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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary

Deuteronomy 8

 

 

Verses 1-23

Deuteronomy 8-15

In the opening verses of chapter 8, Moses confronted the people with certain facts that have a very distinct voice to us today. In the first place emphasis is laid again upon "All the commandments," that God had given. There was unity stamped upon the demands of the law system, just as there is upon the revelation that we have in the New Testament — the revelation of God in Christ, and of all purposed and established in Him, as the great expression of grace. Israel had no liberty to pick and choose amongst the commandments, neither have we today amongst the many instructions that grace has furnished.

Then again they were to remember, "all the way," in which God had tested them in the wilderness, to humble them and to reveal what was really in their hearts, and to show them that their real life was not based on material food but on the spiritual instructions and food that is found in the word of God. Here in verse Deuteronomy 3:1-29 we have the words quoted by the Lord Jesus to Satan in the wilderness temptation that He endured. Israel's wilderness temptations revealed their complete failure, whereas the temptation of our Lord was permitted in order to reveal His absolute perfection. He did indeed live by "every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord;" in other words, His life was one of perfect obedience to the Father's will in all things. We are "elect... through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience... of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:2). We are to obey as He obeyed.

Further they were reminded that while God tested them in the wilderness He performed a miracle, lasting 40 years on their behalf. We venture to say that no one else has ever had clothes that lasted for so many years without waxing old and wearing out. There was of course the chastening of which verse Deuteronomy 5:1-33 speaks, and this may have helped to dull their recognition of the miracle, but even this chastening came upon them because they were a people brought into relationship with God. Men chasten their own sons and not others. This is exactly the principle applied- to ourselves in Hebrews 12:1-29. So the word is, "If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as sons, for what son is he whom the Father chasteneth not?" We are further told that though no chastening is a joyful matter, it afterwards yields "the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby." Israel was to be exercised to keep the commandments, walk in God's ways and fear Him, as verse Deuteronomy 6:1-25 states, and the more so, since they were to be brought into a land of much earthly prosperity, while we are brought into a wealth of spiritual blessing.

In the latter part of this chapter they are warned of the dangers that lie hidden in prosperity. Then would come the temptation to rest in the luxury, forget God's goodness to them, and be seduced to seek after false gods. So it came to pass in their history, as we know. Again we as Christians have to remind ourselves that for us also, days of outward and worldly prosperity are times of spiritual danger and defeat.

In Deuteronomy 9:1-29 Moses reminds the people of the great strength of the people then in the land from a military point of view. Many of the men were giants, and their cities strongly fortified. God being for them, they would have power to destroy them completely; yet that power would be exerted, not because they were so righteous, but because the peoples of the land were so wicked. He virtually says to the people - Don't imagine God will give you the victory because you have deserved it. Then he proceeded as the rest of this chapter shows to remind the people of their great unbelief and sin in the making of the golden calf, and their refusal to go up to the land when the spies came back. All this proved that they had no righteousness in which to stand before their God.

What then reimained? Well, there was the promse to Abraham, and confirmed to Isaac and Jacob, and to this there were no conditions attached, which they had to fulfil. That remained, and that Moses pleaded before God, as verse Deuteronomy 27:1-26 reveals. The patriarchal covenant was one of grace, and will be made good in the "new covenant," predicted in Jeremiah 31:1-40, when the end of God's dealings with Israel is reached. The basis of that new covenant lies in the death and resurrection of Christ, and on this basis the Gospel goes forth today, as 2 Corinthians 3:6 shows. It is the "everlasting covenant," as we see in Hebrews 13:20.

Having uttered this plea, Moses ventured to remind the Lord that He had brought the people out of Egypt because of the patriarchal covenant, before the law was given at Sinai. If now, the law having been given, and they having completely failed under it, they were to be destroyed, the Egyptians and other nations would misunderstand this, as meaning that God was unable to complete His work, and bring them into the land He had purposed.

This plea on the part of Moses prevailed, but it did not alter the fact that they were now under the law, and so Deuteronomy 10:1-22 opens with the reminder of how the original stones on which the law was written, and which were broken by Moses, were replaced on his second sojourn on the Mount. This time they were placed in the ark of shittim wood, as a standing witness to God's holy demands. The appointment of the tribe of Levi at that time to their special service, witnessed to the fact that God still bore with their failure to obey, and to appreciate His kindness on their behalf.

Here again is mentioned what came before us in Deuteronomy 6:5; that which our Lord called, "the first and great commandment" (Matthew 22:38); for to love God sincerely with heart and soul would carry with it obedience to all the commandments He gave. Hence that word through the Apostle Paul, "Love is the fulfilling of the law" (Romans 13:10). What should have moved them was the love that God had shown to their fathers, and in choosing them to be very specially His people above all others. How much greater is the love that has been displayed toward us in Christ.

Now in the first place they were, as verse Deuteronomy 16:1-22 says, to "circumcise" their hearts, as the answer to the love shown to them. We again find the Apostle Paul alluding to this in Romans 2:28 , Romans 2:29. The rite of circumcision was established in connection with the patriarchal covenant, as we read in Genesis 17:1-27, though confirmed later in connection with the law. The inveterate tendency was to observe the outward ceremony and overlook its significance. Israel was to be a people completely cut off for and to God. Had there been circumcision of "heart," there would have been the cutting off of self-love, in the knowledge of the love of God.

The same tendency to lay much stress on outward, visible ceremony, while overlooking the inward, spiritual import, is with us today. Take the ordinance of baptism, for instance. We are not furnished with an exact, detailed description of just how it was administered, hence the much discussion and argument as to the outward ceremony. If as much attention had been paid to the spiritual meaning of the ordinance, as stated in the early verses of Romans 6:1-23, we should have gained far more profit. Dead and buried with Christ - our old life, as in Adam, judged — and "newness of life," now to characterise us.

Had Israel circumcised their hearts, a second thing would have marked them. They would have shown love to the stranger, who might be in their midst. We are to display the love that has reached us by seeking others with the Gospel of the grace of God.

The whole of Deuteronomy 11:1-32 is taken up with the record of the exhortations that Moses gave, promising on God's behalf a wealth of earthly blessing as the result of their obedience, but on the other hand warning them of the curse that would rest on them if they disobeyed. The land to which they were called was specially dependent for its fruitfulness upon rain from heaven in its season, which, if withheld by God, would bring disaster upon them. That they might obey, they are again told to keep all the commandments continually before them — to teach them, to talk of them, to write them, as they had previously been instructed. If obedient, God would be with them in power that none could resist, and every place whereon they trod should be theirs.

But they were equally warned of the curse that would follow disobedience, and that when in the land there should be a mountain marked by the curse, as well as one marked by blessing. How sadly significant it is that the very last word of the Old Testament is the word, "curse."

Having given this further solemn warning, Deuteronomy 12:1-32 is occupied with "statutes and judgments" specially relating to their lives when in the land, to which they were going. It begins with the demand that they should utterly destroy the nations then in the land, and uproot every trace of their idolatrous practices. The chapter ends on the same note, inasmuch as idolatrous evil is very infectious, whereas spiritual good is not. Even in natural things this principle is seen. A good apple placed amongst rotten ones will not remove any rottenness; whereas a rotten apple placed among good ones, will soon spread its rottenness. We must never forget that, though as born of God we have a new nature, yet the old Adamic nature is still in us, and if unjudged it responds at once to all the evil that confronts it.

So all the high places of these nations, their groves, their pillars, their altars, their images, were to be destroyed, and their very names eradicated from memory. We may remember how, when the kingdom was divided, Jeroboam disobeyed this, and the infection of it persisted through all the kings of the ten tribes, and hastened their captivity under the kings of Assyria. All this evil then was to go.

But statutes of a more positive nature follow. When in the land, God Himself would choose a place where His name should be set, and to that place the people were to bring their sacrifices and offerings. There they could eat before God and rejoice, and they are specially warned against what had evidently in large measure characterized them; doing, "every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes." This injunction was soon forgotten, when for several centuries judges ruled them in the land. The book of Judges ends on the sad note, "In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes."

Carefully note that what they did was not what they considered wrong, but right, yet it was not what God had ordered, and hence it was not right, according to Him. How sadly this same trouble has been manifested in the history of Christendom. A multitude of things have been done, and introduced into the professed worship and service of God, because they seemed so right, even to pious people; yet they have been far removed from the simplicity laid down in the New Testament, and observed by the early church under the guidance of the apostles.

So, in our chapter, we have laid down not only the instruction as to the place that God would choose, but also as to how they should bring their offerings, of clean animals, and while shedding their blood, taking care not to eat of it themselves. This is repeated twice in this chapter, and they were reminded that "the blood is the life;" and life comes directly from God; so that when killing an animal they were to pour the blood forth as water upon the earth. This was blood "as water." It is a remarkable fact that when the soldier pierced the side of Jesus, "forthwith came there out blood and water" (John 19:34). In his epistle the Apostle John reminds us that our Lord came by blood as well as by water: that is, it not only is the basis of moral and spiritual cleansing but it paid the penalty of sin in the yielding up of His life's blood. It is just this latter fact that many in our day are unwilling to admit, but which is of all importance. Life comes from God, and the blood being the life of all flesh it is sacred and not to be eaten as a common thing.

It was lightly esteemed among the nations, as the closing verses of the chapter show. Even their sons and daughters they burned in their fires in honour of their false gods.

Another danger might arise among them, when they got into the land, as mentioned in the opening verses of Deuteronomy 13:1-18. Moses had been their great prophet, through whom God had again and again spoken to them. Now one crafty device of the adversary is to imitate what God does, and so presently there would arise prophets that were inspired not by God but by him, in the effort to lead the people astray. They were not to hearken to such a prophet but rather to put him to death.

Similar tactics of the devil have been used against the faith of Christ, as we see for instance in such a scripture as 1 Corinthians 12:3. In the early Christian assemblies, when as yet hardly any of the New Testament had been written, there were men of prophetic gift, who spoke words inspired by the Spirit of God. Men might appear amongst them who spoke as inspired by some evil spirit; and such were to be detected and refused. Hence the injunction "Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge" (1 Corinthians 14:29). In 1 Corinthians 4:1-21 had been told not to judge before the time, when they attempted to assess the value of the different servants of God; but here we find that the utterances of prophets in the assembly were to be heard with godly care and judgment, lest things should be said that were not of God. Similar godly care and judgment is needed today as we listen to what purports to be the ministry of the word of God. It negatives the idea that there may be men who can so speak that everything they say must be received without any question.

In the latter part of this chapter the people are warned against a similar danger, but not from self-styled prophets. There would arise evil men in their midst who would divert a whole city from the Lord to the worship of false gods with their abominations. Such evil was to be utterly destroyed from amongst them, if the fact of it was established beyond all question.

We do well to note carefully the stipulations of verse Deuteronomy 14:1-29. The judgment was not to be executed until there had been inquiry and search and diligent asking for facts, so that the evil reported was certain and beyond all dispute. Hasty action might easily lead to a miscarriage of justice. If in the church of God today similar diligence and care were exercised, we should be made wise unto salvation from some difficulties that endanger us.

The first 21 verses of Deuteronomy 14:1-29 stress the fact that Israel as a nation were a people specially set apart to God, and therefore to avoid certain common practices on the one hand, and to be very careful as to what they ate on the other. The avoidance of the things prohibited would doubtless be for their physical good, and help to mark them off from other peoples. Many centuries later, when in Christian circles those from among the Gentiles soon outnumbered those from the Jews, these restrictions gave rise to the "doubtful disputations," of which Romans 14:1-23 speaks. In that chapter the Spirit of God does not legislate but leaves every man to be persuaded in his own mind what he should do. We may profitably transfer the thought to what we may mentally read and inwardly digest. Let us take care that we do not feed mentally on what is impure.

Then the chapter turns from what they should take in as food to what they should give out as tithes, and how they should present it to the Lord. The tithe was ultimately for the upkeep of the Levites whose lives were to be given to the service of God, and also to be used for the poor and needy who would be found amongst them.

Legislation continues through nearly the whole of Deuteronomy 15:1-23 as to how the poor amongst them were to be considered. Every seventh year was to be a year of release. The well-to-do Israelite might lend money to his poor neighbour, but anything not repaid when the seventh year arrived, was to be released and left in the hand of the poor man. We see therefore that the law demanded a spirit of gracious care for the poor among the people, though this arrangement did not apply to strangers among them. Should there be no poor, the rule would lapse, but in verse Deuteronomy 11:1-32 they are plainly told that "the poor shall never cease out of the land." For us Christians it is equally true that there will always be found amongst us those who are "weak in the faith," who are but "babes" in Christ; and those strong in the faith must be careful lest by their "knowledge" they make "the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died" (1 Corinthians 8:11). The poor and weak must be considered.

In verses 16-18, we have a further reference to the law as to the "Hebrew servant," first given in Exodus 21:1-36. It is remarkable that it should again appear here, connected with those who are "poor," for in it we see something that found perfect fulfilment in the Lord Jesus. He took "the form of a Servant," and though He was rich yet for our sakes became poor, as we told in

Corinthians Deuteronomy 8:9. We are again reminded of the piercing of the ear against the door, and this meant the shedding of blood, though it may only have been a tiny drop. As it was in Egypt, so it was to be here, blood on the door but this time signifying the devotion of the One whose blood was shed.

The picture presented to us in this chapter is evidently one of grace, which was to shine out in the midst of the demands of the law. We may well close our meditation on these things by observing that if there was to be an exhibition of grace when law was dominant, how much more should grace characterise all our behaviour today, seeing that we "are not under the law but under grace" (Romans 6:14).

 


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 8:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/fbh/deuteronomy-8.html. 1947.

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