been at ease from his youth; he has settled on his dregs, and had not been emptied from vessel to vessel, nor has he gone into captivity. Therefore his taste remained in him and his scent has not changed" (Jer.48:2). Thus, Moab pictures the lazy, self-pleasing religion that has no spiritual exercise whatever, but indulges every selfish desire of the flesh. Neither of these have any place in the Christian testimony, and must be refused.
But God was above the opposition of Ammon and Moab, turning their curses into blessing for Israel (v.5), just as today He blesses His Church in spite of the opposition of false religion. Yet Israel was not to seek the peace or prosperity of these two nations forever (v.6). So believers today must refuse to encourage in any way the evils of such religious deception as is seen in many denominations.
There was a difference in regard to an Edomite, and also an Egyptian (vs.7-8). They were to be treated with more consideration, and after the third generation could be assimilated into Israel, the number three speaking of the judgment of the flesh in death and resurrection. For Edom pictures man in the flesh, not the false deception of Satan as is seen in Ammon and Moab, but simply man without God. How much easier are these to deal with than those who have embraced false religion! Egypt is similar to Edom in this, that it is typical of the world in its independence of God, and Israel had once been in captivity to them, as we all have been at one time suffering bondage in a world away from God.
MAINTAINING A CLEAN CAMP
Israel's camp was to be kept clean. Even if some occurrence took place in the night by which a person became unclean, he was to go outside the camp until he was cleansed by the washing of water in the evening (vs.10-11). Also, having no plumbing facilities, a place was to be provided outside the camp where people could go to dispose of their body wastes. They must bring with them some implement with which to cover the waste with earth afterwards (vs.12-13). Thus we are reminded that whatever spiritual good there may be in our lives, there are excesses that must be disposed of. See Philippians 3:8. for God was in the camp, and in His presence there is no place for uncleanness.
While the law did not forbid slavery, and even in Christianity slaves are told to obey their masters (Eph.6:5), yet it was not God's plan that people should be in bondage to one another; and if a slave escaped from his master, coming to an Israelite town, he was not to be delivered back to his master, but allowed to remain within the shelter of the town to which he had come, and given liberty to chose the place he desired to live within their gates (vs.15-16).
Women in Israel were forbidden to be prostitutes and men also forbidden to practice sodomy or prostitution (v.17). Such things were practice in the religious rituals of the nations God was judging in Canaan, for people like to justify their evil practices by making them appear religious. But this made the practice more abominable to God, for it is attaching His name to evil.
Any gains a woman made through prostitution she must not dare to bring as an offering to God (v.18). It would be a gross insult. The same was true as to the price of a dog. Dogs, as unclean animals, are typical of Gentiles in an unclean state of unbelief. What is connected with uncleanness is offensive to God. It was reported not long ago that an owner of a dog racing track gave one million dollars to a so-called television evangelist. Gains gotten by such gambling practices should be absolutely refused by one who does the Lord's work, for God can certainly not accept such things.
In lending money or goods to a brother Israelite, the Jews were not allowed to charge interest (v.19). Christians too should consider it wise not to charge interest to another Christian or to a close relative if lending to them because of an occasion of need. Business practices such as mortgages are of a different character, of course, but the Lord takes account of the unselfish treatment we show toward others, and will repay this in His own way (v.20).
If one made a vow to the Lord he must pay it all at the appointed time (v.21), for negligence in this was sin. How much better not to vow at all than to make a promise and not keep it! This law should have by itself kept Israel from making questionable vows. However, the Lord Jesus, in speaking of this law, says, "But I say to you, do not swear at all" (Mt.5:33-34). Man in the flesh is proven by Old Testament history to be untrustworthy, and therefore in the New Testament we are warned against making promises or even announcing what we are going to do in the future, which includes the very near future (James 4:13-16). For even though we intend to act on our promise, we may find ourselves unable to. What a contrast is seen in God's promises, He who not only promised but "confirmed it by an oath" (Heb.6:17), for His promise and His oath are absolute: they cannot be broken.
Last in this section the grace of God and the government of God are seen in beautiful balance (vs.24-25). If passing through another person's vineyard, Israelites were permitted to eat all the grapes they desired. Thus God showed compassion in regard to man's present hunger. But His righteous government firmly forbid carrying any away in a container. The same was true in a field of grain. They could pick heads of grain to eat, but could not cut the grain down, which would of course indicate their intention of taking it away.
DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE
Under law there were cases such as often arise similarly at any time. A man may marry a woman and afterwards be thoroughly dissatisfied with her. This is a warning to every young man and woman today that they take time to be sure that they marry only a partner they have proven trustworthy. For a believer, this partner should be only another believer, and both should be persuaded that it is the Lord's will for them to marry. Both would be thus preserved from the dangers of a breakup and divorce.
However, the sad fact is that a man often finds an excuse for putting away his wife. In such a case in Israel he was required to give her a certificate of divorce, thereby leaving her free to marry another (vs.1-3). but if she did marry another man and he also divorced her, or if he died, then the former husband must not take her back a wife (v.4). This would be most unseemly, for he had before rejected her for what he considered good reason. This is said to be "abomination before the Lord." If there had been no marriage to another, the case would be different. The law is firm and decided about this matter, though when the grace of God is known, it can lead to honest self-judgment on the part of those who are guilty, and can wonderfully overcome the evil by a gracious and righteous recovery. Believers too often put themselves into positions that are so compromising as to be outwardly hopeless; yet we must remember that there is no situation too difficult for the grace of God.
VARIOUS MISCELLANEOUS LAWS
God's laws were not merely arbitrary exactions: rather they were for the greatest good of His people Israel, whether they realized it or not. Verse 5 shows God's consideration of a newly married couple. The man was not to go to war for a year, nor be charged with anything that would separate him from his wife. It is not likely that Israel would now act on this if they should be engaged in war, and certainly no other nation would excuse men for this reason.
The law of verse 6 also is one of consideration for people's need. It was allowed that one could take a pledge of another, who was indebted to the first. But the creditor must not take the upper or lower millstone of the other as a pledge, for this would deprive the debtor of the means of doing his normal work. Actually, this would hinder his ability to repay his debt, as the creditor should realize, but worse than this, it would be disobedience to God.
Consistently with this also, God's consideration of the people is seen in verse 7. One who kidnaped any of the children of Israel, mistreating him or selling him, was to be put to death. This is plain justice.
Verse 8 reminds Israel that the scourge of leprosy might break out among the people, and if so, let the people observe carefully the instructions of the priests, to whom God had given explicit commandments in Leviticus 13 and 14. This was also consideration for the whole nation, that the plague would not spread, but be contained. But Israel was to remember that the Lord Himself had inflicted Miriam with leprosy after Israel's coming out of Egypt (v.9). For Miriam initiated this, but it was rebellion against God's authority, which would work havoc among the people, but again God's care for His people is evident.
This is clear also in verses 10 and 11. If one loaned money to another, he must not enter the house of his debtor to take a pledge of repayment, but allow the debtor to bring this out to him. The reason is evident, for the creditor might see something in the house that he would prefer to have and demand this as a pledge. If the debtor would bring out a pledge that was fair, the creditor could of course refuse this and ask a more equitable pledge. But this law would protect the debtor from the tyranny of his creditor.
If the debtor was poor and had to give something that he required to keep him warm at night, then the creditor must give the pledge back to him for the night (vs.12-13). Again, this was proper consideration, and by this the friendship of another is gained.
A hired servant was not to be oppressed, whether an Israelite or a Gentile. If he were poor, his wages should be given him every day (vs.14-15) This is only right, for when the work is done it should be paid for. In the New Testament, masters are told to give their servants "what is just and fair" (Col.4:1)
It would be an unfair practice to put children to death for the guilt of their fathers, or to put the father to death because of the guilt of his children. David made a sad blunder in this matter when he allowed the Gibeonites to hang seven of the sons or grandsons of Saul because of Saul's previous sin against the Gibeonites (2 Sam.21:1-9). Saul's house could have been punished in a different way than this, but this was opposed to God's Word. David did not enquire of the Lord before he made this mistake.
One may be in a position to take unfair advantage of a stranger or of a fatherless child. But such perversion of justice was sternly forbidden (v.17). Also forbidden was taking a widow's garment as a pledge for debt. For Israel was to remember that they too at one time were in a place of slavery in Egypt, reduced to poverty.
When one harvested his crops, if he left a sheaf in the field he was not to return for it, but leave it for either a stranger, a fatherless child, or a widow (v.19). This is added to the command in Leviticus 19:9-10 that the corners of the field were not to be reaped, but left for the poor. Ruth was blessed in taking advantage of this law in the field of Boaz (Ruth 2:2-23). A similar command was given as regards their beating their olive trees to make the olives fall. Some would be left if they did not beat it a second time, and they were to leave these for the stranger, the father less and the widow (v.20). Also, when grapes had been gathered, the gleanings were to be left (v.21). Thus God showed His gracious consideration of those who were oppressed, as Israel must remember they were in the land of Egypt. We too who are Christians must remember that we were once in the bondage of sin before being saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus. If so, we shall be concerned about the needs of those who have not been delivered from the poverty of their sinful state, and should gladly sacrifice something of our own prosperity for their sakes.
JUSTICE TEMPERED WITH MERCY
In the law courts the judges must mete out proper justice, yet not to exceed the limits of justice. If one was guilty of serious crime, it was right to have him beaten, lying down. But never was he to receive more than forty strokes. Paul writes in 2 Cor.11:24, "From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one." The Jews at least respected this particular law, for they lessened the number to 39 in case they had miscounted. But they treated Paul as they would the worst criminal.
It may seem strange that at this place verse 4 is inserted, "You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads the corn." But this illustrates the fact that only the spiritual application can explain it. This is supplied in 1 Corinthians 9:9-10, when Paul tells us this verse is written for our sakes. The ox speaks of one who labors for the Lord, who therefore is entitled to the consideration of being allowed to be supported by his labors. Though one guilty of serious crime was to be punished (vs.1-3), one who labored for the Lord was to be rewarded.
IN CASE OF A HUSBAND'S DEATH
This law had application only in cases of brothers living together. If one of them was married, yet died having no son, his brother was not to marry an outsider, but was to take his deceased brother's widow as his wife (v.5). (Of course this was only in cases where the living brother had not married before.) But if a son was born of the newly married couple, he was to be the successor of the first husband, so that his name would remain in Israel (v.6). After that any sons born would be those of the second husband.
It might be, however, that the man would not want his brother's wife. In this case the wife was allowed to bring the matter to the court (in the gate of the city) and the elders could call the man and seek to persuade him to marry the widow (vs.7-8). If he should firmly refuse to marry her, then the widow would be permitted to remove the sandal from the man's foot and spit in his face saying at the same time, "So shall it be done to the man who will not build up his brother's house" (v.9). This is why, in Ruth 4:1-8, a closer relative than Boaz had his sandal taken off when he could not take the place of husband to Ruth. This relative represents the law, which was in close relationship to Israel, but was helpless to redeem that nation. Boaz pictures the Lord Jesus, the only One who can redeem, to build up the house of one whose hope was gone, taking off the sandal had become a custom in Israel, but spitting in the face is not mentioned. Spitting speaks of the contempt of the one for the other, while the sandal removed signified the confessed weakness of the one in the presence of a superior, just as the law must confess its weakness in contrast to Christ, the Man of strength and of infinite grace.
FURTHER MISCELLANEOUS LAWS
The judgment for a woman in verses 11 and 12 is extremely severe, but it was for an action totally unbecoming to a woman In fact, even a man would hesitate to act in this way. But to have a hand cut off would be a traumatic reminder of her guilty action for the rest of her life.
Having differing weights is forbidden, one weight being large, the other small, one for selling, the other for buying, so that the user might be able to cheat the other party (v.14). Spiritually too, we should be careful not to have one measure of judgment for a certain case and another measure for another case. Weights and measures must be perfect and just. One pound is to be precisely one pound, one yard precisely one yard. Strict honesty in such things would lengthen the days of an Israelite in the land (v.15). More than this, those who violate such principles of honesty are called by God "an abomination to the Lord your God." God takes full account.
AMALEK TO BE DESTROYED
This section is closely connected with the previous verses. Amalek had attacked Israel as they came out of Egypt, striking all the stragglers whom they knew would be the weakest, the most tired and weary (Ex.17:8-16). Israel was not to forget this hateful animosity, but when settled in their land they were to "blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven" (v.19).
Why was such a total judgment necessary? Because Amalek pictures "the lusts of the flesh" which war against our souls. God will not allow such things to be spared, and it is important that we take sides with God against the lustful desires that both dishonor God and harm our own souls. When King Saul was told by God through Samuel to attack and utterly destroy Amalek (1 Sam.15:2-3), he gained the victory over them, but spared their king, Agag (v.8) and the best of the livestock (v.9). He was not only solemnly reproved for this, but told, "Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He also has rejected you from being king" (1 Sam.15:22-23). If we spare our own sinful lusts, we are in no condition to lead others.
FIRSTFRUITS AND TITHES
In Amalek we have seen that which God refuses. Now a lovely positive contrast is seen in that which God accepts. The Lord giving Israel their promised land, and He would bless the fruits of their labors, the increase being great, depending on their obedience to Him. Of this increase they were to bring a basket of the first of all the produce the land yielded, and go to the place the Lord chose to put His name (vs.1-2). This was Jerusalem. They might feel that since the rest of the crop was ready to harvest, they should not leave in case of some adverse conditions arising before they returned. But the question is simply, is God first, or not? When He is rightly given the first place, He will certainly take care of all that follows.
The basket was to be carried to the priest and the offerer was given words with which to speak, in verse 3. In declaring to the priest that he, the offerer, had come to the country the Lord had sworn to Israel's fathers to give them, the individual was confessing what would be constantly remembered by Israel, that God had proven faithful to His word and Israel's blessings had come from His hand. We too need constant reminders of God's marvelous dealings with us in faithfulness and grace.
The priest was then to take the basket and set it before the altar. Then again the offerer was to speak, telling the priest his father was "a Syrian about to perish," who went down to Egypt to live and increased there from a very few to a great nation (v.5). Of course this refers to Jacob and his family, who lost their Syrian identity when God made them a distinct nation. But in Egypt they were oppressed as slaves, suffering for many years until, in answer to their agonizing prayers, God brought them out of Egypt with a mighty hand "with great terror and with signs and wonders" (v.8). Then ten plagues sent on Egypt and the miraculous passage of the Red Sea were things never to be forgotten.
But now, brought to "a land flowing with milk and honey" (v.9), Israel had reason to thank and praise God with full hearts, and never to forget how graciously He had dealt with them. Surely Christians have greater reason still for thankfulness and praise in having been delivered from the miserable bondage of sin, to be "blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ" (Eph.1:3).
Therefore the offerer could say he had brought the firstfruits of the land the Lord had given him, and there he was to worship before the Lord his God (v.10). Such worship would involve rejoicing in all the good things the Lord had given (v.11). How right and true an attitude this is for every believer today. This spirit of worship and rejoicing would banish every complaint. God knows how we need to remember His great goodness in all the way He deals with us. For this reason, as well as other reasons, He has prescribed the Lord's supper in remembrance of Him. If we today value this feast of remembrance, we shall not give in to the complaining attitude that characterizes unbelievers, and which believers too often imitate.
We have read before also of the tithe of the third year (Deut.14:28-29), a tenth of the increase of the land given to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless and the widow. When this was fulfilled, one could say before the Lord, "I have removed the holy tithe from my house, and also have given them to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, according to all Your commandments which You have commanded me. I have not transgressed Your commandments, nor have I forgotten them" (vs.12-13). On the negative side, he could claim he had not himself eaten of this tithe, even in mourning, nor had used it for anything unclean, nor given any of it for the dead (v.14). For people might be inclined to make exceptions as to the use of the tithe.
If the offerer could thus speak honestly, then he would have true title to ask the Lord to look down from heaven and bless His people Israel, and bless their land also (v.15). The :Lord encourages prayer for His blessing on the part. of those who obey Him, but it is hypocrisy to ask for His blessing when one is disobedient.
ISRAEL A SPECIAL PEOPLE
Again the Lord lays emphasis on the commandments He was giving to Israel, that they should be careful to observe them with all their heart and soul. They themselves declared that the Lord was their God. Let them be therefore true to Him by keeping His statutes, His commandments and judgments, being fully obedient (vs.16-17).
On God's side, He proclaimed them to be His special people (v 18). Gentiles were given no such privilege, and they could not be expected to keep the commandments given to Israel. Israel was not simply a nation among nations, but a nation separated by God from all others, to belong to Him and to represent Him before the world. Thus they were set high above all nations," as "a holy people to the Lord your God" (v.19). Let them maintain this distinction by being holy in practice.
A MEMORIAL ON MOUNT EBAL
With the directive again to keep all the commandments of the Lord, Moses gave Israel instructions, when they get into the land, to set up large stones coated with lime, on which the words of the law were to be inscribed (vs.1-3). This was to be done on Mount Ebal and also an altar of stones built there (vs.4-6), on which Israel was to offer peace offerings and rejoice before the Lord.
The significance of these things is very striking, for we are told in verses 12 and 13 that blessings for the people were to be proclaimed from Mount Gerazim and curses from Mount Ebal. Why was the altar not put on Mount Gerizim? Because God knew that Israel would not keep the law, and were thus left under a curse (Gal.3:10). God would meet them in the place they were, not where they ought to be. The altar tells us that God is able to redeem those under the curse by means of the sacrifice of Christ. This is pure grace.
The words of the law were to be written very plainly, so that there would be no mistake and no excuse for breaking the law (v.8). Then Moses and the priests spoke again to all Israel, urging them to pay attention and listen. They had become the people of God, therefore it was God they were responsible to obey (v.10).
FROM MOUNT EBAL -- CURSES
Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal were close to each other and when Israel came into their land they were here instructed by Moses to have six tribes stand on Mount Ebal to pronounce the curses (vs.12-13). The blessings pronounced from Mount Gerizim were on condition of obedience, and the curses from Mount Ebal were against all disobedience.
The Levites with the company on Mount Ebal were then required to proclaim with a loud voice a number of curses (v.14). Though Mount Gerizim with its blessings were noted first, yet the curses from Mount Ebal are spoken first, for God knew they would incur these curses.
The first curse (v.15) is against anyone who makes a carved or molded image which the Lord abhors, and sets it up secretly. Of course if this was done publicly the curse was just as effective, but God sees what is in secret too, though people may feel they can get away with such hidden evil. When the curse was pronounced, all the people were required to say "Amen."
The second curse would fall on anyone who treated his father or mother with contempt (v.16). This is just the opposite of honoring father or mother, which is the positive command of the law. Again, the people were to fully concur as to such a curse.
A third curse is pronounced against one who moved his neighbor's landmark (v.17). This would likely be with the object of cheating a neighbor out of some of some of his property, an evil matter literally, and even worse spiritually, for there are many who falsify the Word of God in order to cheat others out of the spiritual property that God has provided for them. Again, the people were required to back this up by their "Amen."
The fourth curse is pronounced against one who makes the blind to wander off the road (v.18). Literally this kind of thing is contemptible cruelty, and so it is spiritually. By teaching false doctrine, evil teachers will drive unsuspecting people away from the truth of God. Again the people must express their agreement to such a curse.
A fifth curse is against one who perverts justice in regard to the stranger, fatherless and widow (v.19). Such victims have no means of protecting themselves, and to take advantage of them is again cold hearted cruelty which God will judge. Let all the people say "Amen."
One who has sexual intercourse with his father's wife is put under the sixth curse (v.20). This would of course be his step mother, as in the revolting case of the man in 1 Corinthians 5:1, who was put out from Christian fellowship for this evil.
The seventh, eighth and ninth curses are also all connected with sexual evil, and as to all of these the people were to fully concur that the curse was absolutely righteous.
The tenth curse is against one who attacks his neighbor secretly. One may cover up his bad actions toward another, but God discerns such underhand activity and puts the perpetrator under a curse.
The eleventh curse is against one who takes a bribe to kill an innocent person. We hear frequently of people being hired to kill someone, and when proven in court, both are held guilty of murder. The curse here is only spoken of as applying to the one who takes a bribe, but certainly both would be held guilty before God.
The twelfth (and last) curse is against one who does not confirm all this law. In other words, one who does not say "Amen" to all these curses is thereby cursed himself. Let everyone agree to this!
FROM MOUNT GERIZIM -- BLESSINGS
Though Chapter 28 does not say that these blessings were pronounced from Mount Gerizim, yet Chapter 27:12 indicates this. But the blessings were prefaced; by the conditions of verse 1. They would be effective only if Israel diligently obeyed the voice of the Lord, observing carefully all His commandments. If so, God would set them high above all nations, and all the blessings that follow would come upon them (v.2).
They would be blessed in the city and in the country (v.3). If they were obedient the place they lived would not make any difference in their blessing.
They would also find blessing in regard to their children and the produce of their crops, in the increase of their herds, of their cattle and of their flocks (v.4). This natural increase is typical of spiritual increase that believers receive then they practice a spirit of devoted obedience to the Lord. There will be lasting results from their labors.
These blessings would be in their basket and in their kneading bowl (v.5). This is more in connection with women's work. It is not that they would be provided with everything apart from working, but rather that their would be blessed. How much happier it is to work and find blessing in it than to be handed everything without working!
God's blessing too would be consistent, whether in their coming in or going out (v.6). We may surely apply this to the blessing of private life or assembly life, that is, coming in to enjoy the privileges of fellowship with the saints of God, or going out with the gospel of God's grace to evangelize those in the world.
With God's blessing on them they would have no difficulty in defeating their enemies. Though the enemies would come with a united front, appearing to be too formidable for Israel, yet God would scatter them to retreat seven different ways, in confusion (v.7). Though Satan puts on a show of unity in his opposition to the truth, the fact that he is a master of intrigues and lies renders him helpless to achieve real unity, for falsehood is confusion, and a simple stand for truth will throw these evil attempts back into the confusion men think they can overcome.
In obedience to God Israel could count upon His blessing in their storehouses, the lay up of produce for future use, and in everything that might occupy their attention (v.8). In a spiritual way this will be true for obedient Christians too.
If they obeyed, the Lord would, on the basis of their obedience, establish them in a practical way as a holy people for Himself (v.9. The position He had given them was one of holiness, and He promised that their practical character would be the same if they were obedient. This would have a real effect on other nations in recognizing God's interest in this special people, and these nations would stand in awe of Israel (v.10).
They would be blessed by the Lord with plenty, whether in children, in livestock and in crops (v.11). "The Lord will open to you His good treasure, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season, and to bless all the work of your hands" (v.12). They would lend to many nations, but would never need to borrow.
In such a case Israel would be the head of the nations, and not the tail (v.13). Sadly, through rebellion against God Israel became the tail for centuries, not even having possession of their land, and they are still far from the place of being head of the nations. But when they are turned back to receive the Lord Jesus, their true Messiah, there will be such a change that they will again be the head of all nations for the entire thousand years of millennial blessing.
Israel's fall, however, was not through any lack of encouragement on God's part. The whole book of Deuteronomy is full of admonitions, warnings and encouragements, and verse 4 should have spurred them to diligently serve the Lord and never turn to idols and self-will.
CURSES FOR DISOBEDIENCE
This section dealing with curses occupies a far larger place than that speaking of blessings. Likely the reason is that God knew perfectly well that Israel would soon depart from Him in callous disobedience, so that they would have no opportunity to experience the blessings promised on condition of obedience, but every opportunity to experience the many curses that were really their own choice.
If Israel would not obey God's commandments and statutes, they would be cursed wherever they went, in the cities, in the country (v.16), in their house provisions (v.17), through their children, the produce of their land and in the offspring of their livestock (v.18). Whether coming in or going out (v.19), that is changing from one to the other would not alleviate the misery. The Lord would send on them cursing, confusion and rebuke in whatever they occupied themselves with (v.20), not relieving this before they died early. Plagues would afflict them until they were consumed, by death or by scattering them from the land (v.20)
Because of Israel's disobedience, it would be the Lord Himself who would inflict on them consumption, fever, inflammation, severe burning fever, the scourge of an enemy's sword, scorching and mildew (v.22). This was not merely punishment, but God's way of seeking to drive them back to Him. Yet it would continue until they perished, for God knew the stubbornness of their hearts. If they would only confess their guilt and turn from it, certainly God would forgive and restore them, but Israel's history thus far has been one of rebellion.
For this reason the heavens would be bronze and the earth iron (v.23). This would match their attitude. They could expect no loving answer from heaven in their praying for material blessings or relief, for the heavens would be as impervious as their own heart. The earth would be like iron, not soft enough to produce anything, because their hearts were also hard.
The rains of their land would be exchanged for powder and dust (v.24). this is not only negative (a lack of rain), but as positive curse, to cause great distress. The Lord too would deliver them to humiliating defeat before their enemies (v.25). They would "go out one way," that is, in apparent unity, but would "flee seven ways," in total defeat and disarray. All nations also would consider Israel a troublesome people to all the earth.
The nation would be further humiliated by many dead being left without burial, birds and animals feeding on their dead bodies with no one there to frighten them away (v.26). Also the Lord Himself would inflict on them boils, tumors, scabs and itching which they would find no way of relieving (v.27), and added to this mental derangement, blindness and confusion of heart (v.28). Even in broad daylight they would grope, trying to find their way: they would be taken advantage of by oppression and robbery, with no one to intercede for them (v.29).
One might be engaged to marry a woman and another man commit fornication with her (v.30). Things like this happen all around us today. But if an engaged man and woman are walking with the Lord this would not happen. How important to put the Lord first in marriage. If both husband and wife do this, the Lord will preserve them. But when disobedient to God, an Israelite might build a house and never live in it, or he might plant a vineyard and never enjoy its fruits. Their livestock might be slaughtered before their eyes, but not for their benefit, or livestock might be stolen violently and never restored (v.31).
Their sons and daughters would be taken captive and given as slaves to people of another nation, leaving the parents in depressed anxiety and hopeless weakness to do anything about it (v.32). As one instance, as to the little girl who was taken from her home as a slave for the wife of Naaman the Syrian (2 Ki.5:2), how would her parents feel about this? In the heart of the little girl herself, however, the grace of God beautifully triumphed to lift her above the trauma of her separation from her country and her relatives, so that she was genuinely concerned for the health of the man who had taken her captive (v.3). This is a lovely illustration of the fact that no matter how devastating may be the results of disobedience to God, the grace of God can overcome this where there is an honest turning to Him.
A foreign nation, before unknown to Israel, would come from a distance to overrun their land, oppressing and crushing the people and eating what they had produced for themselves (v.33). Thus Israel would be driven to insanity through witnessing things that were unbearable (v.34). No strength would be left in their knees or legs because of sore boils that resisted healing, and the whole body would be dreadfully affected (v.35).
But not only would they suffer in their land, for the Lord would see that they and a king they had desired would be taken captive to the country of foreigners, where the only worship they would know would be idolatrous (v.36). In those circumstances they would find no rest, but would rather become the object of the contempt and ridicule of all the nations (v.37). How sadly true has this proven in all Israel's history since the captivity by the Assyrians and by the Babylonians took place centuries ago, and has been repeated in the scattering of Judah from their land following the crucifixion of their Messiah. Many nations still today engage in the ridicule and persecution of the Jews.
Israel would plant much seed and get little return (v.38), for locusts would consume their crops. Worms would eat up the fruit of their vineyards (v.39). They would have no return from their olive trees (v.40). This can be applied to believers spiritually today. Whatever planting we do, whatever energy we have in declaring the Word of God to others, it will bear little fruit if we ourselves are guilty of disobedience to God. How important that our spoken testimony be accompanied by a testimony of faithfulness in our practical life!
Because of Israel's disobedience to God, their sons and daughters would go into captivity (v.41). This has been spiritually true in many Christian households. Though the children have heard the gospel of God's grace, if the parents are disobedient, it is very likely that the children will be taken captive by a legal type of Christianity that puts them in bondage to human laws.
Locusts would consume the trees and all the produce of the land (v.42). Israel has often suffered from such infestations. This is a direct infliction of God which ought to have driven Israel back to Him in repentance. Aliens would get the ascendancy over Israel. They would have to borrow from aliens instead of the opposite way around (v.44), thus the foreigner would be the head and Israel the tail, a reversal of what would be true if Israel were obedient (vs.12-13).
Because of disobedience all these curses would come on Israel until they were destroyed (v.45). Has Israel been destroyed? Yes! God says in Hosea 13:9, "0 Israel, you are destroyed, but your help is in Me." Destruction does not mean annihilation. Rather, to destroy is to render unfit for the purpose for which something was first made, just as a dish, smashed to pieces, is destroyed though not annihilated. So Israel's destruction is not permanent, as Romans 9,10, and 11 assure us, for God knows how to restore in His matchless grace.
These curses would be a sign and a wonder on Israel and their descendants (v.46). This sign is a witness to God's faithfulness and truth in dealing with His own failing people. This would make men wonder at the great sovereignty and righteousness of God, who would not spare sin in His own chosen people. All of this would be true because of their not serving the Lord with joy and gladness of heart when they had every reason to do so (v.47).
In refusing to serve God they would become servants to their enemies, and in this would suffer hunger and thirst and nakedness. Instead of the yoke of law (which was hard enough) being put on their necks, they would have a yoke of iron, that is, being in bondage to cruel enemies (v.48).
The Lord would send a foreign nation against them that would show no respect for old age and no compassion toward children (vs.49-50). This likely refers to the attack of the Assyrians (2 Ki 17:5-6), which devastated the ten tribes, and later to the attack of the Babylonians, when Judah was brought under bondage (2 Ki.24:1-3).
These enemies would devastate the land of all its produce, leaving nothing for Israel (v.52). They would besiege the cities, no matter how well fortified, causing the starving occupants to go so far as to eat their own children (v.53). See 2 Kings 6:28-29 and Jeremiah 19:8-9. We may well wonder why such things would not drive people's hearts back to the Lord, but in verse 54 we read that even the most refined of people would become hostile toward their wives and their children. Such would be the desperation occasioned by hunger that there would be no consideration left for even the closest loved ones (v.55).
The graphic details of all this, and how both men and women would be affected, are most painful to read. Verses 56 and 57 speaks of even the tender and delicate woman, who would eat her new born infant and her placenta, in secret, hiding this from her husband. The reason is again pressed in verse 58, "if you do not carefully observe all the words of these laws that are written in this book, that you may fear this glorious and awesome name, THE LORD YOUR GOD."
Great and prolonged plagues and prolonged sicknesses would be inflicted on them, similar to the plagues and diseases that Egypt suffered before the Exodus, causing death and destruction so that they would be left few in number (v.62) in contrast to the multiplied millions which once they enjoyed.
Just as the Lord at one time had blessed and multiplied the nation, so He would curse and diminish them (v.63) and scatter the people among all nations, where they would serve idols (v.64). We know this has taken place, for Jews have been scattered over all the world and the recognition of their God has become vague and in many cases extinct.
Yet among these nations they would find no relief, no rest, but fear and trembling, failing eyes and anguish of soul (v.65), with apprehension day and night that they might love their lives (v.66). In the morning they would wish it were evening and in the evening would wish it were morning, because of a constantly traumatic existence (v.67).
The Lord would take them back to Egypt in ships (v.68). This may not be literal, but symbolical, for Egypt is a type of the world. Once God had rescued them from this worldly domination, but they would return to it. Becoming slaves again, they would be offered for sale, but being reduced to such an unhealthy state as to be not worth buying.
THE CONDITIONAL COVENANT RENEWED
Verse I speaks of a covenant the Lord commanded Moses to make with Israel in the land of Moab, "Beside the covenant which He made with them in Horeb." This covenant is not different in its terms, but is really a renewing of the covenant in Horeb. For it is conditional, in contrast to the "New Covenant" of Jeremiah 31:31-34, which is unconditional, for it speaks only of what God will do for Israel in greatly blessing them, with nothing added as to what Israel should do.
This covenant in Moab begins with Israel having seen all the great trials and the great signs and wonders connected with God's deliverance. God had not given them a heart to perceive, eyes to see and ears to hear "to this very day" (v.4). In contrast to this, the New Covenant promises that God will put His law in their minds and write it on their hearts (Jer.3:33).
Israel is reminded of God's leading them forty years in the wilderness, not allowing their clothing to wear out, nor their sandals (v.5). They had not eaten bread, but manna from heaven, nor had they drunk wine, but water.
Arriving near the borders of Canaan, where they were now camping, they conquered Sihon king of Heshbon and Og king of Bashan, when these came to attack Israel. They took their land and gave it to the tribes of Reuben and Gad and the half tribe of Manessah (v.28). All of this proved the faithfulness of God toward Israel, which was consistent and unfailing.
"Therefore," Moses says, "keep the words of this covenant and do them" (v.9). The covenant was based on what God had already done since He had made with them the covenant at Horeb. Thus, they were given added incentive to keep the covenant, which is evidently the reason that it is spoken of as a second covenant now made at Moab.
In verses 10-11 Moses made every individual responsible as they stood before God, their leaders, their tribes, their elders, their officers, their little ones and their wives, including also the stranger who had entered their camp, and those who acted only as menial servants, cutters of wood or drawers of water. Any such identification with Israel made them responsible to obey Israel's laws. It is likely that the covenant relationship that God had established with them at Horeb had become a more or less nebulous matter, so that it meant almost nothing to many Israelites. Now that they were to enter their land, the covenant with them is strongly reaffirmed, that Israel might realize they were a people "for Himself," in accordance with God's promise to Abraham (vs.12-13).
The covenant was to extend also to all Israel, those not sanding there at the time which would include all who were later born into the nation (vs.14-15). Israel had seen and known the idolatry of the nations, from Egypt and all the way to their present location, and they are warned of the danger of any of their number desiring such idols and turning from the living God to these vanities (v.18).
Verse 19 refers to the danger of one acting so perversely as to hear the words of these curses pronounced against evil, yet to bless himself in his own heart, feeling that the curses cannot apply to him in spite of following "the dictates of his own heart." Thus a drunkard thinks he is no different than a sober person! but the Lord would not spare him (v.20), but would vent His righteous anger and jealousy against him in bringing these curses to bear with terrible force on him, to blot out his name from under heaven, separating him from all the tribes of Israel (v.21).
With such curses coming on Israel, their children and foreigners also would be shocked to witness the whole land given over to brimstone, salt and burning, with no sowing of seed and no grass growing, a reminder of the terrible overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah (vs.22-23). The nations would ask why the Lord had caused such devastation in the land of Israel, and would be given the reply, "Because they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord God of their fathers which He made with them when He brought them out of the land of Egypt" (vs.24-25).
Because of this and their consequent worship of idols, it would be declared that God's anger was aroused against Israel to do just as He promised to do if they disobeyed Him, devastating their land and scattering them in other lands (vs.26-28).
Verse 29 at this point declares a significant fact for Israel. There were secret things that belong to the Lord alone, but things God had revealed belonged to Israel and their children. God was not revealing to them, for instance, what He would do when they were in a state of rebellion. But now it is revealed that God is taking out of the Gentile nations a special people called "the Church of God." This was a mystery "hid in God" (Eph.3:9) and only revealed through Paul after the death and resurrection of Christ. But Israel was responsible only for the revelation God had then given them, therefore to obey the law.
GOD'S GRACE TO THOSE WHO RETURN
There are some (even Christians) who insist that Israel has departed so far from God that they can never be restored. But they must ignore chapter 30:1-10, and also Romans 9,10 and 11, which speak positively of Israel's eventual restoration. After all the blessing and cursing that Israel would experience, being driven out of their land, if they would remember God's word and return to Him with purpose of heart to obey His word, then the Lord promises that He will bring them back from their captivity, compassionately gathering them from all the nations among whom they have been scattered (vs.1-3).
No matter how far from their land they have been driven, the Lord Himself will gather them back to the land of promise, and in that land will prosper and multiply the nation again (vs.4-5). In fact, we have already seen the beginning of such a work of God in the establishing of Israel as a nation again in her own land, though as yet only a small number comparatively have returned, and have done so in a state of unbelief so far as Christ their Messiah is concerned.
When this scripture is fulfilled, the Lord will circumcise their hearts, that is, He will lead them to use the sharp knife of repentance to judge their sinful condition, and draw their hearts in genuine love toward Himself (v.6). This will take place at the end of the Great Tribulation, and will be a marvelous work of grace in the nation which will be born again in one day (Isa.66:8).
The curse will be removed from Israel and put upon their enemies who have sought to destroy them (v.7). Israel then will obey the voice of the Lord because He will have given them a heart to delight in obedience (v.8). Psalm 119 gives expression to the willing enjoyment of doing the will of God, which will be true of this restored nation for the 1000 years of the millennium.
As in verse 8 the curse is removed, in verse 9 the blessing takes its place in every area of their lives, with the Lord taking great pleasure in making everything pleasant for them. Such will be the result of their faith in willingly obeying God's commandments with all their heart and soul (v.10).
WHAT WILL ISRAEL CHOOSE?
Was it beyond Israel's ability to understand the covenant God was making with them? Not at all! Eastern religions thrive on what is mystical, with little thought of actions required that conform to what is taught. But God was not speaking in mystical terms, putting the truth high above the level of man's understanding (v.11). It was not in heaven so that they must only hope for someone to bring it down to them (v.12). Nor was it over the sea, impossible to act upon unless someone were to make the journey to bring it to them (v.13).
The measure of God's revelation to them was clear and plain, brought down to their level. It was very near to them, in their mouth and in their heart. The word of God was so clear that their mouths should have clearly confessed it and their hearts should have fully embraced it, so that they might act upon it (v.14). This verse is quoted in Romans 10:8, but applying, not to law, but to the gospel of the grace of God, a far more complete revelation from God than Israel was given. In this case the mouth is brought to confess Jesus Christ as Lord, and the heart is affected to believe that God has raised Him from the dead (Rom.10:9). Thus, the present revelation of God in Christ is a wonderful advance upon the truth contained in the law, and has relevance to every area of our lives.
Moses, speaking for God, sets before Israel only two distinct alternatives, on the one hand "life and good," and on the other hand "death and evil" (v.15). This was clear and plain. There could be no other alternative. The fact is seen in verse 16: if Israel walked in God's ways to keep His commandments, statutes and judgments, they would live and multiply and be greatly blessed in the land.
The second alternative is declared in verses 17 and 18. If their heart turned away from God, ignoring His word and worshiping and serving idols, then death and evil would follow them.
Further, Moses declared that he called heaven and earth as witnesses that he had faithfully set before Israel these two choices, either life or death, blessing or cursing (v.19). He does not say, "Choose that you please," but rather, "Choose life." God did not want them to ruin themselves, but to have an existence of pure blessing. If they refused His overtures of kind concern for them, this was only their own folly.
Similarly, when believers preach the gospel to the unsaved, we must make it clear that in receiving the Lord Jesus as Savior, there is great blessing for them, and in refusing Him there is eternal remorse; but we are not wise to tell them to choose whichever they please. Rather, we should urge them affectionately to make a firm decision to receive the Lord Jesus and be saved.
MOSES GIVING WAY TO JOSHUA
Having finished his exposition of the law, Moses looks on to the future, so that the subject to the end of Deuteronomy is prophetic. Moses begins by announcing that he is 120 years of age, and no longer fitted for the work he has done for years (vs.1-2). Besides this, God had told him he would not cross over Jordan.
Yet Israel did not depend on Moses, but on God, who would pass over before them. He would destroy the nations from the land, and Israel would dispossess them. But God would work now by means of Joshua, who would take Moses' place (v.3). As God did to Sihon and Og, so would He do with the nations of the land of Canaan (vs.4-5). Let Israel therefore be strong and courageous, depending on God's faithfulness, not intimidated by enemies who were totally inferior to God (v.6).
Moses then called Joshua, announcing him before all Israel as God's newly appointed leader, urging him to be strong and courageous, for he "must go with this people to the land." This was God's imperative decision, from which Joshua would have no way of escape. But Joshua is assured that the Lord will go before him, never leaving or forsaking him. Therefore there was no reason to fear (vs.7-8).
FREQUENT READING OF THE LAW
Together with their new leader, Israel must have the law written for them, which Moses did, delivering it to the priests. Then the priests were commanded to read this law before all Israel every seventh year at the feast of tabernacles, in the place of God's choosing, which was Jerusalem (vs.9-l0). The seventh year was the year of release from bondage or debt (Deut.15:1). The feast of tabernacles was one of the three feasts that all males in Israel were required to attend (Deut.15:16), so that in the seventh year all would hear the law read (v.11). But verse 12 speaks of gathering men, woman and little ones. It would not be possible that every individual from Israel would be gathered in Jerusalem at this time, but it is implied that all who were able to be there ought to be there, for the children should learn the truth of God too (v.13).
PROPHECY OF ISRAEL'S REBELLION
Moses had already approved Joshua before all the people (v.7), but now the Lord tells Moses that he must die shortly, and to call Joshua, so that God would inaugurate him as leader of Israel. Then the Lord appeared at the door of the tabernacle in a pillar of cloud (vs.14-15).
In spite of their having a new leader, God tells Moses that after his death Israel would become unfaithful, following the idols of the nations, forsaking God and breaking His covenant (v.16). This must have spoken deeply to the heart of Moses after his spending time and labor in declaring the law and pleading with Israel to keep it.
God's anger would be aroused and He would leave Israel to the painful results of their rebellion. Many evils would befall them, so they would realize that God was no longer among them (v.17). Yet, even then God would hide His face from them to make them feel their serious condition as they ought (v 18).
Therefore God provided a song for Israel, seen in the first 43 verses of chapter 32. Moses was to write it down for Israel to learn (v.19). When God has brought them into the land and they have become well fed and wealthy, turning to idols and provoking God, then this song would testify against them. If learning it by memory, they would remember it, and its words would serve at least to embarrass them when they acted in disobedience (vs.20-21). It is amazing how painstakingly God sought to impress on Israel from every angle their responsibility to Him, though He knew perfectly well that they would rebel.
Moses then wrote the song and taught it to Israel (v.22). At this time he inaugurated Joshua as leader in his place, encouraging him to be strong and courageous, for he would bring Israel into their land (v.23). Also, after he had completed writing the words of the law (the first five books of scripture), he commanded the Levites to put the Book of the Law beside the ark of the covenant (vs.25-26). This was a plain witness for God and a witness against the evils that the people would soon embrace, therefore a witness against them (vs.24-26).
Moses retained no hope whatever that Israel would be obedient. He says he knew that, since they had been rebellious during his life, this would only increase after his death (v 27). Therefore he asked for the gathering of the elders of all the tribes, not to give them any false hopes, but to tell them he knew that after his death Israel would become utterly corrupt and turn aside from God's commandments. Paul speaks similarly in Acts 20:29-30 to the Ephesian elders, "For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after themselves." This has proven just as true in the history of the Church as did the prophecy of Moses as regards Israel.
GOD: MAJESTIC AND FAITHFUL
In these four verses the introduction of this song of Moses is both magnificent and beautiful. The heavens and the earth are called to hear the faithful words from the mouth of the Lord. His teaching drops as the rain, not like a cloudburst, but as the refreshing, nourishing dew on the land or as showers on the grass. How well it would be with us if we received it as such, appreciating its living value and refreshment. For it begins, not with what we may selfishly desire for our advantage, but with proclaiming the name of the Lord. The honor of His name is far above every other consideration.
Greatness belongs to Him alone (v.3). "He is the Rock," the perfect expression of strength and stability Since this is true of God, it is true of Christ (1 Cor.10:4), who is God. Being Himself all powerful, God's work is powerful, and it is perfect (v.4). For not only is power seen in it, but pure justice, so great a contrast to the work of seemingly powerful men. He is a God of truth, with no shadow of injustice in His dealings. Consistently with this, the Lord Jesus says, "I am the way, the truth, and the life" (Jn.14:6). In Christ is the perfect expression of all truth: without Him, there is no truth whatever.
"Righteous and upright is He." In every relationship He is found He is unwaveringly consistent. Though men were created upright (Eccl.7:29), indicating that they should be morally upright too, in contrast to the beasts, yet men have stooped to every kind of evil. But this does not change the perfectly upright character of the Lord.
THE CONTRADICTION OF HIS PEOPLE
But this song must expose the sadly contrary condition of Israel. They had corrupted themselves, which involves using the great blessings God had given them in a false, evil way. In practice they were not His children, whatever claims they might make. We know today that a true believer is a child of God, but if one is acting rebelliously, would it be seemly for him to proclaim to others that he is child of God? In this case, he might well be answered as the Lord answered the Jews who claimed to be Abraham's children, "If you were Abraham's children, you would do the works of Abraham" (Jn.8:39). But Israel was a perverse and crooked generation (v.5), perverting the best things to a depraved use and crookedly manipulating what truth they knew to justify their evil actions.
Verse 6 is a pleading appeal from God. How could they deal so foolishly with Him who is both a great God and a gracious Father who had bought them at so great a price? -- in fact being their Maker who had established them as a nation.
MEMORIES OF GOD'S GOODNESS
The song continues by a call to remember the days of old, the years of many generations (v.7), urging the present generation to question their fathers and the elders of Israel as to the work of the Most High dividing to the nations the inheritance He Himself had decided upon (v.8). At the time God separated the sons of Adam, when He confounded them by changing their languages, He set the boundaries of the nations in direct relation to Israel, for Israel was His chosen people and other nations were looked at as subservient to them.
But Israel did not immediately possess their land. God "found him in a desert land," the wasteland of a howling wilderness (v.10). Of course it was God who led them from Egypt into the wilderness, but He intends to emphasize the fact of Israel's being in a desolate, homeless state, in which God encircled him, instructed him and kept him "as the apple of His eye." This is not the same word as the fruit, but refers to the pupil of the eye, which is extremely sensitive and therefore guarded.
The wilderness experience too involved the caring, disciplining hand of God, for as the eagle stirs up its nest, hovering over its young, taking them on its wings, so the Lord dealt with Israel (vs.11-12). The eagle will not allow its young to remain idle for long in the nest, but will stir them up, pushing them out of the nest high on a mountainside, to teach them to fly. If they cannot fly at first, but begin dropping, the great eagle will fly quickly underneath them to catch them on its wings. Therefore the wilderness experience was necessary training for Israel, just as believers today need training too.
Yet with the training came gracious provision from the hand of God. "He made him ride in the heights of the earth" (v.13). God enabled Israel to rise above their circumstances even in the wilderness. He gave them necessary food, but also "honey from the rock," the sweetness that comes from the knowledge of Christ, who is the Rock. Also, "oil from the flinty rock," speaking of the Holy Spirit who has today come from the Lord Jesus in glory at Pentecost, to make our wilderness pathway one of real blessing and encouragement. Verses 13 and 14 merge into Israel's blessing in the land of Canaan, for only there did they enjoy the choicest wheat and the grape vines.
ISRAEL'S UNGRATEFUL REBELLION
But Jeshurun grew fat and kicked" (v.15). Jeshurun means "upright," which was Israel's proper character, but they forsook this when they became wealthy. This is prophetic of their tenure in the land, when God prospered them by His pure grace. Taking ungodly advantage of their prosperity, they forsook the God who made them, and scornfully esteemed the Rock of their salvation. Of course this Rock is Christ, who, when He came, was scorned and rejected by His own nation, for they had chosen other gods, provoking God to anger by their abominable idolatries (v.16). This was not merely worshiping material things, but was sacrificing to demons (v 17). Ignorant as they were of such "gods." they were in a fit state to be deceived by them. They did not learn this from their fathers, so no doubt they felt they were advancing beyond the wisdom of their fathers. Such pride will make people easy victims of deception.
They had chosen to put Out of their minds the only stable, enduring Rock of salvation, and to forget the eternal God who had proven a Father to them (v.18). Of course this could only lead to total confusion.
RECOMPENSE FROM GOD
When the Lord saw this rebellion, He spurned Israel. They had spurned Him without reason, now He spurns them with good reason (v.19). They receive themselves something of their own treatment. His face had before been shining with pleasure upon Israel, now He hides His face from them, to see what their end will be (v.20), for if God's face does not shine with approval on His creatures, it is impossible for them to continue without serious repercussions. Their perverse lack of faith will reap a poisonous harvest.
Since they had provoked God to jealousy by confidence in false gods and idols, God would provoke them to jealously by means of a foreign nation (v.21). Thus God will use those whom Israel despised to chasten them and gain such ascendancy over them that Israel would become jealous of that nation. The fire of God's anger would burn to the lowest sheol and consume the land and its increase (v.22). It would also set on fire the foundation of the mountains. Typically the mountains are high authorities, and the very foundations of this authority in Israel would suffer the destroying flame.
Disasters of many kinds would be heaped upon them. God's arrows of penetrating judgment would torment them. They would be wasted with hunger and devoured by pestilence and bitter destruction. But also God would send wild beasts to attack them, and poisonous reptiles (v.24). Enemies from outside would attack with their swords and inside young and old together would be huddled in terror (v.25).
It would have been just for God to say He would dash them in pieces and destroy their very memory from among men (v.26). But He would not go that far lest the adversaries of Israel would boast of their own prowess having accomplished Israel's destruction, and give the Lord no honor for His hand in this (v.27).
ISRAEL'S IGNORANCE LAMENTED
Israel is now said to be a nation void of counsel and without understanding (v.28). Counsel was certainly available for them from the word of God, and there was no right reason for them to be without understanding. Their ignorance was inexcusable. Let us remember that the word "ignorance" comes from the word "ignore." Because Israel had ignored what was plainly taught them, they were ignorant. It was as true for Israel as it is for us today: "If anyone will to do His (God's will), he shall know concerning the doctrine" (Jn.7:17). An obedient heart will always have understanding.
Therefore how tenderly yearning are the words of verse 29, "Oh that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!" How deeply we should be impressed by the consideration of how an obedient path will end in contrast to the end of a disobedient life! It is only wisdom to consider the end rather than the present selfish indulgence of fleshly desires.
Also, let them reason soberly, how could one enemy chase a thousand Israelites or two put ten thousand to flight unless their Rock had sold them, and the Lord had surrendered them? (v.31). Think of six million Jews being murdered in a short time in Germany! If they had been obedient to the word of God, would God have allowed any such thing? Certainly not! In fact, when obedient to the Lord, God promised Israel, "one man of you shall chase a thousand, for the Lord your God is He who fights for you" (Josh.23:10). This is a simple matter for God, as is seen in David's faithful dependence on Him when defeating the giant Goliath and all the armies of the Philistines (1 Sam.17:45-52). But when God withdraws because of Israel's disobedience, the opposite results will soon follow.
"For their rock is not like our Rock, even our enemies themselves being judges" (v.31). What Israel's enemies depended on was empty vanity, for all power and authority was in the Rock of Israel. But what was He like? On the one hand, He would deliver Israel from their enemies with no difficulty On the other hand He might deliver them up to suffer utter defeat at the hand of their enemies. Even their enemies bore witness to this striking fact. But all depended on whether Israel was obedient or disobedient. God is indeed the Rock, which involves His firm, decided stand for truth. If believers ignore this, they will find themselves defeated in their practical lives.
The vine of Israel's enemies was the vine of Sodom (v.32). The vine, yielding grape juice, is typical of joy, and ungodly people count it joy to corrupt themselves as the Sodomites did, just as today those who debase themselves to homosexual practice call themselves "gay"! But in reality, "their grapes are grapes of gall," bitter in their end result, just as homosexuality may end in aids or other evils. The wine from their grapes was the poison of serpents (v.33). The serpents tell us of Satan's delusion, bringing the poison of death to its victims. This is the description of the spiritual delusion under which Israel's enemies in the land were in bondage. Was Israel so ignorant that they thought they too might indulge in such things without suffering dire consequences?
GOD'S VICTORY IN JUDGMENT
In contrast to Israel's ignorance we read in verse 34 of God's hidden wisdom which Israel could not discern, wisdom laid up in store, sealed up among God's treasures. Could evil ever discourage Him? Was he intimidated by it? 1 Corinthians 2:7-8 speaks of this "hidden wisdom" which centers in the wondrous death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, but which none of the rulers of this age knew. By that great work of sacrifice God would overthrow all the power of the enemy and gain a victory to be celebrated for eternity. The wisdom of this work was still sealed up in Deuteronomy 32:34, but nevertheless this section of the song makes abundantly clear the fact that God would absolutely triumph over Israel's sin, triumph over all Israel's enemies, and deliver Israel in marvelous grace.
Vengeance belongs to God, and recompense (v.35). However, in the meantime Israel's foot shall slip and the day of their calamity would come with its many distresses.
But the Lord's judgment involves His judging on behalf of Israel His people, having compassion on them when He sees that their power is gone (v.36). It is when one faces the fact of his helpless condition that God will intervene in grace. So long as Israel continues in a state of self-assertion and self-confidence, she will not and cannot depend on the grace of God, but when she is reduced to nothing and honestly realizes it, she will find God ready to deliver her.
Then God may well ask them the question as to where their idols are now, the pseudo-rock which they expected to be a refuge (v.37). Did their gods eat the fat of their sacrifices and drink the wine of their drink offerings? (v.38). Then let them respond by helping Israel now and providing the refuge they promised! How necessary it is for God to speak this way to probe their consciences in realizing the folly and evil of their idol worship. Well may Israel then speak with such words as are prophesied in Hosea 14:8, "What have I to do any more with idols? I have heard and observed Him."
Thus Israel will observe the glory of the Lord Jesus, who speaks in verse 39, "I, even I, am He, and there is no God beside Me. I kill and make alive, I wound and I heal, nor is there any who can deliver from My hand." Israel will indeed see that this is true. The Jesus whom they crucified is God, who has absolute power in His hand.
He, and He alone, can swear by Himself, raising His hand to heaven, saying, "As I live forever, if I whet My glittering sword, and My hand takes hold on judgment, I will render vengeance to My enemies, and repay those who hate Me" (vs.40-41). For the Son, not the Father, is the Executor of the judgment of God (Jn.5:22). He lives forever, just as the Father lives forever. For many centuries He has patiently borne with the rebellious wickedness of mankind, but His patience will give place to awesome, sudden judgment, with no sparing of those who have proven themselves enemies.
The language of the song is most graphic. God will make His arrows drunk with blood. His sword shall devour flesh with blood from many slain, from the captive to the heads of the leaders of the enemy (v.42).
But the noise of battle will be hushed to silence and Gentiles are bidden to rejoice along with Israel, for there will be Gentiles spared and delivered as well as Israel, by this great victory of the Lord Jesus over all enemies (v.43). He will provide atonement for His land and His people.
When Moses spoke the words of the song of this chapter, Joshua was identified with him (v.44), and Joshua was a witness as Moses gave one last exhortation to the people in verses 46 and 47 telling them to set their hearts on all the words given to them from God, and to command their children also to observe all the words of the law. It was not a futile matter, as Israel later came to think, but their very life by which their days in the land would be prolonged through obedience. Moses therefore can never be blamed for giving Israel unclear or insufficient instruction.
MOSES COMMANDED TO DIE
The same day that Moses gave Israel the words of the song, God commanded him to go up to Mount Nebo and die on the mountain. He did not die from illness or old age, but God simply took his life from him because he had disobeyed God's orders at the Waters of Meribah, striking the rock instead of speaking to it (Num.20:7-12).
Yet God told him he would see the land without entering it (v.52). There is a deeper reason than Moses' disobedience that he would not enter the land, for he was the lawgiver, and law cannot bring the people of God into their inheritance. Joshua, whose name in Hebrew is the same as the Greek name Jesus -- Jehovah Savior -- was the leader into the land of promise, for he speaks of the grace that is in Christ Jesus in contrast to law. The death of Moses did not take place, however, before he blessed all the tribes of Israel (ch.33).
THE BLESSING OF THE TRIBES
Though Deuteronomy is a book largely of admonition, yet all admonition is finished by the end of Chapter 32:47, and Chapter 33 beautifully closes God's message for Israel by pronouncing blessing that is high above all the demands of law.
This blessing is prophetic of the millennial blessing of Israel still future. It is introduced, however, with the Lord coming from Sinai, leaving behind the covenant of law and dawning on Israel from Seir, but shining forth from Paran (v.2). Paran means "their beautifying," a contrast indeed to Sinai, and reminding us that in the millennium "the beauty of the Lord God" will be put on Israel (Ps. 90:17).
Coming "with ten thousands of His saints" has reference to the Lord's coming in majestic glory in view of establishing His millennial kingdom. "From His right hand came a fiery law for them." This Hebrew word translated "law" is not the usual word, but is translated in the Numerical Bible as "mandate" For the first covenant (that of law) will give place to the New Covenant, under which God says, "I will put my law in their minds, and will write it on their hearts" (Jer.31:31-33). The Lord Jesus will certainly still be in authority, but Israel will find His yoke easy and His burden light (Mt.11:30).
"Yes, He loves His people" (v.3. This has always been true, but it will be realized by Israel then as it never has been before. "All His saints are in Your hand." This seems to distinguish between the Father and the Son, as is seen in John 17:9-10, where the Son speaks of the Father having given Him all saints. Thus, He holds them in His hand of power. They will then sit down at the feet of the Lord Jesus, ceasing from their own works. Every one at that time will gladly receive His words. What a change that will be in the previously rebellious nation!
Verse 4 recalls the giving of the law by Moses, the law being a heritage in which Israel should have rejoiced. But Moses was said to be "King in Jeshurun" Though he did have the place of authority, yet it is most unusual that he should be called "king." The answer to this is in the prophetic character of the blessing. Moses typified Christ, who will have the place of King in the coming day, when all Israel will be gathered in a unity they have never before displayed.
The blessing of Reuben is very brief. Reuben was the beginning of Jacob's strength (Gen.49:3), that is, the strength of the flesh. Such strength must be brought down to nothing, yet grace would preserve his life: he would not die. Yet his men would be few, as is the proper translation (J.N.Darby). This reminds us of Romans 9:27 in quoting from Isaiah, "Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, the remnant will be saved."
Though Reuben (the firstborn) has been referred to first, the order of birth is not then followed, for Judah was actually fourth. But the Messiah was to come from Judah. God would hear Judah's voice, as indeed He hears every prayer of His beloved Son, and will bring Him to His people at the time they are reduced to utter helplessness. His hands will be sufficient for him. This can only be said of Christ, the works of whose hands are absolute perfection. God also would be His help against His enemies, defeating them in the day of His glory.
Simeon is left out of this list entirely, possibly because of Simeon's taking the lead in corrupting Israel in committing fornication with the Midianites (Num.25:14), while Levi has a great deal said about him. Levi was the third son of Jacob, and pictures resurrection blessing, therefore given the place of priesthood to draw specially near to God.. Levi's thummim and urim are said to be "with your holy One" (v.8). The meaning of thummim and urim is "perfections and lights," seen in the reflections of the precious stones in the ephod. This was used by the priests when inquiring of God when needs of discernment of His will arose. in the millennium Israel will gladly commit this entirely to God's Holy One, the Lord Jesus Christ, who alone is all-wise and discerning. Israel had proved Him at Massah and Meribah, finding in Him grace that far transcended the need they had and the contention they were guilty of in complaining against Him.
Levi had been chosen by God for the service of the sanctuary, therefore the things of God were paramount to him. Because of this he says of his father and mother, "I have not seen them" (v.9). He recognized no natural relationship that could compare with his relationship to God. This reminds us of the words of the Lord Jesus at a time when He was told His mother and His brethren sought for Him. He answered, "Who is My mother, or My brethren?" (Mk.3:33). "And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother" (Mk.3:34-35). Every natural relationship must give way to a true spiritual relationship. This is emphasized in the words, "they have observed Your word and kept Your covenant."
Only those who thus put God first are fitted to be teachers of the people. So the Levites were to teach Israel (v.10). They should also lead Israel in worship, offering incense to God and burnt offerings. This is a solid basis for the following prayer, "Bless his substance, Lord, and accept the work of his hands," while on the negative side, God's judgment is asked against those who rise against him or who hate him.
One verse suffices for Benjamin, whose name means "Son of my right hand," and this speaks of a place of nearness and communion with God, beloved of the Lord and dwelling between God's shoulders. It is another characteristic of Israel which will be beautifully seen in the coming day of her glory. This is because Benjamin is primarily a type of the Lord Jesus, and today the Church of God shares in the blessing of identification with Him, dwelling between God's shoulders, a character that each individual believer has title to enjoy. It is sad that we do not more fully enjoy it.
Much more is said of Joseph, however, for Benjamin did not go through the deep suffering and pressure that Joseph did. This section speaks of the abundance of fruitful prosperity that Israel will yet enjoy in the age to come. Psalm 4:1 tell us, "In pressure Thou hast enlarged me" (JND), a truth beautifully true of Joseph, and indicative of the great blessing that Israel will yet receive as a result of their deep pressure of years, culminating in the Great Tribulation. God will show how He is able to bring about the greatest blessing from the greatest suffering. This has in fact already been seen in the sufferings of Christ and the great blessing of the Church of God now. But Israel will know the value of this only after her suffering the ordeal of the tribulation.
The Lord will bless the land with precious things of heaven (v.13), for even the heavenly city, the new Jerusalem, the metropolis of God's creation, will have its twelve gates inscribed with the name of the tribes of Israel (Rev.21:12). From that heavenly city the grace of God will pour its abundant blessing on the earthly people of God. The dew from heaven, typical of the Spirit of God, will moisturize the nation, to prosper the growth of fruit for God. "The deep lying beneath" seems to infer that depths of evil will be changed into depths of goodness, so that nothing will be against them, but everything ministering to the spiritual energy of bearing fruit.
As well as moisture, the sunshine must be added that there may be precious fruit (v.14). The sun is typical of the Lord Jesus, "the Sun of righteousness" spoken of in Malachi 4:2 as arising on Israel with healing in His wings. "The precious produce of the months" connects with Revelation 22:2, though that verse refers to the Lord Jesus as the Tree of life yielding twelve fruits, one each month. He Himself, the Tree of life, will be in heaven, in the midst of the Assembly, the Church of God. The twelve fruits are for Israel, while the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the Gentile nations. Wonderful prosperity!
Verse 15 adds another lovely feature of the fruitfulness of Israel, "With the best things of the ancient mountains, with the precious things of the everlasting hills." Ancient mountains speak of authority established from time immemorial. Israel will then recognize that the Lord Jesus is indeed "the Lord, the King of Israel," "the Redeemer, the Lord of hosts," who says, "I am the First and I am the Last; beside Me there is no God" (Isa.44:6). When they accept His authority, which has been from eternity past, this submission will be a vital part of the fruit they bear for God.
Israel will also be blessed with the precious things of the earth and its fullness (v.16). Their land, their earthly possession, will bear fruit abundantly because of "the favor of Him who dwelt in the bush." This refers to Exodus 3:2, when Moses saw the bush burning but not being consumed. God called to him from the midst of the bush. The burning bush pictures Israel going through the fires of tribulation, but being preserved through it. This is another reminder that suffering is the means by which eventual fruit is borne for God.
All this blessing comes "on the head of Joseph, on the crown of the head of him who was separate from his brothers." Joseph, separated from his brothers, is a type of the Lord Jesus, who, through His solitary sufferings and death, is the great Recipient of all blessing from God. Yet, as Joseph shared with his brothers the blessing that came to him in Egypt, so the Lord Jesus will share with Israel all these blessings that are said to be the portion of Joseph. Indeed, today He shares much more than this with the Church of God, giving her a heavenly inheritance and announcing her as His prospective bride. If Israel's blessings will be wonderful, how much more those conferred upon the Church, "which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all" (Eph.1:22-23).
"His majesty is as the firstling of his ox" (JND). He is seen here as having strength to subdue every enemy, with horns like those of the wild ox. Thus He pushes all enemies before Him. This is Christ in His people Israel victorious over all the world. The two sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh, fathered the tribes that had this honor of representing Joseph, and indeed representing all Israel (v.17).
ZEBULON AND ISSACHAR
These two tribes are considered together, Zebulon in his going out and Issachar in his tents. But both are told to rejoice (v.18). We too should rejoice in going out to share Christ with others, and we should rejoice in the place of seclusion too, where we may enjoy communion with the Lord. The nation Israel will be privileged to enjoy both of these in the day of her glory.
In going out they shall call the peoples to the mountain, no doubt the mountain of the house of the Lord (v.19). And there the character of nearness to the Lord will have its place, with sacrifices of righteousness, sacrifices that will call to remembrance the one great sacrifice of the Lord Jesus on Calvary. Sharing in this blessing will be precious, just as today it is precious to share with saints of God the enjoyment of the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus.
More than this, they shall partake of the abundance of the seas and of the treasures hidden in the sand. This speaks of the Gentile nations also contributing to the blessing of Israel. "The abundance of the seas" is a significant expression, for the population of the seas is tremendously great. It is said the insect population on earth far outweighs all the human, animal and bird population! It would require quite a number of mosquitoes to equal the weight of just one elephant! But the combined population of insects, animals, birds and humans is nothing compared to the weight of the population in the seas; for the seas cover over two-thirds of the surface of the earth, and there is marine life at every depth of the seas, while on earth there is only one level and huge expanses of earth are unpopulated by humans or animals. This wealth in the seas is only symbolical of the wealth that Gentiles will bring to share with Israel in the millennium.
The sand of the seashore (Gen. 22:17) also speaks of Gentiles, so that "treasures hidden in the sand" tell us that though the Gentiles have been previously strangers to the covenants of God, yet God has endowed them with hidden treasures that will eventually be brought into the open by the manifestation of the Lord Jesus, who will turn many Gentiles to Himself. Israel will share in the joy of this also. Cornelius (in our present Church age) is a lovely sample of this (Acts 10:1-4). He was virtually hidden until the preaching of Christ by Peter brought him out into the open to be greatly blessed in sharing with believing Israelites the preciousness of what God had been accomplishing in his heart before. Peter might well tell Cornelius then, "In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him" (Acts 10:34-35).
Gad means "a troop," indicating a warrior character, which will be most evident in Israel when God restores them to their inheritance. God "enlarges Gad" (v.20) for it is those who take part in the good conflict of faith to possess their possessions who will in this way be enlarged. So Gad represents Israel in the conflict of gaining their inheritance, as a lion "dwells," not running away, but tearing the arm raised against him, and "the crown of his head," evidently the enemy's crown.
"He provided the first part for himself" (v.21). in this he seems to be typical of Christ, who is always the Representative of His people, but must be carefully distinguished from all others. He has the lawgiver's portion reserved for Him. This is not the law in the sense in which Moses gave it, but that of the New Covenant in His writing His laws upon Israel's heart (Jer.31:31-33).
Thus "He came with the heads of the people; He administered the justice of the Lord, and His judgments with Israel." His administration will include others as heads of the people, but in contrast to all other administrations, His will be according to the perfect justice of the Lord. How wonderful a day indeed!
Dan means "judge," and thus is closely connected with Gad, and being "a lion's whelp" indicates power against enemies. But the meaning of Bashan is uncertain, so it is difficult to understand what is involved in this.
The prosperity of Naphtali is emphasized as representing the prosperity of Israel, "satisfied with favor and full of the blessing of the Lord." This is the result of God's work in the nation at that time, just as "in Christ" this is true of all believers today. But the tribe will specifically possess the west and the south of the land. The south speaks of favorable circumstances and the west, of beneficial circumstances. Thus the spiritual application will extend to all the tribes.
Asher, meaning "happy," appropriately concludes this interesting list. "Asher is most blessed of sons: let him be favored by his brothers, and let him dip his foot in oil" (v.24). Again, all Israel is represented in the lasting joy of which Asher speaks. "They shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away" (Isa.35:10). Dipping his foot in oil speaks of the Holy Spirit (the oil) influencing his walk from this time onward.
"Your sandals shall be iron and bronze (or copper)." Iron speaks of strength and copper holiness. There will be no weakening of a consistent walk before God in holiness throughout the millennium. Their days will be "as the days of a tree" (Isa.65:22), continuing for the thousand years of the millennial age, and "as your days, so shall your strength be" (v.25). Their strength will not fail even after 1000 years!
A SUMMARY OF ALL
After dealing with each of the tribes and the blessing for Israel that they represent, Moses now gives a lovely summary of this. How appropriate that he emphasizes the greatness of the Lord Himself in this last message for Israel! "There is none like the God of Jeshurun, who rides the heavens to help you, and in His excellency on the clouds" (v.26). Jeshurun means "the righteous one." Israel will be designated as "the righteous one" in that day, because her faith then will be counted as righteousness. Wonderful contrast to the condition she was in at the time of her rejection of Christ! From the height of heaven this great God will work in the hearts of the people to produce a marvelous change, and they will realize that "the eternal God" is their refuge, and underneath them the everlasting arms (v.27). How wonderful a revelation to their hearts that the Lord Jesus whom they crucified is the eternal God! His arms of eternal strength will uphold them.
In that day the enemy will not be able to stand: God will thrust him out, with the solemn sentence, "Destroy" Then only will Israel at last dwell in safety, with a fountain of never failing blessing, "alone," or secluded from any danger of pollution (v.28), in a land of grain and new wine, the best of food and unhindered joy. The heavens will also drop dew, not a downpour of rain, but sufficient moisture gently provided.
How happy will Israel be, depending on Him who is the shield of their help and the sword of their majesty, -- the shield for defensive warfare and the sword for that offensive. By His power Israel's enemies will submit to them in cringing servility, and Israel will tread down all their high places of false worship. They ought to have done this when they first entered the land, but sadly failed. What relief it will be for Israel when all these plausible forms of idol worship are destroyed!
THE DEATH AND BURIAL OF MOSES
Thus Moses has given his last message to Israel, so that this chapter is necessarily penned by a different writer. Moses, fully aware that he would die on Mount Nebo, goes with calm confidence in the living God to his appointed end. Evidently he went alone, and the writer of this history therefore received his information of this occasion directly from the Lord. Ascending to the top of Pisgah, which means "survey," he was there shown by God all the land of Gilead as far as Dan (v.1) at the extreme north of the land, all Naphtali, Ephraim and Manasseh and Judah as far as the Western Sea (the Mediterranean). These of course were the possessions that God had purposed for these tribes. The south of the land also was included and the plain of the valley of Jericho, which was much closer (v.3). Certainly all of this panoramic view would not normally be visible from that point, but God made it visible to Moses on this one occasion.
In this beautiful way the grace of God transcended His stern government. His government could not allow Moses to enter the land, but His grace enabled him to see it all, which he would not do by entering it, and which no Israelite who entered would see. More than this, in the New Testament (Mt.17:1-3) Moses is seen in the land, but with his interest not fixed on the land at all, but on the Lord Jesus, transfigured before his eyes. Marvelous blessing indeed for the deeply tried leader of Israel!
The Lord told Moses on Mount Nebo that this was the land He had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and to their descendants, and though Moses had seen it, he would not cross over the Jordan to enter it. Thus this faithful servant of the Lord died as the Lord had told him he would (v.5). But Israel could have no burial service for him. Instead, Moses had the unique distinction of being buried by God with no observer present. Not even Satan knew his burying place, for Jude 9 tells us that there was a dispute between Michael the archangel and the devil concerning the body of Moses, which was settled by Michael's wise words, "The Lord rebuke you." If Satan had known where Moses' body was buried, how likely it is he would have moved people to build a shrine of idolatrous worship there. But Moses, faithful man of God as he was, is not to be worshiped.
The age of Moses at his death was 120 years, yet his eyes were not dim nor his natural vigor diminished (v.7). He did not die of disease nor of old age, but God took his life at God's appointed time. What a life indeed of faithful devotedness to God in the face of almost every kind of opposition! Yet he was a man subject to the same sinful tendencies as we are. He is a striking proof of the fact that God will provide the necessary grace and strength for the carrying out of any responsibility that He may put upon any believer.
Though they could not attend his funeral, the children of Israel mourned for Moses in the plains of Moab for thirty days (v.8). No indication is given that Israel thought Moses might just be lost on the mountain, and therefore send men to search for him, as the sons of the prophets did when Elijah had been translated by God (2 Ki.2:15-18). There was no precipitate action on Israel's part to press into the land. God would have them in a state of calm submission to Him and to His working before He called them to attack their enemies. The thirty days mourning was therefore a good preparation
However, God had prepared Joshua as a successor to Moses, giving him a spirit of wisdom for the service he was now to take up in a way clearly distinct from that of Moses, yet with the full fellowship of Moses, who had laid his hands on Joshua, an expression of identification with him as the new leader of Israel (v.9). Whatever service may be necessary to be performed, only the person God prepares for it will be able to perform it.
Yet we are told that since that time there has not arisen another prophet like Moses (v.10). Are we not absolutely amazed at the tremendous accomplishments of that one man in leading over two million people through a wilderness for forty years? His nearness to God was the one secret of his endurance (Heb.11:27).
All the signs and wonders that God sent him to do in Egypt are specifically mentioned, which would include the ten plagues sent on Egypt and the passage of the Red Sea (v.11). The wilderness history also was attended by "mighty power and great terror," such as the destruction of Korab, Dathan and Abiram (Num.16:28-35). Through all of these things Moses remained the faithful, humble servant of God, never exalting himself or glorying in his prominence. Yet throughout his life he was too greatly dishonored by Israel. Since his death, however, Israel has held him in great esteem! Such is the sad perversity of the hearts of people generally!