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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

Deuteronomy 12

 

 

Introduction

Verses 1-3

Deuteronomy 12:1-3

If there arise among you a prophet.

On the criterion of a false miracle

I. The evidence drawn from miracles, in favour of any Divine revelation, rests in general on the testimony of those who saw the miracles performed. But in addition to this, it is important to inquire, whether some consideration may not be at the same time due to the nature and tendency of the doctrines themselves, and whether there may not be in them some internal marks, which, in some cases at least, may enable us to distinguish false miracles from true. That such a criterion was given to the Jews appears plain from the words of the text, according to which, though a miracle should actually be performed, yet if its intention was to teach the doctrine of idolatry, it was not to be considered as a miracle authorised by God.

II. Yet the text does not appear to be confined merely to fictitious miracles of human contrivance, but to extend to real miracles actually performed, either by men permitted so to act, or by the agency of superior intellectual beings, with the permission indeed of God, but not by His authority. Not only no human art or deception, but also no superior, or supernatural power should undermine our faith, or draw us from the allegiance which we owe to God.

III. I cannot dismiss the subject without taking notice of a difficulty which may possibly be thought to attend the foregoing theory. It relates to the assertion that no internal doctrine can be brought in proof of a miracle. For it may be said, that there are certain doctrines conveyed by the help of miracles, which no human reason could ever have discovered; such are, that God on certain conditions will freely forgive sins, and that to the sincere, penitent, and faithful believer in Jesus Christ, He will grant life eternal. The answer is, that though the truth of these things be beyond the reach of the human reason to discover, yet the things themselves are not beyond the reach of the human imagination to conceive. Their truth therefore must depend on the evidence of the miracles which were wrought in their support, and the miracles must first be distinctly proved, before we can give an admission to the doctrines. (W. Pearce, D. D.)

The objection of the Jews to Christianity, as founded on this passage, answered

It has commonly, and with justice, been thought, that the two great pillars on which a revelation from God must stand, are miracles and prophecies. Without these we cannot be assured that any discovery which may have been made in man is really Divine. We must, indeed, inspect the matter of the thing revealed to see whether it be worthy of Him from whom it is said to come; and from its internal evidence our faith will derive great strength; but still in the first instance we look rather to external proofs. But the Jews imagine that they are precluded from judging of Christianity on such grounds as these, since Moses, in this passage, guards them against any such inferences as we are led to draw from the prophecies and miracles on which our religion is founded. He concedes that some prophecies may be uttered, and some miracles be wrought in favour of a false religion; and that, even if that should be the case, the Jews are not to regard any evidences arising from those sources, but to hold fast their religion in opposition to them. First, mark the supposition here made, namely, that God may permit miraculous and prophetic powers to be exercised even in support of a false religion. We are not indeed to imagine that God Himself will work miracles in order to deceive His people and to lead them astray; nor are we to imagine that He will suffer Satan to work them in such an unlimited way as to be a counterbalance to the miracles by which God has confirmed His own religion; but He will, for reasons which we shall presently consider, permit some to be wrought, and some prophecies to come to pass, notwithstanding they are designed to uphold an imposture. The magicians of Pharaoh, we must confess, wrought real miracles. They were permitted to do so much as should give Pharaoh an occasion for hardening his own heart, but not sufficient to show that they could at all come in competition with Moses. In every age there were also false prophets, who endeavoured to draw the people from their allegiance to God; and in the multitude of prophecies that they would utter, it must be naturally supposed that some would be verified in the event. Now then, in the next place, let us notice the injunction given to the Jews notwithstanding this supposition. God commands them not to give heed to that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, even though his predictions should be verified, if his object be to turn them from Him; for that He Himself suffers these illusions to be practised upon them in order that their fidelity to Him may be tried, and their love to Him approved. It may seem strange that God should suffer such stumbling blocks to be cast in the way of His people; but it is not for us to say what Jehovah mayor may not do; we are sure that “He tempteth no man,” so as to lead him into sin (James 1:13), and that the “Judge of all the earth will do nothing but what is right.” But it is a fact that He thus permitted Job to be tried, in order that he might approve himself a perfect man; and in like manner He tried Abraham, in order that it might appear, whether his regard for God’s authority and his confidence in God’s Word were sufficient to induce him to sacrifice his Isaac, the child of promise (Genesis 22:1-2; Genesis 22:12). It was for similar ends that God permitted His people to be tried for forty years in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 8:2), and in the same way He has tried His Church in every period of the world. It is God’s express design in the whole constitution of our religion to discover the secret bent of men’s minds; and whilst to the humble He gives abundant evidence for their conviction, He has left to the proud sufficient difficulties to call forth their latent animosity, and to justify in their own apprehensions their obstinate unbelief (Luke 2:34-35). He gave originally to the Jews, as He has also given to us, sufficient evidence to satisfy any candid mind; and this is all that we have any right to expect. The argument founded on this injunction comes now before us with all the force that can be given to it. A Jew will say, “You Christians found your faith on prophecies and on miracles; and admitting that Jesus did work some miracles, and did foretell some events which afterwards came to pass, God permitted it only to try us, and to prove cur fidelity to Him. He has cautioned us beforehand not to be led astray from Him by any such things as these; and therefore, however specious your reasonings appear, we dare not listen to them or regard them.” Having thus given to the objection all the force that the most hostile Jew can wish, I now come, in the second place, to offer what we hope will prove a satisfactory answer to it. It cannot but have struck the attentive reader that in this objection there are two things taken for granted; namely, that in calling Jews to Christianity we are calling them from Jehovah; and that our authority for calling them to Christianity is founded on such miracles as an impostor might work, and such prophecies as an impostor might expect to see verified. But in answer to these two points we declare, first, that we do not call them from Jehovah but to Him; and next, that our authority is not founded on such miracles and prophecies as might have issued from an impostor, but such as it was impossible for an impostor to produce; and lastly, that, in calling them to Christ, we have the express command of God Himself.

1. We do not call our Jewish brethren from Jehovah, but to Him. We worship the very same God whom the Jews worship; and we maintain His unity as strongly as any Jew in the universe can maintain it. As for idols of every kind, we abhor them as much as Moses himself abhorred them. Moreover, we consider the law which was written on the two tables of stone as binding upon us, precisely as much as if it were again promulgated by an audible voice from heaven. With respect to the ceremonial law, we do indeed call you from the observance of that; and we have good reason so to do; for you yourselves know that all the essential part of your religion existed before the ceremonial law was given; and that Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, who lived hundreds of years before the ceremonial law was given, were saved simply and entirely by faith in that promised seed, in whom all the nations of the earth are blessed. If you ask, Why then was the ceremonial law given? I answer, To shadow forth your Messiah, and to lead you to Him; and when He should come and fulfil it in all its parts, it was then to cease; and you yourselves know that it was intended by God Himself to cease at that appointed time. If then we call you from the outward observances of the law, it is not from disrespect to that law, but from a conviction that it has been fulfilled and abrogated by the Lord Jesus. We call you only from shadows to the substance. We call you to Christ as uniting in Himself all that the ceremonial law was intended to shadow forth. I am aware that in calling you to worship the Lord Jesus Christ we appear to you to be transferring to Him the honour due to God alone. But if you will look into your own Scriptures you will find that the person who was foretold as your Messiah is no other than God Himself. Receive Him in the character in which the prophet Isaiah foretold His advent, as “the Child born, the Son given, the wonderful Counsellor, the mighty God, the Prince of peace.” Call Him, as another prophet instructs you, “Jehovah our Righteousness,” and know that in thus “honouring Christ you will honour the Father who sent Him.”

2. The next thing which we proposed to show was, that our authority for calling you thus to Christ is not founded on such prophecies or miracles as might have issued from an impostor, but on such as it was impossible for an impostor to produce. Consider the prophecies; they were not some few dark predictions of mysterious import and of doubtful issue, uttered by our Lord Himself; but a continued series of prophecies from the very fall of Adam to the time of Christ; of prophecies comprehending an almost infinite variety of subjects, and those so minute, as to defy all concert either in those who uttered, or those who fulfilled them. Consider the miracles also; these were beyond all comparison greater and more numerous than Moses ever wrought. The whole creation, men, devils, fishes, elements, all obeyed His voice; and at His command the dead arose to life again. But there is one miracle alone which in particular we will mention. Jesus said, “I have power to lay down My life, and I have power to take it again”; and the former of these He proved by speaking with a loud voice the very instant He gave up the ghost, showing thereby that He did not die in consequence of His nature being exhausted, but by a voluntary surrender of His life into His Father’s hands. And at the appointed time He proved the latter also, notwithstanding all the preparations made to defeat His purpose, all which proved in the issue the strongest testimonies to the truth of His word. We therefore confidently call you to believe in Him, and to embrace the salvation which He offers you in the Gospel. But there is one great argument which we have reserved till now, in order that it may bear upon you with the greater weight.

3. We declare to you, then, in the last place, that in calling you to Christ we have the express command of God Himself. Moses, in chap. 13, bids you, as we have seen, not to listen to any false prophet; but in Deuteronomy 18:18-19, he most explicitly declares that a prophet should arise, to whom you should attend. Now I ask you, who is the prophet here spoken of Where was there ever, besides Moses, a prophet that was a Mediator, a Lawgiver, a Ruler, a Deliverer? Was there ever such an one except Jesus? And was not Jesus such an one in all respects? Yes; He has wrought for yell not a mere temporal deliverance like Moses, but a spiritual and eternal deliverance from sin and Satan, death and hell; He has redeemed you, not by power only, but by price also, even the inestimable price of His own blood. When therefore you plead the authority of Moses, we join issue with you, and say, Be consistent. Renounce false prophets, because he bids you; but believe in the true Prophet, whom God, according to His Word, has raised up to you, because He bids you. Let His authority weigh equally with you in both cases; and then we shall not fear, but that you will embrace the salvation offered you in the Gospel, and be the spiritual children, as ye already are the natural descendants of believing Abraham. (C. Simeon, M. A.)

The only pulpit worth having

I. That no instrumentality is of any real service to man, as man, that does not promote in him a right sovereign affection.

1. Every man is under some one dominant affection. Love of--

2. A wrong dominant affection in a man will neutralise the highest services that may be rendered to him.

II. That the only right sovereign affection is supreme love for the supremely good. All goodness streams from God as all light from the sun. Ought He not, then, to be extremely loved?

III. That the only pulpit that is of any real service to man is that which generates and fosters this sovereign affection.

1. It is the pulpit that works into man the conviction that God loves men, though sinners.

2. It is the pulpit that exhibits God as essentially good and benevolent in Himself. (Homilist.)

Danger and security

This passage, by the inspiration of God, touches upon all the possible points of danger in a religious course.

I. What are the points of danger?

1. The first may be described as being somewhat after a philosophical sort. There is nothing rude in the assault, nothing violent or startling, from a merely physical point of view; it is a very delicate encroachment upon religious thought; it is impalpable as a dream. Surely this is harmless: it is more than harmless; it is instructive: it may be a lesson in the deeper philosophy; it may be the beginning of a widening revelation. The mischief is this, that a man who would listen to such a dreamer, or seer of visions, and allow his religion to be affected by the nightmare, would turn the man out of his presence if he attempted to offer him a single idea upon any practical subject under heaven. We are easily beguiled from the religious point. “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you?” It would seem as if it were easier to murder the soul than to kill the body. The first point of danger, therefore, is thus clouded in a golden veil; and the man who may be said to be preparing for that danger is dreamy, hazy-minded, speculative, always looking into a mist if, haply, he may find a star; such a gentle, dozing creature, so harmless, and really so very attractive in many qualities of his character.

2. What is the second point of danger? It is not at all philosophical; it may be ranked among the social forces that are constantly operating upon life (verse 6). Social influences are constantly operating upon our faith. The youngest member of the family has been reading a book, and has invited the head of the house to go and listen to some new speaker of theories, speculations, and dreams; the service is so beautiful; the idea is so novel; a great deal of the rush and tumult common to elementary religious life is totally escaped; the intellectual brother--the man supposed to have all the brains of the family--has got a new idea--an idea which in nowise associates itself with historical churches and traditional creeds, but a brand new idea, altogether sparkling and daring, and whosoever professes it will at once take his place in the synagogue of genius; or the darling friend has caught a voice down some byway, and he will have his other self go with him in the evening to hear this speaker of anti-Christian ideas--a man who has undertaken to reconstruct so much of the universe as will allow him to touch it; a person of exquisite mind, of dainty taste, and of quiet latent power. The subtle purpose is to draw men away from the old altar, the old Book, the God of deliverance and beneficence, of mercy and redemption, to another God who will condescend to be measured for a creed, and who is not above sitting for his portrait. Do not follow a multitude to do evil. Do not always be at the string end, led about by those who are of more forceful and energetic will than yourselves. Be sure as to what they are taking you to; have a clear understanding before you begin. You would not allow those persons to interfere with anything practical: when the discussion of commercial questions arises, you stand at the front and say, There I can bear testimony, and there I ought to be heard. Why claim such a solemn responsibility in the settlement of nothing, and allow anybody to settle for you the great questions of religious truth and personal destroy?

3. What is the third point of danger? It is not philosophical; it is not, in the narrow sense of the term, social; it is a point of” danger which may be characterised as public sentiment, public opinion--a general turning round, and a wholesale abandonment of old theologies and old forms of worship (verses 12, 13). Some men may have courage to laugh at the dreamer; others may have virtue enough to resist the blandishments of the nearest friend; but who can resist the current or tendency of public opinion?

II. What is the course to be taken under circumstances of danger? Moses had no difficulty about his reply: let us see what it was, and consider whether we can adopt it. “And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death” (verse 5). The seducer in the family brings upon himself this penalty. “Neither shall thine eye pity him neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: but thou shalt surely kill him” (verses 8, 9); “thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die” (verse 10). And as for the city--representative of public opinion--“Thou shalt surely smite the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword,” etc. (verses 15-17). That was a drastic course; there is no touch of compromise in that stern provision; there is no line of toleration in that tremendous answer. The same course is to be taken today, as to its spiritual meaning. Physical violence there must be none; the day of physical pains and penalties for spiritual offences has closed; but the great lesson of destruction remains forever. What penalty, then, shall we inflict upon men who seek to destroy our faith? I hesitate not in my reply: Avoid them; pass by them; they would injure your soul. (J. Parker, D. D.)

True tests are unfailing discoverers

Every substance is discoverable by some “test,” which usually neutralises it, or rather, by uniting with it, forms a new compound. The whole fabric of chemistry rests upon this wonderful principle as one of its cornerstones. Thus if the least fragment of copper be dissolved in acid, and the fluid be then diluted with water until no trace of colour remains, so potent, nevertheless, is the affinity of the well-known fluid called “ammonia” for the copper, that a single drop of the latter fluid will immediately reveal the presence of the metal by uniting with it and forming a new substance of the loveliest violet colour. Similarly, if a morsel of lead be dissolved in acid, and the acid be then diluted with water, a single drop of a solution of iodide of potassium will turn the whole to a brilliant crocus-yellow. The presence of iron, after the same manner, is discovered by the least drop of tincture of galls, which blackens it upon contact; that of silver by a little solution of common salt, which causes flakes of imitative snow to make their appearance; that of mercury again with iodide of potassium, which turns the fluid containing it to a beautiful red. (Scientific Illustrations.)


Verses 1-32

Verse 2

Deuteronomy 12:2

Destroy all the places.

Destruction of evil

The first thing Israel had to do appears to be a work of violence. All idols were to be destroyed. Israel could understand no other language. This is not the language of today; but the thing inculcated upon Israel is the lesson for the present time: words change, but duties remain. Violence was the only method that could commend itself to infantile Israel. The hand was the reasoner; the breaking hammer was the instrument of logic in days so remote and so unfavoured. Forgetting this, how many people misunderstand instructions given to the ancient Church; they speak of the violence of those instructions, the bloodthirstiness even of Him who gave the instructions to Israel. Hostile critics select such expressions and hold them up as if in mid-air, that the sunlight may get well round about them; and attention is called to the barbarity, the brutality, the revolting violence of so-called Divine commandments. It is false reasoning on the part of the hostile critic. We must think ourselves back to the exact period of time and the particular circumstances at which and under which the instructions were delivered. But all the words of violence have dropped away. “Destroy,” “overthrow,” “burn,” “hew down,” are words which are not found in the instructions given to Christian evangelists. Has the law then passed away? Not a jot or tittle of it. Is there still to be a work of this kind accomplished in heathen nations? That is the very work that must first be done. This is the work that is aimed at by the humblest and meekest teacher who shoulders the Gospel yoke and proceeds to Christianise the nations. Now we destroy by reasoning, and that is a far more terrible destruction than the supposed annihilation that can be wrought by manual violence. You cannot conquer an enemy by the arm, the rod, or the weapon of war; you subdue him, overpower him, or impose some momentary restraint upon him; fear of you takes possession of his heart, and he sues for peace because he is afraid. That is not conquest; there is nothing eternal in such an issue. How, then, to destroy an enemy? By converting him--by changing his motive, by penetrating into his most secret life, and accomplishing the mystery of regeneration in his affections. That mystery accomplished, the conquest is complete and everlasting; the work of destruction has been accomplished; burning and hewing down, and all actions indicative of mere violence have disappeared. (J. Parker D. D.)


Verse 5-6

Deuteronomy 12:5-6

Unto His habitation shall ye seek.

The Gospel of the holy places

I. God was pleased to choose out certain places to stand in a special relation of holiness unto himself under the Old Testament. This holiness of places was two-fold, either transient and merely for the present time, or else more permanent.

1. The transient holiness of places was where the Lord gave visible appearances of Himself in His glorious majesty to the eyes of His servants; such places were holy during the time of such Divine appearances (Exodus 3:5; Exodus 19:11-25; Joshua 5:15, 2 Peter 1:18).

2. There was also a more abiding holiness of places under the law.

II. What is the ground of this holiness of these places, and how are we to conceive of it?

1. The Lord is said to choose these places to set His name there, and therefore they are called His habitation.

2. “Thither shalt thou seek,” i.e. for answers and oracles from the holy places, and from the priest by Urim and Thummim (Exodus 25:22; Numbers 7:8-9; Numbers 27:21).

3. “Thither shalt thou come,” i.e. at all the appointed festivals, three times a year (Exodus 23:14; Exodus 23:17), and whensoever they offered sacrifice (Deuteronomy 12:6).

Lessons:

1. The cessation of this holiness of places under the New Testament (John 4:21-23; Matthew 18:22; 1 Timothy 2:8; Malachi 1:11). Every place is now a Judaea, every house a Jerusalem, every congregation a Zion.

2. Learn to present your worship unto God by Jesus Christ, for He is the true Temple and Tabernacle (Hebrews 7:25; 1 Peter 1:21; John 14:6; Colossians 3:17).

3. Remember that there is a church worship (Acts 2:42; Acts 20:7).

4. Labour everyone, that his soul may be a habitation for the Lord, a temple of the Holy Ghost. (S. Mather.)


Verse 8

Deuteronomy 12:8

Ye shall not do after all the things that we do here this day.

Restraint the Christian’s blessing

The blessing, of which it is now proposed to speak more particularly, is that of being more under control--of having our lives and ways more exactly ordered--than as if we were not Christians. We are now come to the rest and to the inheritance which the Lord our God was so long preparing for us, and therefore we are no longer to think of doing every man what is right in his own eyes. And therefore the gate, into which we must strive to enter, is called “strait,” and the way which leadeth unto life, “narrow.” And our Saviour, inviting us to the blessings of the Gospel, describes them as a yoke and a burthen; easy indeed, and light, yet still a yoke and a burthen. And this very circumstance He mentions as a blessing; as the very reason why, coming to Him, the weary and heavy laden might find rest (Matthew 11:28). So that it appears that both the law and the Gospel, both Moses and Jesus Christ, consider it a great blessing, a great increase of comfort and happiness, to be kept under strict rules. The Gospel was more strict than the law; and on that very account its subjects were happier. Canaan was a place where men could not do what pleased themselves so much as they could in the wilderness: and it was the more entirely and truly a place of rest. But now this way of thinking is by no means the way of the world. People in general like nothing so much as having their own choice in all things. They account it a burthen, and not a privilege, to be under the government of others. And there is not, one may venture to say, one man in a thousand who would not rather be rich than poor, for this very reason--that a rich man is much more his own master, has much more of his own way in choosing how to spend his time, what company to keep, what employments to follow, than a poor man generally can have. Again, everyone has observed, I might say has experienced, the hurry which children are usually in to get out of the state of childhood and to be left to judge and act for themselves. But the worst, and, unfortunately, the most common instance of this ungovernable temper in mankind is, our unwillingness to let God choose for us, and our impatience under the burthens He lays upon us. How very commonly does it happen that the very condition people chose beforehand, the very place they wished to live in, and the persons they wished to live among, being obtained, becomes the ground of continual complaint and vexation. If they could but change at will, they say, they should like their situation well enough, but now they are tied down to it they cannot, that is, they will not, help being fretful and impatient. Yet this very circumstance of being tied down to rules and not having the power to change at will, is, as we have seen, reckoned a great blessing, both in the Old and New Testament, both by Moses and Jesus Christ. And the contrary (the having to choose for ourselves, and to do what is right in our own eyes), is spoken of as a great disadvantage. So different is the judgment of God from the judgment of men. To have this thought steadily fixed within us, will prove, indeed, the greatest of all blessings, both as to our rest in this world, and as to our inheritance in that which is to come. In whatever counsel and pursuit we are sure we are guided by God, that, we are equally sure, must turn out well in the end; and soberly speaking, what can we wish for more? Once make up your mind to this most certain truth, that what is right in God’s eyes is far better for you than what is right in your own eyes, and you will have but one care in the whole world, i.e. how to please God in making the best use of the present time, a care in which, by His gracious assistance, you are sure not to fail. But it was further said, that this temper of not choosing for ourselves leads directly to our everlasting inheritance in the other world, as well as making sure of our rest and refreshment in this. For it helps us greatly in the performance of our duty, because, in truth, it leaves us nothing else to do. It prepares and trains us for everlasting happiness in heaven. For the very secret of our enjoyment there will be that God’s will shall be ours. We shall behold His works and ways, especially the glory which He has given to His beloved Son our Saviour, and shall rejoice in them as in so much good done to ourselves, more and more thankfully forever. What a beautiful and comfortable thought is this, of the high and noble uses to which, if we will, we may turn all our worst disappointments--the bitterest thoughts of shame and remorse which ever come upon us. We may consider them as part of our heavenly Father’s way of breaking us in, as it were, and training us to the desire and enjoyment of His own blessed presence in heaven. And if even the bitter thought of our past sins may be accompanied with so much of what is comfortable and hopeful, surely we may well leave it to Almighty God to do what He will with us in every other respect. (Plain Sermons by Contributors to Tracts for the Times. )

Life a transitional state of being

“Ye are not as yet come to your rest.” The present is a temporary and provisional state of things. Such is the reason (Deuteronomy 12:9) assigned by the great lawgiver of the Jews for the nonobservance of many, and the imperfect observance of nearly all the statutes and ordinances which he was delivering to them. We are all, he says, to blame. Your leader is no more exempt from human infirmities than yourselves. He is as fond of having his own way, of doing what is right in his own eyes, as any of you. We have all done amiss, and we must all try to do better; and so prepare ourselves for that entirely altered state of circumstances which awaits us as soon as we have crossed the narrow dividing stream; you of Jordan, I of death. In applying these words to the objects of Christian instruction, observe--

I. The uniformity of human character. What describes the natural man in one age or country will suit him equally well at all times and in all countries. What were the Israelites doing in the wilderness? “Every man whatsoever was right in his own eyes.” This is human nature. We like to have our own way. Restraint is irksome to us. We seek to be independent in our circumstances, in order that we may be so in our actions, and have no one’s wishes or feelings to consult but our own. But if human wilfulness shows itself in one direction more than another, it is in our relations to God. Here we meet with no such checks as hem us in on every other side. Here the freedom of our will is not interfered with by the claims of family or the obligations of society. The world looks on, but never thinks of interfering. A man’s religion, it holds, is something entirely between God and his conscience. In the concerns of the soul it is commonly said that every man ought to do whatever is right in his own eyes, without any regard to the opinions or feelings of others. What is most agreeable to our feelings, we easily persuade ourselves, is most profitable to our souls; and where we are most profited, where we “get most good,” as it is called, there we feel sure it is God’s will that we should go. So we “wrap it up” (Micah 7:3). We settle the matter nominally between God and our consciences, but really between ourselves and our own wayward and corrupt wills.

II. The impropriety of this principle of doing “every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes.” No day passes without some matters arising which involve the question of not what is right in our own eyes, but what is right in itself, and what is right in the sight of God and man. We are reasonable and accountable creatures. There is a sense of right and wrong implanted in us by nature. We cannot act contrary to it without violating our conscience, and causing a sensible disturbance to our peace of mind. Besides moral, there is also such a thing as positive right, arising out of the declared will of God; and this is just as binding upon our consciences as the other. When it pleased God to promulgate the Fourth Commandment, by that very act He made it a right thing to keep holy the seventh day, and a wrong thing to do our ordinary work thereon, in the eyes of every man who believes in the existence and attributes of the Creator of the world. Unhappily, moral disorder is not attended with the same inconveniences as civil. Men may be “lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents,” and many other things equally offensive to piety and virtue, without any particular shock to the peaceful and prosperous course of this world. Still, “these things ought not so to be.” Wrong can never be right. There is one Lawgiver, and one holy and righteous and perfect law. To do as we like is to violate the fundamental law of our being. “For none of us liveth to himself,” etc. To do that which is right in our own eyes is too often to do that which is abominable in the sight of God.

III. The necessary imperfection of our present state of being. Perfect order and perfect happiness are not to be found on earth, but are reserved for that eternal existence to which this world is but a passage.

1. This thought will reconcile us, in a great degree, to the troubles of life.

2. It will encourage us under our moral failings and imperfections. It may be a poor consolation, but a consolation it certainly is, when we have done amiss, to know that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God”; and that so long as man is man he will do “whatsoever is right in his own eyes.” Hereafter it will be otherwise. In another world “we shall not do after all the things that we do here this day.”

3. It will make us tolerant and indulgent to the failings of others. We must take the world as we find it. We must deal with things as they are, not as they ought to be. To bear and to forbear is no small part of our trial. And we cannot be required to show greater forbearance towards others than God is continually exercising towards us.

IV. There is no sentiment so just as not to be liable to perversion and abuse. The necessary imperfection of our present state might be urged as an excuse for those evils and disorders which need not exist, and therefore are inexcusable. But this must not be allowed. Sin must always be protested against. Our nature is corrupt; but that is a reason for striving against it, not for giving way to it. We live in a wicked world; but that should put us on our guard against an unreserved association with the world, or an undue compliance with its ways. Is this all that is required of us--to contend against the evil of our own hearts, and to keep ourselves unspotted from the world? Not so. A Christian has a higher vocation: to make the world better; to season it with the salt of a pure and uncorrupt conversation; to set an example of that self-denying, self-sacrificing spirit which leads to conduct the very opposite of that described in the text. The Christian must be continually reminding both himself and others that what we are all doing here this day may be excused by considerations arising out of the frailty of human nature, but can never be justified. Let us take every opportunity of mortifying those deeds of the body, those sinful desires and depraved inclinations which, if they do not actually deprive us of “the rest and the inheritance which the Lord our God giveth us,” cannot but make us less fit for it. Let us learn the pleasure of giving up our wills, instead of indulging them; of looking “not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others”; of doing, not “every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes,” but every man whatsoever is right for him to do--what religion teaches, what conscience justifies, and what God approves.

V. Let us learn from this subject to understand more perfectly, and to appreciate more justly, the Gospel method of salvation. Moses, we are told, “was faithful in all his house”; as the mediator of that former covenant, he performed his part on the whole faithfully and well; but that was all. He was no redeemer; he could not “save his people from their sins.” He was a sinner like themselves: the things which, by reason of their frailty, they did there that day, he also did. Christ alone could say, “Ye shall not do after all the things which ye do here this day”; ye, not we,--excluding Himself from the number of those who do “every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes.” Of Himself He says, “I seek not Mine own will, but the will of the Father which sent Me.” “I do always those things that please Him.” On this principle of seeking God’s glory, not His own--He acted through life, and also “became obedient unto death.” Without this act we should never have come to that rest, never have attained to that inheritance at all. We should have continued all our lives, as many do to this day, doing “every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes”; because we should have had no motive or inducement to do otherwise. If we have learnt better things, it is only because we have learnt Christ; learnt Him as “the way, the truth, and the life”; “heard Him, and been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus.” It remains that we should turn our lessons into practice, by “putting off the old man,” etc. So shall we leave off by degrees to “do after all the things which we do here this day”; and under the renewing and sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit we shall become daily more and more “meet for the inheritance of the saints in light,” and ripe for that “rest which remaineth for the people of God.” (Frederick Field, LL. D.)


Verse 9

Deuteronomy 12:9

Ye are not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance.

Not as yet

That is the beginning--the refrain--the very soul of a hymn. “Not as yet”--it is a blossom-like word--an unfulfilled prophecy. “Not as yet”--why, then, it may be some day. The meaning is that we are on the road: How far have we travelled? Are we home? The voice answers in the night, Not yet. But if we were on the wrong road the voice would not answer so; the voice would then say: Home: why, we are lost, we are on the wrong road; every mile we have travelled these last two days has been a mile in the opposite direction. But the very tone of the voice itself is a gospel. “Not as yet”: presently; nearer and nearer. “Not as yet”: every step is a battle won; every step is one more difficulty past. “Not as yet; but sufficiently near to be getting ready. What is the meaning of all this stir on the ship, this running to and fro, this calling out from one to another? We have passed something, we have passed a signal, we shall land tonight! Getting ready, saying in effect, It is all over now, what remains to be done is a mere matter of detail; we are waiting, and presently we shall be there. How do we measure our journey? By the middle mile. We seem not to have begun the journey whilst we are on the first half of it, but as soon as we got in the middle of the sea, and are told that the middle mile has been passed, we say, It is all downhill now. Many people are more than half way through life’s road: what is it to be during the remainder of the days? Are we leaving heaven behind us, or are we going to it? Many men are leaving behind them the only heaven they have ever prepared for: what wonder if they do not sing during the last half of the voyage or the journey? Others have had a dreary time, a melancholy experience, a troubled disciplinary lot, and when they are told about half-way through that it is all home going and the distance may in some unaccountable way be shortened, behold their faces are alight with a new expression, their soul has come up to look out of the window to see if it be even so. I heard a great voice from heaven saying: Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord: for they shall rest. Rest is promised, not as the reward of selfishness or self-indulgence, but as the crown of service. No man can rest who has not toiled. No man can have real joy who has not had real sorrow. What right have we to rest if we have been resting all the time? The week has Sunday in front of it. Cheer thee! It is Friday. When is Sunday? The day after tomorrow. Is Sunday in every week? Yes. Herein is the goodness of God. We need frequent Sabbaths, we need refreshment by the road, yea, at every seventh step of the journey we must sit down awhile. Sometimes we have a lift by the way. Does the Shepherd not need Himself to be carried sometimes? No: because He is not a shepherd, one of many, but The Shepherd, out of whose shepherdliness all other pastors are struck. The little candle dies, the sun burneth evermore. You need rest--why not have it? You are a very little one, and you are soon tired, and He, I repeat, carrieth the lambs in His bosom. The very principle that Christ went upon was the principle of “Not as yet.” “A little while” is the length of time Christ gave Himself. He endured the Cross, despising the shame, because He looked for the joy that lay beyond. Men draw themselves through earth by laying hold of heaven. That is how the earth drags itself along; it is all looped up to the sun. No man has seen the filaments, the threadlets, but the sun feeds them everyone. The tiny earth is hooked on by invisible tentacles to the great central chariot. It is so that life is drawn forward, it is so that life is sanctified; because that by which we are connected with the sun is that through which the centre also communicates to us. (J. Parker, D. D.)

The imperfection of the believer’s earthly happiness

I. Let us notice the terms in which the end of the Israelites’ journey is spoken of. They are the very same terms which are used in the New Testament as applicable to the Christian’s everlasting home, and they point out respectively its blessedness, its certainty, its freeness.

1. For it is called a rest: “Ye are not as yet come to the rest.” And this it is well known St. Paul applies to our eternal home, when he says to the Hebrews, “There remaineth, therefore, a rest to the people of God.” And in this expression, I repeat, is conveyed to us the great blessedness of that our eternal portion. For if there is one word which seems to contain within it an idea of what is really grateful and enjoyable in this world, it is the word “rest.” Condemned, as we are, to eat our bread by the sweat of our brow, “and being born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward,” rest is one of the greatest earthly blessings that God can bestow. The believer, then, is one day, and that perhaps no distant day, to rest completely and eternally from all that pains and grieves him here. He shall rest from suffering, “for there shall be no more pain”: he shall rest from sorrowing, for “there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying”; but above all he shall rest from sin.

2. But there is another expression here used, which the New Testament warrants us to apply to the rest that remaineth to the people of God, namely “inheritance.” This expression denotes the certainty of the believer’s portion. There are only three things in the dealings of this world which can disappoint the heir of his inheritance; and, if it can be shown that these cannot take place as regards the believer, the ease is clear. For, in the first place, in earthly things, the parent or the person owning the property may, from some cause or other, change his mind, and cut off the heir from the inheritance. But, in the case now before us, “the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” Or, secondly, the heir may rebel or run away, and so forfeit and give up all claim to the inheritance. But in this case this is provided against; for one part of the adoption into the family of God is the gift of the Spirit, to keep the heir in the love and fear of God, according as it is written: “I will put My fear within them, that they shall not depart from Me.” Or, thirdly, the heir may die before the time appointed of the father, and so be disappointed. But, as regards the heavenly inheritance, this can never be: “The soul once quickened shall never die”: “The heirs of God are kept by His power through faith unto salvation”: “I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish”: “Because I live, ye shall live also.”

3. But there is yet another expression hers used, which appears to denote the freeness with which it is offered, and which we find used in the New Testament to denote the same idea. It is spoken of as a gift: “Ye are not come to the rest and the inheritance which the Lord your God giveth you.” Now, the New Testament invariably speaks of this as a gift: St. Paul says, particularly, “The wages of sin”--i.e. the just reward of sin--“is death; but the gift of God”--observe, not the wages, nor the reward, but the free, undeserved gift of God--“is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” God is a sovereign: He has a right to do what He will: He is our Sovereign, and He has a right to our services: He is our Maker, and He has a right to ourselves. And there is no obedience, no service, which it is in our power to render Him, to which He has not already an undoubted right; and, consequently, we can never do anything for which God is bound in the least degree to bless us. All His gifts, therefore, to us are free and undeserved, and whatever He gives He gives of His own free and sovereign grace; and as such we must receive it or perish.

II. Such being the terms in which the heavenly inheritance is spoken of, let us turn to the proofs which the Christian has that he has not yet come to the rest which is reserved for him. These are various, but we will take only a few which come more immediately in connection with the text.

1. The imperfection and vanity of, every thing connected with this life--its sorrows, disappointments, pain, and bereavements--all these things are enough to remind us, as I believe they are graciously intended to remind us, that this is not our home. Thus the Israelites, wherever they rested, wherever they went, were still in the wilderness: turn where they would, the same barren scene would probably present itself, and remind them that this is not Canaan, this is still the wilderness. Let us be blessed with whatever joy or advantage we will, there is a worm at the root; and, with all its capabilities of affording happiness, still it is not permanent, it perishes in the using. Friends disappoint, children and those dear are removed, health decays, riches make to themselves wings, and fly away; so that, with all our earthly comforts, and they are not few, we are still reminded by them, and it is the crowning mercy of them all that we are reminded by them, that this is not our resting place, and we are strangers and pilgrims here.

2. But the Israelites would be reminded, from time to time, that they had not entered into rest, by the continual attacks to which they were exposed from their enemies, and perhaps also by the continued murmurings and rebellions which arose among themselves. True it is, that even in Canaan, the nations greater and mightier than they, were to be dispossessed; still, even on their road they would feel that they had not yet attained what Moses had promised: “When the Lord God shall have given you rest from all your enemies round about.” And this is an especial mark to a Christian that his rest and his inheritance is not here. Wherever he looks the enemy meets his view; whether he look around or within him, the scene is the same. I mean not that he takes a gloomy view of all these things, but he cannot deny the fact that “the world lieth in wickedness.” His own experience tells him that he has not yet reached that place or that state where ignorance shall not exist, where every murmuring disposition shall be forever hushed, where every rebellious feeling shall be forever slain, and every thought of his heart shall be brought in complete and eternal captivity to the obedience of Christ.

3. But I think it may be said that our very spiritual blessings are calculated to remind us of this. All our means of grace, and all our privileges, many and blessed as they are, are yet adapted for a state of ignorance and imperfection. The manna which the Israelites gathered from day to day, and the “spiritual Rock that followed them,” would especially remind them of the truth adverted to in the text. How different from the grapes of Eshcol! how far short of the land flowing with milk and honey, to which they were repeatedly encouraged to look! and yet they were marvellous blessings in themselves. And so it is with us. The spiritual life is but a small foretaste of that fulness of life which is hid in Christ with God; and the very supplies of the Spirit are but the distant branchings of that river which “makes glad the city of God,” issues from the living fountains to which the Lamb shall one day lead His people. How inferior, too, is the very written or preached word on earth to what the believer will hear in glory! How inferior the worship in the earthly courts to the worship of the redeemed! How inferior is that feast of the Lord’s Supper, to which we are often invited, to that supper at which the bride of Christ is one day to be present.

III. What, then, are the lessons of warning, of duty, or of encouragement which we are to learn from these considerations?

1. We learn a lesson of warning, not to fix our habitation here, still less to look back upon the world which we have left. God give you grace to be wise in time, that you may be happy in eternity.

2. But, again, we learn a large lesson of duty. We learn that we must not lay aside our armour while we are in the enemy’s neighbourhood; we must not cease our watchfulness while we are beset by foes within and without; we must not be contemplating the length of road we have passed, but looking on to what remains.

3. And, lastly, whenever the following propositions are true, that is--

1. When he cannot see any hope of supporting himself at home.

2. When prospects abroad are decidedly good, and likely to continue such.

3. When the journey can probably be performed free from accident.

4. When the means of paying the emigration expenses are secure; and--

5. When family ties are of such a sort that they may with propriety be severed, or when those dearest to you can accompany you.

I am not intending to say much more about emigration. Yet I have some valuable advice to offer you upon the subject. Agents, from various motives, often deceive men about the goodness of the distant country, or the cheapness of the voyage by their ship, or the certainty of employment at high wage when they reach the place of destination. You need not fear deceit in this case. There can be no motive for any deception. I say, then, you will be wise to go thither, for these two reasons--

1. Ask you why? Because sin has defiled and ruined everything, rendering the world unfit for us, and us unfit for life; because we are “to pass, therefore, through the grave and gate of death to our joyful resurrection”; and so, “ye are not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance, which the Lord your God giveth you.”

2. It may be necessary to emigrate; but are the prospects good elsewhere? Here is a description of the allotment offered to emigrants. It is called an inheritance, because an Elder Brother of yours has “gone before” and bought it, and He says “you are joint heirs with Me.” It is called “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, and it is reserved,” put by, kept ready, safe, all prepared “for you.” Yes, all this in prospect, seen by faith, heard of by letter and by promise! But remember, “ye are not yet come to this rest and inheritance which the Lord your God giveth you.”

3. It may be needful to emigrate, and the prospects beyond seem to baffle description in their beauty; but that swelling flood, those tossing waters, are too much for you--you have no great means for paying the costly freightage; and then there is the constant dread lest you should make shipwreck, and so never reach the land whither you would go. The prospects are all you can desire, if only you could get there. I have read the terms of the emigration, and I am confident that He who gives the inheritance grants a perfectly free passage thither. Christ said, when here on earth, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man cometh to the Father but by Me.” The Saviour of sinners offers them a home. It is not a reformatory or a prison, but a home with Himself, He tells you that you must receive it as a gift, and not make bargains about it. And His law upon the matter is, that since, from first to last, it is not of works, but the free gift of Himself, so you are to claim the inheritance and journey thither entirely at His cost. Are family ties of such a character as to hinder you from emigration? I answer, Certainly not, because they, too, both friends and kinsfolk, must leave this place and go elsewhere. Therefore, I say, your course is plain. Resolve that you will, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, pass over from this present world of sin unto the future inheritance of the sons of God. And bring your kinsmen with you. (S. Venables.)

Our rest and inheritance beyond

I. The rest.

1. From sin.

2. From temptation.

3. From enemies.

4. From weariness.

5. From doubts.

II. The inheritance.

1. Purchased.

2. Prepared.

3. Pure.

4. Sure.

5. For the saints.

III. Our present condition.

1. Not a condition of ceaseless toil.

2. Not a condition of entire exclusion from our inheritance.

3. We here enjoy the means of grace.

Lessons:

1. In view of all this we should rejoice--

2. Are we being fitted for that rest and inheritance?

3. Are there any here who are seeking their rest on earth? Oh! poor miserable souls, ye with all your seeking have not rest here, and will not have rest hereafter! (Bp. Courtney.)

The expected rest

I. The rest which awaits believers.

1. A promised rest.

2. A complete rest.

3. Rest in the possession of an inheritance.

4. An eternal rest.

II. Some considerations suggested by the fact that we are not yet come to our rest. And this fact requires us--

1. To endure hardships.

2. To prize comforts.

3. To avoid present resting.

4. To be seeking the rest that is to come.

All things encourage us to advance. A better than earthly Canaan before us; a greater Leader than Moses to guide us; and the millions of the glorified invoking us, by their reward, to imitate their example. Oh! be not slothful, but followers of them, who, through faith and patience, are inheriting the promises. We may infer--

1. The infatuation of the wicked, who, besides not having come to this rest, are sedulously shunning it by a contrary course; and--

2. The happiness of the righteous, who, though they have not yet come to this rest, are hourly coming to it, and whose very bereavements teach not more strikingly the vanity of this world than the proximity of a better. (D. King.)


Verse 28

Deuteronomy 12:28

That it may go well with thee.

Blessings for the obedient

Though salvation is not by the works of the law, yet the blessings which are promised to obedience are not denied to the faithful servants of God. The curses our Lord took away when He was made a curse for us, but no clause of blessing has been abrogated. We are to note the revealed will of the Lord, giving our attention not to portions of it, but to “all these words.” There must be no picking and choosing, but an impartial respect to all that God has commanded. This is the road of blessedness for the father and for his children. The Lord’s blessing is upon His chosen to the third and fourth generation. If they walk uprightly before Him, He will make all men know that they are a seed which the Lord hath blessed. No blessing can come to us or ours through dishonesty or double dealing. The ways of worldly conformity and unholiness cannot bring good to us or ours. It will go well with us when we go well before God. If integrity does not make us prosper, knavery will not. That which gives pleasure to God will bring pleasure to us. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

And with thy children after thee.

Care for posterity

God is concerned for posterity. We may mock the suggestion, and put foolish questions concerning the generations yet to come, but the Book of God is as careful about the child unborn as about the old pilgrim born into the higher spaces. God does not insulate Himself by the little present; He contemplates the end from the beginning. All souls are His. He also puts it into our care to regard the welfare of our successors. There is a sense in which we all have a posterity--some in a narrower, some in a larger sense; but we all have a succession: we are influencing tomorrow by our spirit and action today. How mad are they, and how guilty of the cruellest murder, who go on indulging every desire, sating every appetite, satisfying every wish, forgetting that they are involving the yet unborn to pain, weakness, incapacity, and dooming them to lifelong suffering and distress. Here is the greatness of the Bible, the noble condescension of God, the infinite solicitude of the eternal Father. His speech runs to this effect: take care: not only are you involved, but your child and child’s child, for generation upon generation: your drunkenness will reappear in the disease of ages yet to come; your bad conduct will repeat itself in a long succession of evil-minded men; your behaviour appears at present to be agreeable, to have some aspects that might be called delightful, but things are not what they seem: actions do not end in themselves; every bad thought you think takes out some spark of vitality from your brain--robs you, depletes you; be careful; have some regard for those who have to succeed you; learn from those who went before you how evil a thing it is to have sown bad seed, and by what you have learned from them conduct yourself aright; if you are true, wise, pure, generous, well-conducted altogether, generations will arise to bless you; if you take care of the poor, if any of your succession be doomed to poverty, with what measure you mete it shall be measured to you and them again; blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy; with what judgment ye judge ye shall be judged. Life is one: touch it where we may, we send a thrill, a vibration, along all the vital lines. The law is two-fold: sow evil, and reap evil; sow good, and reap good. This is no partial law, dealing with penalty and shame only: it is an impartial righteousness, dealing with reward and glory, and promising delight vast and tender as the heaven of God. (J. Parker, D. D.)


Verse 30

Deuteronomy 12:30

Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following after them.

Danger of a conquered foe

It is a remarkable fact, and is proved by Dr. Bell (in his History of British Insects), that the poison of the rattlesnake is even secreted after death. Dr. Bell, in his dissections of the rattlesnakes which have been dead many hours, has found that the poison continued to be secreted so fast as to require to be dried up occasionally with sponge or rag. The immoral author, like these rattlesnakes, not only poisons during his lifetime, but after death: because his books possess the subtle power of secreting the venom to a horrible degree. A moral sponge is constantly called into requisition to obliterate his poison for many years after he himself has been dead. (Scientific Illustrations.)

Revival of a conquered sin

As the bough of a tree bent from its usual course returns to its old position as soon as the force by which it had yielded is removed; so do men return to their old habits as soon as the motives, whether of interest or fear, which had influenced them, are done away. “Nature,” says Lord Bacon, “is often hidden, sometimes overcome, seldom extinguished. Let not a man trust his victory over his nature too far, for nature will lie buried a great time, and yet revive upon the occasion or temptation; like as it was with AEsop’s damsel, turned from a cat to a woman, who sat very demurely at the board’s end till a mouse ran before her.” The same philosopher gives the following admirable caution:--“A man’s nature runs either to herbs or weeds; therefore let him seasonably water the one and destroy the other.”

Need for watchfulness

None are so likely to maintain watchful guard over their hearts and lives as those who know the comfort of living in near communion with God. They feel their privilege and will fear losing it. They will dread failing from their high estate, and marring their own comfort by bringing clouds between themselves and Christ. He that goes on a journey with little money about him takes little thought of danger, and cares little how late he travels. He, on the contrary, that carries gold and jewels, will be a cautious traveller; he will look well to his roads, his horses, and his company, and run no risks. The fixed stars are those that tremble most. The man that most fully enjoys the light of God’s countenance, will be a man tremblingly afraid of losing its blessed consolations, and jealously fearful of doing anything to grieve the Holy Ghost. (Bp. Ryle.)
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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Deuteronomy 12:4". The Biblical Illustrator. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/deuteronomy-12.html. 1905-1909. New York.

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