Beware that you forget not the LORD your God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgments, and his statutes…
These words were addressed by Moses to the Israelites when, having at length reached the end of their protracted wanderings through the wilderness, they were on the point of taking possession of the promised land. The veteran leader exhorts his companions in toil and suffering to cast a retrospective glance on the memorable period of their existence which is now drawing to its close, and to consider it as a time of humiliation, of trial, of providential education, necessary to fit them for the possession of Canaan after the thraldom of Egypt. The application of this text is simple: Israel is the people of God. Egypt, that house of bondage, is sin; the slavery of the prince of darkness. Canaan, that promised land, is heaven. The wilderness, the great and howling wilderness through which God leads us, is the world of sin and suffering, in which He leaves us yet awhile. Let us consider these words in relation to our past, present, and future, and endeavour to understand the solemn significance and sublime end of our earthly pilgrimage.
I. THE PAST. The time which immediately followed the rescue of Israel from Egypt was undoubtedly one of the grandest epochs in the history of that people. With one voice they sang that magnificent song, the most ancient and one of the finest monuments of that noblest of all poetry — Hebrew poetry (Exodus 15). But alas! how short-lived was this enthusiasm! Deliverance was followed by protracted trial. Instead of the gates of Canaan open to receive them, the Israelites found only a great and terrible wilderness through which God led them, against their will, towards the ultimate good He had in view for them. Is not this an image of ourselves? Who is there that has not felt similar emotions to those experienced by the Israelites on the morrow of the passage of the Red Sea? On the high road to the promised land, with the foretaste of eternal life in our hearts, in the fervour of our first love, in the outburst of our gratitude, we gladly exclaim with Simeon: "Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace." And it is from the very depths of our heart that, as we take our first step towards the fatherland, we renew the engagement of the Israelites of old, and promise that, "All the Lord hath spoken we will do." But the descent from these sublime heights soon commences. To what may our experience at such times be compared? You have seen, after a dark night, the sun begin its daily course in more than ordinary radiance, the sky is a glowing canopy of gold and purple, the earth revels in floods of light;...then, by degrees, this brightness dims; clouds, at first almost imperceptible, thicken and condense in the atmosphere; the sky becomes overcast, and the horizon is dull and cold; the rain begins to fall, thin, uninterrupted, penetrating, and the heart grows heavy and chill. Such, in most cases, is the long day of human life after the transient dawn which announces or precedes conversion, and from the depths of your soul do you not call this a great and terrible wilderness? Have you never murmured or asked yourself the question: "Wherefore this long journey through this barren land?"
II. THE PRESENT. "The Lord thy God hath led thee." What memories were these words calculated to awaken in the mind of the Israelites? If God ever manifested the providence of Omnipotence in a striking manner upon earth, it certainly was during the wanderings of His people through the desert. And though the Divine providence that leads us on in our turn be not miraculous, as during the journey of the Hebrews, it is, however, none the less real and marvellous. That which the people of God witnessed by the eye of the body may yet be manifest to the eye of faith. The mercies of former days are pledges of those we are permitted to expect in the present. But wherefore this wilderness? Why not immediate peace, triumph, and glory? Hear the answer of Him whose every act tends to an excellent end: "That He might humble thee, to prove thee." The purpose of the Lord was to bring the will of His people into subjection, to train them to obedience, to sanctify them in the highest and noblest sense of the word. And everything down to the minutest details was chosen, ordained, calculated with a view to the ultimate result. Thus it is with us. We are placed, here below, in presence of a maturity to be attained; and no fruit can ripen unless it has felt the burning rays of the sun. We are being educated, and there can be no thorough education without stern discipline. We are going towards a promised land, but the path to it lies through a valley of tears. Between this conception, which is that of faith and a blind fatalism, the very thought of which is bewildering, there is no middle course. It is good for us to be tried. If we knew naught of "the sufferings of this present time," should we know "the weight of glory which shall be revealed to usward" which they are meant to bring forth? Let us beware, however, lest by our folly we add to our measure of affliction, and thus constrain the Lord to humble and chasten us beyond His own purpose.
III. THE FUTURE. "To do thee good at thy latter end." The constant end of God is good. Faith reveals to us and the Scriptures declare that "all things work together for good," etc. Even upon earth, whoever remembers all the way which the Lord his God hath led him, finds at the end of each trial a mature fruit, "the peaceable fruit of righteousness," to be received ultimately. And what shall it be when the fashion of this world hath passed away, and all the ends of the Lord with a view to the final good of His saints shall be manifested? These forty years of pilgrimage through the wilderness were a sore trial for Israel. But how glorious was the day when at length they reached the end, and obtained the reward of so much toil and suffering! Who, then, remembered the weariness of the road save to praise Jehovah, who had led them to so goodly an inheritance? For us also there shall be a crossing of Jordan and an entrance into the heavenly Canaan, of which the earthly was but a feeble type. We, too, shall have our day of triumph, a day when the sun, which marks the stages of our journey, shall set amid the shadows of a last eventide, to rise again for us radiant and cloudless for evermore. God's purpose is to do us good at our latter end! Forward, then, in peace and hope! Soon all things shall become new! Faith today; sight tomorrow! Weariness now; rest by and by! Here the desert; beyond the promised land! Forward! Excelsior!
(Frank Coulin, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Beware that thou forget not the LORD thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgments, and his statutes, which I command thee this day: