All the commandments which I command you this day shall you observe to do, that you may live, and multiply…
The point of comparison brought to view in the text is between God's treatment of the Israelites in the wilderness and His treatment of His peculiar people — or, if you please, of all mankind — in this world of probation.
I. We have here God's providential treatment of men in this world set forth AS A PROCESS OF DISCOVERY. "God led them forty years in the wilderness, to prove them, and to know what was in their heart." Under God's providential economy earthly and practical life is but practical development. Man's business on this sublunary platform is to work out his hidden character in the face of the universe — to make manifest his secret thoughts even in forms of materialism. The fashion of the man's garments, the furniture of his dwelling, the pictures he hangs upon his walls, the volumes he places in his library, the places of his favourite recreation, the style of men with whom be delights to associate; yea, his very bearing as he mingles with men and walks in the market place — are all but the visible expression of the quality of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And this practical manifestation of character in life is with a great Divine purpose. In the case of the Israelites it was to show who, of the wanderers in the Exodus, were proper men to go over to Canaan; and in our case it is to show who, of these dwellers upon earth, are becoming meet for the heavenly inheritance. Not that God needs to learn this, but that He would have His universe know that He is just when He judges and clear when He condemns. And this, this is life! The development in actual forms of the hidden things of the spirit! This making known to a universe what there is in the heart! Oh, then, how awfully solemn a thing it is to live — just to live!
II. And it brings us to consider this other providential design — A PROCESS OF DISCIPLINE. "The Lord God led them forty years in the wilderness to humble them.' Here, by a common scriptural figure, the great grace of humility is put metonymically for all the distinguishing graces of Christian character. And the meaning is, that God led them about in the wilderness as in a state of pupilage and preparation for the civil and ecclesiastical immunities of Canaan. And in illustrating this thought we only ask you to observe how earthly trials and affliction are the finest means of sanctification. You perceive at once, in the case of the Israelites, that if God had allowed them to pitch a permanent encampment in some fair oasis of the desert, then, instead of becoming more humble, they would have waxed worse and worse in arrogance and carnality. And it needed the burning sun, and the hot sand, and the fiery serpents, and the constant assaults of the fierce men of Amalek and Moab to humble them before God, and make them meet for a citizenship in the theocracy of Canaan. And so of Christians on earth — a moment's consideration will show you how afflictions are, after all, the finest discipline of sanctification. Yes, yes, it is thus God sanctifies — He takes away the earthly, that the heart may rise to the heavenly; He tears the bark from its mortal moorings, that it may launch forth toward the eternal haven; He stirs up the nest of the slumberous eagle, that, with exulting pinion, it may soar to the sun!
Parallel VersesKJV: All the commandments which I command thee this day shall ye observe to do, that ye may live, and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the LORD sware unto your fathers.