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Bible Commentaries

Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture

Deuteronomy 32

 

 

Verse 9

Deuteronomy

GOD’S TRUE TREASURE IN MAN

Deuteronomy 32:9 - Titus 2:14.

I choose these two texts because they together present us with the other side of the thought to that which I have elsewhere considered, that man’s true treasure is in God. That great axiom of the religious consciousness, which pervades the whole of Scripture, is rapturously expressed in many a psalm, and never more assuredly than in that one which struggles up from the miry clay in which the Psalmist’s ‘steps had well-nigh slipped’ and soars and sings thus: ‘The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and of my cup; Thou maintainest my lot,’ ‘The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.’

You observe the correspondence between these words and those of my first text: ‘The Lord’s portion is His people; Jacob is the lot of His inheritance.’ The correspondence in the original is not quite so marked as it is in our Authorised Version, but still the idea in the two passages is the same. Now it is plain that persons can possess persons only by love, sympathy, and communion. From that it follows that the possession must be mutual; or, in other words, that only he can say ‘Thou art mine’ who can say ‘I am Thine.’ And so to possess God, and to be possessed by God, are but two ways of putting the same fact. ‘The Lord is the portion of His people, and the Lord’s portion is His people,’ are only two ways of stating the same truth.

Then my second text clearly quotes the well-known utterance that lies at the foundation of the national life of Israel: ‘Ye shall be unto Me a peculiar treasure above all people,’ and claims that privilege, like all Israel’s privileges, for the Christian Church. In like manner Peter [1 Peter 2:9] quotes the same words, ‘a peculiar people,’ as properly applying to Christians. I need scarcely remind you that ‘peculiar’ here is used in its proper original sense of belonging to, or, as the Revised Version gives it, ‘a people for God’s own possession’ and has no trace of the modern signification of ‘singular.’ Similarly we find Paul in his Epistle to the Ephesians giving both sides of the idea of the inheritance in intentional juxtaposition, when he speaks [Ephesians 1:14] of the ‘earnest of our inheritance . . . unto the redemption of God’s own possession.’ In the words before us we have the same idea; and this text besides tells us how Christ, the Revealer of God, wins men for Himself, and what manner of men they must be whom He counts as His.

Therefore there are, as I take it, three things to be spoken about now. First, God has a special ownership in some people. Second, God owns these people because He has given Himself to them. Third, God possesses, and is possessed by, His inheritance, that He may give and receive services of love. Or, in briefer words, I have to speak about this wonderful thought of a special divine ownership, what it rests upon, and what it involves.

I. God has special ownership in some people.

‘The Lord’s portion is His people; Jacob is the lot of His inheritance.’ Put side by side with those other words of the Old Testament: ‘All souls are Mine,’ or the utterance of the 100th Psalm rightly translated: ‘It is He that hath made us, and to Him we belong.’ There is a right of absolute and utter ownership and possession inherent in the very relation of Creator and creature; so that the being made is wholly and altogether at the disposal, and is the property, of Him that makes him.

But is that enough for God’s heart? Is that worth calling ownership at all? An arbitrary tyrant in an unconstitutional kingdom, or a slave-owner, may have the most absolute right of property over his subject or his slave; may have the right of entire disposal of all his industry, of the profit of all his labour; may be able to do anything he likes with him, may have the power of life and death; but such ownership is only of the husk and case of a man: the man himself may be free, and may smile at the claim of possession. ‘They may ‘own’ the body, and after that have no more than they can do.’ That kind of authority and ownership, absolute and utter, to the point of death, may satisfy a tyrant or a slave-driver, it does not satisfy the loving heart of God. It is not real possession at all. In what sense did Nero own Paul when he shut him up in prison, and cut his head off? Does the slave-owner own the man whom he whips within an inch of his life, and who dare not do anything without his permission? Does God, in any sense that corresponds with the longing of infinite love, own the men that reluctantly obey Him, and are simply, as it were, tools in His hands? He covets and longs for a deeper relationship and tenderer ties, and though all creatures are His, and all men are His servants and His possession, yet, like certain regiments in our own British army, there are some who have the right to bear in a special manner on their uniform and on their banners the emblazonment, ‘The King’s Own.’ ‘The Lord’s portion is His people; Jacob is the lot of His inheritance.’

Well, then, the next thought is that the special relationship of possession is constituted by mutual love. I said at the beginning of these remarks that as concerns men’s relations, the only real possession is through love, sympathy, and communion, and that that must necessarily be mutual. We have a perfect right to apply the human analogy here; in fact, we are bound to do it if we would rightly understand such words as those of my text; and it just leads us to this, that the one thing whereby God reckons that He possesses a man at all is when His love falls upon that man’s heart and soaks into it, and when there springs up in the heart a corresponding emotion and affection. The men who welcome the divine love that goes through the whole world, seeking such to worship it, and to trust it, and to become its own; and who therefore lovingly yield to the loving divine will, and take it for their law-these are the men whom He regards as His ‘portion’ and ‘the lot of His inheritance.’ So that God is mine, and that ‘I am God’s,’ are two ends of one truth; ‘I possess Him,’ and ‘I am possessed by Him,’ are but the statement of one fact expressed from two points of view. In the one case you look upon it from above, in the other case you look upon it from beneath. All the sweet commerce of mutual surrender and possession which makes the joy of our hearts, in friendship and in domestic life, we have the right to lift up into this loftier region, and find in it the last teaching of what makes the special bond of mutual possession between God and man.

And deep words of Scripture point in that direction. Those parables of our Lord’s: the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son, in their infinite beauty, whilst they contain a great deal besides this, do contain this in their several ways; the money, the animal, the man belong to the woman of the house, to the shepherd, to the father. Each is ‘lost’ in a different fashion, but the most clear revelation is given in the last parable of the three, which explains the other two. The son was ‘lost’ when he did not love the father; and he was ‘found’ by the father when he returned the yearning of the father’s heart.

And so, dear brethren, it ever is; the one thing that knits men to God is that the silken cord of love let down from Heaven should by our own hand be wrapped round our own hearts, and then we are united to Him. We are His and He is ours by the double action of His love manifested by Him, and His love received by us.

Now there is nothing in all that of favouritism. The declaration that there are people who have a special relationship to the divine heart may be so stated as to have a very ugly look, and it often has been so stated as to be nothing more than self-complacent Pharisaism, which values a privilege principally because its possession is an insult to somebody else that has it not.

There has been plenty of Christianity of that sort in the world, but there is nothing of it in the thoughts of these texts rightly looked at. There is only this: it cannot but be that men who yield to God and love Him, and try to live near Him and to do righteousness, are His in a manner that those who steel themselves against Him and turn away from Him are not. Whilst all creatures have a place in His heart, and are flooded with His benefits, and get as much of Him as they can hold, the men who recognise the source of their blessing, and turn to it with grateful hearts, are nearer Him than those that do not do so. Let us take care, lest for the sake of seeming to preserve the impartiality of His love, we have destroyed all in Him that makes His love worth having. If to Him the good and the bad, the men who fear Him and the men who fear Him not, are equally satisfactory, and, in the same manner, the objects of an equal love, then He is not a God that has pleasure in righteousness; and if He is not a God that ‘has pleasure in righteousness,’ He is not a God for us to trust to. We are not giving countenance to the notion that God has any step-children, any petted members of His family, when we cleave to this-they that have welcomed His love into their hearts are nearer to Him than those that have closed the door against it.

And there is one more point here about this matter of ownership on which I dwell for a moment, namely, that this conception of certain men being in a special sense God’s possession and inheritance means also that He has a special delight in, and lofty appreciation of, them. All this material creation exists for the sake of growing good men and women. That is the use of the things that are seen and temporal; they are like greenhouses built for the great Gardener’s use in striking and furthering the growth of His plants; and when He has got the plants He has got what He wanted, and you may pull the greenhouse down if you like. And so God estimates, and teaches us to estimate, the relative value and greatness of the material and the spiritual in this fashion, that He says to us in effect: ‘All these magnificences and magnitudes round you are small and vulgar as compared with this-a heart in which wisdom and divine truth and the love and likeness of God have attained to some tolerable measure of maturity and of strength.’ These are His ‘jewels,’ as the Roman matron said about her two boys. The great Father looks upon the men that love Him as His jewels, and, having got the jewels, the rock in which they were embedded and preserved may be crushed when you like. ‘They shall be Mine,’ saith the Lord, ‘My treasures in that day of judgment which I make.’

And so, my brother, all the insignificance of man, as compared with the magnitude and duration of the universe, need not stagger our faith that the divinest thing in the universe is a heart that has learnt to love God and aspires after Him, and should but increase our wonder and our gratitude that He has been mindful of man and has visited him, in order that He might give Himself to men, and so might win men for Himself.

II. That brings me, and very briefly, to the other points that I desire to deal with now. The second one, which is suggested to us from my second text in the Epistle to Titus, is that this possession, by God, of man, like man’s possession of God, comes because God has given Himself to man.

The Apostle puts it very strongly in the Epistle to Titus: ‘The glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us that He might purify unto Himself a people for a possession.’ Israel, according to one metaphor, was God’s ‘son,’ begotten by that great redeeming act of deliverance from the captivity of Egypt [Deuteronomy 32:6 - Deuteronomy 32:19]. According to another metaphor, Israel was God’s bride, wooed and won for His own by that same act. Both of these figures point to the thought that in order to get man for His own He has to give Himself to man.

And the very height and sublimity of that truth is found in the Christian fact which the Apostle points to here. We need not depart from human analogies here either. Christ gave Himself to us that He might acquire us for Himself. Absolute possession of others is only possible at the price of absolute surrender to them. No human heart ever gave itself away unless it was convinced that the heart to which it gave itself had given itself to it.

And on the lower levels of gratitude and obligation, the only thing that binds a man to another in utter submission is the conviction that that other has given himself in absolute sacrifice for him. A doctor goes into the wards of an hospital with his life in his hands, and because he does, he wins the full confidence and affection of those whom he treats. You cannot buy a heart with anything less than a heart. In the barter of the world it is not ‘skin for skin,’ but it is ‘self for self’; and if you want to own me, you must give yourself altogether to me. And the measure in which teachers and guides and preachers and philanthropists of all sorts make conquests of men is the measure in which they make themselves sacrifices for men.

Now all that is true, and is lifted to its superlative truth, in the great central fact of the Christian faith. But there is more than human analogy here. Christ is not only self-sacrifice in the sense of surrender, but He is sacrifice in the sense of giving Himself for our redemption and forgiveness. He has not only given Himself to us, He has given Himself for us. And there, and on that, is builded, and on that alone has He a right to build, or have we a right to yield to it, His claim to absolute authority and utter command over each of us.

He has died for us, therefore the springs of our life are at His disposal; and the strongest motives which can sway our lives are set in motion by His touch. His death, says this text, redeems us from iniquity and purifies us. That points to its power in delivering us from the service and practice of sin. He buys us from the despot whose slaves we were, and makes us His own in the hatred of evil and the doing of righteousness. Moved by His death, we become capable of heroisms and martyrdoms of devotion to Him. Brethren, it is only as that self-sacrificing love touches us, which died for our sins upon the Cross, that the diabolical chain of selfishness will be broken from our affections and our wills, and we shall be led into the large place of glad surrender of ourselves to the sweetness and the gentle authority of His omnipotent love.

III. The last thought that I suggest is the issues to which this mutual possession points. God owns men, and is owned by them, in order that there may be a giving and receiving of mutual services of love.

‘The Lord’s portion is His people.’ That in the Old Testament is always laid as the foundation of certain obligations under which He has come, and which He will abundantly discharge. What is a great landlord expected to do to his estate? ‘What ought I to have done to my vineyard?’ the divine Proprietor asks through the mouth of His servant the prophet. He ought to till it, He ought not to starve it, He ought to fence it, He ought to cast a wall about it, He ought to reap the fruits. And He does all that for His inheritance. God’s honour is concerned in His portion not being waste. It is not to be a ‘garden of the sluggard,’ by which people who pass can see the thorns growing there. So He will till it, He will plough it, He will pick out the weeds, and all the disciplines of life will come to us, and the ploughshare will be driven deep into the heart, that ‘the peaceable fruit of righteousness’ may spring up. He will fence His vineyard. Round about His inheritance His hand will be cast, within His people His Spirit will dwell. No harm shall come near thee if thy love is given to Him; safe and untouched by evil thou shalt walk if thou walk with God. ‘He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of Mine eye.’ The soul that trusts Him He takes in charge, and before any evil can fall to it ‘the pillared firmament must be rottenness, and earth be built on stubble.’ ‘He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.’ ‘The Lord’s portion is His people,’ and ‘none shall pluck them out of His hand.’

And on the other side, we belong to God in Christ. What do we owe Him? What does the vineyard owe the husbandman? Fruit. We are His, therefore we are bound to absolute submission. ‘Ye are not your own.’ Life, circumstances, occupations, all-we hold them at His will. We have no more right of property in anything than a slave in the bad old days had in his cabin and patch of ground. They belonged to the master to whom he belonged. Let us recognise our stewardship, and be glad to know ourselves His, and all events and things which we sometimes think ours, His also.

We are His, therefore we owe absolute trust. The slave has at least this blessing in his lot, that he need have no anxieties; nor need we. We belong to God, and He will take care of us. A rich man’s horses and dogs are well cared for, and our Owner will not leave us unheeded. Our well-being involves His good name. Leave anxious thought to masterless hearts which have to front the world with nobody at their backs. If you are God’s you will be looked after.

We are His, therefore we are bound to live to His praise. That is the conclusion which one Old Testament passage draws. ‘This people have I formed for Myself; they shall show forth My praise’ [Isaiah 43:21]. The Apostle Peter quotes these words immediately after those from Exodus, which describe Israel as ‘a people for God’s own possession,’ when he says ‘that ye should show forth the praise of Him who hath called you.’ Let us, then, live to His glory, and remember that the servants of the King are bound to stand to their colours amid rebels, and that they who know the sweetness of possessing God, and the blessedness of yielding to His supreme control, should acknowledge what they have found of His goodness, and ‘tell forth the honour of His name, and make His praise glorious.’ Let not all the magnificent and wonderful expenditure of divine longing and love be in vain, nor run off your hearts like water poured upon a rock. Surely the sun’s flames leaping leagues high, they tell us, in tongues of burning gas, must melt everything that is near them. Shall we keep our hearts sullen and cold before such a fire of love? Surely that superb and wonderful manifestation of the love of God in the Cross of Christ should melt into running rivers of gratitude all the ice of our hearts.

‘He gave Himself for me!’ Let us turn to Him and say: ‘Lo! I give myself to Thee. Thou art mine. Make me Thine by the constraint of Thy love, so utterly, and so saturate my spirit with Thyself, that it shall not only be Thine, but in a very deep sense it shall be Thee, and that it may be “no more I that live, but Christ that liveth in me.”‘


Verse 11

Deuteronomy

THE EAGLE AND ITS BROOD

Deuteronomy 32:11.

This is an incomplete sentence in the Authorised Version, but really it should be rendered as a complete one; the description of the eagle’s action including only the two first clauses, and {the figure being still retained} the person spoken of in the last clauses being God Himself. That is to say, it should read thus, ‘As an eagle stirreth up his nest, fluttereth over his young, He spreads abroad His wings, takes them, bears them on His pinions.’ That is far grander, as well as more compact, than the somewhat dragging comparison which, according to the Authorised Version, is spread over the whole verse and tardily explained, in the following, by a clause introduced by an unwarranted ‘So’-’the Lord alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him.’

Now, of course, we all know that the original reference of these words is to the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt, and their training in the desert. In the solemn address by Jehovah at the giving of the law [Exodus 19:4], the same metaphor is employed, and, no doubt, that passage was the source of the extended imagery here. There we read, ‘Ye know what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto Myself.’ The meaning of the glowing metaphor, with its vivid details, is just that Jehovah brought Israel out of its fixed abode in Goshen, and trained it for mature national life by its varied desert experiences. As one of the prophets puts the same idea, ‘I taught Ephraim to go,’ where the figure of the parent bird training its callow fledglings for flight is exchanged for that of the nurse teaching a child to walk. While, then, the text primarily refers to the experience of the infant nation in the forty years’ wanderings, it carries large truths about us all; and sets forth the true meaning and importance of life. There seem to me to be three thoughts here, which I desire to touch on briefly: first, a great thought about God; then an illuminating thought about the true meaning and aspect of life; and lastly a calming thought about the variety of the methods by which God carries out our training.

I. Here is a great thought about God.

Now, it may come as something of a shock if I say that the bird that is selected for the comparison is not really the eagle, but one which, in our estimation, is of a very much lower order-viz. the carnivorous vulture. But a poetical emblem is not the less fitting, though, besides the points of resemblance, the thing which is so used has others less noble. Our modern repugnance to the vulture as feeding on carcasses was probably not felt by the singer of this song. What he brings into view are the characteristics common to the eagle and the vulture; superb strength in beak and claw, keenness of vision almost incredible, magnificent sweep of pinion and power of rapid, unwearied flight. And these characteristics, we may say, have their analogues in the divine nature, and the emblem not unfitly shadows forth one aspect of the God of Israel, who is ‘fearful in praises,’ who is strong to destroy as well as to save, whose all-seeing eye marks every foul thing, and who often pounces on it swiftly to rend it to pieces, though the sky seemed empty a moment before.

But the action described in the text is not destructive, terrible, or fierce. The monarch of the sky busies itself with tender cares for its brood. Then, there is gentleness along with the terribleness. The strong beak and claw, the gaze that can see so far, and the mighty spread of wings that can lift it till it is an invisible speck in the blue vault, go along with the instinct of paternity: and the fledglings in the nest look up at the fierce beak and bright eyes, and know no terror. The impression of this blending of power and gentleness is greatly deepened, as it seems to me, if we notice that it is the male bird that is spoken about in the text, which should be rendered: ‘As the eagle stirreth up his nest and fluttereth over his young.’

So we just come to the thought that we must keep the true balance between these two aspects of that great divine nature-the majesty, the terror, the awfulness, the soaring elevation, the all-penetrating vision, the power of the mighty pinion, one stroke of which could crush a universe into nothing; and, on the other side, the yearning instinct of Fatherhood, the love and gentleness, and all the tender ministries for us, His children, to which these lead. Brethren, unless we keep hold of both of these in due equipoise and inseparably intertwining, we damage the one which we retain almost as much as the one which we dismiss. For there is no love like the love that is strong, and can be fierce, and there is no condescension like the condescension of Him who is the Highest, in order that He may be, and because He is ready to be, the lowest. Modern tendencies, legitimately recoiling from the one-sidedness of a past generation, are now turning away far too much from the Old Testament conceptions of Jehovah, which are concentrated in that metaphor of the vulture in the sky. And thereby we destroy the love, in the name of which we scout the wrath.

‘Infinite mercy, but, I wis,

As infinite a justice too.’

‘As the vulture stirreth up his nest,’-that is the Old Testament revelation of the terribleness and gentleness of Jehovah. ‘How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wing?’-that is the New Testament modification of the image. But you never could have had the New unless you first had had the Old. And you are a foolish man if, in the name of the sanctity of the New, you cast away the teaching of the Old. Keep both the metaphors, and they will explain and confirm each other.

II. Here we have an illuminating thought of the meaning of life.

What is it all for? To teach us to fly, to exercise our half-fledged wings in short flights, that may prepare us for, and make it possible to take, longer ones. Every event that befalls us has a meaning beyond itself; and every task that we have to do reacts upon us, the doers, and either fits or hinders us for larger work. Life as a whole, and in its minutest detail, is worthy of God to give, and worthy of us to possess, only if we recognise the teaching that is put into picturesque form in this text-that the meaning of all which God does to us is to train us for something greater yonder. Life as a whole is ‘full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,’ unless it is an apprenticeship training. What are we here for? To make character. That is the aim and end of all-to make character; to get experience; to learn the use of our tools. I declare it seems to me that the world had better be wiped out altogether, incontinently, unless there is a world beyond, where a man shall use the force which here he made his own. ‘Thou hast been faithful in a few things; behold I will make thee ruler over many things.’ No man gets to the heart of the mystery of life or has in his hand the key which will enable him to unlock all the doors and difficulties of human experience, unless he gets to this-that it is all meant as training.

If we could only carry that clear conviction with us day by day into the little things of life, what different things these, which we call the monotonous trifles of our daily duties, would become! The things may be small and unimportant, but the way in which we do them is not unimportant. The same fidelity may be exercised, and must be brought to bear, in order to do the veriest trifle of our daily lives rightly, as needs to be invoked, in order to get us safely through the crises and great times of life. There are no great principles for great duties, and little ones for little duties. We have to regulate all our conduct by the same laws. Life is built up of trifles, as mica-flakes, if there be enough of them, make the Alpine summits towering thousands of feet into the blue. Character may be manifested in the great moments, but it is made in the small ones. So, life is meant for discipline, and unless we use it for that, however much enjoyment we get out of it, we misuse it.

III. Lastly, there is here a calming thought as to the variety of God’s methods with us.

‘As the eagle stirreth up his nest.’ No doubt the callow brood are much warmer and more comfortable in the nest than when they are turned out of it. The Israelites were by no means enamoured with the prospect of leaving the flesh-pots and the onions and the farmhouses that they had got for themselves in Goshen, to tramp with their cattle through the wilderness. They went after Moses with considerable disinclination.

Here we have, then, as the first thing needed, God’s loving compulsion to effort. To ‘stir up the nest’ means to make a man uncomfortable where he is;-sometimes by the prickings of his conscience, which are often the voices of God’s Spirit; sometimes by changes of circumstances, either for the better or for the worse; and oftentimes by sorrows. The straw is pulled out of the nest, and it is not so comfortable to lie in; or a bit of it develops a sharp point that runs into the half-feathered skin, and makes the fledgling glad to come forth into the air. We all shrink from change. What should we do if we had it not? We should stiffen into habits that would dwarf and weaken us. We all recoil from storms. What should we do if we had them not? Sea and air would stagnate, and become heavy and putrid and pestilential, if it were not for the wild west wind and the hurtling storms. So all our changes, instead of being whimpered over, and all our sorrows, instead of being taken reluctantly, should be recognised as being what they are, loving summonses to effort. Then their pressure would be modified, and their blessing would be secured when their purpose was served.

But the training of the father-eagle is not confined to stirring up the nest. What is to become of the young ones when they get out of it, and have never been accustomed to bear themselves up in the invisible ether about them? So ‘he fluttereth over his young.’ It is a very beautiful word that is employed here, which ‘flutter’ scarcely gives us. It is the same word that is used in the first chapter of Genesis, about the Spirit of God ‘brooding on the face of the waters’; and it suggests how near, how all-protecting with expanded wings, the divine Father comes to the child whose restfulness He has disturbed.

And is not that true? Had you ever trouble that you took as from Him, which did not bring that hovering presence nearer you, until you could almost feel the motion of the wing, and be brushed by it as it passed protectingly above your head? Ah, yes! ‘Stirring the nest’ is meant to be the precursor of closer approach of the Father to us; and if we take our changes and our sorrows as loving summonses from Him to effort, be sure that we shall realise Him as near to us, in a fashion that we never did before.

That is not all. There is sustaining power. ‘He spreadeth abroad his wings; he taketh them; beareth them on his wings.’ On those broad pinions we are lifted, and by them we are guarded. It matters little whether the belief that the parent bird thus carries the young, when wearied with their short flights, is correct or not. The truth which underlies the representation is what concerns us. The beautiful metaphor is a picturesque way of saying, ‘In all their afflictions He was afflicted; and the Angel of His presence saved them.’ It is a picturesque way of saying, ‘Thou canst do all things through Christ which strengtheneth thee.’ And we may be very sure that if we let Him ‘stir up our nests’ and obey His loving summons to effort, He will come very near to strengthen us for our attempts, and to bear us up when our own weak wings fail. The Psalmist sang that angels’ hands should bear up God’s servant. That is little compared with this promise of being carried heavenwards on Jehovah’s own pinions. A vile piece of Greek mythology tells how Jove once, in the guise of an eagle, bore away a boy between his great wings. It is foul where it stands, but it is blessedly true about Christian experience. If only we lay ourselves on God’s wings-and that not in idleness, but having ourselves tried our poor little flight-He will see that no harm comes to us.

During life this training will go on; and after life, what then? Then, in the deepest sense, the old word will be true, ‘Ye know how I bore you on eagle’s wings and brought you to Myself’; and the great promise shall be fulfilled, when the half-fledged young brood are matured and full grown, ‘They shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.’


Verse 31

Deuteronomy

THEIR ROCK AND OUR ROCK

Deuteronomy 32:31.

Moses is about to leave the people whom he had led so long, and his last words are words of solemn warning. He exhorts them to cleave to God. The words of the text simply mean that the history of the nation had sufficiently proved that God, their God, was ‘above all gods.’ The Canaanites and all the enemies whom Israel had fought had been beaten, and in their awe of this warrior people acknowledged that their idols had found their lord. The great suit of ‘Jehovah versus Idols’ has long since been decided. Every one acknowledges that Christianity is the only religion possible for twentieth century men. But the words of the text lend themselves to a wider application, and clothe in a picturesque garb the universal truth that the experience of godless men proves the futility of their objects of trust, when compared with that of him whose refuge is in God.

I. God is a Rock to them that trust Him.

We note the singular frequency of that designation in this song, in which it occurs six times. It is also found often in the Psalms. If Moses were the singer, we might see in this often-repeated metaphor a trace of influence of the scenery of the Sinaitic peninsula, which would he doubly striking to eyes accustomed to the alluvial plains of Egypt. What are the aspects of the divine nature set forth by this name?

{1} Firm foundation: the solid eternity of the rock on which we can build.

Petra: faithfulness to promises, unchanging.

{2} Refuge: ‘refuge from the storm’; ‘my rock and my fortress and my high tower.’

{3} Refreshment: rock from which water gushed out; and {4} Repose: ‘shadow of a great rock’; ‘shadow from the heat.’

Trace the image through Scripture, from this song till Christ’s parable of the man who ‘built his house on a rock.’

II. Every man’s experience shows him that there is no such refuge anywhere else.

We do not assert that every man consciously comes to that conclusion. All we say is that he would do so if he rightly pondered the facts. The history of every life is a history of disappointment. Take these particulars just stated and ask yourselves: What does experience say as to the possibility of our possessing such blessings apart from God? There is no need for us to exaggerate, for the naked reality is sad enough. If God is not our best Good, we have no solid good. Every other ‘rock’ crumbles into sand. Else why this restless change, why this disquiet, why the constant repetition, generation after generation, of the old, old wail, ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity’? Why does every heart say Amen to the poet and the dramatist singing of ‘the fever and the fret,’ the tragic fare of man’s life?

Our appeal is not to men in the flush of excitement, but to them in their hours of solitary sane reflection. It is from ‘Philip drunk to Philip sober.’ We each have material for judging in our own case, and in the cases of some others. The experiment of living with other ‘rocks’ than God has been tried for millenniums now. What has been the issue? You know what Christianity claims that it can do to make a life stable and safe. Do you know anything else that can? You know what Christian men will calmly say that they have found. Can you say as much? Let us hear some dying testimonies. Hearken to Jacob: ‘The God which hath fed me all my life long unto this day, the Angel which redeemed me from all evil.’ Hearken to Moses: ‘The Rock, His work is perfect, for all His ways are judgment, a God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and right is He.’ Hearken to Joshua: ‘Not one good thing hath failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spake.’ Hearken to David: ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want . . .. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.’ Hearken to Paul: ‘The Lord stood by me and strengthened me, and I was delivered . . . the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and will save me unto His heavenly kingdom.’ What man who has chosen to take refuge or build on men and creatures can look backward and forward in such fashion?

III. Every man’s own nature tells him that God is his true Rock.

Again I say that here I do not appeal to the surface of our consciousness, nor to men who have sophisticated themselves, nor to people who have sinned themselves, into hardness, but to the voice of the inner man which speaks in the depths of each man’s being.

There is the cry of Want: the manifest want of the soul for God.

There is the voice of Reason.

There is the voice of Conscience.

IV. Yet many of us will not take God for our Rock.

Surely it is a most extraordinary thing that men should be ‘judges,’ being convinced in their deepest consciousness that God is the only Foundation and Refuge, and yet that the conviction should have absolutely no influence on their conduct. The same stark, staring inconsequence is visible in many other departments of life, but in this region it works its most tragic results. The message which many of my hearers need most is-follow out your deepest convictions, and be true to the inward voice which condenses all your experience into the one counsel to take God for the ‘strength of your hearts and your portion for ever,’ for only in Him will you find what you need for life and strength and riches. If He is ‘our Rock,’ then we shall have a firm foundation, a safe refuge, inexhaustible refreshment and untroubled rest. Lives founded on aught beside are built on sand and will be full of tremors and unsettlements, and at last the despairing builder and his ruined house will be washed away with the dissolving ‘sandbank and shoal of time’ on which he built.

 


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Bibliography Information
MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 32:4". Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/mac/deuteronomy-32.html.

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