Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
1. Reminded the individual that the land and its fruits were God's.
2. Required from him a devout acknowledgment of the fact, with a gift in which the acknowledgment was suitably embodied.
3. Threw him back on the recollection of God's former mercies to his nation.
4. Secured a confession and rehearsal of these from his own lips. It served:
1. To create and deepen religious feeling.
2. To quicken gratitude.
3. To encourage free-will offerings. Two main points -
I. GOD'S MERCIES ARE TO BE GRATEFULLY REMEMBERED. These mercies are many and wonderful (Psalm 40:5). The points dwelt on in this declaration are God's fulfillments of his promises in the increase of the nation (ver. 5), the deliverance from Egypt (vers. 6-8), and the bringing of the people into the land of Canaan (ver. 9), part of the firstfruits of which the worshipper now presented (ver. 10). We have here:
1. National mercies. Since in Israel Church and nation were one:
2. Church mercies.
3. Personal mercies.
A similar review befits every Christian. What causes of thankfulness has he, not only in the remembrance of God's loving-kindness to him personally (Psalm 40:1-4; Psalm 116:1-19), but in the review of God's dealings with his nation, and still more in the consideration of his mercies to the Church! On the one side, our noble constitution, our just laws, our civil and religious liberties, our immunity from war - the fruits of long centuries of struggle and progress. On the other side, the facts on which the Church's existence is founded - the Incarnation; Christ's life, death, resurrection, and ascension; the gift of the Spirit: and. the events of her extraordinary history - the progress she has made, God's goodness in preserving and protecting her, in raising up teachers and leaders, in purifying her by persecutions, in granting revivals, times of reformation, etc.; with the consideration of how in all promises have been fulfilled, prayers answered, deliverances vouchsafed, blessings bestowed, increase made.
II. GOD'S MERCIES ARE TO BE SUITABLY ACKNOWLEDGED.
1. By recital of them before God himself. Acknowledgment of mercies is as much a part of devotion as praise, confession, petition, or even adoration. The value of liturgical forms (within due limits) for purposes of prayer and acknowledgment, is not to be disputed. They
(1) aid memory,
(2) secure comprehensiveness,
(3) guide devotion,
(4) prevent irrelevancy,
(5) create a bond of unity.
Like hymns, they testify to the Church's catholicity amidst diversities of creed and polity. Their disadvantage, if preponderant in worship, is that they check too much the element of spontaneity. They discourage freedom and naturalness in the expression of the heart's feelings. The best form of Church order would probably be a combination of the liturgical with the free and spontaneous elements in worship-the latter decidedly predominating.
2. By free-will offerings. These are needed more than ever. The sphere of the Church's operations is yearly widening.
3. By hospitality and clarity (ver. 11). Underlying all there is, of course, to be personal consecration in heart and life. It is self God wants - the love, reverence, service, devotion of self; not a mere share in self's possessions. Confession (ver. 3), gifts (ver. 10), worship (ver. 10), joy (ver. 11), have their rightful place after that, and as the outcome of it. - J.O.
I. MAN IS THE OBJECT OF GOD'S LAVISH GENEROSITY. Everything round the Hebrew in his home reminded him of the exuberant kindness of his God. The land which he possessed was land which Jehovah had given him. The temple was the place which Jehovah had chosen "to place his Name there." The priest was God's gift. The corn and fruit of the land were produce "which the Lord thy God giveth thee." Each man was taught to look on himself as belonging unto God. Of everything the absolute Proprietor was God. Their history, their deliverance, their security, their renown, were all due to God. Behind every visible object, behind every visible event, they discerned God.
II. REMEMBRANCE OF GOD'S DELIVERANCES WAS TO BE PERPETUATED. It is vital to the interests of a man that he should know the "rock whence he was hewn, and the hole of the pit whence he was digged." Are we from above, or from beneath? Are we the creatures of fortuitous circumstance, or has our life been planned by a Divine Artificer? Are all the forces and energies of life within ourselves, or are we dependent upon the will and the resources of another?
1. It is salutary to remember our original. "A Syrian ready to perish was my father." It will serve to beget in us humility. It will make us hopeful; for if we have risen so much, may we not rise higher yet?
2. It is salutary to remember the oppressions of men. "The Egyptians evil entreated us." Poor, selfish, changeful man can never be relied upon, Friendly today, they turn to be bitterly hostile tomorrow. "Cease from man, whose breath is in his nostrils."
3. It is salutary to remember the efficacy of prayer. "We cried unto the Lord." His ear is always open to human solicitations. The affairs of this universe do not unfit him to attend to our need. True prayer is never in vain.
4. It is salutary to remember God's interpositions. "He looked. He brought us forth. He hath given us this land." The affliction was essential to fitness for Canaan. Winter is essential to the fruitfulness of spring. When God begins to bless us, what limit shall there be? What? Only that which our incapacity to receive may impose! Being redeemed, our expectations are infinite.
III. GRATITUDE FOR GOD'S GIFTS MUST BE PRACTICAL. Words of thankfulness are cheap, unless accompanied by deeds. Songs of praise are sweet minstrelsy in the ear of God, but they must spring from the heart; and if the heart is grateful, the hands will be full of offerings. The firstfruits of all our increase belong to God as a matter of right. But duty is delight. This requirement is representative. We may not be husbandmen; still our firstfruits are due. The firstfruits of our time belong to God - the fresh dewy hours of every day. The first of our gains belong to God. Say not, "They are mine," Nay! they are his. The firstfruits of mental strength - our youth; the best of all we have belong to him. To secularize these is sacrilege.
IV. THROUGH ALL GOD'S GIFTS HIS INTENTION IS HUMAN GLADNESS. This gladness is fostered and fed by proportionate offerings. For this habit of religious offering will serve to draw away our confidence from our material possessions, and place it in the living God. This will strengthen and establish joy. It is surely better to trust the Fount than the channel - the Source than the stream. If every man on earth is not brimful of joy, it is not God's fault. To rejoice in God is our duty and our privilege. And this joy is contagious. "Thou shalt rejoice... thou, and the Levite, and the stranger that is among you." Joy makes men generous, and the recipients of our generosity will share our joy. There will be joyous action and reaction. We are to be the channels through which God will pour his joy into others' hearts. In return they will give us their prayers. - D.
I. JESUS CHRIST IS THE PRIEST TO WHOM WE SHOULD BRING THE FIRSTFRUITS OF ALL OUR INCREASE. In other words, we should bring our systematic beneficence before Christ, and prayerfully deal with it before him. He is the Mediator for our liberality, as well as for every other blessing.
II. WE NEED CHRIST'S MERITS TO RENDER OUR LIBERALITY, AS WELL AS EVERY OTHER GRACE, FRAGRANT BEFORE GOD. For we should never forget that no single grace is really fit in its naked imperfection to be presented to God. It requires to be performed with the merits of our adorable High Priest. There should be no boasting about it, as if it could stand alone.
III. OUR LIBERALITY SHOULD BE THE OUTCOME OF OUR GRATITUDE FOR FAVOR SHOWN TO THE FATHERS AS WELL AS TO OURSELVES. The Jew reviewed gratefully the national history, the Syrian origin, the Egyptian bondage, the Exodus, the entrance into Canaan, and the fruitfulness of the land of promise. All this history of God's goodness made the firstfruits simply the expression of gratitude. It is on this grace that systematic beneficence is to be built. Nowhere else can a fitting foundation be found.
IV. OUR LIBERALITY SHOULD BE ASSOCIATED WITH AN ACT OF JOYFUL WORSHIP. In no other way can liberality be sustained. "On the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him" (1 Corinthians 16:2). Why on the first day of the week? Manifestly to associate the grace with the religious services of the resurrection day. No week-day liberality will last long - it requires a Lord's day, with all its holy associations and sanctions, to sustain the liberality of the people. And this saves the spirit of liberality from the grudging that is so vexatious and so worldly. "The Lord loveth a cheerful giver," and so he draws the giver into his own presence, and makes him joyful there, that he may offer in his liberality a "sacrifice of joyfulness."
V. THE JOY REACHED THROUGH LIBERALITY IS TO BE CARRIED INTO THE SOCIAL CIRCLE, TO MAKE HOME TRULY HAPPY. The Jew, after presenting his firstfruits, was to rejoice in every good gift of God, along with the Levite and stranger who formed part of his household. A cheerful giver is the secret of a happy home. His relations with his Lord being bright and beautiful, he brings the fragrance home. - R.M.E.
Numbers 18:21-28), which Deuteronomy, without mention, takes for granted; and the festal tithe, ordained as a provision for the sanctuary feasts (Deuteronomy 14:21-27). On the third year a tithe was to be devoted to festivities at home (Deuteronomy 14:28, 29). It is usually, but too hastily, assumed that this third tithe was but the second diversely applied. That in itself is unlikely, as the feasts at the sanctuary required to be held on the third and sixth years, as well as on the others, and the provision for these could not well be dispensed with. Neither does it explain the expression, "year of tithing;" for while, on this supposition, the tithe was differently applied, there was nothing unusual in the manner of taking it. Each year was a year of tithing (sabbatical years excepted), and this no more than the rest. The ordinary view, besides, is directly in the teeth of the testimony of Josephus, who may be supposed to have known the practice of his time. His statement distinctly is that one-tenth was to be given to the priests and Levites; one-tenth was to be applied to feasts at the sanctuary; and a tenth besides was, every third year, to be given to the poor. If this was so, we have a natural explanation of the phrase, "the year of tithing," and self-consistency is introduced into the laws. The tithe-laws in Deuteronomy are often represented as if in conflict with those in Leviticus and Numbers. Part of the plausibility of the objection lies in the use of the definite article in the English version - "all the tithe (Deuteronomy 14:28; Deuteronomy 26:12) - which gives an impression of allusion to the ordinary, the well-known tithe. That impression is not created if we take the plain Hebrew - a whole tithe" - which by its very nakedness suggests a new regulation. Deuteronomy legislates for its own purposes in connection with the centralizing of the worship at the sanctuary. The newer criticism seems to have abandoned the old ground, which made the Levitical laws the earliest. It assumes that the distinction of priests and Levites, with the body of legislation based on that distinction, took shape not earlier than the exile - a view hopelessly in conflict with the histories of the return. Indeed, so great was the disproportion in the numbers of priests and Levites returning with Zerubbabel - twelve or thirteen priests for every Levite - that the Levitical laws could only have been put in force with material alterations and modifications. They are in some respects singularly inapplicable to the very times in which they are supposed to have originated. - J.O.
is - The importance of self-examination in respect of the fulfillment of duties of religion.
I. SELF-EXAMINATION A DUTY. The text suggests that we examine ourselves:
1. As to religious givings.
2. As to our fulfillment of the duties of hospitality and charity.
3. As to the condition in which these duties have been performed - whether from the right motive (regard to God's commandment), and in a right state (the state of sanctification). Extend the principle to all duties of religion. Self-examination, to be of service, should be:
2. Conscientious - as "before the Lord thy God" (ver. 13), who cannot be deceived.
3. Periodical, as:
(1) At the end of a year.
(2) The close of a financial year.
(4) Even the end of a week. A review of this kind not an unsuitable Sabbath day's employment.
II. SELF-EXAMINATION A SAFEGUARD.
1. Prevents neglect. Things which we ought to do - which, at bottom, we are willing to do - get frequently overlooked:
(1) From inadvertency.
(2) From unpunctuality.
(3) From habits of procrastination.
A review of the kind proposed would bring many of these forgotten duties to recollection, and would act as a check on the causes of forgetfulness.
2. Brings practice into comparison with the standard of obligation. When duty is known, it does not follow that it is always done, or that we are always aware of the extent of our shortcomings. We may be greatly deceiving ourselves in this very particular. There may grow upon us the vicious habit of comparing ourselves with others rather than with the standard of the Divine Law. And nowhere is self-deception more common than in the matter of religious and charitable givings. People will be heard expatiating on the vexatiousness of the calls of this kind made on them, who, were they to put their givings all together, would find that they did not amount to so much as they have often spent on the gratification of some whim, perhaps on a single dinner-party. Self-examination would counteract the tendency to take our performances of duty so readily for granted. It would e.g. require the rich man to measure his givings directly with his income, and with the proportion of that income which he felt to be due to God.
3. Reminds us of the obligations themselves. For, besides the shortcomings in practice referred to, there is often no little danger that the standard of duty itself may get to be lost sight of.
4. Makes hypocrisy more difficult. The withholder of the tithes would scarcely venture to stand before God and make this solemn declaration. His tongue might well cleave to the roof of his mouth if he attempted it. He would feel that he must either go and do what he ought or hold his peace. The hypocritical professor shuns self-examination. Two thoughts in closing:
1. We cannot expect blessing, save as duties are honorably fulfilled (ver. 15).
2. Reflecting on fulfilled duties, we need to beware of Pharisaic pride (Luke 18:11, 12). - J.O.
I. MEN ARE APPOINTED TO BE GOD'S ALMONERS. Not more really does the sovereign of an empire employ persons of rank to be his stewards and almoners than God employs us. To expend upon ourselves the whole of our earthly possessions is sin - is the worst of sins - is sacrilege. We hold in our keeping God's property. We are not at liberty to use it as we please. Nor is the amount which appertains to God determined by the caprice of human inclination. A definite portion is God's, and becomes in the highest sense trust property. One-tenth of all our gains is the fixed proportion claimed by God. God identifies himself with the Levite, the widow, the fatherless. The Levites are his messengers. The poor are his friends. To deny them is to wrong him; and he will surely avenge the insult. On stated occasions, viz. triennially, each proprietor was required to render an account of his stewardship, and to make a solemn declaration that he had faithfully discharged his momentous trust. As often as we supplicate new favors we virtually protest our faithfulness.
II. SURRENDER TO GOD A CONDITION OF SUCCESSFUL PRAYER. In this passage the Hebrews were taught not to ask for God's blessing upon their land until they had confessed their complete surrender to God's revealed will. Pride bars the door which keeps out Divine favors. Pride chokes the channels so that the stream of God's bounty cannot flow. In like manner God acts in our earthly life. He will not give health except through the channel of food. He will not give strength except through the channel of exercise. He will not allow us to use steam or electricity except by surrender to his material laws. We do not really pray so long as any part of our nature is rebellious against his will. Lip-prayer is counterfeit. Genuine prayer is the up-going of the whole man.
III. GOD'S SOLEMN PLEDGES ARE CONDITIONED BY EARNEST PRAYER. God had sworn to the patriarchs to give this goodly land to their seed, yet his oath implied trust, surrender, prayer, upon their part. Indeed, if these things had been wanting in the Hebrews, no external possession would have been a blessing: Canaan would have been a curse. Material light is no boon unless there be an organ of human vision to enjoy it - unless the eye be open. Nothing really benefits a man until it actually enters his nature and becomes a part of himself. This is God's efficient act. "Ask, and ye shall receive." For all things promised of God, "he will yet be inquired of." Prayer gives the final fitness to receive. - D.
I. SYSTEMATIC BENEFICENCE SHOULD BE THE PRELIMINARY OF SUPPLICATION FOR BLESSING, AND NOT CONDITIONED UPON IT. There is a temptation to make liberality a matter of speculation, to vow a certain portion if a certain blessing is conferred. Now, this may be all very well regarding what is beyond a tithe, but the tithe is a settled proportion to be promptly and gratefully paid, and the blessing can then be honestly asked when the debt to God has been discharged.
II. THE TRULY LIBERAL WILL LOOK FOR SPIRITUAL BLESSING FOR HIS COUNTRY, AND NOT BE CONTENT WITH TEMPORAL. In fact, it was revival, as we should now call it, that the Jew after his tithing sought. And systematic beneficence should be regarded as the indispensable preliminary of revival, if Malachi 3:10 has any meaning. It is manifest that illiberality may hinder spiritual blessing, and consequently liberality should be fostered as the manifest test of sincerity regarding blessing. If one is not willing to pay his share that every hindrance of blessing may be removed, he cannot be in earnest about it.
III. MOSES, AS THE MEDIATOR, GUARANTEES THE COVENANT BLESSINGS TO THE COVENANT-KEEPING PEOPLE. God had brought Israel out of Egypt, and was about to introduce them to the land of promise, that they might prove his "peculiar people," and be "high above all nations which he hath made, in praise, and in name, and in honor," and above all, be "an holy people." This was his covenant engagement. Hence Moses urges them to keep the commandments God has given them with all their heart and soul, and they shall find how faithful God is. Obedience is consequently to be the manifestation of their faith in God as "Faithful Promiser." If he gave the blessings in all their fullness first, faith would have no room to grow, and his people would be able to live well enough by sight. But when they are asked to obey and be blessed in and through their obedience, faith has its beautiful sphere. - R.M.E.
I. COVENANT WITH GOD INVOLVES ENGAGEMENT TO OBEDIENCE. (Ver. 17.) It did so under the Law. It does so under the gospel. The gospel exhibits grace, and involves at the outset the reception of that grace. Nevertheless, obedience is required of us. It is the end of our redemption. We die with Christ that we may rise with him to newness of life (Romans 6:4). "New obedience" is the proof of true discipleship. Every real believer will seek to render it. It is a condition of ultimate salvation (Romans 2:6-12).
II. COVENANT WITH GOD INVOLVES A RELATION OF PECULIAR NEARNESS. (Ver. 18,) This is borne out by all Scripture. God chooses us, in Christ, to a relation of nearness so remarkable that it has no counterpart, save in the Son's relation to the Father (John 17:21). The saints are his peculiar treasure (1 Peter 2:9, 10). He is their "Shield," and their "exceeding Great Reward" (Genesis 15:1). They are nearer to him than the angels -
"Near, near, so near, III. COVENANT WITH GOD SECURES HIGH HONOR AND BLESSEDNESS. (Ver. 19.) Great distinction was in store for Israel, should it prove obedient. God says he will make it high above all nations, "in praise, and in name, and in honor." Its honor would consist: 1. In the proud distinction of being God's people (Deuteronomy 4:7). 2. In its high moral repute (Deuteronomy 4:6). 3. In the material pre-eminence to which obedience would be certain to raise it (Deuteronomy 7:12-16). Obedience, honor, blessedness, are three ideas ultimately inseparable. The "glory, honor, immortality" of heaven are for those who persevere in well-doing (Romans 2:7), for "an holy people." The honors in store for obedient Israel, great as they were, are not to be compared with the "exceeding and eternal weight of glory" now revealed as the inheritance of believers (2 Corinthians 4:17). - J.O.
III. COVENANT WITH GOD SECURES HIGH HONOR AND BLESSEDNESS. (Ver. 19.) Great distinction was in store for Israel, should it prove obedient. God says he will make it high above all nations, "in praise, and in name, and in honor." Its honor would consist:
1. In the proud distinction of being God's people (Deuteronomy 4:7).
2. In its high moral repute (Deuteronomy 4:6).
3. In the material pre-eminence to which obedience would be certain to raise it (Deuteronomy 7:12-16). Obedience, honor, blessedness, are three ideas ultimately inseparable. The "glory, honor, immortality" of heaven are for those who persevere in well-doing (Romans 2:7), for "an holy people." The honors in store for obedient Israel, great as they were, are not to be compared with the "exceeding and eternal weight of glory" now revealed as the inheritance of believers (2 Corinthians 4:17). - J.O.
I. WE HAVE HERE GOD'S REVELATION OF HIS KINGLY AUTHORITY. It is his part to command - man's to obey. We cannot reverse or disturb this order without introducing anarchy and sorrow.
1. This revelation of God is always new. "This day" thy God hath commanded thee afresh. New discoveries of the extent, the wisdom, the graciousness, of God's sovereignty may be made to us every day. Every morning the voice of heavenly authority speaks to us afresh.
2. The spirit of wise authority is very imperative. "Thou shalt keep and do." It would not be safe for God to abandon any part of his prerogative. It would not be safe to allow men to diminish his sovereignty. We are creatures: he is Creator; hence it is supremely fitting that he alone should rule.
3. His commands are irrevocable. They are well designated "statutes," i.e. things well established. In the material world men are discovering how fixed and uniform are all God's laws. No deviation is allowed. Nor is it tolerated in the spiritual realm, and every new-born man says, "I will keep thy statutes with my whole heart."
4. Obedience embraces the whole man. Outward and ostensible service does not satisfy God, because they will bring no blessing to his creature man. These commands are for man as a spiritual being; and mere external service is hypocrisy, No fragrance is in our obedience unless heart and soul go out in our deeds. Obedience, to have any worth with God, must be the efflorescence of our love.
II. WE HAVE HERE MAN'S WILLING ACCEPTANCE OF THE COVENANT. The Jews, as one man, chose God to be their King, and swore to be loyal subjects. "Thou hast avouched the Lord to be thy God." 1. It must be an act of personal choice. Whether we perceive it or not, our course in life is our own choice. We may never consciously have faced the question, nor put into words our decision; yet our life plainly shows that some decision has been made. Happy the man who, after due reflection, can calmly say, "The Lord is my God!"
2. The language indicates progressive obedience. The loyal servant "walks in God's ways." He is not content with standing still. In proportion as he obeys, he sees more clearly the wisdom of the command - he finds more pleasure in loyal service. At first he obeyed because it was a plain duty; now he responds because it is a delight. "He loves the Law."
3. And hearty obedience brings clearer knowledge of our Master's will. Having learnt the wisdom and the pleasure of obedience, he is more eager to hearken to the Divine voice. His ears have been opened. He can hear the soft whispers of a voice which is unheard by others. He loves to hearken. "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him."
III. WE HAVE HERE GOD'S GENEROUS PLEDGE OF LARGER GOOD.
1. Here is adoption. He solemnly avers them to be "his peculiar people." He gives them a special place in his regards. Before the intelligent universe he espouses them as his own. "He is not ashamed to call them brethren." All his power is pledged for their protection. All his possessions become theirs.
2. He gives them an obedient disposition. His blessing can reach the interior will. If we have made a general surrender of ourselves to him, he imparts gracious strength to every energy of our souls. In response to our desire he makes us willing. "I will pour out my Spirit upon them, and cause them to walk in my statutes, and they shall keep my judgments, and do them." When men have embraced his external and written covenant, then "he makes a new covenant, and writes it upon their hearts." First there is what is natural, afterward that which is spiritual.
3. Here are eminence and honor secured. "To make thee high above all nations." Real glory is God's gift to his chosen. False honor and glitter Satan scatters abundantly among his votaries; but these are superficial and ephemeral. Satan cannot give what he does not possess. All honor belongs to God; and the dignities and eminence and glory which are God's, he has chosen to share with his saints. "Where I am, there ye shall be also."
4. Man's crown of beauty is promised: "that thou mayest be holy." Purity is the perfection of humanity. For this our spirits thirst. No external honor or greatness will satisfy us if we are not internally holy. And the purpose of God in our redemption is "that we may be conformed unto the image of his Son." "Then shall I be satisfied, when I awake in thy likeness." - D.