The LORD spoke to you face to face out of the fire on the mountain.
Genesis 15., 17.).
I. ITS RELATIONS TO THE COVENANT MADE WITH THE FATHERS, It was not a new thing absolutely. It rested on that older covenant, and on the series of revelations which sprang out of it. It could not disannul that older covenant (Galatians 3:17). It could not run counter to it (Galatians 3:21). It must, though "superadded," be in subserviency to it (Galatians 3:15-26). But that covenant made with the fathers was:
1. Of promise (Galatians 3:18).
2. Couched in absolute terms. God pledged his perfections that the promise conveyed in it would be ultimately realized (Romans 3:3).
4. While yet it bound the person received into covenant to a holy life (Genesis 17:1). The new covenant could "make void" the older one in none of these particulars.
II. ITS DISTINCTION FROM THE COVENANT MADE WITH THE FATHERS.
1. It was a national covenant, having reference primarily to national existence and prosperity.
2. It was a covenant of Law. It was
(1) connected with a promulgation of Law, and
(2) required obedience to the prescribed Law as the condition of acceptance.
Does this look like a retrograde step in the Divine procedure, a contradiction of the covenant with Abraham? Seemingly it was so, but the backward step was really a forward one, bringing to light demands of the Divine holiness which it was absolutely essential man should become acquainted with. Two points have to be noticed:
(a) that obedience was not made the ground of admission to the covenant,
or aught else than the condition of continuance in privileges freely conferred; and
(b) that the requirement of obedience did not stand alone, but was connected with provisions for the removal of the guilt contracted by transgression and shortcoming. This brings into view the peculiar feature in the covenant of Horeb - the hidden grace of it. In form and letter it was a strictly legal covenant. Obedience to the Law in all its parts, and without failure, was the technical condition of the fulfillment of promise, and of continuance in covenant privilege (cf. Matthew 19:17; Romans 10:5; Galatians 3:10). The fact that atonements were provided to remove the guilt which otherwise would have broken up the covenant, is proof that such was its constitution. The same fact shows that in the structure of the covenant it was recognized that sin and shortcoming would mark the history of Israel; that, on the strictly legal basis, standing in the state of acceptance was impossible. A theoretically perfect obedience no Jew ever rendered. His standing in no case was in virtue of a perfectly fulfilled Law, but was due to forgiving mercy, which daily pardoned his shortcomings, and gave him an acceptance which these shortcomings were as constantly forfeiting. It was faith, not works, which justified him; while yet, in harmony with the unalterable law of moral life, it was his duty to aim at the realization of the ideal of righteousness which the Law presented. Just as with Abraham, the faith which justified him, and did so before a single work had issued from it (Genesis 15:6; James 2:23), was a faith which "wrought with works," and "by works was faith made perfect" (James 2:22). It follows from these peculiarities, and from the statements of Scripture, that it was:
3. A preparatory and temporary covenant. Its leading design was to develop the consciousness of sin, to awaken a feeling of the need of redemption, to evince the powerlessness of mere Law as a source of moral strength, to drive men back from legal efforts to faith, and so, finally, to prepare the way for Christ (Romans 3:20; Galatians 3:23, 24, etc.). In this we discern the reason of the severe and threatening form in which it was couched, and of the terrors which attended its promulgation. It was a covenant which could not of itself save or do aught but kill (2 Corinthians 3:6-12). - J.O.
That ye may live, and...prolong your days.I. We fall, I conceive, into a very inaccurate method of speech, when we say that the prize which God proposes to His people is set forth in one of these clauses; the duty, or performance by which they are to earn that prize, in the other. Moses teaches his countrymen that God has conferred upon them the highest prize which man can conceive, freely and without any merit on their part.
II. Is there no duty, then, enjoined in the words of my text? Does it merely speak of a blessing or a privilege? Certainly when it is said, "Ye shall walk in all the ways which the Lord your God hath commanded you," it must be meant that there was something required on the part of the creature as well as something bestowed by the Creator. If we believe that an actual living being to whom we are related has put us in this way, and that it is a way of dependence upon Himself, we can understand how the preservation of it becomes a duty to Him; we begin in fact to know what duty is. If, finally, we believe that He who puts us in this way is the only person who can keep us in it, or prevent us from going out of it, we may feel that His command is itself a power; that it does not merely say, "Thus and thus you must do, thus and thus you must not do"; but, "This will I enable you to do, this will I prevent you from doing."
III. We come then at length to this class of blessings which are shortly gathered up in the words: "That ye may live, and that it may be well with you, and that ye may prolong your days in the land which ye shall possess." It is here signified in very simple, clear language, which admits, I conceive, of no double sense, that a people in a right, orderly, godly state shall be a well-doing people; a people with all the signs and tokens of strength, growth, triumph; a people marked for permanence and indefinite expansion. I cannot put another meaning upon these words; I should think that a wish to dilute their force was a proof of the greatest carelessness about the authority from which they proceed, as well as of the most shocking inhumanity. If it be the distinction of saints and spiritual men that they do not trouble themselves about the external prosperity of a land, that they do not care whether the oxen are strong to labour, whether the sheep are bringing forth thousands and ten thousands, whether there is no complaining in the streets; if they are so occupied in the future as to have no interest in the present, too busy with their souls to have leisure for thinking about the ruin which may be threatening the bodies of their fellow men — then I say at once Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, were not saints and spiritual men. Since they held that God's order was the perfectly right and living order, they could not but think that all disorder, all wrong and death which had invaded it, must have come through man's neglect to fulfil the part which had been assigned him; — through his unwillingness to till and subdue the earth which he was meant to till and subdue; through his idleness and distrust and self-seeking, his refusal to walk in the ways which God had commanded.
IV. And therefore it cannot be true — the whole history of the Jews declares it not to be true — that the blessings of adversity were unknown to them, were reserved for a later period. Which of the good men of the Old Testament was not proved in a furnace? Into whose soul did the iron at some time not enter? It was not because they believed in God's promises to their nation, and were sure that its outward prosperity must and would at last correspond to its inward health and vitality; it was not because they longed for the earth to bring forth and bud, to have heaps of corn upon it, that its presses might burst forth with new wine; it was not on this account that they had to endure less of inward sadness, or fewer reproaches from the kings and priests and people to whom they spoke. No; the more strong their feeling was that God had chosen their nation and made a covenant with it, the greater was the struggle with their individual selfishness.
(F. D. Maurice, M. A.).
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