Deuteronomy Chapter Nine
The Israelites not to think their success came by their own worthiness. (1-6) Moses reminds the Israelites of their rebellions. (7-29)
Commentary on Deuteronomy 9:1-6
(Read Deuteronomy 9:1-6)
Moses represents the strength of the enemies they were now to encounter. This was to drive them to God, and engage their hope in him. He assures them of victory, by the presence of God with them. He cautions them not to have the least thought of their own righteousness, as if that procured this favour at God's hand. In Christ we have both righteousness and strength; in Him we must glory, not in ourselves, nor in any sufficiency of our own. It is for the wickedness of these nations that God drives them out. All whom God rejects, are rejected for their own wickedness; but none whom he accepts are accepted for their own righteousness. Thus boasting is for ever done away: see Ephesians 2:9,11,12.
Commentary on Deuteronomy 9:7-29
(Read Deuteronomy 9:7-29)
That the Israelites might have no pretence to think that God brought them to Canaan for their righteousness, Moses shows what a miracle of mercy it was, that they had not been destroyed in the wilderness. It is good for us often to remember against ourselves, with sorrow and shame, our former sins; that we may see how much we are indebted to free grace, and may humbly own that we never merited any thing but wrath and the curse at God's hand. For so strong is our propensity to pride, that it will creep in under one pretence or another. We are ready to fancy that our righteousness has got for us the special favour of the Lord, though in reality our wickedness is more plain than our weakness. But when the secret history of every man's life shall be brought forth at the day of judgment, all the world will be proved guilty before God. At present, One pleads for us before the mercy-seat, who not only fasted, but died upon the cross for our sins; through whom we may approach, though self-condemned sinners, and beseech for undeserved mercy and for eternal life, as the gift of God in Him. Let us refer all the victory, all the glory, and all the praise, to Him who alone bringeth salvation.
── Matthew Henry《Concise Commentary on Deuteronomy》
 Hear, O Israel: Thou art to pass over Jordan this day, to go in to possess nations greater and mightier than thyself, cities great and fenced up to heaven,
Hear, O Israel — This seems to be a new discourse, delivered at some distance of time from the former, probably on the next sabbath-day.
This day — That is, shortly, within a little time, the word day being often put for time.
Nations — That is, the land of those nations.
Mightier than thyself — This he adds, that they might not trust to their own strength, but rely upon God's help for the destroying them, and, after the work was done, might ascribe the glory of it to God alone, and not to themselves.
 A people great and tall, the children of the Anakims, whom thou knowest, and of whom thou hast heard say, Who can stand before the children of Anak!
Who can stand — This seems to be a proverb used in those times.
 Not for thy righteousness, or for the uprightness of thine heart, dost thou go to possess their land: but for the wickedness of these nations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee, and that he may perform the word which the LORD sware unto thy fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Not for thy righteousness — Neither for thy upright heart, nor holy life, which are the two things which God above all things regards. And consequently he excludes all merit. And surely they who did not deserve this earthly Canaan, could not merit the kingdom of glory.
To perform the word — To shew my faithfulness in accomplishing that promise which I graciously made and confirmed with my oath.
 Understand therefore, that the LORD thy God giveth thee not this good land to possess it for thy righteousness; for thou art a stiffnecked people.
Stiff-necked — Rebellious and perverse, and so destitute of all pretence of righteousness. And thus our gaining possession of the heavenly Canaan, must be ascribed to God's power, not our own might, and to God's Grace, not our own merit. In him we must glory.
 Also in Horeb ye provoked the LORD to wrath, so that the LORD was angry with you to have destroyed you.
In Horeb — When your miraculous deliverance out of Egypt was fresh in memory; when God had but newly manifested himself to you in so stupendous and dreadful a manner, and had taken you into covenant with himself, when God was actually conferring farther mercies upon you.
 And the LORD delivered unto me two tables of stone written with the finger of God; and on them was written according to all the words, which the LORD spake with you in the mount out of the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly.
With the finger of God — Immediately and miraculously, which was done not only to procure the greater reverence to the law, but also to signify, that it is the work of God alone to write this law upon the tables of men's hearts.
In the day of the assembly — That is, when the people were gathered by God's command to the bottom of mount Sinai, to hear and receive God's ten commandments from his own mouth.
 Let me alone, that I may destroy them, and blot out their name from under heaven: and I will make of thee a nation mightier and greater than they.
Let me alone! — Stop me not by thy intercession.
 And I took the two tables, and cast them out of my two hands, and brake them before your eyes.
I brake them before your eyes — Not by an unbridled passion, but in zeal for God's honour, and by the direction of God's spirit, to signify to tine people, that the covenant between God and them contained in those tables was broken and they were now cast out of God's favour, and could expect nothing from him but fiery indignation.
 And I fell down before the LORD, as at the first, forty days and forty nights: I did neither eat bread, nor drink water, because of all your sins which ye sinned, in doing wickedly in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger.
I fell down — In a way of humiliation and supplication, on your behalf.
 And I took your sin, the calf which ye had made, and burnt it with fire, and stamped it, and ground it very small, even until it was as small as dust: and I cast the dust thereof into the brook that descended out of the mount.
Into the brook — That there might be no monument or remembrance of it left.
 Thus I fell down before the LORD forty days and forty nights, as I fell down at the first; because the LORD had said he would destroy you.
I fell down forty days — The same as were mentioned before, Deuteronomy 9:18, as appears by comparing this with Exodus, where this history is more fully related, and where this is said to be done twice only.
 I prayed therefore unto the LORD, and said, O Lord GOD, destroy not thy people and thine inheritance, which thou hast redeemed through thy greatness, which thou hast brought forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand.
Through thy greatness — Through the greatness of thy power, which appeared most eminently in that work.
 Remember thy servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; look not unto the stubbornness of this people, nor to their wickedness, nor to their sin:
Thy servants — That is, the promise made and sworn to thy servants.
 Yet they are thy people and thine inheritance, which thou broughtest out by thy mighty power and by thy stretched out arm.
Thy people — Whom thou hast chosen to thyself out of all mankind, and publickly owned them for thine, and hast purchased and redeemed them from the Egyptians.
── John Wesley《Explanatory Notes on Deuteronomy》
09 Chapter 9
Hear, O Israel.
The call to attention
I. He represents to them the formidable strength of the enemies which they were now to encounter (Deuteronomy 9:1-2). This representation is much the same with that which the evil spies had made (Numbers 13:28-29; Numbers 13:31-33), but made with a very different intention: that was designed to drive them from God, and to discourage their hope in Him; this, to drive them to God, and engage their hope in Him, since no power less than that which is almighty could secure and succeed them.
II. He assures them of victory, by the presence of God with them, notwithstanding the strength of the enemy (Deuteronomy 9:3). Observe, “He shall destroy them,” and then, “thou shalt drive them out.” Thou canst not drive them out unless He destroy them, and bring them down; but He will not destroy them, and bring them down, unless thou set thyself in good earnest to drive them out. We must do our endeavour in dependence upon God’s grace; and we shall have that grace, if we do our endeavour.
III. He cautions them not to entertain the least thought of their own righteousness, as if that had procured them this favour at God’s hand (Deuteronomy 9:4-6). In Christ we have both righteousness and strength; in Him, therefore, we must glory, and not in ourselves, or any sufficiency of our own.
IV. He intimates to them the true reasons why God would take this good land out of the hands of the Canaanites and settle it upon Israel.
1. He will be honoured in the destruction of idolaters (Deuteronomy 9:4-5).
2. He will be honoured in the performance of His promise to those that are in covenant with Him (Deuteronomy 9:5). (Matthew Henry, D. D.)
Thou art to pass over Jordan this day.
“Be the day weary, or be the day long, it ringeth at length to evensong.” So the weary wanderings of God’s people, long though they had been, were coming to an end at last. It has been a weary struggle to reach this river--the stream which lay between the wilderness and the promised land; just as, for that part of mankind who do not die young, the river of death is gained only through a long life, in which, while joys and sorrows are strangely mixed up, the sorrows form the largest portion. Everyone ought to be looking forward to this time; a time when all personal activities will cease, when we shall have to loose our hold on those things which engross us now, and which we imagine could not go on without us. And one great value of this looking forward to our death will be that we must at the same time look to our life, on which depends our death. Here, then, we are helped by meditating on the record which is left us of Israel’s journeyings towards the river of Jordan. Bear in mind that they travelled on, filled with a steadfast faith and hope as to the reality of the promised inheritance, and led by the Spirit of God. It was not ever thus with them. At one time they hankered after old sins--after the bondage of Egypt; they thought at one time that life might hold joys enough for them, without the future hope. But God quietly taught them by what looked like anger--but which was really love--the vanity of all earthly things; and from that time forward the promised land was their loadstar, which guided all their life. Nor were they left without the direct guidance of the law of God. How many lives amongst us are wrecked, how many of us are marching in a circle, because we have no settled principle to guide us! Every side path, every enticing glade, invites us to leave the strait way, and we follow it and find ourselves further from home than ever. Moreover, in addition to this law of God, Israel had the guidance of the ark, which was to them as the very presence of God Himself; The ark was to Israel as the Church of Christ is to ourselves, interpreting God’s will, giving point to His law, making that law not merely a set of rules, but a great guiding principle in truest touch with our whole lives. And Israel had all this time battles to fight, which in their varied characteristics fitly represent the perpetual conflicts which we are called to endure. But while Amalek represents the attacks of the world and Satan, which all must expect and be prepared for, Edom, Israel’s “brother,” who comes against him with a great force, reminds us that we may be attacked and thwarted in our heavenward course by those who should speed us on our way. It is no new or uncommon thing for the ardent young Christian to feel, not only want of sympathy, but positive opposition from those near and dear to him in earthly relationship. Again, in the attack of Moab we see the very Word of God attempted to be used as a weapon against the faithful people. And is it not true that many a young Christian, whom no enticement of sin can influence, who cannot be tempted to rebel against God’s moral laws, is assailed with awful effect by someone who comes bringing God’s own Word in his hand, and suggesting doubts and difficulties and problems, which, once suggested, cannot be ignored by a truth-loving, ardent spirit? Through all these trials, there was ever before the eyes and thoughts of Israel the entering on the promised land--the crossing of the river. As they wandered on, they knew them from the first will be with them still. “The ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth passeth over before you.” All that made the wilderness a home shall go with them, so that they shall not be afraid, though, as Joshua says, “ye have not passed this way heretofore.” And as an earnest of what shall be, we have in our last hours the ministrations of Christ’s holy Church to speed us on our way, even as the ark of God went before Israel. On this side, the manna to support us on our journey; and then no more types, but the “old corn of the land”--even Jesus Himself, the very true Bread of Life. (E. Smith, B. A.)
Not for thy righteousness.
That outward success, prosperity, and greatness in the world is no true evidence of grace
I. Men are very prone to make the outward prosperity and increase which God giveth them an argument of their righteousness, and so of God’s love to them, to save them. They think it impossible that, seeing God hath so blessed them here, He should damn them hereafter. For the discovery of the weakness of this prop take notice first of these particulars.
1. Prosperity, wealth, and success are in themselves blessings, mercies, and so good things to be desired. Hence we read of the people of God praying for these earthly mercies, and we have a direction for it in the Lord’s Prayer, when we pray for daily bread. It is true, indeed, the very petition doth much limit our desires, for it is after the great things that belong to God’s glory; and it is but one petition, whereas there are divers for spiritual things, so that our Saviour would have us to be above these earthly things, as those fowls of the heaven are which on a sudden fall on the ground for their food, but presently fly up to heaven again; and then it is daily food, or as the most learned expound it, food convenient, and decent for our place and calling, not superfluity.
2. Although these are blessings and mercies, and so good things, yet they are not sanctifying of those that have them. Dives said he had good things laid up in store, but how were they good which made him bad? How were they good which could not keep him out of hell? Riches, therefore, are neither good nor bad, but indifferent in their nature. Those are good things which make us good.
3. As outward wealth and increase are blessings, so they do belong by promise unto godliness (1 Timothy 4:8). I do not say with some divines that wicked men have no right to their goods, that they are usurpers, and shall answer for every bit of bread they eat, as robbers and thieves. No, it is a dangerous position to hold civil dominion and right to be placed upon godliness. The earth hath He given to the children of men, saith the Psalmist, to all men as well as to the godly; but as there is a lawful, civil right, so there is a sanctified use, and this only the godly have.
4. Although we cannot conclude grace by outward mercies, yet thus far we must by Scripture say, that God out of a general love in a providential way doth give many a man outward prosperity and wealth for his diligence, industry, upright and honest dealing in the world. Thus Solomon saith, “The hand of the diligent maketh rich,” and truth and justice in our day is blessed by God to increase.
5. Some go into another extremity, and conclude of their good estate and holy condition because they are in a poor, needy, and miserable estate, and destitute of all earthly comforts. But every poor man is not a Lazarus, nay, there are many times none more wicked, cursed, profane, and enemies to all goodness, than those that are in a low and miserable condition. A woeful thing it is, indeed, to have nothing but misery here, and nothing but torments hereafter.
II. Why outward prosperity and blessings do not argue a man’s good estate.
1. It may be demonstrated from the original, or fountain, whence they flow. It is not only from God’s love, but His anger also. Sometimes God giveth men the outward comforts of this life in His hot displeasure.
2. Therefore may not outward plenty and mercies be made a sign of our good estate, because they have always in corrupt hearts corrupt and sinful operations. As--
3. Therefore may we not trust in outward prosperity, because God many times giveth a man all the good things he shall have in this life only, and afterwards there is nothing but everlasting woe and misery.
4. Therefore may we not trust in these, because we many times abuse them to a contrary end for which God gave them; He gave them to be instruments of much glory to God and good to others. Rich men are the greatest men in debt of all others; they owe much to God, much to the public, much to others’ necessities; now what comfort canst thou take if God bless thee with these things if thou dost not also find Him making thee thereby instrumental to His glory? If thou keepest all the good mercies God vouchsafeth to thee, as the ants and pismires do their grain and corn, which they hide in their little hills, and, as they say, bite it that it may not grow.
5. They are not to be relied on, because though all power to get wealth and prosper in the world argue God is with thee, yet He may be only with thee providentially and powerfully, not graciously; as when Nebuchadnezzar conquered and prevailed, when Alexander became great, Augustus happy. God was with these in a mighty, providential way, but not graciously.
Use--1. Of reproof to those who desire these outward good things more than inward and spiritual.
Use--2. Of instruction to those who meet with much prosperity and outward encouragements in this world. Take heed of thinking that God doth this to thee for thy righteousness, for thy piety.
Use--3. Of consolation to the godly, who, it may be, want many of those outward mercies the wicked have. Let them know they are no arguments of true godliness, or of God’s dear love in Christ. (Anthony Burgess.)
The warnings of Moses
I. Principles of God’s government.
1. Mark the assertion that God governs mankind.
2. That God governs by law in the moral as in the material world.
II. They point out a national danger--self-righteousness.
1. A subtlety in self-righteousness. It is so multiform.
2. And its danger is--
2. Use David’s prayer (Psalms 139:23).
3. Work of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8). (H. W. Dearden, M. A.)
The address of Moses
I. The address of Moses is very different from the addresses of most captains of armies under similar circumstances.
1. He makes no attempt to underrate the power of the enemies with whom the Israelites had to contend. He begins his address by telling the people that they are that day to pass over Jordan, to go in and possess nations greater and mightier than themselves. The reason for his giving such information was that the design of God was not merely to conquer the Canaanites, but to educate Israel, to teach them that by God’s power weakness may be made strength and the mighty vanquished by the feeble.
2. Moses assures the people in plain language that no righteousness of theirs had gained them the land. They might be ready enough to admit that it was not their own courage or their own bodily strength, but they might still be disposed to think that they had deserved God’s favour, that if they had not been deserving of the victory, God would not have given it to them. Self-flattery is easy, and therefore Moses very wisely and decidedly protested once for all against such a view of God’s doings.
II. The principle of spiritual life with ourselves is precisely that which Moses laid down as the principle of national life for the Israelites. God gives us the land of promise for no righteousness of our own. Everything depends on God’s mercy, God’s will, God’s purpose; the certainty of victory depends, not upon any feelings or experiences or conflicts of ours, but upon the ever-present help of the Almighty God. (Bp. Harvey Goodwin.)
Heaven and glory not the reward of our own righteousness
One would think this too obvious to be disputed in the mind of an Israelite. Then I ask if any man or woman, taking a calm retrospect of his or her life, has not to say the same?
I. Let us inquire to what subjects this principle may be applied.
1. To our lot in life, and to our temporal affairs. “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof.” He may do what He will with His own. In the independence and infinite sovereignty of His government He sends small means and penury, or He dispenses riches and honours, according to His own good pleasure, and to accomplish the inscrutable purposes of His heavenly providence.
2. To our religious condition and privileges.
3. To success in the ministry.
4. To the rest and glory of the heavenly world. Eternal life is the gift of God.
II. What are the reasons for which we shall possess the land?
1. The choice and will, the purpose and pleasure of the Almighty.
2. God’s justice on the one hand, and His goodness on the other.
3. The faithfulness of God to His promises.
III. What is the use of this doctrine?
1. It is taught us that we may understand it. Acknowledge your own poverty and God’s riches. Submit to His method and plan of justification and acceptance by Christ. Do not go about to establish your own righteousness.
2. I cannot conclude without one caution. A farthing is a farthing, and a sixpence is a sixpence; so of an ingot of gold or a banknote. And a farthing will only purchase what it is worth. A sixpence will not buy what is worth a hundred pounds. But let it buy what it will. If you want an estate you must give the ingots and the banknotes. So let the work of Christ alone, the costly and prodigious sum, secure for you the glory and the heritage of heaven. But let your own righteousness and your small virtues do what they will. You cannot purchase glory with them, but they will do much for the welfare of men and the honour of God, and they will show forth your gratitude and love. (James Stratten.)
Mercy, not merit
Mercy, not merit, is the cause of all the blessings of our being.
I. This is true of our secular possessions. If we say that our comfortable homes, our freedom from temporal anxiety, and our possession of a competency, have come to us as the result of industrious efforts and economical habits, that they are our reward for honest labour: the reply is--
1. That to such a reward we have no right. We are sinners, and justly deserve not only destitution but destruction.
2. That both the materials of labour, and the power to labour, which have brought us these comforts, are to be ascribed to God’s mercy.
II. This is true of our religious advantages. Bibles, sanctuaries, religious literature. “The tender mercies of our God have visited us.”
III. This is true of our Christian experience.
IV. This is true of our spiritual usefulness. “Not by might, nor by power,” etc.
V. This is true of our heavenly inheritance. (Homilist.)
The favoured peoples of the earth
There are favoured peoples in all communities--persons specially favoured by their healthful constitutions, vigorous intellect, lofty genius, high culture, worldly wealth.
I. Whatever favours distinguish one class of men from another in society, they are the gifts of God. This should teach us--
1. Not to be proud for our superiorities.
2. To thank God for our superiorities.
3. To bless men by our superiorities.
II. These distinguished gifts are bestowed, not on the ground or any special moral excellence.
III. The fact that they are not bestowed on the ground of moral superiority should be well understood by men.
1. Understand it, that you may not deceive yourself. Let no man conclude because he is prosperous that he is the favoured of heaven.
2. Understand it, that you may realise your responsibility. (Homilist.)
Remember . . . how thou provokedst the Lord.
I. The fact asserted is this: we have provoked the Lord our God. Shall we call to mind the sins of our youth and the transgressions of our riper years? They are a long catalogue, and they testify strongly against us. But as professors of religion, what is the conviction of our minds? Have not our provocations, since we commenced this profession, been numerous and great? Pride: unbelief: unchristian tempers.
II. The evil implied in the text is our proneness to forget this fact. “Remember, and forget not.” Why this injunction, if the evil were not real? But how is this proneness to forget to be accounted for?
2. Light thoughts of sin.
3. Love of self.
III. The duty enjoined is: that we remember our provocations. “Remember, and forget not.” There is emphasis in this repetition; it implies not only a proneness to forget, but the importance of not forgetting, and having impressed on the heart our provocations against God. What is this importance and its utility?
1. To make us penitent.
2. To keep us humble.
3. To preserve us thankful for mercies.
4. To help our resignation under Divine corrections.
5. To endear the Saviour to us.
6. To convince us that salvation is entirely of grace. (T. Kidd.)
God provoked at Horeb
(in conjunction with Psalms 106:7):--To provoke is an expression setting forth a more than ordinary degree of misbehaviour, and seems to import an insolent resolution to offend. A resolution not contented with one single stroke of disobedience, but such as multiplies and repeats the action till the offence rises into an affront; and as it relates to God, so I conceive it aimed at Him in a three-fold respect.
1. It rises up against the power and prerogative of God. An assault upon God sitting upon the throne, snatching His sceptre, defiance of His royalty and supremacy. He that provokes God dares Him to strike to revenge the injury and invasion upon His honour--considers not the weight of His arm, but puffs at all, and looks the terrors of revenging justice in the face.
2. Provoking God imports an abuse of His goodness. God clothed with power is the object of fear; but as He displays goodness, of love. By one He commands, by the other He courts our obedience. An affront on His goodness and love as much exceeds an affront of His power as a wound at the heart transcends a blow on the hand. For when God works miracles of mercy to do good upon a people as He did upon the Israelites, was it not a provocation infinitely base, a degree of ingratitude higher than the heavens struck at, and deeper than the sea that they passed through?
3. Provoking God imports an affront upon His long-suffering and His patience. The musings of nature in the breast tell us how keenly every man resents the abuse of His love; how hardly any prince, but one, can put up an offence against His mercy; and how much more affrontive to despise majesty ruling by the golden sceptre of pardon, than by the iron rod of penal law. But patience is a further, a higher advance of mercy--mercy drawn out at length, wrestling with baseness, and striving, if possible even to weary and outdo ingratitude; therefore sin against this is the highest pitch of provocation. For when patience is tired let all the inventions of mankind find something further upon which to hope, or against which to sin. The Israelites sinned against God’s patience, one offence following upon another, the last rising highest, until the treasures of grace and pardon were so far drained and exhausted that they provoked God to swear; and what is more, to swear in His wrath, and with a full purpose of revenge, that they should never enter into His rest. (R. South, D. D.)
And at Taberah . . . ye provoked the Lord to wrath.
In the histories here referred to we have examples of some of the methods of the Divine government of the world which reappear in all ages.
I. God does not always lead peoples and individuals to repentance by visitations of his goodness. He sometimes uses the rod.
1. The more a people has been blessed, etc., so much the more certainly will God visit their sins with judgment.
2. But He does not overthrow at once and without warning. Signal fires which tell of coming danger are lighted afar, showing what is coming.
3. When the people repent, then His wrath against sin passes them by. This is seen in all the incidents mentioned here.
II. Such warning examples are seen in all the history of the Church and the world.
1. The Reformation was a time of blessing. The light of knowledge and of Divine truth shone throughout Christendom. The Gospel was set on its candlestick. A reformation in social, political, and domestic life occurred in conjunction with the religious movement.
2. But God’s ways are ways of earnest effort and quiet waiting through endurance and self-sacrifice. Many would not wait. Progress was too slow for them. They would reform the world at one stroke. Discontent and murmuring broke out among some sections of the people. Then came the peasant war. Like a terrible conflagration, the flames of sedition burst out and threatened to destroy the stays of political and religious existence. Yet God had mercy, as on Israel in the wilderness. He permitted only the outermost defences to be destroyed; and there was left behind a fire-swept ruin to remind Christendom whither impatience, murmuring, discontent, and self-will lead.
3. See a hundred years later. Had the people realised with thankfulness the great blessings of freedom and the Gospel divinely given them? The prophets of the Reformation had warned men what the result of such ingratitude would be. What had been the result of a hundred years preaching of the Gospel among the peoples and their rulers? The judgment came. The Thirty Years’ War, with its blind passions, sent a warning column of flame heavenward. But God again had mercy, although for years Germany was like a burnt-up house. Still, the holiest was preserved, and a new time began.
4. Look a hundred years later. Through the whole of Europe a spirit of apostasy had spread. It swept through England as Deism; as scoffing in France, with accompanying libertinage. In Germany, and indeed in all Europe, the bonds of Christian life and morality were unloosed. Like a shallow but broad stream, the spiritual revolution overflowed all lands. With it came the outer overturning. Uneasiness and discontent were over all. The flame of revolt broke out in France, and Europe was enveloped. But God again, in His mercy, gave space for repentance.
III. The lessons to our time of these incidents.
1. We should have eyes to see what the signs of our time mean. If the spirit of discontent, rebellion, etc., be not repressed, whither shall it lead? Already the flames begin to appear--political incendiarism, audacity in speech, universal agitation. Men who look for no hereafter storm fully grasp at material good. How shall it be when the Divine patience ends?
2. At the beginning of Israel’s history those warning fire columns were seen. Fifteen hundred years later the impenitent descendants of Israel saw the temple in flames, Jerusalem destroyed, the nation a ruin.
3. Will the New Testament Zion not understand those warnings? A people remained to God even after Jerusalem fell. So will it be although the present form of Christendom passes; and the New Testament foretells such perilous times.
4. Let the individual learn the need of watchfulness. Was not that dangerous sickness a warning signal? But in mercy He spared, and life and health are yours. Let those signs be like beacon lights on your life’s voyage. Murmur not, cultivate contentment, learn to say: “I shall go as God leads me, without seeking to choose for myself.” (W. Grashoff.)
Ye have been rebellious.
I. The source of rebellion. This is to be found in selfishness, in the preference by men of their own will over the way of God. When men choose another lord than the Eternal and Holy Ruler they set up a standard of rebellion, and are in revolt.
II. The sin and guilt of rebellion. This appears from considering the righteous character of God’s government, the marvellous forbearance which He has displayed towards sinners, and the obligation of all men to Him who is the source of all blessing, of every mercy. God cannot and He will not treat obstinate rebels as if they were loyal and obedient subjects. He will maintain His honour and authority.
III. The pardon of rebelling.
1. On God’s side this is provided for by the redemption which is by the Lord Jesus Christ.
2. On man’s side this benefit is appropriated by faith, under the guidance and by the prompting of the Holy Spirit of God. The penitent who make a sincere submission, and accept forgiveness on God’s own terms, are assured of being treated not as rebels, but as subjects returned to their allegiance, and admitted to all the privileges it involves. (Family Churchman.)
I prayed therefore unto the Lord, and said, O Lord God, destroy not Thy people.
A covenant people
This prayer brings out in its greatest strength a contrast which goes through the Book of Deuteronomy, and through the whole Bible. The Israelites are the people of God, His inheritance, redeemed by His mighty hand. They are stubborn, stiff-necked, wicked. One all-important contrast suggests itself the moment we open the Scriptures. They do not set forth the history of man seeking for God, but of God seeking for men. In the Book of Exodus we have very distinct records of the life of Moses, but no one could possibly think that it was the object of that book to give us a biography of him or of any other man. Moses is called out by God to know His name and to do His work; that is the account which he gives of himself. This was his holiness; he was separated, set apart by God to act as His minister. He who set him apart revealed to him His character--showed him that righteousness, and not self-will, was governing the universe. To separate Moses the righteous man from Moses the deliverer of the Israelites is impossible. He could not have been righteous if he had not fulfilled that task, he could not have been righteous if he had not testified in all his acts and words that God, not he, was the deliverer. We miss the whole meaning of the story--the saintship of Moses disappears altogether--if we try to conceive of him apart from his people. It was a holy nation because God had called it out, had chosen it to be His, had put His name upon it. The family of Abraham was signed with God’s covenant, and was declared to be holy. Was it not so actually? Was it only so because Jacob was the head of it, or because Joseph was a member of it? The Scripture is careful to preserve us from any such feeble notions. It forces us to see that Joseph was better than his brethren, just because he identified himself with the family, and they acted as if they did not belong to it; because he believed that God had chosen it, and they forgot that He had; because he did, and they did not, believe it to be holy. The nation of Israel was told that the invisible God was actually their king; that He had brought them out of the house of bondage; that He was with them in the wilderness; that He would be with them in the promised laud. Supposing any Israelite to believe this, he was a strong, brave, free man; he could overcome the enemies of his land; he could tread his own underfoot. See, then, how reasonable the prayer was which I have taken for nay text. Because Moses regarded the Israelites as a holy and chosen people, redeemed by God’s own hand; because he believed that this description belonged to the whole covenant people at all times; therefore he felt with intense anguish their stubbornness, their wickedness, and their sin. Had they not been a holy people he would not have known in what their sin consisted. It was the forgetfulness of their holy state--the choice of another--which he confessed with such shame and sorrow before God; it was because they had gone out of the right way, forgetting that they were a nation, each man preferring a selfish way of his own--each thinking that he had an interest apart from his neighbour, apart from the body to which he belonged--that they needed his intercession and God’s renewing and restoring mercy. And Moses could ask for that restoring mercy; he had the power to pray, because he was sure that he was asking according to God’s will, because he was sure that he was asking that that which resisted His will might be taken away. (F. D. Maurice, M. A.)
Moses at the highest level of his ministry
Here we learn what Moses was--in spite of his imperfections--in the sight of God and men; and to what place of honour he attained among that great cloud of witnesses whose lives pass before us in Scripture. In this part of his history which he recounts he stands conspicuous.
I. In his zeal for the Divine honour.
1. Moses had been, forty days and nights on Sinai in the Divine presence, receiving revelations of God’s mind and will The people had become impatient, had forgotten the near presence of God, and fell away from Him. When Moses came near the camp, on descending from the mount, the idolatrous Scene that met his gaze roused him to anger, and he broke the tables of the law which he had brought from the mount, and only at his intercession the people were saved.
2. God has given His people many proofs of His goodness, condescension, etc. But around are many evidences of languor, of lukewarmness, and even of apostasy. If not outwardly, then in heart many, have turned back from God. Should not a holy indignation fill the breasts of God’s true servants; should not they, and all who belong to the Lord, strive against this defection, call those sins by their right names, etc.? There are situations in which such a zeal should characterise the office-bearers of the Church and all true members of the same.
II. In his earnest entreaty for his people.
1. “He fell down before the Lord,” etc., in earnest prayer for the people, as he had often done. So earnest that he asked that he himself might be blotted out of the book God had written if their sins were not forgiven (Exodus 32:32). And his “effectual fervent prayer” was answered.
2. How like in spirit to the great apostle’s prayers was the prayer of Moses! (Romans 9:3.) If we go through the books of holy writ we see what may be done through prayer. The prayers of a Samuel, Hezekiah, Isaiah, Daniel, and the prayers of our Lord (Hebrews 5:5-7) all encourage to earnest prayer. Oh, that we could pray as earnestly and believingly as a Monica, a Luther, etc., or as Moses here prayed for his people! that we could wrestle in prayer for the lost and erring, for every soul sunk in sin, and remind God of His gracious promises, etc.! In these days, where means and ways must be considered whereby the channels of a true spiritual and moral life may be laid among the people, prayer and supplication are chief means. Let us use them earnestly. (Albert Kyphe.)
Yet they are Thy people and Thine inheritance.
The history of the Jews a convincing argument in favour of Christianity
It is related of a certain royal chaplain, that being asked offhand by his sovereign to give a concise and convincing argument in favour of Christianity, he replied in two words--“The Jews.” He could not have given a better answer. You may question, if you will, every single prophecy in the Old Testament; but the whole of the history of the Jews is one continuous prophecy, more distinct and more articulate than all. You may deny, if you will, every successive miracle which is recorded therein; but again, the history of the Jews, from first to last, remains one stupendous miracle, more convincing than all. Look, first, at the capacities of the people themselves. They had no remarkable gifts which might have led us to anticipate for them this unique distinction. Nor does their land help us to solve the enigma. Palestine does, indeed, occupy a very large space in our imagination, but it is a very minute and insignificant spot in the map of the world. It was, moreover, incapable of expansion; for it was bounded on all sides either by the sea or by mountain ranges, or by vast and impracticable deserts. It is largely made up of barren and stony mountains; and even this meagre and contracted territory was not all their own. The sea coast would have been a valuable acquisition to a people gifted with commercial instincts; but from the sea coast they were almost wholly excluded; the Phoenicians on the north, the Philistines on the south, occupied all the most important harbours. And this territory, so small, so inexpansive, so unpromising, appears at a still greater disadvantage when compared with the surrounding people. The Jews were environed on all sides with the most formidable neighbours. What chance has Israel? Must it not be crushed, ground to powder, annihilated by its foes? But, at all events, it might be supposed that the Israelites would at least be united amongst themselves; loyal to their country; faithful to their laws and institutions; true to their God. But what do we find as a matter of fact? Their national history is one continuous record of murmurings, of rebellions, of internal feuds, of moral and spiritual defection. Not once or twice only, when the Almighty Archer had strung His weapon, and pointed His shaft, His aim was frustrated by Israel’s disobedience, His chosen instrument swerved in His hands, “starting aside like a broken bow.” So then, however we look at the matter, there is nothing which affords ground of hope; and when we question the actual facts we find that they correspond altogether to the expectations which we should have formed beforehand from the character and position of the people. Never has any people lived on this earth which has passed through such terrible disasters. Never has any people been so near to absolute extinction again and again, and yet has survived. Again and again the vision of the prophet has been renewed; again and again the valley of the shadow of death has been strewn with the bones of caresses seemingly extinct. Again and again lookers-on have despaired, and even the most hopeful, when challenged by the Divine call, could only respond, “O Lord God, Thou knowest.” But again and again there has been a noise and a shaking, and the bones have come together bone to bone, and they have been strung with sinews and clothed with flesh, and the breath has been breathed into them, and they have lived, and stood up an exceeding great army . . . And do we ask what it was which gave to the Jewish people this toughness, this vitality, this power? The answer is simply, “They are Thy people, and Thine inheritance.” It was the consciousness of their close relation to Jehovah, the omnipotent and ever-present God; it was the sense of a glorious destiny marking them out as the teachers of mankind; it was the conviction that they were possessors of magnificent truths, and that these truths must in the end prevail, whatever present appearances might suggest--this was the secret of their strength notwithstanding all their faults, this was the ever-sustaining breath of their life despite all their disasters. And do we ask, again, how it came to pass that when Israel called to the Gentiles, the Gentiles responded to the call, and flocked to the standard set up in Zion? Here, again, the answer is simple: “Because of the Lord thy God, and for the Holy One of Israel.” The Gentiles had everything else in profusion, but this one thing they lacked--this knowledge of God their Father; and without this all their magnificent gifts could not satisfy or save them. Therefore when at length the cry went forth, “He, everyone that thirsteth,” etc., they hurried to the fountain of salvation to slake their burning thirst. (Bp. Lightfoot.)
──《The Biblical Illustrator》