Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. A MAN MAY BE IN HEALTH AND VIGOR, YET PAST CAPACITY FOR A CERTAIN WORK. Moses' "eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated" (Deuteronomy 34:7), yet he felt that he lacked the fire, the activity, the youthful energy, the elasticity of mind and body, which would have made him a suitable leader for Israel in the new period of her history. Greatness is tested by the magnanimity with which a man long used to power is able to lay it down when he feels that his day for effective service is past. Moses had served his generation nobly. There arose none like him. But, as has been said of Luther, who reached his meridian at the Diet of Worms, and whose end, had Providence pleased to remove him then, would have been like an apotheosis, "It is a law of history that every personality bears within itself a measure which it is not permitted to exceed" (Hagenbach). A new age was opening, and new powers were needed to do justice to its calls. The lawgiver, the prophet, the leader of the desert march, the meek, long-enduring, deep-souled man of God must give place to one more distinctively a soldier. The calm gifts of the legislator and statesman were not those which were most required for the work of conquest and settlement. Moses felt this, and felt, too, that he was getting old. The old man cannot enter as a younger man would into the thoughts, circumstances, and feelings of a new time. He belongs to the past, and is limited by it. His powers have lost their freshness, and can henceforth only decay. This was Moses' situation, and he had the dignity and wisdom to acknowledge it, and to arrange for the appointment of a suitable successor.
II. WHEN A MAN'S DAY OF SERVICE IS PAST, IT MAY BE KINDNESS IN GOD TO REMOVE HIM FROM THE WORLD. Moses' removal was a punishment for sin, but there was mercy concerned in it also. Long life is not always desirable. Had Moses lived longer, he could never have been greater than he is. He might have seemed less. Shades appear in the character of Luther after it had reached its meridian above spoken of - things which disturb and annoy us. Certainly, Moses' position, with Joshua as actual leader in the field, would not have been an enviable one. Joshua must increase, he must decrease. The impetuous soldier, the able strategist, the hero of the battles, would have eclipsed him in the eyes of the younger generation. He would feel that he had over-lived himself. Fitly, therefore, is he removed before the decline of his influence begins. The great thing is to have done one's work - to have fulfilled the ends for which life was given. That done, removal is in no case a loss, and in most cases a boon in disguise (2 Timothy 4:6-9).
III. WHEN THE SERVICES OF ONE MAN FAIL, GOD WILL PROVIDE FOR THE CONTINUANCE OF HIS WORK BY RAISING UP SUCCESSORS. So Joshua was raised up to succeed Moses. - J.O.
I. THE MEN APPOINTED BY GOD TO SPECIAL OFFICE RECEIVE FROM HIM SPECIAL PREPARATION. Moses himself had received a wondrous preparation, first at his mother's knee, next in the palace of Pharaoh, and next in the solitudes of Midian. And Joshua, who is to succeed him as leader, though not as lawgiver, has also received important preparation. He is first associated with Moses in the mount, as he is receiving the Law. He is thus trained to firm faith in the invisible King, and accustomed to his wonders. He is next exercised in battle, leading the Israelites against Amalek, and proving himself skilful in the field. He had also, as a spy, become minutely acquainted with the land of promise, and brought up with Caleb an encouraging report. None was so fitted as he for high command. Just, then, as the twelve were carefully trained to be the apostles of the Church, so was Joshua trained, and so is every one selected for important work.
II. THE ASSURANCE THAT GOD WAS ASSOCIATED WITH THE INVASION GAVE THE INVADERS THE BEST POSSIBLE STIMULUS. God is to go with them; they need in such a case fear no evil. Their foes may be gigantic, but greater is he that is for them than all that can be against them. Their vantage-ground is that they can be "strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might." And this is the one question to be asked always: Is God with us? If so, all is well. The work always succeeds of which he is the head.
III. THE WORK BEFORE THEM IS TO BE JUDGMENT. They are to enter Canaan as destroyers. It is iconoclasts that have been brought from Egypt. Their commission is death to the old religions of the country, and to the incorrigible devotees. They enter as "the scourge of God." And such a mission must have proved a warning to themselves. If called to be the executioners of the apostates of Palestine, they will surely guard against apostasy.
IV. IN THE INVASION THEY MUST ADHERE TO THE LETTER OF THE COMMANDMENTS. It is a terrible mission; but God leaves no loophole for them to escape it. He leaves nothing to license; he gives them strict orders, and these must be carried carefully out. Thus are the rigors of the invasion brought under the shadow of his throne, and he, who is Sovereign and legitimate Avenger, commissioned Israel to execute his orders amid the criminal population of Palestine. - R.M.E.
I. FAITH ACQUIESCENT IN BODILY DISSOLUTION. Splendid triumphs were in sight. The Jewish host was about to complete its conquest; just about to realize full success after forty years of patient trial. Such an hour is the most precious in a man's history. Yet the faith of Moses saw a nobler conquest yet - a conquest over self, a conquest over the unseen foe. A voice from within - the voice of failing nature - whispered that he was no longer equal to the fatigues of a military campaign. And a voice from above told him that his work was done; and, though high reward was in store, justice exacted satisfaction for an earlier misdeed. Even a single blemish in a good man's life entails on him loss. We cannot cheat God. Without a murmur, Moses, like a little child, yields to his Father's decree, and meekly prepares to die.
II. FAITH REJOICING IN OTHERS' PROMOTION. In every age, faith has worked to the production of love. It is the extirpator of selfishness. Moses found as much pleasure in announcing that Joshua should lead the people to conquest, as that he should himself lead. Indeed, Moses felt that Joshua could do better than he could. He had been emphatically a legislator; now a warrior was needed. If God removes one servant, he provides a better. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I am nobler than thou." Each man has a place and an office of his own. If only God's work is well and truly done, faith will rejoice in the means.
III. FAITH CONVINCED THAT GOD AND MAN MUST CO-OPERATE FOR THE TRIUMPH OF THE KINGDOM. "The Lord thy God, he will go before thee;" and "Joshua, he shall go over before thee" (ver. 3). The presence of man, in action or in warfare, does not exclude the presence of God. Joshua could gain no triumph if he had gone alone. God has chosen to work through human agencies. By his wise appointment, Divine and human co-operation is a necessity. "The Lord shall give them up before your face, that ye may do unto them according to his commandment" (ver. 5). Nor is Moses' power and influence to be quite absent from the conflict. Being dead, he yet acted. His commandment regulated their conduct. His word was still a mighty spell. Each man can add something to the aggressive activity of God's truth.
IV. FAITH ASSURED OF GOD'S SELF-CONSISTENCY. God had succored Israel in the past; therefore he would succor them again. He had begun to dislodge the Canaanite kings before Israel, therefore he would go on until he completed for them the conquest (ver. 4). Jehovah had foreseen all the weaknesses and unfaithfulness of Israel and yet he had commenced to give them triumphs. On what reasonable ground would he do this, unless he purposed to repeat his favors, and to subdue for them every foe? Half a conquest would be no boon to them. This would be a vexation to Israeli and a dishonor to God. The man of faith knows that God can never be at variance with himself. When we have discovered the method of God's procedure, we should act along this line in order to enjoy his help. In his footsteps let us plant our feet.
V. FAITH IN ONE STIMULATING IN OTHERS LATENT QUALITIES OF ENERGY. Although it appears that Moses was lacking in martial skill and prowess, his faith in God enabled him to stir up the hidden gifts of others. Faith foresees the victory, and confident hope is a great inspirer of strength. Like new nerve-power, it interlaces and braces all the active energies of a man. The voice of robust faith has always a magical charm over us. We perceive forthwith that the demand is most reasonable, and that largest exertion is our highest glory. It is easy to be strong when Infinite Strength is awaiting us. Every endeavor we make enlarges our capacity to receive more strength. The weaker parts of our nature perish under the strain, but newer and nobler elements fill up the room. And if God be with us, then fear of man departs. Faith is a prolific parent of courage.
"Fear him, ye saints, and ye will then
Hebrews 4:8). God has given him, as formerly he gave the son of Nun, for "a Leader and Commander to the people" (Isaiah 55:4).
I. THE MAN. Joshua as leader was:
1. Divinely appointed (ver. 3).
2. Divinely led. "He doth go before thee" (ver. 8). The captain had a higher Captain (Joshua 5:14).
3. Divinely assisted. "He will be with thee" (ver. 8). Our Leader is Emmanuel - "God with us" (Matthew 1:23).
4. He was to be strong and courageous (ver. 7). The ground of true courage is God being with us. It is said of the Savior, "He shall not fail nor be discouraged" (Isaiah 42:4). The perseverance of the Savior is as deserving of consideration as the perseverance of the saints.
II. HIS WORK. While Joshua's and the people's, it was still more God's work (vers. 3, 4). With Joshua as leader:
1. The enemy would be overthrown (vers. 3-6).
2. All opposition would be overcome.
3. He would conduct the people unto the land of their inheritance (ver. 7).
4. He would cause them to inherit it (ver. 7), i.e. settle them in their possessions. Christ in like manner has overthrown the enemy (Colossians 2:15); has won an inheritance for his people (Colossians 1:12); in his victory they are enabled to overcome the world (John 16:33; 1 John 4:4); his cause is steadily triumphing; he is conducting, and has already conducted, many sons to glory (Hebrews 5:10). - J.O.
Deuteronomy 12-26, from that employed upon the earlier chapters, or discern probability in the assumption that Deuteronomy 4:44-26:19 once constituted a separate book. The unity in style and treatment is so conspicuous throughout - "the same vein of thought, the same tone and tenor of feeling, the same peculiarities of conception and expression" - that unity of authorship follows as a thing of course. The denial of it is incomprehensible. It is less certain whether the "Book of the Law" (ver. 26) comprehends Deuteronomy only, or the bulk of the other books of the Pentateuch as well. That Deuteronomy is represented as existing in a written form is plain from Deuteronomy 28:58, 61; Deuteronomy 29:20, 21, 27; and Hoses had probably the written discourses in his band when he delivered them. But Deuteronomy, as a written book, rests so entirely on the history as we have it in the previous books; is so steeped in allusions to it; implies so full and accurate a knowledge of it, from the days of the patriarchs downwards; - that the presumption in favor of that history also existing in a written form, in authentic records, which subsequent generations could consult, is so strong as almost to amount to certainty. It is incredible that Moses should have taken pains to write out these long discourses - discourses based on the history, and inculcating so earnestly the keeping of its facts and lessons in remembrance - and yet have taken no pains to secure an authentic record of the history itself; that he should not have compiled or composed, out of the abundant materials at his command, a connected narrative of God's dealings with the nation, down to the point at which he addressed it; incorporating with that narrative the body of his legislation. Confining our attention to Deuteronomy, there can be no fair question but that it gives itself out as from the pen of Moses. This claim is disputed, and the book referred to about the time of Josiah on grounds of style, of discrepancies with the Levitical laws, and of laws and allusions implying the later date. On the contrary, we hold that the critical hypothesis can be shown to raise greater difficulties than it lays, and that the difficulties in the way of accepting the book as a composition of Moses have been greatly exaggerated. We glance at a few of these difficulties.
I. STYLE. Professor W.R. Smith ('Old Testament,' p. 433) notes as a crucial instance the laws about the cities of refuge in Numbers 35., and Deuteronomy 19. These laws are supposed to have been penned by the same hand within a few months of each other; yet, it is alleged, the vocabulary, structure of sentences, and cast of expression widely differ. But allowance must surely be made for the difference between a careful original statement of a law, and a later general rehearsal of its substance in the rounded style of free, popular discourse. And what are the specific differences? Deuteronomy, we are told, does not use the term "refuge," but "the cities are always described by a periphrasis." But the Deuteronomist simply says, "Thou shalt separate three cities for thee in the midst of thy land" (Deuteronomy 19:2); "thou shalt separate three cities for thee" (Deuteronomy 19:7); "thou shalt add three cities more for thee "(Deuteronomy 19.9); and there is no periphrasis. The phrase, "that every slayer may flee thither" (Deuteronomy 19:3), "the slayer which shall flee thither" (Deuteronomy 19:4), is derived from Numbers 35:11, 15. But Deuteronomy and Numbers use different words for "accidentally." Admitted, but the words used are synonymous, and are only used in each case twice altogether - in Numbers 35:11, 15, and in Deuteronomy 4:42; Deuteronomy 19:4. "The judges in the one are ' the congregation,' in the other ' the elders of his city.'" But Deuteronomy says nothing about "judges," and "the elders" who are once referred to in Deuteronomy 19:12, plainly act in the name of the congregation. "The verb for 'hate' is different." Rather, "the verb for 'hate'" does not occur at all in Numbers 35., but the noun derived from it does (Numbers 35:20), and is translated "hatred," while in vers. 21, 22, a different term, translated "enmity," is employed, which expresses nearly the same sense. Had these words appeared, one in Numbers and the other in Deuteronomy, instead of standing in consecutive verses of one chapter, they would doubtless have been quoted as further evidence of diversity of authorship. So one book, uses the expression "to kill any person," while the other has "to kill his neighbor - a difference surely not incompatible with identity of authorship. "The detailed description of the difference between murder and accidental homicide is entirely diverse in language and detail." But in Deuteronomy there is no "detailed description" of the kind referred to. There is in Numbers (Numbers 35:16-24); but Deuteronomy confines itself to one simple illustration from concrete life, admirably adapted, it will be admitted, to the speaker's popular purpose (Deuteronomy 19:5). The statement in Deuteronomy, it is evident, presupposes the earlier law, and is incomplete without it, occupying only a dozen verses, as compared with over twenty in Numbers, while even of the dozen, three are occupied with a new provision for the number of the cities being ultimately raised to nine (Deuteronomy 19:8-10).
II. DISCREPANCIES IN LAWS. Considering the number of the laws, the alleged discrepancies are singularly few. On the "tithes," see Deuteronomy 26:12; on the "firstlings," Deuteronomy 15:20; "the priests' due," in Deuteronomy 18:3, seems, like the "fleece" of Deuteronomy 18:4, to be in addition to the provision in Numbers 18:11-18; the law of carrion (Deuteronomy 14:21) is slightly modified in view of the altered circumstances of settlement in Canaan (cf. Leviticus 17:15); and so with other instances. The chief modifications arise from the new legislation in regard to the central sanctuary, with the permission to kill and eat flesh at home (Deuteronomy 12:20-24). On this depends the new tithe-laws (provision for the sanctuary feasts), the additions to the priests' portions, and various minor changes.
III. PECULIARITIES IMPLYING A LATER DATE. We need not delay on stray phrases, such as "unto this day" (Deuteronomy 3:14), or "as Israel did unto the land of his possession" (Deuteronomy 2:12). The instances usually cited are not of great force, and are easily explicable as glosses. More important cases are:
1. The central altar. On this, see under Deuteronomy 12. It suffices to meet most objections to observe that, on the face of it, the Law bears that it was not intended to be put strictly in force till certain important conditions had been fulfilled - conditions which, owing to the disobedience of the people, who during the time of the judges so often put back the clock of their own history, were not fulfilled tilt as late as the days of David and Solomon. For thus it reads (ver. 10), "When ye go over Jordan, and dwell in the land which the Lord your God giveth you to inherit, and when he giveth you rest from all your enemies round about, so that ye dwell in safety; then there shall be a place," etc. (cf. 2 Samuel 7:1; 1 Kings 3:2; 1 Kings 5:4).
2. Priests and Levites. The distinction between priests and Levites, which counts for so much in Leviticus and Numbers, is not, it is alleged, recognized in Deuteronomy. The phrase in use is not "priests and Levites" (which, however, as little as the other, occurs in the earlier books), but "the priests the Levites" (Deuteronomy 17:9, 18; Deuteronomy 18:1; Deuteronomy 24:8; Deuteronomy 27:9). They are not distinctively "the sons of Aaron," but "sons of Levi" (Deuteronomy 21:5; Deuteronomy 31:9). "All Levites are possible priests." But the objection is deprived of its force when we discover, what any one can verify, that these same expressions were freely used, and used interchangeably with others, at a time when it is not doubted that the Levitical system was in full operation. This is the case in the Books of Chronicles, written, it is asserted, in the interest of that system, yet using this phrase, "the priests the Levites," without hesitation or sense of ambiguity (2 Chronicles 5:5; 2 Chronicles 23:18; 2 Chronicles 30:27). "The priests the Levites" mean simply the Levitical priests; and when the tribe of Levi as a whole is meant, it is either expressly designated as such (Deuteronomy 10:8), or the designation is appended to the other phrase as a wider denomination (Deuteronomy 18:1). Nor is the idiom a strange one. At first, the priests," the sons of Aaron," stood out from the people with sharp distinctness, as alone invested with sacred office. The case was greatly altered after the separation of the tribe of Levi; when the designation "sons of Aaron" seems speedily to have been dropped for another identifying the priests more directly with their tribe. "Sons of Aaron" is not found in the latter part of Numbers. Priests and Levites had more in common with each other than either class had with the body of the people; and besides, the priests were Levites. So that to the popular eye, the tribe of Levi stood apart, forming, as a whole, one sacred body, engaged in ministering in holy things to God. Sacerdotal functions are attributed to the tribe, but not necessarily to all members of it (Deuteronomy 10:8; Deuteronomy 18:7). (On the ministering of the Levites, comp. 1 Chronicles 15:2; 2 Chronicles 29:11; 2 Chronicles 31:2). The counter-theory, that this distinction had no existence under the kings, and first originated in the time of the exile, is without a jot of evidence in the Books of Kings, and only escapes foundering on the statements in Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah, by robbing these books of their historical character.
3. The position of the Levites. Instead of being furnished with cities and pasturages, and enjoying an independent income from the tithes, they are represented as homeless and dependent, wandering from place to place, and glad to be invited, with the stranger, the widow, and the fatherless, to share in charitable feasts. (See on this, Deuteronomy 12:19.) But if a time is sought for the composition of the book when this was the actual position of the Levites, no time is so suitable as that of Moses himself, before the tithe-laws had come into regular operation - when, in truth, there was little or nothing to tithe - and when the Levites would be largely dependent on the hospitality of individuals. The language would have a point and force to Moses' contemporaries, which it would have greatly lost had the circumstances of the Levites, at the time of his address, been more prosperous. They were dependent then, and might from very obvious causes come to be dependent again. Their state would not be greatly bettered in the unsettled times of the conquest. Nothing could be more appropriate in itself, better adapted to create kindly sympathies between Levites and people, or more likely to avert neglect of the tribe by withholding of their just dues, than the perpetuation of these primitive hospitalities. No doubt the Levites suffered severely in the days of the judges and under bad kings, but we are not to forget the power and splendor to which the order attained under David and Solomon, and the revivals it enjoyed under Hezekiah and Josiah. There is no evidence that their condition was so deplorably destitute in the later days of the kingdom as the critics represent.
4. The law of the king (Deuteronomy 17.). The law, it is thought, is sketched in terms borrowed from the court of Solomon. The objection derives much of its plausibility from not observing that the description of Solomon's court in the Book of Kings (1 Kings 10:26-29; 1 Kings 11:1-4) is, on the other hand, given in terms distinctly borrowed from this law. The familiarity of the writer of the Books of Kings with Deuteronomy is undoubted, and he plainly draws up his account of Solomon's luxury and splendor in such language as will impress the mind by its contrast to the law. We, on the contrary, reading the law, are apt to think of Solomon's reign as if it were the original, and the law the copy. Solomon did what Moses knew too well kings would be prone to do, and there was every reason for the warning that was given. The objections taken to the book cannot, therefore, be allowed to set aside its own decisive testimony to its authorship. If we adopt the hypothesis of the critics, we are involved in graver difficulties than those from which we flee. We must suppose a state of things as existing under the kings, in respect of the Levitical orders, which we have no reason to believe ever did exist, which there is great difficulty in believing to have existed, and which historical documents in the most express language tell us did not exist. We must suppose Josiah and his people deceived about the book, for they unquestionably took it for a veritable book of Moses, grieving that its words had been neglected by their fathers (2 Kings 22.; 23.; 2 Chronicles 34.). We must explain away a multitude of the plainest allusions to the book, not simply in Joshua, but in the prophets, particularly in Hosea, whose pages are rich in such references (cf. Deuteronomy 7:13; Deuteronomy 8:7-20; Deuteronomy 11:14-16, with Hosea 2:8; Hosea 12:8; Hosea 13:6; Deuteronomy 12. with Hosea 8:11; Deuteronomy 18:18 with Hosea 12:13; Deuteronomy 17:12 with Hosea 4:4; Deuteronomy 28:68 with Hosea 8:13; Hosea 9:3; Deuteronomy 29:23 with Hosea 11:8; Deuteronomy 30:1-10 with Hosea 14.; Deuteronomy 25:13-16 with Hosea 12:7, etc.). We must suppose such a passage as Solomon's prayer at the dedication of the temple (1 Kings 8.), which is saturated with Deuteronomic language, to have been a free and unhistorical composition; though, if this be allowed for Deuteronomy, it need not trouble us with Solomon. Even then we are not out of difficulties, for the book itself is in many respects internally unsuitable to the times to which it is assigned; compare e.g. the mild tone of the book towards Edom - the kindly and brotherly relations which are enjoined - with the hostile tone to which we are accustomed in the prophets, where Edom is a sort of later Amalek, a standing type of implacable enmity to the people of God. If Deuteronomy is not by Moses, it bears false witness of itself, was misconceived by the writers of the later books of Scripture, imposed upon the Jews from the days of its first appearance, and has had its claims endorsed by Christ and his apostles in a way which makes them partners in the general delusion. - J.O.
I. THE WRITTEN WORD EMBODIES AND IS THE VEHICLE OF AN AUTHORITATIVE REVELATION. The Law was first given, thereafter recorded. Revelation precedes the record of it. But this line must not be drawn too finely. The record is inspired (1 Timothy 3:16), and is to us the revelation of the will of God. It is, as well as contains, the Word of God. The line must not be drawn too finely:
1. Between revelation and its history. The threads of revelation cannot be picked out from the texture of its history, and exhibited apart. They constitute one whole; the record embraces both.
2. Between revelation and inspired prophetical discourses - with psalms, poems, wisdom literature, etc., which unfold the principles of revelation, apply and enforce them, turn them into subjects of praise, or deal with them reflectively. For discourses, psalms, didactic literature, etc., add to revelation as well as unfold its meaning.
3. Between revelation and the written Word. For that, as above remarked, is the revelation to us. It is clothed with its own authority as inspired - an authority the nature and degree of which is a study by itself - and it is clothed with the authoritativeness (objective) inherent in the revelations of which records are preserved.
II. THE WRITTEN WORD IS NECESSARY FOR THE PERPETUATION OF REVEALED TRUTH. It embodies truth in a form which secures its transmission to posterity without material distortion or corruption. Tradition, however carefully guarded, would have been a most unsafe medium for the conveyance of important revelations. A body of facts and laws such as we have in the Pentateuch, or discourses like these of Moses, could not have been entrusted to it without certainty of mutilation. The Law, accordingly, was put in writing. A written revelation is one great proof of the wisdom and care of Goal. Variations in manuscripts rarely affect the substance of the message.
III. THE WRITTEN WORD IS A WITNESS FOR GOD AGAINST THE APOSTASY OF THOSE TO WHOM THE WORD IS GIVEN. (Ver. 26.)
1. If it does not prevent corruption of doctrine, it testifies against it. It was by appeal to the Scriptures that Josiah wrought his reformation in Judah (2 Kings 23.). It was by appeal to the Scriptures that the Reformers aroused Europe against the Church of Rome.
2. If it cannot prevent apostasy in deed, it remains as a witness against the apostates. It holds up the Law from which they have departed. It convicts them of rebellion. It denounces against them the penalties of transgression. While it invites them to repentance, and promise, s, if they return, healing of their backslidings. - J.O.
I. THERE IS NOTHING SO PRECIOUS AS GOD'S WORD. No wonder that special officers got special charge of it, when the first installment was given and completed. It was a sacred deposit such as no other nation possessed. The Jew had surely a great advantage, inasmuch as there were committed to him "the oracles of God" (Romans 3:2).
II. THE WIDEST POSSIBLE PUBLICATION SHOULD BE SECURED FOR IT. No better arrangement in times before printing can be imagined than this one of a great congregation with perfect publicity thereat. What an audience every seventh year! And amid the solemnity of the year of release, the sabbatic year, when time lay plentifully on their hands, they could not better spend a portion of the year than in meeting together to learn God's Law. It was a splendid, periodic publicity. And is it not typical of that wider publicity which the printing press is now giving to the Divine Word? Assuredly it is a striking fact that the circulation of the most successful human publication dwindles into insignificance compared with the circulation of the Word of God. Men are trying to make it as widely known as possible. III, SPECIAL SEASONS FOR THE STUDY OF GOD'S LAW ARE EMINENTLY DESIRABLE, Had this direction of Moses been faithfully followed, there would have been a revival of religion every seventh year. A new start would thus have been given to the study of God's will, and greater devotedness of spirit have been created throughout the many thousands of Israel. Similarly, congregations and Churches should have grand assemblies for the express purpose of the public study of God's Law, not merely on the Lord's day each week, but at special and stated seasons. The "camp meetings" of America may have objectionable elements attaching to them; but it would be a good day for all the Churches, if some grand reunions could be devised, when the highest aim of mankind would be carried out in the study of God's Law.
IV. THE CHILDREN AS WELL AS ADULTS SHOULD BE MADE SHARERS IN THE SPECIAL STUDY AND BLESSING. The purpose of the arrangement was not only to publish truths as widely as possible among the adult portion of the population, but to interest also the children in the doctrines and discipline of the Church. Hence the meeting was to be an aggregation of families. It was to be "a gathering of the clans;" young as well as old were to hear the wonderful works of God and his gracious commandments. The special religious service, then, which the Churches should aim at, will be of the widest character. It should contemplate the presence of the young as well as the old, and be adapted to the revival of the Lord's work in all sections of the Church. There is power in the aggregation of individuals for religious purposes. The children must be kept in view in every effort to extend the kingdom. The family must be lifted, if possible, all of a piece, as a unit of God's own making, and in the elevation of families will come the elevation of nations. There is something peculiarly bright and happy in the picture. The sky is cloudless and the people are living in booths "without carefulness." They have met together for the purpose of celebrating a feast, but there is to be a special study of the Law for the benefit of young as well as old. Old heads and young are bowed before the Majesty of heaven, anxious to know his will and how to do it. In such circumstances surely religion must be promoted. May we have grace to imitate such an excellent example! - R.M.E.
I. GOD'S REDEMPTIVE LAW IS EMBODIED IN A WRITTEN FORM, To Moses it had been revealed that it would not suffice to instruct the people orally in the lines of religious duty. So pregnant with importance is the Law of God, that it must be reduced to writing, and carefully preserved. God's law concerning our bodily life - how to use food, how to heal disease, how to prolong our days - all this is revealed in other modes: this Law is written by the finger of God on the very structure of man. In such matters, God's will is to be discovered by investigation and by experiment. But the law of the soul's life is disclosed to us in a different way. How sin can be pardoned; how reconciliation between a guilty man and his Maker can be secured; how inward purity can be gained, and immortality reached; - all this is disclosed by God through his prophets, and reduced to a written form. If a perverse disposition prevails in a man, he may refuse to read the record, and so "count himself unworthy of everlasting life."
II. GOD'S REDEMPTIVE LAW IS COMMITTED TO TRUSTY STEWARDS. The Law of God written by Moses, touching purification and obedience, was placed in the custody of the priests (ver. 9), and secured in the ark of the covenant. This was both a realized fact and a symbolic figure. That ark is an emblem of Christ's Church, and the sons of Levi were the early representatives of genuine believers. The Christian family has become a royal priesthood; and one of their delightful duties is to conserve God's Law so as to hand it on to coming generations. By the loving care of loyal disciples, the oracles of God have been preserved intact. The vigorous life of the Church today is displayed in revising the exact text, translating it into other tongues, and unfolding it to the understanding of the people. We are "stewards of the mysteries of God."
III. GOD'S REDEMPTIVE LAW IS TO BE PERIODICALLY EXPOUNDED. Moses required this to be done once in every seven years. By this method, the recollections of those who had heard it aforetime would be revived, it would be impressed on memory with fresh force, and many would rise to a higher understanding and appreciation of its meaning. The recurring period is symbolic. Once every seven days the privilege now returns. Nor have we to journey to some metropolis to hear the sacred record. Printing has multiplied the copies of God's Law on every side; and it would be spiritual obtuseness if we did not recognize this modern invention as a new agency in God's hands for enlightening the human race. The Law was ordained to be "read in the year of release, and at the Feast of Tabernacles." This was the anniversary of the Sinaitic revelation; this festival was signalized for its unusual joyousness. And this fresh revelation of God's truth, in each septennial period, would add new zest to gladness. Good men would say, "Thy words were found, and I did eat them, and they were to me as the joy and rejoicing of my heart."
IV. GOD'S REDEMPTIVE LAW IS TO BE BROUGHT WITHIN THE UNDERSTANDING OF ALL. The wisdom and the loving-kindness of God are displayed in his care for children. As he has abundantly provided for their bodily and mental wants in their long dependence upon parents, so too he provides for the enlightenment of their consciences by the ministry of his Word. Right impressions are very early made. It is the highest wisdom to entwine the tender affections of children around God and truth and heaven. Before they "know anything" else, God commands us to see to it that "they hear, and learn to fear the Lord our God." To neglect the religious training of the young is heinous sin. This is to deprive the host of God's elect of young recruits. "instead of the fathers, must come up the children." God's will is abundantly revealed, to the end that we may do it. - D.
Nehemiah 8.) Observe -
I. IT WAS TO BE READ AT A RELIGIOUS FEAST. On an occasion of solemnity - at the Feast of Tabernacles (ver. 10). Our feelings in reading the Scriptures, or in hearing them read, ought always to be of a solemn and reverential kind. But it is well to avail ourselves of every aid which may lend solemnity and impressiveness to the reading of words so sacred.
II. IT WAS TO BE READ AT A TIME OF GENERAL LEISURE. In the sabbatical year" the year of release." Leisure hours cannot be better employed than in making ourselves acquainted with "what God the Lord will speak" (Psalm 85:8). We should avail ourselves of the leisure of others to endeavor to instruct them.
III. IT WAS TO BE READ PUBLICLY. (Ver. 11.) The private reading of the Law would doubtless be attended to in many pious homes. But the practice would not be general (scarcity and expensiveness of manuscripts, want of education, religious indifference). The Levites were to teach Israel the Law (Deuteronomy 33:10; Leviticus 10:11; Malachi 2:7); but they might not do so, or the people might not wait on their instructions. The public reading of the Law, even once in seven years, was thus calculated to be of great advantage. As long as the practice was observed, multitudes would derive benefit from it. The reading was of the nature of a public testimony, but also, as we see in Nehemiah 8., for purposes of real instruction. The public reading of Scripture, with or without comment, is an important means of edification. Read with intelligence and judgment, the Word commends itself. And such readings are necessary. Many have Bibles, yet do not read them; many read and do not understand.
IV. IT WAS TO BE READ FOR THE BENEFIT OF OLD AND YOUNG. (Ver. 12.) All are interested in listening to the Word of God. Men and women, little children, strangers, no class but has a concern-in it. None but may be edified by it. Children ought to be more recognized than they are in religious services. Need for making them feel that they too are interested in what is being said; that the Bible has a message for them as well as for their elders.
V. THE END OF READING GOD'S WORD IS THAT WE MAY BE ENABLED TO OBEY IT, (Ver. 13.) - J.O.
I. LET US NOTICE THE EXPRESSION THAT MOSES IS TO "SLEEP WITH HIS FATHERS." The words (שֹׁכֵב עִם־אֱבֹתֶיך) are literally, "lie down with thy fathers," and in this connection are surely significant. They point assuredly to fellowship and rest with the fathers in another life. They cannot refer to any depositing of the remains of Moses in the same tomb as his fathers. His sepulcher was solitary and sacred; his lying down with his fathers, therefore, can only refer to the fellowship in a future life. This is the only place in the Pentateuch where this particular expression occurs, although we meet it in the Books of the Kings no less than twenty-six times. It was undoubtedly an intimation to Moses that he was about to enter into restful fellowship with his fathers, and was most welcome consolation at this peculiarly trying time.
II. APOSTASY NEVER TAKES GOD BY SURPRISE. He foresees it and makes provision for it, preparing his servants for its appearance, and preparing a proper recompense for the apostates themselves. It must be a remarkable experience to be in such a position as God, and to have prevision of all the future, so that there can be no element of surprise for him. His resources are so adequate that he is outside the region of finite surprises and difficulties.
III. SKEPTICISM IS THE DAUGHTER OF ABUNDANCE RATHER THAN OF WANT. It will be, the Lord says, when Israel has entered into the Promised Land, and enjoyed its milk and honey, and when they have waxed fat, that they shall turn to other gods and be guilty of apostasy. In the same way, our modern skeptics are men for the most part in comfortable worldly circumstances, and out of these spring doubts about the existence of God and suspicions that we can do very well without him, and with minor majesties. "It is on the bed of luxury," says Mr. Martineau, "not on the rock of nature, that skepticism has its birth And while from the center of comforts many a sad fear goes forth, and the warmest lot becomes often filled with the chillest doubts, hidden within it like a heart of ice that cannot melt, you may find toiling misery that trusts the more the more it is stricken, and amid the secret prayers of mourners hear the sweetest tones of hope."
IV. PROPHECY IS A WITNESS SUBPOENAED BEFOREHAND AGAINST GOD'S ENEMIES. We have here God giving a certain song which is to be a witness against Israel in the coming apostasy. And prophecy is the retaining of a witness long beforehand for the coming trial. It is proof positive that no varying moods of men can ever surprise God or thwart his magnificent designs. The substance of this song we are presently to consider.
V. JOSHUA RECEIVES ENCOURAGEMENT ABOUT A SUCCESSFUL LEADERSHIP AND THE PERPETUAL PRESENCE OF GOD. This means immediate success as a set-off to the sad intelligence about ultimate apostasy. Joshua is assured that God will be with him and ensure the success of the invasion. Hence Joshua is only to be a lieutenant-general under the invisible Leader and King. And Joshua desired nothing higher. The great honor was in being a fellow-soldier with God. It was God's battles he was going to fight, and it would be God's victories which Israel would win.
VI. IT IS A GREAT BLESSING AT LIFE'S CLOSE TO HAVE A SUCCESSOR TO CARRY ON OUR WORK, AND AN ASSURANCE THAT WE OURSELVES ARE SAFE BEYOND THE BORDER. There was much sadness about the close of Moses' career. He was reminded of his sin in his exclusion from Canaan. But he had compensation in Joshua taking up his work, and in the assurance of" rest beyond the river." He was going over to a better land than lay beyond the Jordan. He was passing on to peace with the sainted fathers who had preceded him. He had thus calmness and blessing given in the midst of his pain. May we have work worth carrying on after us, and some one to succeed us in it; and may we have rest like that of Moses after our demise! - R.M.E.
I. THE OCCASION. The occasion had an aspect of mournfulness. Moses was about to die; nevertheless, no tinge of grief is in his words. He contemplates the event with calm serenity. His chief concern is a competent successor. The good of others was still Moses' uppermost desire. Promptly he responded to the Divine call.
II. THE PLACE. God had appointed the meeting to take place in the tabernacle. All great enterprises should be consecrated in the sanctuary. Here we touch the fountain head of effectual blessing. God has engaged to be found by us here. "This is my rest forever ' here will I dwell!"
III. THE APPEARANCE "The Lord appeared in a pillar of a cloud." So ineffably dazzling is the native glory of God, that no mortal eye can look upon it. We should be blinded by the excess of light. In accommodation to human weakness, God tempers his brightness by an attendant cloud. Such was the form in which he was pleased to appear upon the mercy-seat. Such was the mode of his manifestation on the Mount of Transfiguration. In our present imperfect state we need the intervention of the cloud.
IV. THE CHANCE. God's charge came to Joshua through human lips, yet none the less was it God's charge. We must suppose that Joshua was lacking that susceptibility of soul which is essential for the hearing of God's voice. Some can hear that voice direct; some can hear it only through transmission of others' speech. God's charge and Moses' charge were one, "Be strong and of a good courage." What God commands, God first gives. Says he to men, "Here is my entrusted strength: use it well! More is ready as soon as it is needed." Best of all, he adds, "I will be with thee." - D.
I. THAT THE FUTURE IS PERFECTLY UNVEILED TO GOD. God claims this power as one of his prerogatives (Isaiah 41:22; Isaiah 42:9; Isaiah 43:25, 26; Isaiah 45:20, 21). And no one can question but that these predictions have been strikingly fulfilled. The people did corrupt themselves and turn aside, and evil did befall them in the latter days (ver. 29).
II. THAT THE PLAINEST WARNINGS ARE FREQUENTLY DISREGARDED. Israel was under no government of fate. Had the people repented, they would have been forgiven. The predictions are cast in absolute form, only because God saw that warning would not be taken. He would only too gladly have revoked his threatenings, had Israel, roused to alarm, turned from its evil (cf. the case of Nineveh). This, however, it did not do, but, with these woe-laden prophecies spread before it, rushed madly on, as if eager to fulfill them. How like sinners still. The plainest declarations, the most explicit warnings, the direst threatenings, are as little recked of as if no Word of God were in existence. Strange that God's Word should be so disregarded, and yet profession so often made of believing in it (cf. Jeremiah 36.)!
III. THAT GOD'S WORD HAS ITS USES EVEN THOUGH MEN PROVE DISOBEDIENT. It is to be spoken to them and taught them, "whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear' (Ezekiel 2:7). It tells them the truth. It shows them their duty. It warns them of the consequences of disobedience. It upholds a witness for God in their apostasy (ver. 19). It renders them inexcusable. A solemn responsibility thus attaches to us in the possession of God's Word.
IV. THAT A TIME WILL COME WHEN THE SINNER WILL BE FORCED TO CONFESS THAT GOD'S WORDS AGAINST HIM HAVE ALL BECOME TRUE. (Ver. 17.) Only that time may come too late (ver. 18). "Missing God is not true repentance" (Keil). - J.O.
I. GOD'S FORECAST OF ISRAEL'S FUTURE SIN. "This people will rise up, and go a-whoring after the gods of the strangers" (ver. 16). Moses himself had surmised this result. With hidden sorrow, he had observed the base tendencies of the people towards idolatry. As he forecast the time when warfare should cease, and the tribes should find themselves among the relics of idols, he trembled for the result. And now this surmise on his part was confirmed by a revelation from God. It is now a foreseen reality: "They will forsake me, and break my covenant." Worldly success and self-indulgence would lead to impiety. Yet this foreknowledge of Israel's certain sin did not deter God from promising to Joshua military success, nor did it deter God from using all practical measures to dissuade from sin. We conclude that God sees it best to employ all remedial measures, even when it is known that in the chief end they will fail.
II. WE HAVE GOD'S ANNOUNCEMENT OF CONSEQUENT CALAMITY. "My anger shall be kindled against them... and I will forsake them." The series of evils that would spring from idolatry is vividly set before them; and no other motive can be conjectured for this than a generous desire to deter from sin. Love is more conspicuous in portraying the certain miseries of misconduct, than in promising the rewards of obedience. The former duty is done with personal painfulness; the latter is a delight. And not only will the severity of the punishment be keenly felt, but the people will also apprehend the reason of the calamity. They will trace it up to God's displeasure; yet will they not repent. Men are woefully blind to the iron force of sinful habit. Today it is a silken thread; tomorrow it is an iron chain.
III. GOD'S LAST EXPEDIENT TO PREVENT SIN. Moses, the servant of God, was about to die; but his death was to be a sleep, and he should die with a song in his mouth. At first sight, it seems a strange expedient as a deterrent from sin. But the intention was, that by the sweet and flowing sounds of rhythm, the main facts of God's covenant might be kept vividly alive in the people's memory. In the absence of printing, and cheap circulations of written documents, poetic forms will live when prose is quite forgotten. God condescends to employ every possible method by which a sense of religious duty might be preserved and perpetuated. The song would live by the action of known law, when the full sense would be ignored. Thus the song of Moses, "familiar in their mouths as a household word," would be an abiding witness against them. Said God, "It shall not be forgotten." By such gracious methods the Most High would win men unto obedience and life. The mightiest power is in gentleness. If this fails, all fails. - D.
I. THE SACRED BOOKS ARE NOT COMPLIMENTARY TO HUMAN NATURE. The Pentateuch, in its tremendous charges and indictments against mankind, is in unison with the rest of the Word. It is a sustained witness against the human race. "Others may perhaps suspect," says Henry Rogers, "that Jewish vanity led the writers thus to ignore or treat lightly the affairs of all nations except their own. The answer is concise, but conclusive. Let Jewish vanity in general be what the reader pleases, these writers would seem to have had none of it. If they have passed by the glorious achievements of secular history, they have recorded all the infamies of their own nation; and, indeed, their principal references to other nations are as 'scourges' of their own - scourges justly sent, they confess and avow, for apostasies which had wearied out the patience of Heaven!" The marvel is that the Jews and Christians should conspire to preserve what is a most humiliating account of the race.
II. THE ARK WAS THE TREASURE-HOUSE OF GOD PROTECTED BY HIS PRESENCE. It was the "safe" of Israel, not, alas! "fire-proof," like Milner's, as the Babylonians demonstrated, yet as durable and as sacred as the times allowed. It was fenced around by the holiest sanctions. Nowhere could the manuscripts be so safe. Now, the ark is regarded as a type of Jesus; and if so, then the depositing of the Law within the ark would convey the idea of the Law of God being within the heart of Christ (Psalm 40:8). In other words, Jesus Christ embodies the Divine Law or will, add is at once its most brilliant exposition and the most tremendous indictment of human nature. The Jews were not so careful of the living Law as their forefathers were of the written Law. They recognized its charge against themselves: the charge had become oral; it walked before them; it was something that they could not shake off except through the desperate alternative of assassination. They killed in Christ their living Conscience.
III. WE SHOULD LEARN FROM THE EXAMPLE OF CHRIST TO TREASURE UP GOD'S LAW WITHIN OUR OWN HEARTS. We cannot have too much of the Bible in our minds and memories. The more we study it, the more like Christ shall we become. He whose "delight is in the Law of the Lord, and in his Law doth he meditate day and night," is blessed, and he shall be like the tree whose roots are in the waters, duly fruitful and ever green (Psalm 1:2, 3). His conscience shall be reinforced and become increasingly tender; his heart shall be elevated in its affections and longings; and his mind shall be trained to what is high and holy. Thus is the whole being enriched and the life enlarged. May we deposit the Word of God with as much care in our hearts as the Levites did the rolls of Moses in the ark! - R.M.E.