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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary

Deuteronomy 4

 

 

Verses 1-49

CRITICAL NOTES.—From the mention of what God had done for Israel, Moses passes to the obedience of the law. They were under deep obligation to keep it, and in doing so, consisted their wisdom, greatness, and destiny.

Deu . Statutes—rules concerning religion and Divine worship. Judgments—civil enactments, public and private. The two denote the whole law in its leading features (Lev 19:37).

Deu . This law must not be altered; but kept as God's unchangeable word.

Deu . The results of obedience or disobedience had just been seen at Baal-Peor (Num 25:3; Num 25:9; idolators were destroyed, faithful men remained alive. Followed—a common expression for religious walk and life, cf. Jer 8:2; Jer 9:14. Cleave hold fast to one; intimate communion and attachment.

Deu . Observance would be their life, enjoyment, and influence upon other nations. Their wisdom would attract as in the case of the Queen of Sheba, the enquiring earnest heathens.

Deu . This attractive force consisted in possessing superior privileges and serving God. "True right has its roots in God, and with the obscuration of the knowledge of God, law, and right, with their divinely established foundations, are also shaken and obscured." cf. Rom 1:26-32).—Keil.

Deu . Heed. Forget not what has been seen. Keep thy soul, i.e., defend thy life from danger or injury (Pro 13:3; Pro 19:16).

Deu . The day, the delivery of the law, an era most memorable and never to be forgotten. The leading facts are given.

Deu . Burned unto the midst, lit., "to the heart of heaven, i.e., quite into the sky, a rhetorical description of the awful majesty of the pillar of fire, in which the glory of the Lord appeared upon Sinai" (Keil). Moses seeks to renew the impressions then produced.

Deu . Voice, utterance of words, but no shape or form was seen.

Deu . Since no figure of God was seen, beware of making one and acting corruptly.

Deu . Graven, carved or sculptured in wood, metal, or stone. Similitude, form, idol (2Ch 33:7; 2Ch 33:15). Likeness, pattern, model (Exo 25:9; Exo 25:40).

Deu . Beast. A warning against animal worship of Egypt, of which they had seen so much.

Deu . Worship of heavenly bodies was not to beguile them. Driven, constrained or urged (cf. Deu 13:13). Divided, not allotted the heathen, or permitted them to worship; but "whose light God has distributed to the nations for their use and benefit, and which therefore, being creatures ministering to man's conscience, must not be worshipped as man's lords."—Speak. Com.

Deu . Iron furnace, an image of the bondage and intense affliction in Egypt.

Deu . Moses again refers to his exclusion from Canaan, and renews the warning not to forget the Covenant, or make graven images. God is a jealous God, and consuming fire, applied with special reference to manifestations in His glory (Exo 24:17).

Deu . Warnings against idolatry enforced by distinct predictions of punishment. Future generations who had not known what they knew would utterly perish. Prolong, (26), to have long life; here to occupy the land long severed from God they would lose their inheritance. They would be scattered, become few in number compared with those around them (27), and be compelled to serve idols which could neither see nor smell (28).

Deu . Seek. Israel would then be sensible of sin, would seek and find God (Luk 15:17).

Deu . These threatenings and sufferings, Latter, lit., at the end of the days; the end of captivity, or far distant future.

Deu . Not forsake, lit., not withdraw his hand (Jos 10:6) or let loose; nor cast off (Rom 11:1)

Deu . To secure obedience, Moses again reminds them of their choice, instruction, deliverance, and guidance.

Deu . For a reason given, because merciful, Jehovah delivered them. Days past, from earliest times, from the records of all places we read not of such an event.

Deu . A reference to miracles of deliverance. Assayed, attempted. Temptations, testings, trials, to Pharaoh especially. Signs and wonders, plagues of Egypt (Exo 7:3), extraordinary events with a moral design. War, conflict at Red Sea (Exo 14:14; Exo 15:3.) Terrors, effects on Egyptians, cf. Psa 105:27; Psa 105:38; Psa 106:21.

Deu . Supernatural revelations and method in which they were given emphasized. Instruct, tame, or, bind a bullock (Jer 31:18), then to discipline; generally to chastise, correct, instruct (Pro 9:7).

Deu . All this from love to their fathers. Seed. Abraham's sight, lit., by his face, his presence with them. "My presence (lit., my face) shall go with thee" Exo 33:14).

Deu . Many regard these verses as an interpolation. "There is, however, no reason to depart from the view suggested alike by their contents and context. The vv. preceding are clearly the conclusion, as those succeeding are the exordium, of a distinct and complete discourse. These vv. then are inserted between the two simply for the reason to which they themselves call attention ("Then Moses severed three cities, etc."), i.e., the fact narrated took place historically after Moses spoke the one discourse and before he delivered the other. In thus severing the three cities of refuge, Moses carried out a previous command of God (Num 35:14), and so followed up his exhortations to obedience, by setting a punctual example of it as far as opportunity was given him." (Speak. Com.)

Deu . This the law, a preface to the following rehearsal and" explanations of the law—" including in fact the central part and substance of the book, which now follows in twenty-two chapters"—with a notice of time and place.

HEARING AND OBSERVING THE LAW.—Deu

Moses now proceeds to urge practical obedience. The events in their recent history were motives and encouragements to keep the law. These events were related to quicken attention, remind them of their duty, and the benefits of performing it. "Now therefore hearken," etc.

I. The law in its nature. "The statutes and judgments" represent the law in its leading features.

1. It is Divine in its authority. "The commandments of the Lord your God which I command you." The voice of God is heard in the words. A revelation of God's will is needful. Man may discover natural laws and reach perfection in science, but God alone can reveal moral duty and teach us to perform it. "Which I teach you."

2. It is unchangeable in its demands. It is law, that which is laid down as a permanent rule of life. Human systems are set up and pulled down, altered and violated, but God's commandments remain the same for all ages and for all nations, firm as the everlasting hills, right as the mind of God, and perfect in their requirements. "Ye shall not add unto, nor diminish."

3. It is adapted to man's moral condition. In perplexity and restlessness these statutes bind in their authority and purpose. These judgments teach what is right—what is due to God and our fellow-men. In all circumstances, in all relationships, we have a Divine unerring rule of life.

II. The law in its design. "Hearken, O Israel, unto the statutes for to do them, that ye may live."

1. To give life. "That ye may live." Life and prosperity depended upon their obedience. Not merely natural life in its measure and enjoyment (Deu ; Deu 6:2), but spiritual life, that higher life "by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord." When our conduct accords with the law of God, we find "the highest good, on the largest scale, for the longest period." But life spiritual and eternal are not secured by the law which we have broken. Jesus Christ only gives life and salvation.

2. To confirm the inheritance. Obedience was the condition of possessing and continually enjoying the inheritance. Not in numbers and valour, not in the wisdom of their priests nor the wealth of their princes, but in observing the law of God did their security and prosperity consist. "All the commandments which I command thee this day shall ye observe to do, that ye may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the Lord sware unto your fathers."

III. The law in its observance. To give life and secure their possessions the law must be observed in its completeness. "Ye shall not add unto the word, neither shall ye diminish ought." We add by superstition and tradition, we diminish by ritual and creed at our peril. "Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee and thou be found a liar." God's law is perfect, and must be entirety. "Nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it" (Ecc ).

IV. The law enforced by examples. In their history they had experience of the danger of disobedience and the blessings of obedience. Baal-peor witnessed to the truth and authority of the law and ought to be a warning against apostasy.

1. Idolators were destroyed. "All the men who followed Baal-peor, the Lord thy God hath destroyed" (cf. Num ).

2. Faithful followers were preserved alive. "Ye that did cleave unto the Lord your God are alive, every one of you this day." Thus Divine law is attested by human experience and history. "Your eyes have seen" these things. Take warning and do not provoke God to anger.

NATIONAL PRE-EMINENCE.—Deu

Israel's relation to God and possession of his laws exalted them above other nations. Loyalty to God would not only give them life, but reputation for wisdom and understanding. Only through God's teaching and blessing had they become a great nation. If they lost a sense of duty and dependence upon Him they would lose their pre-eminence. "Keep, therefore, and do them." We learn how national pre-eminence is attained—

I. A nation is pre-eminent by enlightening the people through the word of God. Unto Israel were committed "the oracles of God" and this gave them advantage (Rom ). Their national glory and attraction rested on obedience to the "statutes and judgments" which they possessed. If they meditated upon these, practised and taught these, they would be wise, retain their greatness, and exercise moral influence upon surrounding nations. The possession of the Bible and the means of grace; the erection of schools and religious institutions, will not make a nation great. Just laws, true science, and noble institutions to speed them are a great responsibility and privilege. But in reverence for God and His word, in the earnest endeavour to practice its commands, in domestic, social, and political life will be our eminence and prosperity. "For this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations."

II. A nation is pre-eminent by valuing and improving its religious privileges. "What nation so great, who hath God so nigh unto them" (Deu ). Moses reminds them of their privileges. But present greatness must not lead them to forget God and their duty. Future prosperity depends upon right use of what they now enjoy. God's nearness should prompt them to worship and obedience. God's righteous judgments should be the ground of their stability and the secret of success. If England disregards the Sabbath, neglects her duty and improves not her religious advantages, no science or legislation can preserve her superiority. Her glory will decay, and it may be more tolerable for rude nations, for Sodom and Gomorrah, at the day of judgment than for her.

III. A nation is pre-eminent by cherishing a spirit of obedience to God, from whom religious privileges come. We must not trust to the splendour of our fleet and the valour of our soldiers, nor to the extent of our commerce and the greatness of our empire. Infidelity denies God, and false science ignores Him, but no nation can succeed without God. Robespierre declared "the world cannot be worked without God; and rather than try to work it without God we had better invent a god." God comes near us to be trusted and loved—reveals His spirituality and power to satisfy our need and restrain idolatry, and exalts a nation to dignity and power, that He may be obeyed and honoured. "Righteousness exalteth a nation; but sin is a reproach to any people."

HOMILETIC HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS

Deu . The dignity of moral law.

1. Divine in its origin, "which I teach you."

2. Complete in its nature, "not add to, nor diminish from."

3. Practical in its design, nothing speculative or temporary, "for to do them." "There is no greater evidence that Israel had a communication from heaven than this fact—that their morality is so pure, their apprehension of God so sublime, their definition of His nature so august, their whole intercourse with heaven so pure, so holy, so different from anything before or around them, that it seems scarcely possible to escape the conclusion that the Greeks were taught by themselves, that the Jews were the pupils of God."—Cumming.

Deu . Divine guardianship of the Bible. God defends it from alteration according to the tastes and systems of men. Learn—

1. The need of preserving its purity and integrity.

2. The danger of tampering with it. "If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book; and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the Look of life."

Deu . Baal-peor. The facts of history according with human experience in vindicating God's law. "Your eyes have seen what the Lord did." Learn—

1. The anger of God in its cause, manifestations, and results. The mercy of God an encouragement to His people. "The allusion to that recent and appalling judgment was seasonably made as a powerful dissuasive against idolatry; and the fact mentioned was calculated to make a deep impression on the people who knew and felt the truth of it."

Deu . Cleave unto Jehovah.

1. Personal attachment. "Ruth clave (adhered to, to be close behind), Rth .

2. Constant fellowship.

3. Faithful service.

Deu ; Deu 4:8. The Bible the wisdom of a nation. Consider—I. That the Bible brings greatness to a nation; because—

1. When received and obeyed, it brings God's blessing with it.

2. It elevates the national character. II. That it is the duty of all to have a personal acquaintance with the Scriptures, and to instruct the young in them.—Rev. S. Hayman, B.A.

Deu . Here he represents their privileges and their duty in such significant and comprehensive terms as were peculiarly calculated to arrest their attention and engage their interest. The former—their national advantages—are described, and they are twofold:—

1. God's readiness to hear and aid them at all times; and

2. The excellence of that religion in which they were instructed, set forth in the "statutes and judgments so righteous" which the law of Moses contained. Their duty corresponding to these pre-eminent advantages as a people was also twofold:—

1. Their own faithful obedience to that law, and

2. Their obligation to imbue the minds of the young and rising generation with similar sentiments of reverence and respect for it.—Jamieson's Com. in loco.

FORGETFULNESS OF GOD'S LAW.—Deu

God's judgments would benefit Israel only when remembered and reverently obeyed. To aid their obedience they must beware of forgetting the method and the circumstances in which the law was received. They must give personal heed to it and teach it to their children, that generations to come might fear the Lord.

I. The law of God is given to impress the mind and lead to obedience. "He commanded you to perform" (Deu ). God is not indifferent, and we should not be, to the observance of his law. It demands attention, reverence and love. It should be supreme in our thoughts and life. Obedience should not be accidental, superficial work, but an intelligent, constant, direction of the heart and life. If the heart be gained, the whole man is governed—the affections, desires, and powers given up—but if God is forgotten, departs from the heart, he will soon be forsaken and disobeyed. "My son, forget not the law; but let thine heart keep my commandments."

II. There is a tendency in man to forget and disobey this law We should not blame infirmity of memory—a special help is provided for that (Joh )—but wilful forgetfulness of heart. "The greatest difficulty in conversion is to win the heart to God, and after conversion to keep it with Him," says Flavel. "What is there that will not entice and allure so fickle a thing as the heart from God?" asks Mede.

1. To forget, notwithstanding the evidence of the senses. "Thine eyes have seen" (Deu ). No length of time should efface such events from the memory.

2. To forget in the immediate presence of God. "Thou stoodest before the Lord thy God in Horeb" (Deu ). This presence should check from sin, and prompt to obedience. "That his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not" (Exo 20:20).

3. To forget amid most terrible displays of God's majesty.

1. Fire. "The mountain burned with fire."

2. Darkness. "Darkness, clouds, and thick darkness."

3. Divine voice. "The Lord spake unto you, ye heard the voice," Deu (cf. Exo 19:16-18; Exo 20:18; Exo 20:22). Such manifestations were intended to impress and benefit the people. This special favour, this awful display, should help them ever to remember and obey.

III. The means of helping memory and prompting obedience given. God gives direction, and provides against the dangers of His people.

1. Personal attention. "Take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently" (Deu ). Religion requires caution, circumspection (Eph 5:15), and personal care. Those cannot walk safely who walk carelessly. Such are the assaults without and the evils within, that we have to take care lest personal obedience should be forgotten. "Keep thy heart with all diligence, lit., above all keeping (Pro 4:23).

2. Teaching the children. "That they may teach their children" (Deu ). Parents are depositors of the knowledge and law of God, and must teach and transmit them to their sons. The truth of God must mould the hearts of the rising generations, and be handed down to future ages. "That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children, that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments."

THE DANGERS OF IDOLATRY.—Deu

Israel were to take heed, and neither to forget the covenant of God, nor offend Him by image worship. He had not been manifested to them in any form or representation. They were therefore to worship Him without any graven image or likeness, in a method corresponding to His spiritual nature.

I. Idolatry in its forms. Man has always felt his separation from, and craved for friendship with God. Failing to discover Him, human nature in its distress has made a desperate effort to realise God in gold and silver, in forms and ideas. But God has revealed Himself to man in His word and in His Son. Yet, strange to say, such is the perversity of our hearts, that we carve our own images, set up our own idols and cry, "These be thy gods." Three forms of idolatry are given.

1. Man worship. "The likeness of male or female." Ancestors and national leaders have been deified. Men have practised, and do now practice hero-worship, and set up their household gods (Penates). All superstitious reverence for any of our race is here forbidden. Worship God and not man.

2. Animal worship. This was common in Egypt. Birds, like the ibis and hawk; four-footed beasts, like the ox, dog, and cat; and creeping things, like the serpent, crocodile, and beetle (cf. Rom ), were prevalent forms of idolatry.

3. Nature worship. The light of sun and moon was distributed to the nations for their benefit, ministered to their convenience, and were therefore not to be reverenced. The heavenly bodies were regarded as symbols of deities, and Israel was in danger of being seduced by their worship. "In a word," says Dean Goulborn, "idolatry (or the surrounding the creature with the attributes of the Creator) is the original fundamental sin of man—the point of departure from which man started on the downward course, until he reached the lowest depths of wickedness"—Who changed (exchanged) the truth of (i.e., concerning) God into a lie (an idol, or falsehood) and worshipped (adored) and served (in rites and ceremonies) the creature (in various forms) more than (often along with, and without) the Creator, who is blessed for ever." Rom .

II. Idolatry in its consequences. Men ever possessed a knowledge of the existence and attributes of God, but the affections have prevented the mind from discerning and preserving the truth taught by nature and "manifest in them" (Rom ). God was not recognised and glorified. Darkness and idolatry followed the rejection of light, and terrible were the consequences.

1. Idolatry degrades the Divine nature. God is invisible, and cannot be represented by images; spiritual, and should not be materialised; omnipresent, and must not be localised. An infinite spiritual and Divine nature can never become finite, material and human. To make any image of God is to lower and degrade Him. "We ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device (sculptured by art and ingenuity of man), Act .

2. Idolatry corrupts human nature. "Lest ye corrupt yourselves" (Deu ). We are children of God, and our filial relation protests against idolatry. What is spiritual in us can never be pencilled or carved. Spirituality is lost by representing it in sense; and since man is corrupt, cannot make a god superior to himself, and ever becomes like the object he worships; how foolish, how degrading is idolatry! "They that make them are like unto them; so is everyone that trusteth in them" (Psa 115:8).

3. Idolatry perils human life. This truth is confirmed in the life of Moses (Deu ), the history of Israel and heathen nations. God is the source of natural life, but if forsaken, this life is cut off from its source and centre and shortened by vice. Spiritual life can never be sustained in power and beauty away from God. "Take ye, therefore, good heed unto yourselves" (Deu 4:15).

"Such dupes are men to custom, and so prone

To rev'rence what is ancient, and can plead

A course of long observance for its use,

That even servitude, the worst of ills,

Because deliver'd down from sire to son,

Is kept and guarded as a sacred thing."—Cowper.

THE IRON FURNACE.—Deu

A furnace for smelting iron was round in shape, often thirty feet deep, requiring heat most intense. In this figure we have a type of—

I. Intense Affliction. Israel in Egypt were grievously afflicted, had to serve in bondage and under cruel taskmasters. "They made their lives bitter," and all "their service, wherein they made them serve, was with vigour" (Exo ). God often sends affliction deep and most severe. Deliverance is like rescue from the fire. "I brought them forth out of the laud of Egypt, from the iron furnace" (Jer 11:4).

II. Benevolent Design. This furnace is kindled and tempered for some merciful purpose.

1. Real discipline. "What need," asks Philip Henry, "have the people of God of afflictions? The same that our bodies have of physic; that trees have of pruning; that gold and silver have of the furnace." God thus purifies our character and fits us for his service.

2. Preparation for usefulness. "To be unto Him a people of inheritance." A people holy, honourable, and useful. "Suppose, Christian, the furnace to be seven times hotter, it is but to make you seven times better; fiery trials make golden Christians."—Dyer.

Eminent usefulness on earth, and heaven with its glory, are gained through chastened sufferings. Richard Boyle, earl of Cork, rose from the humblest station to the highest rank in life. After passing through strange and most trying circumstances he adopted as his motto, and had engraved upon his tomb the words, "God's providence is my inheritance." "We went through fire and through water (greatest trials); but thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place (lit., well-watered place; abundance of blessings)" (Psa ).

HOMILETIC HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS

Deu . Take heed. These many cautions note our proneness to this evil above others. This appeareth somewhat in children so delighted with pictures, and in that idolomania of these Jews, of the eastern churches, and of the synagogue of Rome.—Trapp.

Deu . Sun, moon, and stars. Note

1. The use and design in the heavenly bodies, given for the benefit of all mankind (Gen ; Psa 104:19). Hence cannot be appropriated to one people, and absurd to worship as God's what are intended to be servants to man.

2. The proneness of man to put the creature in the place of the Creator. "Lest thou shouldest be driven," i.e., drawn or constrained; by sense, "when thou seest the sun;" by customs of other nations, and by natural tendency. Objects of nature should be viewed with admiration, gratitude, and love. Nature should lead up to Nature's God. But what proneness in man to abuse these gifts; to ignore God and degrade ourselves!

"The landscape has His praise, but not its author."

Deu . A people of inheritance. This special relationship is—

1. A protest against idolatry.

2. An argument for gratitude and obedience. To abandon God's worship for gross and debasing idolatry would be greatest folly and shameless ingratitude.

3. A reason for purity and spirituality of worship. People of inheritance.

1. Purchased or acquired by God. Israel is viewed as God's own by a long series of mighty deeds performed for their deliverance. Hence said to be "redeemed" (Exo ) or "purchased" (Exo 15:16).

2. Owned by God. A possession which God has gained specially for Himself.

3. Should therefore be devoted to God alone. "Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure (segullah—valuable property—1Ch ; Ecc 2:8) unto me above all people; for all the earth is mine," Exo 19:5; (cf. Mal 3:17; 1Pe 2:9)."

WARNINGS IN PERSONAL HISTORY.—Deu

Deliverance from Egypt reminds Moses that God did not permit him to enter Canaan. His punishment ought to be a warning to them. "The Lord was angry with me for your sakes." Learn—

I. Impressive events occur in Personal History. Every life is filled with such events. Our sins, overruled by God's sovereign mercy or displeasure, deprive us of gaining honours and possessions. Times and seasons are fixed, made impressive by special displays from God. With sorrow we "remember the days of darkness," and looking back exclaim in submission "I must die in this land."

II. These impressive events in Personal History a warning to others. Our personal sufferings are not only profitable to ourelves but may be to others. "I have sinned and have been punished" says Moses "for your sake." "You are privileged to enter Canaan and I am not. Beware, therefore, and provoke not God as I did through unbelief." "Take heed unto yourselves, lest ye forget the covenant."

WARNINGS AGAINST IDOLATRY.—Deu

The people are warned anew against forsaking God, who is jealous for his glory, and making and worshipping graven images. "Take heed," etc.—

I. Idolatry shows base ingratitude to God. God had done wonderful things for Israel. They had resolved not to forget Him, yet how ungrateful and prone to go astray! No miraculous displays without can eradicate evils within. How great has God's goodness been to us, yet how thoughtless and ungrateful have we been! Forgetful of His presence, precepts, and providence! "How unsuitable is it for us who live only by kindness (Tit ) to be unthankful," says Edwards.

II. Idolatry violates God's commands. "Which the Lord thy God hath forbidden thee." God's law demands our love, dethrones our lusts, and requires constant and unswerving obedience. To forget is to ignore God, and to live as if He did not exist. Thus men refuse submission, throw off allegiance to God, and choose idols. "How oft did they rebel against Him."

III. Idolatry rouses God's anger. "The Lord thy God is a consuming fire," etc. Anger is not the natural feeling of God towards man. "God is love." What then causes the wrath of God? It is God's righteous opposition to sin. He is jealous for His honour, and will not spare those guilty of idolatry. "For the wrath of God is revealed (in the moral government of the world) from heaven against all ungodliness (sin against God), and unrighteousness (sin against man) of men, who hold (keep down) the truth in unrighteousness" (Rom )

PUNISHMENTS OF APOSTACY.—Deu

Warnings against idolatry are enforced by predicted punishments upon future generations who should turn from Jehovah and corrupt themselves by idolatry. Canaan was granted on condition of constant obedience. If they forsook God their title to the land would be forfeited. They would be diminished in number, dispersed among the heathen and compelled to serve dumb idols, so that their choice would become their punishment.

I. Evils would be entailed upon future generations. Nature, like a Nemesis, follows transgressors afar. The sources of life cannot be poisoned without the stream being affected. "Children's children" might remain long in the land, but they would inherit the tendencies and suffer for the sins of their progenitors. The family of Saul suffered for his great malice against David. Achan perished not alone in his iniquity (Jos ). Thus God visits "the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation."

II. National life would be destroyed. Severed from God they would lose their inheritance, and cease to be a chosen people.

1. They would be reduced in number. "Ye shall be left few in number."

2. They would be scattered among other nations. "The Lord shall scatter you among the nations"—as in the captivity of Babylon. The author had in view, says Keil, "all the dispersions which would come upon the rebellious nation in future times, even down to the dispersion under the Romans, which continues still; so that Moses contemplated the punishment in its fullest extent."

3. They would be rejected as a people. "Ye shall not prolong your days upon it, but shall utterly be destroyed." This has been fulfilled in the uprooting of all the tribes of Israel, in their dispersion through all nations, and in the miseries they have endured. What a solemn warning to those who forsake God.

III. Retributive consequences would follow. They would become perfect slaves to other peoples, and forced to render homage to senseless idols. As their sin, so their punishment. They had dishonoured God by graven images, so they would be degraded by service to abominable idols. Evils which we esteem pleasures at first, often become our tyrants, and drag us down to misery. If we make indulgences our gods, they will become our degradation. "They that make them are like unto them; so is everyone that trusteth in them."

"Oh, blind to truth, and God's whole scheme below,

Who fancy bliss to vice; to virtue, woe."—Pope.

THE BLESSINGS OF TRIBULATION.—Deu

If Israel in their dispersion and trouble turn with all their hearts to God he will deliver them and not utterly cast them off. He is merciful as well as jealous, and mindful of the covenant which he sware unto their fathers (cf. Lev ; Neh 9:31).

I. Afflictions are corrective in their design. "Whither the Lord shall lead you." God not only permitted Israel to be carried off, but lead them into other lands, gently and kindly led them with special design (Deu ). It is a mercy to be corrected when we might have been destroyed. Afflictions, exile and disappointment are intended to check our sins and preserve our souls. "None is more unhappy," says Seneca, "than he who never felt adversity."

II. Afflictions are tempered with mercy in their character. Fallen angels were left to their eternal doom; but sinful man is kept from destruction, corrected, and brought back to God. Backsliders may be punished, but God will forgive. "Mercy rejoiceth (glorieth, triumphs over) against judgments" (Jas ).

III. Afflictions are blessed in their results. "If from thence thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find Him." They often lead to repentance, removal of sin, and return to God. From the deepest distress and the most distant apostacy God brings His children. David went astray before he was afflicted. Manasseh long forsook God, but sought His face when put in sore distress, and the prodigal returned to his father's house when he felt his helpless, lost condition. King Alfred prayed that (God would often send him sickness to keep him obedient and devout. "Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O Lord, and teachest him out of thy law."

HOMILETIC HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS

Deu . God a consuming fire. There are stern aspects of God as well as mild. The figure of fire sets forth the anger of God against sin.

1. How kindled.

2. Material to keep it alive.

3. The difficulty of extinguishing it; and

4. The fearful consumption it makes—swift and overwhelming destruction. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. "Our God is a consuming fire" (Heb ).

God a jealous God. Jealousy applied to God does not mean suspicion, but readiness to vindicate His glory and law. "Not in the sense in which He was regarded as ‘jealous' by some of the Greeks, who supposed that success or eminence of any kind provoked Him (Herod , 125), but jealous of His own honour," one who will not see "His glory given to another (Isa 42:8; Isa 48:11), or allow rivals to dispute His sole and absolute sovereignty" (cf. Exo 24:14; Deu 5:9; Deu 6:15; Jos 24:19). Hence jealous.

1. For His glory.

2. For the purity of His worship; and

3. For His people. Jealous. And should therefore be served truly, that there be no halting; and totally that there be no halving (Heb ).—Trapp.

Deu ; Deu 4:28. Remained long in the land.

1. The condition of possessing it.

2. The danger of forgetting this condition. Carnally secure and forsaking God, and growing old in the land.

3. The punishment that would follow from this forgetfulness. (a) Forewarned. Heaven and earth witness. (b) Severe dispersion and degradation.

Deu . Heaven and earth—

1. Witness for God's existence.

2. Warning against sin.

3. Testify to His righteousness in punishing transgression.

Deu . Israel's sin, misery repentance, and restoration.

Deu . I. Seeking God.

1. Faruestly; with all thy heart.

2. Intelligently; with all thy soul. II. Inducements to seek God.

1. Merciful in Himself.

2. Mindful of His promise; and

3. Able to help in translation. "Sweet and sour make the best sauce. Promises and menaces mixed soonest operate upon the heart. The sun of righteousness loves not to be set in a cloud, nor the God of consolation to have his children comfortless."—Trapp.

DAYS THAT ARE PAST.—Deu

Moses reminds Israel of God's goodness and miraculous dealings in their choice, deliverance, and instruction. Remembrance of days past should prompt them to obedience and love.

I. Days past reveal the special goodness of God. God has not left the world to chance and inflexible laws. Nothing can surprise or thwart Him. He rules all creatures and events, showing mercy to those that love Him, and punishing those who rebel against Him.

1. In creating them. Our natural birth and regeneration are the acts of Divine mercy. "The Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and He that formed thee (fashioned into shape) O Israel" (Isa ).

2. In delivering them from danger. As Israel were rescued from Egypt, God's people now are redeemed from enemies by wonderful and extraordinary ways, "with an outstretched arm, and with great judgment" (Exo ).

3. In teaching them by various ways. Each age has its own special revelations. In the Bible we have a record "of days that are past" in patriarchal, prophetical, and apostolic truth. God's faithfulness and mercy are written unmistakably and should be read most devoutly in those wondrous days.

II. Days past are filled with warnings and examples. "History is philosophy teaching by examples." Jewish history is full of instructive lessons. They enjoyed mercies never given to any other nation, or grace never heard of since the creation of the world. These deeds brighten days of old and make them powerful now. They are the gifts of God to the present age, and the lives of good men and bad men are for all time.

"There is a history in all men's lives

Figuring the nature of the times deceased."—Shakespeare.

III. Days past should be remembered for future instruction. Human experience should not be forgotten. We should be more virtuous and obedient as days roll on. Every age should be an advance upon the past, and should be more powerful for good. It is sad when in the life of a nation, or the life of a man, God is forsaken, and former days lamented for as better than the present. In former days men lived long, were specially trained, and have handed down their treasures to posterity. "Enquire I pray thee, of the former age, and prepare thyself to the search of (the records) their fathers. For (the reason given) we are but of yesterday and know nothing, (compared to them) because our days upon earth are a shadow. Shall not they teach thee and tell thee (how God deals with men in this world) and utter words out of their heart (wise sayings result of careful observation) Job .

There is something very solemn in the thought of "days that are past"—past, never to return; while their moral results remain for ever as subjects of future responsibility. We have to reckon on days past; for time, like tide, stays for no man.

"Tis greatly wise to talk with our past hours,

And ask them what report they bore to heaven;

And how they might have borne more welcome news."

Let us then summon our past days, and ask what they have to say. First, concerning the world. Mrs. Savage remarks, "I never knew any of the people of the world praise it at parting." No wonder at this. They have been too much in it, seen too much of it, and been too much deceived by it to recommend to others. Solomon's verdict is, "Vanity of vanities"—"vanity" if they succeed, and "vexation of spirit" if disappointed. What a miserable painted cheat is the world! Enough to induce us to forsake it, and comply with the admonition. "Forsake the foolish and live, and go in the way of understanding." Secondly, ask what they have to say concerning ourselves. Have they not shown us many things with which we were formerly unacquainted, and filled us with surprise and regret. How many convictions violated, how many resolutions broken! Life has been very unlike the picture our early imagination drew—our dependences often proved broken reeds, not only unable to sustain hopes, but have "pierced us through with many sorrows." Will days not tell us that life has been a chequered scene? Review them again under a sense of unworthiness of the least mercy, and of all the truth which God has shown us. If we have been in the wilderness, have we not found grace in the sanctuary? Have we not had the fiery cloudy pillar to guide us, manna to sustain us, and waters to refresh us? Can we refuse to say, "Goodness and mercy have followed me all the days of my life?"—Jay.

INDUCEMENTS TO OBEDIENCE.—Deu

If God has performed such wonderful things for His people, they were put under obligations of gratitude and love. They should ever obey Him for mercies and privileges unknown to other people.

I. They were remarkable in their history. Their calling, deliverance, and whole history was full of the supernatural.

1. They had been delivered from bondage most terrible. Egypt is a type of sin in its misery and power. But God's power is greater than Satan and sin. When God "assayed to go," deliverance was sure.

2. Delivered in a way most striking. By temptations—judgments inflicted upon Pharaoh and his people to test or try them; by signs—tokens of the supernatural in their nature and design; by wonders—the objective side of miracle, the extraordinary and marvellous; by war—conflict at the Red Sea (cf. Exo ; Exo 15:3); by a mighty hand and stretched out arm (Exo 6:6; Exo 14:8; Deu 26:8); and by great terrors in the minds of Egyptians through Divine operations (Psa 105:27-28; Psa 106:21).

3. Hence deliverance unsurpassed. Such had never been heard of from the beginning of the world (Deu ). It was unexampled in method and purpose. All to prove the sovereign love and grace of God. The experience and history of God's people outstrip the discipline of ancient Israel. "Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what He hath done for my soul."

II. They were wonderful in their training. They were inspired with salutary fear, impressed with the awful signs of God's presence which shadow forth the majesty of His nature.

1. Trained supernaturally. They heard a voice direct from heaven in condescension to their moral condition and mental capacity.

2. Trained with awful symbols. God spoke to His children by sensible signs to impress their minds. What more terrible than thunder and lightning, smoke and flames of fire! Surely we should love Him "whose terror should not make us afraid."

3. Trained with a special design. "Unto thee it was shewed, that thou mightest know that the Lord He is God" (Deu ).

III. They were providential in their settlement. They were dearer to God than any other people. Nations were driven out from their lands; Egyptians and Canaanites were given for their ransom, and people "greater and mightier" than they were, had to prepare them a settlement. God locates his people, prepares their possessions, and Israel's foes must contribute to Israel's welfare. "Thou didst drive out the heathen with thy hand, and plantedst them; thou didst afflict the people, and cast them out. For they got not the land in possession by their own sword, neither did their own arm save them," etc. (Psa ).

JEHOVAH GOD ALONE.—Deu

Because God had loved their fathers, and had chosen, redeemed, and settled them in Canaan, Israel were to "consider," never to forget this, and acknowledge that Jehovah alone is God and that there is no other in the universe beside Him.

I. Jehovah alone is the self-existant personal God. This great truth was revealed to the Jews by the destruction of heathen deities, the punishment of their worshippers, and the wonderful events in their history. God is one supreme intelligent being.

1. Alone in His supremacy in heaven and earth. "God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath." When the might of worldly power was strongest, and idolatry as a system was prevalent, "all the gods of the nations" were declared "idols" (lit., vanities or nullities) Psa . They were denied superiority and even existence. "For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods" (Psa 95:3).

2. Alone in His government of the world. Not a petty God inferior to heathen gods; but without rival and companion. His government is supreme, not divided among "gods many and lords many;" universal, over all agencies and all spheres; and sole in its authority and design.

3. Alone in His claims upon men. He demands and deserves universal obedience. We are to love Him with all our hearts. But how could we love God if He were not a person? He is not a set of principles nor code of laws; but the true and living God, infinitely distant from finite creatures, yet definitely related to us as law-giver and father. Hence spring His claims upon us, and our duty towards Him. We should render to Him gratitude, praise, and loyal obedience, "for the Lord is great, and greatly to be praised."

II. The practical recognition of this truth. "Know therefore this day." Know not simply intellectually or theoretically, but practically. "Consider it in thine heart." Speculation abounds, science puts forth its "laws" and "natural forces," and men talk about abstract principles as "infinite wisdom" and "almighty power." Take away a personal God, a loving father; then we are left like children in the orphan asylum—clothed, fed, and governed, perhaps, but objects of pity rather than of love and mercy. We have no resting-place for our affections, no object of worship, and no hope of purity and peace. How needful then, in "this day" of infidelity and irreligion to receive and defend this truth.

1. In its influence upon the heart. "In thine heart," the centre and regulative power of life.

2. In its influence upon the life. "Thou shalt keep His statutes" (Deu ). Our obedience must spring from love, and be voluntary, absolute, and universal. The preacher sums up the whole of man; not duty only, but happiness and all that concerns him "in fearing God and keeping His commandments" (Ecc 12:13).

THE CITIES OF REFUGE.—Deu

Israel were yet on the east side of Jordan, and after the conclusion of one discourse (Deu ) Moses inserts these verses before the other (Deu 4:1, etc.) "In thus severing the three cities of refuge be carried out a previous command of God (Num 35:14), and so followed up his exhortations to obedience by setting a punctual example of it, as far as opportunity was given him." Consider—

I. The design of these cities. "That the slayer might flee thither, who should kill his neighbour unawares." They were not to shelter the guilty from punishment, but to secure a fair trial and respite from death. The accidental homicide was protected from the avenger of blood. They set forth—

1. God's regard for human life. Life was not to be cut down at random. Private revenge was to be checked, and feelings of humanity were to be cultivated.

2. God's legislative wisdom. In the rude unsettled state of the nation, rights were restricted to certain persons, opportunities were given of establishing innocence, and grievances were removed by the vindication of law. Men were taught to discriminate between one crime and another, and justice was administered with mercy.

3. They typify refuge in Jesus Christ. In these sanctuaries fugitives were safe; certain decrees confirmed their security. To these cities manslayers were directed to run. Often they had to flee for life with not a moment to spare. Men are guilty, exposed to justice, and can find no safety from the terrors of broken law, except in Christ Jesus. Here is safety and perfect redemption for all "who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us."

II. The influence of these cities. They would consecrate the land, and prevent its stain from innocent blood. They would confirm and strengthen the possessions taken from the Canaanites, and lay the foundation for just government. They proved the goodness of God, and helped to cultivate a mild and forgiving spirit towards man.

THE REPETITION OF DIVINE LAW.—Deu

These verses begin an address which embraces "the central part and substance of the book, which now follows in twenty-two chapters." They contain a fuller description of the law, with a notice of time and place in which the address was given.

I. Law clearly explained. "In Deu , this ‘law' (thôrah) is summarily described as consisting of ‘testimonies, statutes, and judgments;' i.e., commandments considered first as manifestations or attestations (eydôth) of the will of God; next, as duties of moral obligation (khŭkim), and thirdly, as precepts securing the mutual rights of men (mishpâtim)."—Sp. Com. The law is repeated and explained that we may know what is due to God and our fellow-creatures, and that obedience tends to happiness and life.

II. Law enforced by reasonable claims. In urging the people to obey the statutes of God, Moses had powerful motives.

1. They were in better circumstances.—Not at the foot of Sinai, amidst thunder, fire, and smoke, but on the borders of the promised land.

2. God's goodness had been displayed to them. (a) Their enemies had been slain. Og, king of Bashan, and Sihon, king of the Amorites "whom Moses and the children of Israel smote." (b) "They had already received the first fruits of those promises, the full fruition of which was to be consequent on their fulfilment of that covenant now again about to be rehearsed to them in its leading features." (c) Hence their surroundings were comfortable, bright and merciful "under the springs of Pisgah." Such experience, history, and privileges, put them under the deepest obligation! God's claims are great upon us. But "one great cause of our insensibility to the goodness of our Creator," says Paley, "is the very extensiveness of his bounty."

THE AMORITES DISPOSSESSED.—Deu

The importance of the defeat of the two kings of the Amorites leads Moses again to mention it. Israel must never forget that God had given them this possession, not through their own merits, but in fulfilment of His promise. We may learn from this oft-repeated reference—

I. That the continued existence and prosperity of a nation depend upon its virtue and obedience to God. Not upon its wealth, population or defences; cities, fleets and armies can be swept away when God is forsaken.

II. That when virtue and obedience are wanting God often dispossesses a nation. Splendid dynasties have fled into exile; thrones most powerful have been overturned, and God has extirpated one people to prepare for another. This is—

1. A natural law.

2. A fact in history; and

3. A warning to us. "The Lord will rend the kingdom from us, and give it to a neighbour of ours that is better than we are" (1Sa ).

HOMILETIC HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS

Deu . Consider it, etc.

1. God's law has little influence upon the heart and life. Its precepts apt to glide from our memory.

2. Meditation is needful to remind us. "Consider it (lit. bring back) into thine heart." "Meditation is the bellows of the affections; ‘while I was musing the fire burned' (Psa ). "The reason we come away so cold from reading the word is, because we do not warm ourselves at the fire of meditation." (Watson).

3. God gives help in this meditation—(a) By special times "This day." (b) By special subjects "Know that the Lord is God." (c) By special requests "I command thee."

Deu . With thy children. The benefit of obedience.

1. To the present generation—"It may go well with thee."

2. To the future generation—"Thy children after thee."

Deu . The cities of refuge in their names, purpose and situation.

Deu . The law.

1. In its minute description.

2. In the peculiar circumstances or place of its repetition. (a) "Over against Beth-peor."—In dangerous proximity to the idol temple of Moab. (b) In new territories.—In the land of Sihon."

Deu . The Springs of Pisgah, fertilizing the land may suggest a discourse on the joys and various advantages that flow from heavenly prospects. How much the present life is benefitted and beautified by thoughts and purposes that flow from views of the heavenly life. Every true Pisgah in our life, i.e., every point of exalted meditation, should be a fountain-head of holy thoughts and action.—Bib. Museum."

ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 4

Deu . Hearken. How much more doth it concern us to be hearers ere we offer to be teachers of others. He gathers that hears, he spends that teacheth. If we spend before we gather we shall soon prove bankrupts.—(Bp. Hall). "That it may please thee to give to all thy people increase of grace to hear meekly thy word, to receive it with pure affection, and bring forth the fruits of the Spirit."

Deu .—Statutes. Look not for another Master, thou hast the oracles of God. No one teaches like them. Ignorance of the Scriptures is the cause of all evils.—(Chrysostom). There is no book on which we can rest in a dying moment but the bible.—Selden.

Deu . So great. The Jews were more than the capsarii nostri and librarians; they had anticipative advantages, and were to be the first to enjoy the gospel privileges, as well as to be the almoners of Messianic blessings to the world (Rom 3:2). They were like trustees of an estate who were themselves to receive the ground-rents till such time as the leases fill in and then they were both to participate in the increased rent roll and to be the channel through which the other heirs were to share the inheritance with themselves.—Neil.

Deu . When the African prince enquired from our gracious queen the secrets of England's glory, she handed him a copy of the Scriptures, and said, "That is the secret of England's greatness."

Deu . Teach them. "A pious education is the best way of providing for a family and the surest foundation for its prosperity."

Deu . Lest thou forget. 'Tis a general fault, that the most common and frequent, the most obvious and conspicuous favours of God, the constant rising of the sun upon us, the descent of fruitful showers, the recourse of temperate seasons, the continuance of our life, the helps of obtaining virtue and becoming happy, we commonly little mind or regard, and consequently seldom return thanks for them.—Dr. Barrow.

Deu . Similitude. It was not until the days of Hebrew decline that a narrow literalism pressed the words into an absolute prohibition of the arts of painting and sculpture. Moses himself sanctioned the cherubic forms above the mercy-seat; the brazen serpent, and the lillies and pomegranates of the golden candlestick. Solomon had lions on the steps of his throne, oxen under his "molten sea," and palm trees, flowers, and cherubims on the walls of the temple, "within and without" (1Ki 6:29). What this commandment forbade was the worship of God under a material form. It asserted the spirituality of Jehovah. While in the rest of the world there was scarcely a single nation or tribe which did not "make to itself" images of the gods, and regard the images themselves with superstitious veneration. In Judaism alone was this seductive practice disallowed. God would have no likeness made of Him, no representation that might cloud the conception of his entire separation from matter, his purely spiritual essence.—Com. for Eng. Readers.

Deu . Heaven. Instead of stretching our thoughts to the mystery of creation, and soaring above the stars, when we think of God, which for the most part, is setting Him at a distance from us, it may be of great use to consider Him, as present in the room or little spot where we are, and as it were circumscribed within it, in all His glory, majesty, and purity.—Adam.

Deu . Forbidden. There is no vice that doth so cover a man with shame as to be found false and perfidious.—Bacon.

Deu . Jealous. Many attempts have been made to show that jealousy is unworthy of the Divine nature; but that the one only God, if there be but one only God, should claim and exact under some penalties an undivided allegiance is natural, reasonable, and in harmony with the most exalted conceptions of the Divine essence. If God looked with indifference upon idolatry, it would imply that He cared little for His human creatures; that like the Deity of Epicurius having once created man and the world, He thenceforth paid no attention to them.—Com. for Eng. Readers).

Deu . Corrupt. The heathen corruptions were produced and sanctioned by the heathen mythology and idolatry; while Christian nations are corrupt in spite of and in direct opposition to Christianity, which raises the highest standard of virtue and acts continually on the world as a purifying and sanctifying power.—P. Schaff.

"God made him, and therefore let him pass for a man."—Shakespeare.

Deu . Witness. There was never miracle wrought by God to convert an atheist because the light of nature might have led him to confess a God. Bacon.

Deu . Tribulation. Afflictions are God's furnace, by which He cleanses His people from their dross. As gold and silver are refined, so men are purified. The process is never complete so long as any dross remains. As Tennyson suggestively says—

"Life is not like idle ore;

But iron dug from central gloom,

And heated not with burning fears,

And dipt in baths of hissing tears,

And battered with the shocks of doom,

To shape and use."

Deu ; Deu 4:36. The phenomena accumulated to impress the people seem to have been loud thunder, fierce flashes of lightning, a fire that streamed up from the mountain to the middle of the sky, dense volumes of smoke producing an awful and weird darkness, a trembling of the mountain as by a continuous earthquake, a sound like the blast of a trumpet loud and prolonged, and then, finally, a clear, penetrating voice (cf. Exo 19:16-20). So awful a manifestation has never been made at any other place or time (Deu 4:32), nor will be until the consummation of all things.—Com. for Eng. Readers.

Deu . Lord. He is not only "God," but "the Lord" or Governor. We know Him only by His properties, by the wise and admirable structure of things around us, and by their final causes; we admire Him on account of His perfections; we venerate and worship Him on account of His government.—Sir Isaac Newton.

Deu . Cities of refuge were appointed—three on each side of Jordan—with straight and good roads leading to them from every direction, to any of which the murderer might fly; and if he got into it before the avenger overtook him, he was safe from his rage until he had a fair trial. If it was found that he was guilty of wilful murder, he was delivered up to the avenger to be destroyed, and not even the altar was allowed to protect him; but if it was found that the murder had not been intentional, he was allowed to remain in the city of refuge, where none might come to do him evil; and on the death of the high priest he might return in security to his own home.—Dr. Cox.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 4:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/phc/deuteronomy-4.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

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