The number five, as already seen, suggests in its composition of four and one, the creature with the Creator, man with God. It is thus the number of Emanuel, "God with us," who humbled Himself and took a servant's form. Speaking also as it does of human responsibility and those exercises which God produces in His people, it suggests thoughts appropriate to a review of our earthly path. It is cheering to remember that the review of our journey with the records of its failure, is made by the One who is not ashamed to call us brethren, and that our manifestation is at the judgment seat of Christ, who will have already raised us up in His own likeness and presented us there, not as criminals at a tribunal to learn their fate but, in glory like Himself, to learn abiding lessons for eternity.
These are the thoughts we gather from Deuteronomy, both from its numerical position and the place which it occupies in the Mosaic narrative. It has especial reference to the responsibilities upon which Israel is about to enter in the land of their inheritance and in order that these responsibilities may be rightly appreciated, there is a review of Israel's past history, while the spirit of prophecy leaps forward far beyond the immediate future into those final ages when indeed Israel shall be gathered in millennial blessing under their own vine and figtree, and the actual inheritance of the land in final blessing will be enjoyed. Thus we have, we may say, a look at the past, the present, and the future, and the book is divided into three departments devoted to these periods.
The first few verses, we might say, give us the setting of the scenery of the entire book. Grand indeed it is. In the plains of Jordan, with Pisgah rising near, from whose summit he is so soon to take faith's survey of the inheritance from which his failure has debarred him, the great lawgiver and leader of the people throughout the wanderings of forty years in the wilderness — he. who has borne with them, interceded for them, refused personal exaltation for them — gathers the nation about himself to recount their past ways with God, and God's ways with them, to lay before them those principles of righteousness, truth and holiness inculcated by the law, and to declare the certain results of failure, together with the fixed purpose of God in their final blessing. The lawgiver's undimmed eye sweeps over the whole history of the past, searches into the special needs of the people and adaptations of God's law to their inheritance, and glances forward to the bright light which falls upon the scene. At the close, he bursts forth into a song — "the song of Moses," celebrating the faithfulness of God in the very judgments which fall upon His people, as well as in their final blessing. What a theme for an orator! What an aggregation of facts and mass of responsibilities, of incentives to action and a sense of ultimate triumph filled and thrilled his soul as, gazing upon the upturned faces of the countless multitudes before him, he spoke for them, their home, and their God! How puny is all human oratory compared with this! May we indeed catch something of the fervor that throbbed in his bosom, and be carried forward in the exultant certainty of ultimate triumph, until we shall burst forth in the song of victory sung even now in anticipation of that glorious day.
Division 1. (Deut. 1 — 4:43).
Retrospect and exhortation to obedience. Israel had taken forty years for their journey. The object of the statement, "There are eleven days' journey from Horeb by the way of Mount Seir unto Kadesh-barnea" is evident. It is a silent comment upon the tortuous path we make for ourselves. Unquestionably, other thoughts are present also. In his retrospect, Moses fittingly begins with Horeb where the people had put themselves under a legal covenant, which we may say accounts for the character of much of their subsequent journey. He recalls how, at his earnest request, judges had been granted to them to lighten the burden for himself and thus reach more intimately the needs of the people.
The great refusal at Kadesh-barnea is next recorded, with its consequences. Deut. 2 recounts the wanderings in the desert and the passing by Edom, Moab and Ammon which were to be spared, while the territories of Sihon and of Og were to be taken. Thus, the eastern territory had been subdued. Most touchingly does Moses entreat, that having had a foretaste of the glorious victories to come, he might be permitted to enter the land. How solemnly God reminds him of the inflexible nature of His chastening: "Speak no more unto Me of this matter."
Thus, having rapidly surveyed their history, the lawgiver presses upon the people the importance of obedience, and again and again we find these words, "take heed," "hearken," "obey." They are particularly warned against making any image or representation of the invisible God. Idolatry is the badge of apostasy, and paves the way for all subsequent abominations. Therefore they were particularly warned against falling into the sin which characterized the nations whom they were to disposess. And who, indeed, could be compared with God as He had revealed Himself to them? — in the glories and majesty of Sinai, in the perfections of a law which re-echoed in their own conscience and proved itself to be divine, as the shining of the sun proves it to be the orb of day.
This division closes with the apparently remarkable digression of the provision of the three cities of refuge on the east side of Jordan. We cannot fail to see the divine appropriateness of pointing to the refuge for a people whose past history so much emphasized their need of it.
Division 2. (Deut. 4:44 — 30).
The law recapitulated, amplified and enforced. This division gives its name for us to the entire book of Deuteronomy, "a repetition of the law." It is not, however, a mere repetition — which we never find in the word of God. There are indeed certain apparent contradictions, or at least enlargements and modifications which unbelief has not been slow to seize upon and use for its purposes. Faith, however, has learned to see in such apparent contradictions but fresh illustrations of divine wisdom, and finds its profit in the very difficulties which God permits us to ponder over. How good He is, thus, to give His people problems which shall both develop their spiritual faculties and make all the sweeter those answers which we are sure to find hidden beneath them.
Nor let it be thought for a moment that we are apologizing for apparent discrepancies. There will be found an absolute and essential consistency in every portion of God's word with all the the rest, even in the matter of verbal accuracy. We rise from the study of difficult portions of Scripture with the added conviction that not one jot or tittle shall pass from the law till all be fulfilled. Thus, the sermon on the mount is, we might say, our Lord's Deuteronomic review of the law itself, and in the explanations and applications of its divine principles shows us at once the partial character of the original revelation and its essential spirituality when properly applied.
These general remarks will suffice as an introduction to this division of our book. Into its details we will not here enter minutely, noting merely the main sub-divisions and their correspondence with similar portions of the legal covenant originally given.
Sub-division 1. (Deut. 4:44 — 11).
We have here first the recapitulation of the ten commandments given at Mount Sinai, together with the effect upon the people which necessitated the establishing of mediation through Moses (Deut. 4:44 — 5). Next we have the restatements and applications of the principles emphasized under these commands. This is given in the summary of the first table of the law. "The Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul and with all thy might." This was to be kept in memory, and to absorb their entire life, at home, abroad, in every circumstance, as frontlets between the eyes and memorials upon their gates and doors. These testimonies are to be passed on to their children also (Deut. 6). In the light of this command, they are to wage relentless war against the seven nations whom they are to dispossess.
The names here, as everywhere, are doubtless significant. They suggest those powers of evil which preoccupy and would prevent our enjoyment of our God-given inheritance in Christ. The Hittite, "child of terror" — how spiritual dread makes cowards of us all! The Girgashites, "dwellers in clay;" alas, we are prone to settle down in the dust of earth, instead of rising to our heavenly portion. The Amorite, "the talker," rather than the doer of the Word. The Canaanite, "the trafficker," companion to the talker, who turns the very truth of God into merchandise. The Perizzite, "the countryman," suggesting perhaps the thought of great power, nobility, false pride; and the Hivite, "the villager," suggesting the opposite, a false humility; while the Jebusite, "the treader down," never rests until all divine things are put beneath the feet. All these are to be cast out. Any alliance with them is to be utterly refused. Their religion and their ways are to be abhorred. They are not to be feared because of their greatness, but relentlessly are they to be overthrown (Deut. 7).
They are next (Deut. 8 — 10:11) reminded of the Lord's care through their wilderness journey, how they were fed, although suffered also to hunger, that they might learn the lesson which our Lord so fully exemplified: "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word which proceedeth out of the mouth of God." Indeed, we might remark in this connection, that in His conflict with Satan after the forty days' fasting in the wilderness (in which our Lord perfectly manifested His obedience, as Israel did their disobedience in their wilderness experience), our Lord meets all the temptations of Satan by quotations from the book of Deuteronomy, thus putting especial honor upon that book which higher criticism has particularly assailed.
Having glanced at the wilderness, their thoughts are led forward to the land in contrast — its fountains, valleys, hills, its grains and fruits, its mineral wealth and abundance of every kind, all typical of the fulness of blessing that is ours in Christ in the heavenly places. They are then further reminded that all this care, both in the wilderness and rich provision in the land, is not because of their righteousness, but rather in judgment upon the wicked nations, and the fulfilment of the promises made to the fathers. God's electing love is put side by side with the humbling narrative of the people's rebellion; their apostasy at Horeb, with the further provocations at Taberah, Massah, Kibroth-hattaavah and Kadesh-barnea. The intercession of Moses is suitably put in connection with the provision of the ark in which the law could be placed, a type of the great Intercessor who kept the law within His heart (Deut. 9:25 — 10:11).
Again their responsibility in view of all this is pressed upon them. They are the objects of God's delight and love, who should imitate Him and love Him in the obedience of practical holiness, as they remember His judgments upon His enemies. Thus would all the blessings and glories of their inheritance be preserved to them, and their years be prolonged even as the days of heaven upon earth. The entire land was to be given to them, but only so much as their feet should tread upon would be practically theirs.
Sub-division 2. (Deut. 12 — 26).
Special application of the law Godward and manward. God's centre is first established (Deut. 12). All was to be done with reference to that. The subsequent history of the people in setting up high places which became centres of idolatry shows the divine wisdom in this provision. Any departure from God, on the part of an individual, no matter how near the relationship, or of an entire city, was to be punished with the extreme penalty (Deut. 13).
They were to be holy in their ways, refusing imitation of the abominations of the heathen as to their person, their food, and their religious services (Deut. 14). The Spiritual lesson is clear, as to the people of God, their spiritual food and their worship.
Next follow (Deut. 15) the provisions which were given at large in Leviticus 26, here explained in certain directions in greater detail. Deut. 16 in a similar way gives us the outline of the feasts of the Lord, now in three groups, of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. It will be remembered that three and seven each stand, the one for fulness, the other for completeness, and the feasts can be looked at from both points of view.
Next follow the provisions for righteousness and judgment, looking forward to the time when the King shall reign (Deut. 17) . The care for those who minister in holy things is expressed in Deut. 18, along with God's judgment upon Spiritism. The true Prophet, as well as the true King is coming. Thus we see the undertone in the book speaks of Christ.
Deut. 19 — 21 dwell largely upon the commandments of the second table — duties and responsibilities to man. Here again, as several times before, provision is made in the city of refuge for the protection of him who is unwittingly guilty of his brother's blood; sufficient witness must be had before any suspected wrongdoer can be convicted. Provision is made for warfare; courage and mercy are to characterize them, although unsparing judgment must be meted out to the enemies in their own inheritance. Again we recur (Deut. 21) to the possibility of manslaughter. How God has thus placed all along the way in these allusions to the city of refuge and blood-guiltiness, sign posts pointing, as it were, to Christ. Thus, Peter could say: "Now, brethren, I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers," and then points them to God's refuge. Mercy and uprightness are to mark their ways in dealing one with another. Various details in Deut. 22 — 25 would call for special examination. "Ye shall be holy, for I am holy," and, "Be ye therefore followers of God as dear children" will be recalled in this connection.
Deut. 26 is familiar, with its beautiful ordinance of the basket of firstfruits. How the memory of grace in the past and the confession of present blessings are to stir the heart to worship and praise!
Sub-division 3. (Deut. 27 — 30).
Blessings and curses as the law is kept or disobeyed. Deut. 27 provides for the erection of a pillar upon Mount Ebal in which the terms of the law are to be written, giving, we might say, Israel's title-deeds to the enjoyment of the land. Let it be noted, however, that only curses, and not blessings, are provided for.
Deut. 28 then gives, first, the blessings in every department of life for obedience (vers. 1-14, and at far greater length the dreadful curses which shall come upon disobedience (vers. 15-68).
The whole of this portion closes with a recapitulation in which again the dreadful curses are pronounced upon them, and yet provision is made for their restoration (Deut. 30). It is from this portion that the apostle adapts those words, so often referred to, in Rom. 10, "The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth and in thy heart." The commandment was near to Israel, but righteousness could never be by the law. Thank God, the gospel is nearer still, with its message of assured grace: "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thy heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." Thus, at the close of this reiteration of the law, blessings and curses are laid before the people, and they are exhorted to choose life and blessing rather than death and cursing.
Division 3. (Deut. 31-34).
The prophetic outlook and Me close. Moses is drawing near the close of his great plea for God. Before ending, Joshua is pointed out, as he had been before, as his successor. The law as written by Moses is delivered to the priests, with instructions that it shall be read at the close of every. seven years to the assembled nation. God pre- dicts the future declension of the people; the book of the law at the side of the ark is to be a witness against them.
They are now to hear in the words of his closing song the testimony to their perfidy and God's faithfulness. It is proclaimed in the form of a song, for the spirit of praise must permeate the most solemn denunciations of evil. Thus the entire book of experience, the Psalms, is written in poetry, and the same is partly true of the Prophets. It is as though the contemplation of evil, the very degradation of man, his rebellion and hostility to God, and the foolishness and waywardness of His own people, are not to be so dwelt upon as to oppress the soul, but rather to be viewed with Moses in song, celebrating and declaring God's victory over all evil, and His ultimate triumph for His people as well. This is the theme of the prophetic song which sets forth in magnificent detail the faithfulness of God. Heaven and earth are called upon to listen to the story. Jehovah's name is proclaimed and His faithfulness; the waywardness too of His people; His care and patient mercy with them, and their rebellion and apostasy; the governmental results of this departure, with the final triumph in the chastening of the people and bringing them out into the glories of that mil- lennial scene when God shall be exalted and His people blessed (Deut. 32).
In the same connection, we have the blessing of the twelve tribes immediately preceding the closing scene of all. Here the great lawgiver reviews the future history of the people, and their ultimate blessing as exemplified in the recompense given to each of the twelve tribes.
Reuben is to live, but with few men, reminding us that the excellency of nature must be set aside.
Judah will be brought to his people, the full restoration of the twelve tribes here suggested.
Levi's faithfulness is dwelt upon at length, and the special love to Benjamin and to Joseph, who was separated from his brethren, comes next.
Zebulon and Issachar shall reach out in blessing toward the Gentiles, and Gad and Dan speak of the martial victory which shall result in Israel's supremacy; while Naphtali and Asher close the prophetic review with blessing.
These blessings of the individual tribes doubtless bring into prominence the special features connected with each; yet this individual blessing is shared by all. All these blessings are headed up in the ascription of praise to the God of Jeshurun, the Helper of Israel, who is the refuge of His people and whose everlasting arms sustain them, who shall drive out their enemy from before them and give them the land of corn and wine. The heavens above shall look down upon the smiling earth where all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
As we contemplate the glorious picture spread out before us, we may with the apostle exclaim in worship: "O the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out."
The great plea for God is closed; the life-work of Moses is ended; nothing remains now but for him to witness, in his end, the inflexible justice of the law of which he had been the mediator and the exponent. He must himself come under its rigor, and in his exclusion from the land of promise exemplify the fact that "by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight."
But while governmentally debarred from the land, faith links him with a higher blessing. He is also permitted to look out over the whole goodly inheritance, ere he closes his undimmed eyes, and he sees that goodly Canaan and Lebanon on which the eye of the Lord rests from the beginning to the end of the year. Then the faithful servant lays down his charge with his life. He falls asleep, his great work done, and rests from his labor. None amongst the sons of men know his place of burial; the rude intrusion of a false superstition which would do homage to his body, a thing which Satan apparently was eager to effect and which the archangel resisted, is guarded against. God keeps the secret to Himself until the day when Moses shall be seen in all the lustre of the glory of the Son of God. Indeed, we have a glimpse of that very glory on the holy mount, where, in company with Elijah, the great lawgiver is seen in the effulgence of that glory which shines in the Son of God.
May we not say that the postscript of his great book, is as an epitaph inscribed upon his monument — the record of his great life!
"And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face in all the signs and the wonders which the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh, and to all his servants, and to all his land, and in all that mighty hand, and in all the great terror which Moses showed in the sight of all Israel."