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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker

Deuteronomy 12

 

 

Verses 1-32

Life In a New Land

Deuteronomy 12

This chapter opens a new section of the Mosaic legislation. Up to this time we have had copious and urgent discourses by Moses upon the law, its principles, and its purposes—more or less abstract and philosophical discourses; now we come into practical instruction and exhortation. The people are about to move into new circumstances and to sustain new relations, and Moses condescends to particularise, and seeks by almost tedious detail to impress upon the mind of Israel what is right, what is good, and what is expected of the people of God. The children of Israel could understand no other language. They were amongst the youngest nations of time. In studying their history we study beginnings, first lessons, and the proper methods of preaching to infantile minds—namely, methods of command, authority, illustration, and sparkling narrative. The people of Israel were called upon to illustrate in their own conduct the laws which God had pronounced from Sinai. The noticeable thing is that, although the circumstances were new and the land a strange land, no change takes place in the moral substance of the law. The law is one, the same in heaven as upon earth, the same in the dawn of earthly time as in the eventide of the terrestrial dispensation. Till heaven and earth pass not one jot or tittle of the law can be destroyed. It is in the very substance of the divine nature: it is the mystery of the personality whose name is God; it is the secret of eternal righteousness. But there are adaptations, accommodations, methods of addressing the life to unexpected or unusual or temporary conditions; in all these matters Moses is specially detailed, critical, and exact in his statements, sometimes dwelling upon what to us may appear trifles. But there are no trifles in moral education: every monition has a purpose, every hint is the beginning of a revelation. Let us follow Israel into new lands and circumstances, and mark the operation of law.

The first thing Israel had to do appears to be a work of violence. All idols were to be destroyed:—"Ye shall utterly destroy all the places, wherein the nations which ye shall possess served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every green tree: and ye shall overthrow their altars, and break their pillars, and burn their groves with fire; and ye shall hew down the graven images of their gods, and destroy the names of them out of that place" ( Deuteronomy 12:2-3). Israel could understand no other language. This is not the language of today; but the thing inculcated upon Israel is the lesson for the present time: words change, but duties remain. Violence was the only method that could commend itself to infantile Israel. The hand was the reasoner; the breaking hammer was the instrument of logic in days so remote and so unfavoured. Forgetting this, how many people misunderstand instructions given to the ancient Church; they speak of the violence of those instructions, the bloodthirstiness even of him who gave the instructions to Israel. Hostile critics select such expressions and hold them up as if in mid-air, that the sunlight may get well round about them; and attention is called to the barbarity, the brutality, the revolting violence of Song of Solomon -called divine commandments. It is false reasoning on the part of the hostile critic. We must think ourselves back to the exact period of time and the particular circumstances at which and under which the instructions were delivered. But all the words of violence have dropped away. "Destroy," "overthrow," "burn," "hew down," are words which are not found in the instructions given to Christian evangelists. Has the law then passed away? Not a jot or tittle of it. Is there still to be a work of this kind accomplished in heathen nations? That is the very work that must first be done. This is the work that is aimed at by the humblest and meekest teacher who shoulders the Gospel yoke and proceeds to Christianise the nations. Now we destroy by reasoning, and that is a far more terrible destruction than the supposed annihilation that can be wrought by manual violence. You cannot conquer an enemy by the arm, the rod, or the weapon of war; you subdue him, overpower him, or impose some momentary restraint upon him; fear of you takes possession of his heart, and he sues for peace because he is afraid. That is not conquest; there is nothing eternal in such an issue. How, then, to destroy an enemy? By converting him—by changing his motive, by penetrating into his most secret life, and accomplishing the mystery of regeneration in his affections. That mystery accomplished, the conquest is complete and everlasting; the work of destruction has been accomplished; burning and hewing down, and all actions indicative of mere violence have disappeared. Enemies are killed, false altars are burned, and graven images are hewn down, not manually but morally, not by some overpowering force of assault, but by the very men themselves who, having seen the hollowness of their gods, have deposed them from their sovereignty. So with all the other instructions with which the Bible is charged. Attention must not be fixed upon the letter, often apparently so hot, angry, and even vindictive; we must get to the inner Prayer of Manasseh , and there we shall find that God has all the while intended but one thing, namely, to establish the throne of righteousness, and to purge the firmament of every cloud that could obscure the brightness and beauty of his presence. It is but a perfunctory and unprofitable criticism that fastens upon outward circumstances, framings and settings of divine intentions; the true criticism is to penetrate to those intentions themselves, and history, observation, and experience concur in the solemn and grateful testimony that in every instance the intention of God has been a purpose of salvation.

But it was not enough to destroy. The negative word was to be succeeded by a positive service:—"But unto the place which the Lord your God shall choose out of all your tribes to put his name there, even unto his habitation shall ye seek, and. thither thou shalt come: and thither ye shall bring your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, and your tithes, and heave offerings of your hand, and your vows, and your freewill offerings, and the firstlings of your herds and of your flocks: and there ye shall eat before the Lord your God, and ye shall rejoice in all that ye put your hand unto, ye and your households, wherein the Lord thy God hath blessed thee" ( Deuteronomy 12:5-7). It would delight many reformers to confine themselves to a merely negative work, because they delight in criticism; their ability lies along that narrow line; they can see faults, they can detect discrepancies and inconsistencies, and with great fluency they can expose sophism of the subtlest kind, and with indignation they can expose outrages of a moral sort; but the great work of Christianising the lands is first negative, and then positive. Israel must be faithful to his own God if he would completely destroy the graven images of the heathen nations; Israel must go to the right sanctuary if he would pull down the noblest refuge of heathenism; Christians must keep up their personal Christianity if they are to become great ministers, missionaries, lecturers, and teachers. Men belonging to such high classes must never forget their own devotions, their own deep reading; they must maintain long periods of silence. If they are always talking, what wonder if their talk should become suddenly and completely commonplace and tasteless, without savour, or accent, or unction? They must contrast their great thunder-bursts of appeal by prolonged silence in solitary places. They will preach as they have prayed: their public invectives, encouragements, criticisms, and expositions will take tone from their private and secret communings with Heaven. The reason that we sink into commonplace and outgrow our power is that we have been talking too much. Whole days of silence should punctuate the history of the week—long hours of solitude, until there comes upon the soul a desire to see a fellow-creature, a public assembly,—a kind of hunger in the soul for social contact, presence, and influence. The Bible is full of teaching regarding the uses of solitude. Israel must keep up his own religion; go to the place chosen by the Lord, bring his burnt offerings, and his sacrifices, his tithes, and heave offerings, and vows, and freewill offerings, and the firstlings of his herds and of his flocks, and eat before the Lord his God; and then go forth Heaven-nourished, Heaven-inspired, to burn false altars and grind into powder the graven images of heathen ignorance. Have faith in men who live in God.

Amidst all this assault, denunciation, and sacred fury there was to run a line of perfect self-control:—"Ye shall not do after all the things that we do here this day, every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes" ( Deuteronomy 12:8). Individuality has limits. Where are there any individualities? We know nothing about them in the great Christian society; individuality has undergone distinct modification: we belong to one another; we are parts of a complicated but sentient and indestructible body; we are branches in a living vine; the individual will is destroyed by the beneficent presence of a social responsibility. There was to be personal watchfulness: hence we read in the thirteenth verse,—"Take heed to thyself;" and in the nineteenth verse again,—"Take heed to thyself;" and in the thirtieth verse,—"Take heed to thyself." That is where individuality comes in, every man watching himself. The Apostle Paul could use no higher form of words in charging the young soldiers of the cross: said he to one and another,—Take heed unto thyself; and again, speaking to the Church, he said, Let every man examine himself. Where are there instructions binding upon us in the direction of social criticism—the examination of other people, and keeping guard over the consistency of our brethren? We are admonished to look after them along another line—to see that they want nothing that is for their good, to care for them, to put our strength at the disposal of their weakness; but there is no responsibility thrown upon us in the matter of watching other people in any critical or suspecting sense. Each man must look to himself: his head may be right whilst his heart is a thousand miles away from the path prescribed by God; his head and his heart may be comparatively consistent, and yet appetite, passion, desire, may be set on fire of hell. Every man must watch himself at his weakest point, and must suspect himself where other people least suspect him. No attempt, therefore, is made to do away with individual responsibility; that will grow in proportion as there is personal watchfulness, personal severity with our own judgment, heart, and conduct. Let a man try himself as by fire. He who beats himself, to use the apostolic expression, "in the eyes," that he may the less see the faults of other people, is in least danger of becoming a castaway. If all public criticism and all social contempt could be turned in towards individual uses, there would be an outgoing from the self-suspected and self-disciplined heart of a stream of beneficence and charity and Christian hope towards all the prodigals of the world.

Now there will be an act of marvellous condescension: there will be a tone of mercy amid all this outflow of legislation; the burden will not be made heavier than Israel can bear. Read Deuteronomy 12:21"If the place which the Lord thy God hath chosen to put his name there be too far from thee, then—"And here comes the divine condescension, the concession of Heaven to the limitations of earth. Calvary is in the Old Testament The condescending, saving Cross is in the books of the law. Love was never absent from the inspired record. If the place be too far; if there be local difficulty; if there be a weight to carry too heavy for thy poor strength, God will meet thee: he will make thy weakness the basis of a new negotiation; instead of standing away upon the hills of eternity and frightening little earth by all the thunder of infinity, he will come down and see what can be done,—measuring, adjusting, and arranging, so as to suit human weakness. When there was no eye to pity; when there was no arm to save, his own eye pitied and his own arm brought salvation. Grace and truth go together; pity follows law; the iron statute is bedewed with tears: God is love. Nor is God concerned only about the living: he is concerned about those who have yet to appear in life. So we read in the twenty-eighth verse,—"Observe and hear all these words which I command thee, that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee for ever, when thou doest that which is good and right in the sight of the Lord thy God." God is concerned for posterity. We may mock the suggestion, and put foolish questions concerning the generations yet to come, but the Book of God is as careful about the child unborn as about the old pilgrim born into the higher spaces. God does not insulate himself by the little present; he contemplates the end from the beginning. All souls are his. He also puts it into our care to regard the welfare of our successors. There is a sense in which we all have a posterity—some in a narrower, some in a larger sense; but we all have a succession: we are influencing to-morrow by our spirit and action today. How mad are they and how guilty of the cruellest murder who go on indulging every desire, sating every appetite, satisfying every wish, forgetting that they are involving the yet unborn in pain, weakness, incapacity, and dooming them to life-long Suffering and distress. Here is the greatness of the Bible, the noble condescension of God, the infinite solicitude of the eternal Father. His speech runs to this effect: take care: not only are you involved, but your child and child"s child, for generation upon generation: your drunkenness will reappear in the disease of ages yet to come; your bad conduct will repeat itself in a long succession of evil-minded men; your behaviour appears at present to be agreeable, to have some aspects that might be called delightful, but things are not what they seem: actions do not end in themselves: every bad thought you think takes out some spark of vitality from your brain—robs you, depletes you, leaves you nearer lunacy; be careful: have some regard for those who have to succeed you; learn from those who went before you how evil a thing it is to have sown bad seed, and by what you have learned from them conduct yourself aright; if you are true, wise, pure, generous, well-conducted altogether, generations will arise to bless you; if you take care of the poor, if any of your succession should be doomed to poverty, with what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you and them again; blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy; with what judgment ye judge ye shall be judged. Life is one: touch it where we may, we send a thrill, a vibration, along all the vital lines. The law is twofold: sow evil, and reap evil; sow good, and reap good. This is no partial law, dealing with penalty and shame only: it is an impartial righteousness, dealing with reward and glory, and promising delight vast and tender as the heaven of God.

Selected Note

The consequences of parental wrong-doing fall on the offspring, as we plainly see in the case of the drunkard; the laws of heredity have been carefully studied during late years with many remarkable results.

The belief in the transmission of penalty to offspring was in ancient times very widely extended, as may be illustrated by the following extract from the laws of Menu, the most ancient lawgiver of the Hindoos:—

Prayer

Almighty God, our eyes are fixed upon the Cross of Christ. God forbid that we should glory, save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. We crucified him; we mocked him; we cast all taunting condemnation into his teeth. We do not discharge ourselves of the tremendous responsibility: we hang down our heads in mourning and shame and self-reproach which burns to agony, knowing that we murdered the Son of God. We crucify the Son of God afresh, and every day we put him to an open shame. The white robe of his holiness is not safe in our keeping; the purity of heaven we stain even by our highest thoughts. Do thou have mercy upon us day by day, ever being more merciful than before, because our sin is aggravated by time, and we sin today more deeply than we could sin yesterday. God be merciful unto us sinners! Only thy mercy can reach our estate: the best of us is a lost, dead man. But we have read thy word, and we have heard it uttered by lips of sympathy, and it is a word which comes into our life like an angel from heaven,—the very angel of the divine presence; the angel of the covenant, the all-present and all-directing spirit that has ruled the destinies of the race. We bless thee for words we can understand—simple words, notes of music, speeches of love. When our pain burns most acutely, then thy Gospel is most to us; in our fatness and prosperity and abounding strength we forget God, and look upon ourselves with approbation and delight; but when we see one glimpse of our real self—the evil one within us, charged with the poison of malice, disfigured by the passions of hell, helpless because of self-destruction—then rises the Cross upon our vision, the very beauty and glory of God. We bless thee for thy day, sanctifying all the week; for thy Book, giving life to all books that are good, and drawing them back to itself to have all their beauty renewed; for all friendships that lift us higher in the scale of thought and being; for all hopes that drive the darkness away and plant flowers upon the tomb; for all the lights which outshine the stars and give us hope of a day yet to come;—these are thy mercies; these are thy benefits; these are thy appeals to our souls; and our souls would answer them in rising gladness, because they are gifts ineffable and everlasting. Give us the quietness of the sanctuary in our own soul; breathe the peace of heaven upon us, everyone; give release from anxiety, from tormenting memory, from foreboding fear; and in one moment of vision of better things and heavenly gladness we shall bury a lifetime of sorrow, and recover ourselves, and claim the future with all the conscious ease of strength divinely sustained. Let thy mercy be our inner day; let thy love in Christ Jesus be our secret thought; let the whole priesthood of the Saviour be to us as bread on which the soul may feed, and wine sacramental, the drinking of which shall be as the utterance of an oath. Amen.


Verse 9

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"For ye art not as yet come to the rest."Deuteronomy 12:9

Still, it is of infinite value to the soul to know that there is a rest.—A man is helped through the week by knowing that he is coming to a period when labour will be suspended, and quietness will be at least rendered possible.—If we are stimulated by beginnings, we are comforted by promised endings.—To be told that there is no termination to the road we are upon, discourages us for advancing even the next few yards; but to be told that every few yards traversed will bring us nearer the end, where we may expect home and rest and security, is really to nerve us for service and danger.—Heaven is not promised as an appeal to our selfishness, but as a comfort to our weakness and a sure reward of all obedience and excellence in human life.—Even the Apostle looked forward to the close with the highest gratification and thankfulness, seeing, as he did, the crown of righteousness which was laid up for him, and knowing that he should join the general assembly and church of the firstborn.—A man need not work the less energetically on Monday because he sees in the distance the quiet Sabbath-day offering him harbour and refuge.—There is a period of strife which is to be succeeded by a period of rest. But what rest can he have who has never known the strife? Is not all pleasure, in some degree, by contrast? The sleep of the labouring man is sweet, simply because he is a labouring man and has earned the repose which his exhaustion needs.—What heaven can they have who have made earth into a mere sleeping-place or garden of delights, having walled out, so far as it is possible to human wealth and vanity to do Song of Solomon , all darkness and necessity and trouble?—What a home-coming must the true soldier have who is conscious of having fought patriotically and daringly in the interests he went out to serve!—A beautiful picture is given of the ending from all toil and strife in the good cause.—"And the Lord gave them rest round about, according to all that he sware unto their fathers: and there stood not a man of all their enemies before them; the Lord delivered all their enemies into their hand."—Christ himself was encouraged by the disclosed termination of his toil and suffering.—He knew that he must reign until he had put all enemies under his feet.—For the joy that was set before him, he endured the Cross, despising the shame. Here every good worker may be comforted and stimulated: if the work were to go on for ever, it seems as if our poor strength would regard its continuity with despair; but not knowing how soon it may end, and knowing that all faithfulness will end in heaven, the soul is encouraged to put on its strength, and to do with its whole might whatsoever it may find to do.—"There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God."


Verse 10-11

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"... when he giveth you rest front all your enemies round about.... Then there shall be a place."Deuteronomy 12:10-11

There are temporary rests on the road of life.—The battle is sometimes suspended, and we know not when it may be resumed.—Some spiritual use is to be made even of temporary cessations of difficulty.—The religious use which was to be made in ancient times of periods of rest expressed itself in the building of altars and the offering of sacrifices.—Ancient life seemed to be divided between war and worship.—In reality that distribution would seem to be continued throughout all time.—The Christian is either in the field of battle or in the house of prayer.—Even rest is not to be spent slothfully, but is to be enjoyed with a religious purpose as well as to be inspired by religious thankfulness.—When Jesus Christ offered his disciples rest, it was only for a limited time. His words were, "Come ye into a desert place, and rest a while,"—not rest a long time, and certainly not rest for the remainder of your days, but rest a while—take a breath, stand still for a moment, and then resume with energy the pursuits of life.—The holiday is only to make the subsequent labour more energetic and hopeful.—We are not to use rest as a confection which would give us distaste for labour.—Nor are we to use rest as a kind of opiate which would disable the very powers it affects to renew.—Even rest may be a form of labour, or, at least, it may be so enjoyed as to give the soul promise of renewed endeavour to redeem human life and bless the human lot, now so full of sadness, and now so enfeebled by weariness.—It is but cowardice for men to run away from labour that they may enjoy inglorious ease.—When merchant-men succeed in laying by sufficient to maintain themselves in comfort, they should be planning some new sphere of activity, so that they may better serve their day and generation when they are released from the wear and tear of the drudgery of life.—No man is to say to his soul, Take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry; he is rather to say, I have no further care about the body; now shall my soul have full swing in the highest and best activity.—This is the true preparation before the Sabbath—the Sabbath of heaven.

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 12:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/deuteronomy-12.html. 1885-95.

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