The word “Deuteronomy” means “Second Law” or “Repetition of the Law.”
In the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers, laws have been given at various
intervals. Now, with their wanderings over, and on the eve of the entrance into
applications to, a settled life.
In these first five verses we have the inscription and general introduction to the
book, announcing the contents of the book, the author of it, the parties whom he
addressed, and the time and place of his addresses.
1 “These be the words” – Some would render here “Such are the words,” and
understand the expression as referring to the preceding books. But it seems more
natural to refer it to what follows — to the addresses in this book. The pronoun
these (אֵלֶּה) may be used with a prospective reference, as well as with a
retrospective (cf. e.g. Genesis 2:4; 6:9). The author does not by this connect
this book with the preceding, but rather distinguishes it. The subscription in
Numbers 36:13 indicates that what precedes is occupied chiefly with what
God spake to Moses; the inscription here intimates that what follows is what
Moses spake to the people. This is the characteristic of Deuteronomy - “which
Moses spake unto all Israel” - It cannot be supposed that Moses spoke to the
whole multitude of the people so as to be heard by them. Hence the Jewish
interpreters say that he spoke to the elders of the people, who carried his words
to the people at large. This is just; for what was thus immediately communicated
to the people might be fairly described as spoken to them; and we find from
other passages in the Pentateuch that the phrase, “the elders of
the mind of the writer, was equivalent to “the congregation of
(compare Exodus 12:3 with v. 21; Leviticus 9:1 with ver. 5). But through
whatever medium conveyed, it was to the people that these words were addressed;
this is emphatically a book for the people - “on this side Jordan” - This should be
On the other side or beyond
here used (עֵבֶר) means properly something beyond, over, or across, and indicates
that which, to the speaker, lies on the other side of some line or limit. When
coupled with “the
river; only in one or two instances, where the speaker takes his standpoint
on the east of the river, does it designate the regions to
the west of
(Ibid. v. 25); 11:30) The phrase “beyond
designation of the region east of the
which is here so designated, as what follows expressly shows - “in the
wilderness,” - This term is used of any extensive district not occupied by inhabitants
or subjected to culture; hence of vast prairies or pasturelands, as well as of places
properly desert and desolate. It here denotes the grassy plains or downs on the east
and southeast of the
Arabah. This is properly the whole of that remarkable depression which stretches
from the source of the
only that part of it which extends from the south end of
(ch. 2:8). This part still bears the name of the ‘Arabah, the northern part being
known as the Ghor (Smith’s ‘Dictionary,’ vol. 1. p. 87) - “over against the Red
sea,” - The
name by which the
(יַם־סוּפ); here only the latter word occurs, and this has led some to doubt
a breviloquence for Yam-suph, the
take it. The identification of the Yam-suph of the Old Testament with the
ἐρυθρὰ θάλασσα – erutha
erythraeum, or rubrum, of the Latins, is due to the Septuagint, which other versions
have followed. The identification is undoubtedly correct (compare Numbers 33:10
and I Kings 9:26). Yam-suph, indeed, means simply sea of weeds, and might be
the name of any sea in which algae are found; but these passages clearly
prove that by this the Hebrews designated the
this sea the Israelites crossed, and the hosts of Pharaoh were submerged, is
and must remain uncertain, because we know not what was the condition
at any part of what is now known as the Red Sea or
recommend arkdiscovery.com and look at the section on the
Crossing for items of interest! – CY – 2012) - But this has not been
accepted by scholars generally - It seems probable that originally only a
marshy district lay between the Gulf of Suez and the
somewhere in this probably the passage of the Israelites and the drowning
of the Egyptians occurred – “between Paran, and Tophel,” - This serves
more fully and particularly to indicate the locality here intended; but the
details present considerable difficulty. Taken in connection with the words
“over against the
intended more precisely to indicate the region in which the Israelites had
been during the forty years of their wandering. Paran: this is the name of
the wilderness bordering on Idumea, where the Israelites encamped
(Numbers 10:12; 12:16); the place of their encampment being Kadesh, in the
wilderness of Zin (Ibid. 13:21, 26), which was the eastern part of the
wilderness of Paran. hod. Wady Murreh. The wilderness of Paran corresponds
in general outline
surface stretching from the Et-Tih range northwards to the boundaries of the
Holy Land, and from the Gulf of Akabah and the Wady cf. Arabah on the
east to the Gulf
of Suez and the
“a chalky formation, the chalk being covered with coarse gravel, mixed with
black flints and drifting sand;” not, however, wholly sterile: in many parts
vegetation abounds, considerable portions are under cultivation, and there
are evidences that it one time water was abundant there. It is not, however,
to the wilderness of Paran that the reference is in the text, but to some definite
locality or spot in the region in which the Israelites then were, or which
they had recently passed through. It has been suggested that the place now
called Feiran, and where there are the ruins of a town, once of some
importance in the early history of Christianity, is the Paran of this passage,
as it apparently is the Paran of I Kings 11:18. But this locality at the base
of Jebel Serbail is much too far west to be the Paran here referred to. More
probable is the suggestion that it is the Faran mentioned by Eusebius and
Jerome (‘Onomast.,’ s.v. Φαράν – Pharan – Paran - a city to the east-
northeast of Allah or Elath), about three days’ journey (Reland, ‘Palest.,’
p. 556; Winer, ‘Realworterbuch,’ s.v. Pharan). Tophel: this name occurs only here;
it is supposed to be the place now coiled Tufailah or Tafyleh, a large village of
six hundred inhabitants, between Bozrah and Kerak, on the eastern slope of
the mountains of
Res.,’ 2:570). As this is a place where the Syrian caravans are supplied
with provisions, it has been conjectured that the Israelites, when at Oboth
(Numbers 21:10-11), may have resorted to it for a supply, and that it
was here that they purchased meat and drink from the children of Esau
(Deuteronomy 2:29) - “and Laban,” – Laban is generally identified with
Libnah, the second place of encampment of the Israelites on their return
from Kadesh (Numbers 33:20-21). Knobel, however, thinks it is the
place called by Ptolemy 'Αὔαρα, lying between
from the Arabic (he was white), having the same meaning as
the Hebrew לָבָן. “and Hazeroth,” – Hazeroth is supposed to be the place
mentioned in Numbers 11:35; 12:16, from which the Israelites entered the
wilderness of Paran; but as the other places here mentioned are on the east
side of the Arabah, it is not probable that this Hazeroth is the same as that of
Numbers, which must have been not far from Sinai, in a northerly or north-
westerly direction from that mountain, probably at or near to the fountain
now called El Hudherah (
‘Cyclopedia,’ 2:243). There were probably several places bearing the name
of Hazeroth, i.e. villages - “and Dizahab.” This is generally identified with
Dhahab, a place on a tongue of land in the
extremely improbable that the Israelites ever were at this place, the
approach to which is exceedingly difficult; and the mere resemblance of the
names Dizahab and Dhahab is not sufficient to prove the identity of the
places. There were probably more places than one which were named from
zahab (gold) in the region traversed by the Israelites. There is a Dhahab on
the east of the
said to derive its name from the yellowish color of the sandstone rock of
which it consists, and which is metalliferous. In the Arabic of the Polyglot,
Dizahab appears as Dhi-dhahab, which signifies “auro praeditum vel ab
auro dictum; nam דו vel די, apud Arabes in compositione nominum propr.
idem est ac Hebrews בַעל (J. H. Michaelis). There is a various reading
here, Di-waheb, and this has been supposed to connect this place with the
Waheb of Numbers 21:14. But, as above noted, it is by no means
certain that Waheb is there the name of a place; it may, as Bishop Patrick
suggests, be that of a man, some hero or chief, who was conquered in
Sufah or in a storm. Waheb is a name among the Arabs. The maternal
grandfather of Mohammed had this name (Abul-Pharaj, ‘Hist. Dynast.,’ p.
161, edit. Pococke, Oxen., 1663); and the sect of the Wahabees take their
name from Abdul Wahab, a fanatic who appeared about the beginning of
last century. The words “between Paran and Tophel” have been taken to
indicate’ the termini of the wanderings; at the commencement of these the
people were at Paran, and towards the close of them they were at Tophel.
‘“Looking from the steppes of Moab over the ground that the Israelites
had traversed, Suph, where they
first entered the
lie between Paran where the
congregation arrived at the borders of
toward the west, and Tophel where they first ended their desert
wanderings thirty-seven years later on the east” (Keil). But this assumes
that Paran here is the wilderness of Paran.
2 (There are eleven days’ journey from Horeb” - The name generally given to
Sinai in Deuteronomy. Sinai, however, occurs in ch. 33:2 of this book - “by the
“the way of the
Mount is here, as often elsewhere, for mountain range. The mountain range here
referred to seems to have been, not that on the east of the ‘Arabah, but what is in
vs. 6 and 19 called “the mountain of the Amorites,” “the Seir by Hormah” of v. 44,
e. the southern part of what was afterwards called the mountains of
According to v. 19, the Israelites, when they left Horeb, passed through the
wilderness along the way that led to the mountains of the Amorites, and came
to Kadesh-barnea. Kadesh must, therefore, be looked for, not on the eastern
side of the ‘Arabah, but somewhere in the wilderness of Zin. It has been identified
with the place now known as ‘Ain Kudes, near the northern extremity of Jebel
Halal, and to the east of that hill; but this is far from being certain. Moses reminds
the Israelites that the distance between Horeb and Kadesh is eleven days — i.e.,
about one hundred and sixty-five miles, the day’s journey being reckoned at
fifteen miles — not to give them a piece of information, but rather to suggest to
them how, in consequence of rebellion, a journey which might have been
so easily accomplished, had been protracted through many wearisome
years. “unto Kadeshbarnea).
The Might-Have-Beens of Life (v. 2)
In its present setting this brief geographical note was, doubtless, meant to
suggest the lesson of the evil results of disobedience. “Eleven days’
journey,” yet the fortieth year still we find them in the wilderness. We learn:
1. Sin turns short ways into LONG ONES!.
2. Sin entails on the transgressor NEEDLESS TROUBLE AND SORROW!
3. Sin FILLS LIFE WITH RUEFUL REGRETS!
4. Sin delays fulfillment of GOD’S PROMISES!
“The way of the transgressors is hard!” (Proverbs 13:15) The path of obedience
is in the end:
Ø the shortest,
Ø safest, and
“Sin will take you farther than you want to go,
keep you longer than you want to stay,
and cost you more than you want to pay.
(R. G. Lee – Pay Day Someday)
3 “And it came to pass in the fortieth year, in the eleventh month, on the
first day of the month,” – Here is intimated the time when the following
addresses were delivered to the people. It was on the first day of the eleventh
month in the fortieth year; therefore near the end of their wanderings, and
towards the close of the lawgiver’s own career. He could thus speak to them
according to all
- “ that Moses spake unto the children of
unto all that the LORD had given him in commandment unto them;”
i.e. in accordance with the legislative contents of the preceding books (compare
ch. 4:5, 23; 5:28-33; 6:1). 4 “After he had slain Sihon the king of the Amorites,
which dwelt in Heshbon,
and Og the king of
in Edrei:” It was also after the destruction of Sihon and ‘Og (Numbers 21:21-35).
This also is significant. By the destruction of these kings, who sought to bar the
access of the Israelites to the Promised Land, God had given proof that He would
indeed fulfill His promise to His people, and had at once laid them under
obligations to obedience, and given them encouragement to go forward on
the course to which He had called them. The “he” here is Moses, who, at
the command of God, had led the Israelites against Sihon and ‘Og. Edrei,
hod Draa (Ibid. v.33) was the second capital of ‘Og; he “reigned
in Ashtaroth and in Edrei” (Joshua 13:12). Here, however, it denotes
the place where he was slain in battle, and the words “in Edrei” are to be
referred to the verb “smote” and not to “dwelt” (compare ch.3:1; Numbers 21:33).
The Deuteronomic Discourses (vs. 1-4)
· THE SPEAKER. “Moses.” Though an hundred and twenty years old,
“his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated” (ch. 34:7) — a statement
borne out by the sustained eloquence of these addresses. He speaks with:
Ø the authority of a prophet,
Ø the affection of a patriot, and
Ø the earnestness of a dying man.
THE HEARERS. “All
that which had received the Law at Sinai.
Ø All are concerned in hearing God’s message. “It is your life”
Ø New-comers need new teaching.
· THE SITUATION. “In the wilderness” — still there at the end of
forty years. The places named (v. 1), suggestive of past wanderings and
rebellions. Form a background to the discourses that follow, and point
home their lessons. We learn:
Ø The value of association as an aid in teaching.
Ø Our past cannot be got rid of, but it may be utilized.
Ø God’s Word is to be pondered in the light of bygone experiences.
Ø The comparison of our actual situation with what it might have been
(v. 2) is often a salutary exercise (compare Luke 15:17). (“Of all
the words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these what might have
been.” (John Greenleaf Whittier)
· THE SUBJECT. “All that the Lord had given him in commandment.”
We find that this does not refer to a new commandment, but to the old
commandment which they had from the beginning (compare I John 2:8).
Ø Men crave for novelty, but the function of the preacher is to remind
them of the truths which do not change, and to give “line upon line,
precept upon precept” (Isaiah 28:10) until loyal and hearty obedience
is rendered to the same.
Ø Exhortation is most effective when it takes as its basis the sure
Word of God.
Ø GOD’S WORD IS TO BE SPOKEN IN ITS ENTIRITY!
· THE TIME. “In the fortieth year, in the eleventh month” — when the
attack on the Canaanites was about to be renewed, and after signal tokens
of Divine favor had already been granted (v. 4).
Ø God’s mercies call for renewed dedication (Psalm 116:12-14).
Ø The recollections of wasted years should prove an incentive to
obedience in the future (Romans 13:11-12; Ephesians 5:15-16;
I Peter 4:3).
Ø We need God’s commandment in our memories and hearts when
entering on work in which formidable opposition is to be
encountered, and which will put our fidelity to a severe test.
(“Thy word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin
against thee!? Psalm 119:11)
· THE MOTIVE.
Ø The natural solicitude of old age. It is characteristic of old age to fall
back upon and reiterate previous counsels. Compare Peter in his second
Epistle (II Peter 1:16); the traditional stories of the old age of John;
Paul in the pastoral Epistles, “urging and repeating and dilating upon
truths which have been the food of his life.”
Ø The lawgiver’s knowledge of the rebelliousness of the people’s
disposition (ch. 9:24).
Ø The Divine command (v. 3). This had respect to the altered
circumstances of the new generation, and to the prospect of their
entering the land promised to their fathers, continuance in which
was conditional on obedience.
5 “On this side
region on the east of the
Kerak, where is a famous castle from the days of the Crusades - “began Moses” –
rather set himself to. The Hebrew word signifies to undertake, to betake one’s self to,
and so to begin It is variously rendered in the Authorized Version (compare
Genesis 18:27, “taken it upon me;” Exodus 2:21, “was content,” had made up his
mind; I Samuel 12:22, “it pleased;” 17:39,”assayed,”) - “ to declare
this law, saying,” - i.e. make clear, explain, expound (Habakkuk 2:2, “make plain”).
The Hebrew word here used (בָאַר) signifies primarily to cut or dig, then to cut
into, to grave, and then to cut or dig out so as to make evident, to declare,
to make plain. What Moses set himself to do, then, was not to publish a
new law, but to make plain to the people the Law already promulgated, to
set forth clearly and pointedly what they were required by the Law to be
and to do. This explains more fully the “spake” (דִבֶּר) of v. 3. This
exposition of the Law was designed specially for the sake of those who, at
the time the Law was first promulgated, either were not born or were
incapable of understanding it. The expression used by Moses plainly indicates
that this book was not intended to furnish a second code of laws different
from the former, but simply to explain and enforce what had before been
The Word of God Full of Hidden Treasure (vs. 1-5)
We cannot get very far in these preliminary verses ere we are struck with a
phrase which is a most suggestive one, and should not be lightly passed
over, viz. “On this side
declare this law,” literally, to dig it, i.e. to go deeply into it, and to turn up
again its contents, so that, to all the advantage of a generation of culture,
the people might see that there was more meaning, and also more glory in
the Law of God than they were able to discern in the first years of their
national existence. Observe:
case, even if we thereby intend the Mosaic Law alone. Its theology, its
ethics, its directory of religious faith and worship, its civil and political
code for the Hebrew commonwealth, are all so pure and elevated, that no
account can be given of how any man at that age of the world could have
propounded such a system, save that he was taught of God (II Peter
1:21). (ch. 5:7-22.) If, moreover, we would see how the devout Hebrews
estimated the Law, let us turn to Psalm 19:7-14; 103:7, et seq. Our Savior
honored the Law, and maintained it in all its integrity (Matthew 5:17-18).
He removed the glosses by which it had in his time become disfigured,
but he never depreciated it. We are by no means to confound “the Law”
with the abstract idea of “law.” See how sharply the Apostle Paul
distinguishes between these two in Romans 3., especially in v. 21,
“But now there has been manifested a righteousness of God apart from
law, being witnessed by THE Law and the prophets.” The Law given by
Moses is based on the gospel (Galatians 3.; see also Homiletics,
Deuteronomy 5:6). If, however, to all that Moses gave, we add all
“the grace and the truth” which came in by JESUS CHRIST how
unsearchably vast is the wealth stored up for us in the “Word of
REPAID. How much difference there is between a man who knows only
what men say about the Book, and one who knows the Book for himself!
The one may be easily beguiled into the belief that it is so out of date that it
is scarcely worth while to study it at all. The other will find it so far ahead
of the actual attainments of the wisest and best of men, that he will pity
those who dismiss it with but a glance from afar. The continuous, careful,
thorough student of the Law of Moses, will be ever discovering a richness
in it which will at once astonish and enrapture him. Its harmony with, its
historical preparation for, the gospel, will be continually disclosing to him
new proofs of its Divine original, that will be worth more to him than any
merely “external evidence.” And when the whole Word of God is made the
constant study of one whose heart is open to the truth and loyal to God,
such a one will find fuller and richer meaning in single words, such as “goel,”
“grace,” “righteousness,” etc., when these words are put to their highest
use in Divine revelation, than in whole tomes of merely human lore!
APPROPRIATE ITS CONTENTS, BY ENLIGHTENED REASON
AND LOWLY FAITH. These treasures are for the use of all, not merely to
gratify them with the consciousness of ever making new discoveries, but to
make them richer in the accumulating stores of holy thought. And if we, in
the right spirit, explore these sacred pages, we shall ourselves become
richer in knowledge, in gladness, in hope. If we cultivate a willingness to
do God’s will, and seek to know the truth for the purpose of doing the
right, we shall find that much that is “hidden from the wise and prudent” is,
by means of the Book, “revealed unto babes.” (Matthew 11:25)
THE MORE EXHAUSTLESS IT WILL SEEM. No one is there, who
lovingly and prayerfully studies it, who will not come to say, with a feeling
that becomes intenser year by year, “There remaineth very much land to be
possessed.” (Joshua 13:1) - “High as the heaven is above the earth, so are”
God’s “ways higher than” our “ways, and” God’s “thoughts than” our
“thoughts!” (Isaiah 55:8-9)
BE TRANSMUTED BY US INTO THE WEALTH OF HOLY LIFE.
It is not for naught that our GOD HAS SO ENRICHED THIS WORLD
WITH THOUGHTS FROM HEAVEN. It is not merely that the intellect
may be furnished or the taste for research gratified. Oh no; it is for our life.
Heaven has poured forth its wealth upon earth, that earth may send
up its love and loyalty to heaven. Precious are the riches of truth. The riches
of holiness are more precious still. God gives us the first that we may yield Him
the second. God would win
commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners,
Christ died for us” ( Romans 5:8). How great will be our guilt, how severe
our condemnation, if we let such priceless disclosures remain unnoticed and
unused! It were better for us not to have known the way of righteousness
than, after we have known it, to turn from the holy commandment
delivered unto us (II Peter 2:21). May we, through the Spirit, so use the
truth of God as to find our joy and salvation in the God of the truth.
(ch. 1:6 to ch. 4:40)
With this verse begins Moses’ first address to the people, which extends to the end of
ch. 4. It is of an introductory character, and is occupied chiefly with a retrospective
survey of the events that had occurred during the forty years of their wanderings.
By this Moses reminded the people how God had fulfilled His promises to them,
and at the same time, how they had by their rebellion drawn down on them His
displeasure, which had caused their wanderings to be so much more protracted
than they would otherwise have been.
The Lord’s Command to Depart from Horeb, and His Promise to the People.
6 “The LORD our God” - Jehovah our God. The use of this epithet implies
the covenant union of
covenant which was entered into at Sinai. “spake unto us in Horeb,” - This
was the starting-point, so to speak, of
His segullah (סְגֻּלָּה, Exodus 19:5), His special treasure. There He made Himself
known to them as JEHOVAH, THE ETERNAL AND THE UNCHANGEABLE,
and entered into covenant with them; and there they received that Law, on the
keeping of which depended their retention of the privileges to which they had
been elected. At Horeb the Israelites had remained for about a year (compare
Exodus 19:1 and Numbers 10:11-12), and as the purpose for which they had been
brought thither was answered, they were enjoined to move, not indeed by express
command, but by the rising of the cloud from over the tabernacle, which was the
signal of their march (Numbers 9:15; 10:11-13), preceded by the instructions they
had received preparatory to their removal (Numbers 1:1-4:7) - “saying, Ye have
dwelt long enough in this mount:” The Israelites remained at Sinai from the third
month of the first year to the twentieth day of the second month in the second year
after they came out of
7 “Turn you, and take your journey, and go to the mount of the Amorites,
and unto all the places nigh thereunto,” - literally, its dwellers or inhabitants
(שְׁכֵנָיו). The mountain range of the Amorites, afterwards called the hill
country of Judah and Ephraim, was the object which would first strike the
view of one advancing from the south; and so, it stands here for the whole
thereon” are the inhabitants of the whole of
Emori, so called from Amor, or Emor) oftener than once appear as standing
for the Canaanites generally (compare Genesis 15:16; here vs. 20-21). That all
the inhabitants of
the different districts of the
(see v. 1). “in the hills,” -
the hill country of
(Numbers 13:17) - “and in the vale,” - the shephelah, or lowland, the country
lying between the mountain range of
stretching northwards from the parallel of
south,” – the negeb, or southland (literally, dryness), the district which
formed the transition from the desert to the cultivated land, extending from
the south of the Dead Sea westwards to
the most part pasture land - “and by the sea side,” - The seashore: the narrow
strip of land on the coast of the Mediterranean from Joppa
New Testament, “the
land of the Canaanites,” - the whole country of which these were the separate
parts - “and unto
snow which rests on its summit - “unto the great river, the river
The Phrath, or Euphrates, which has its sources in the mountains of
Armenia, and in its course divides Armenia from Cappadocia, formed the
eastern limit of the territory promised by God to Abraham. The epithet
“great” seems to have been commonly applied to it. Callimachus calls
ποταμοῖο μέγας ρόος
('In Apoll.,' 107), and Lucan
"Quaque caput rapido tollit cum Tigride
As by much the most considerable river of western Asia, the
The mention of
"to be attributed to the rhetorical fullness of the style;" but is due to the fact that
these were included in what God promised to Abraham and his seed
8 “Behold, I have set the land before you:” – literally, have given
the land before you, i.e. have made it over to you, that you may go and
take possession of it. The Lord had placed this land in the power of the
Israelites, had given it up to them to possess and use it, according as He
had sworn to their fathers, the patriarchs, to give it to them and their seed
(compare Genesis 12:7; 13:15; 15:18; 22:16-18) - “go in and possess the land
which the LORD swear unto your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and
Jacob, to give unto them and to their seed after them.” At Horeb, therefore,
they received the charter of their inheritance, and might have gone on at
once to take possession of the land. The delay that had occurred had arisen
solely from their own waywardness and perversity, not from anything on
the part of God.
Divine Covenant and Human Conduct -
the Two Hemispheres of a Complete Life
· AN ELECT MAN, THE BEST OF THE AGE, BECOMES A
MEDIUM OF REVELATION BETWEEN GOD AND MEN. As in
nature, so in human life, there are numberless grades of office and of
function. At Sinai, we have God, angels, Moses, priests. The transparent
candor and fidelity of Moses, as a subaltern in God’s great host, is a light
to all future ages. As the uncreated light left an abiding impress on the face
of Moses, so the known will of God shone out lustrously in Moses’ life. All
that Moses heard, he communicated by word, and temper, and influence,
· MATERIAL PENURY A CONDITION FOR HEAVENLY
ENRICHMENT. The scene for the revelation of God, is the wilderness.
Stripped of earthly luxuries, the mind opens its portals to heavenly
visitation. This is not a necessity arising out of the nature of things, but it is
a necessity for man in his present state. The son of Zacharias, though a
priest, turned his back upon the temple, and chose the wilderness as the
theatre most suitable for his ponderous undertaking. This the spirit of
prophecy had foreseen. It was in the desert, Jesus fed the thousands by a
creative word. In the desert, Paul was equipped for shaking the
foundations of paganism. In
of the spirit-world.
· HUMAN POWER IS FORMAL — GOD’S POWER IS REAL. To the
eye of mortal sense, the Hebrews, drilled and officered, fought victoriously
that slew Sihon,
King of the Amorites, and ‘Og, King of
sure that what we do, God does by us! Be we the agents; God the
principal! In righteous warfare, “He teacheth our fingers to fight.”
(Psalm 144:1) In us hourly let God be immanent. “God wills it,”
therefore let us will it also. “He worketh in us.”
· IMMEDITATION AND ACTION INTEGRAL PARTS OF
HEALTHFUL LIFE. “Ye have dwelt long enough in this mount.” The
body may be wrecked by surfeit, as well as by hunger. Knowledge is not
entirely ours, until it is reduced to practice. Heavenly wisdom is essentially
practical. All light is designed for service. The doctrines of religion are raw
materials, which are to be put into the warp and woof of our daily life. Is
“the Lamb the light of the heavenly place?” (Revelation 21:23) The saints
“follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth.” (ibid. ch. 14:4) Meditation
qualifies for action; action demands new meditation. These are the two wings,
without both of which the eagle cannot rise. “Come ye into the desert”
(Mark 6:31); “Go and preach” (ibid. ch. 16:15); these are the twin behests
· GOD’S ABSOLUTE PURPOSES LEAVE FULL SCOPE FOR
MAN’S OBEDIENCE. How the two things are co-related, we cannot
ascertain. The point of junction is among the incomprehensible — beneath
the surface of things. There is now and again seeming discord; but as we
listen on there is a profounder harmony. The Lord swore unto the
patriarchs to give them the
ill report; and the people debated and murmured, vacillated and
countermarched, as if they had been the umpires of their destiny.
· GOD’S PROVISION IS ALWAYS MORE AMPLE THAN MAN’S
DESIRE. God’s plan for
to the Euphrates; but
“Ask what I shall give thee” (II Chronicles 1:7) is still the message from
heaven TO EVERY MAN! “Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.”
(Psalm 81:10) “We have not because we ask not.” (James 4:3) There is
abundance of sea-room in God’s plan for the largest human
endeavor; and every day the voice of the Great Proprietor reminds us,
“There is yet very much land to be possessed.” (Joshua 13:1) “All things
are yours.” (I Corinthians 3:21)
(v. 8 with Exodus 23:20-33)
Moses is reviewing the career of
the people the patience and faithfulness of God, as well as their own
waywardness. In the part of his review which is before us just now, he
points to the time when their sojourn in Horeb was about to close. Laws
and ordinances had been given. The nation was formed. Preparations for
departure would have to be made. To this they are incited by a renewal of
the Divine gift to them of the
the verses referred to above may be advantageously compared with
Exodus 23:20-33. A subject is here brought before us of great importance, viz.
The right of the Hebrews to Canaan, and the purpose of the Divine Being in
granting it to them. We have here:
THE HEBREW RIGHT TO
double use has been made of the command to dispossess the Canaanites:
Ø By skeptics, to impugn the morality of the Old Testament.
Ø By professing Christian men, to justify wars of aggression now. Now we
might meet both these by one short and ready reply, viz. “If God
commanded the Hebrews to exterminate the Canaanites, no defense is
required; if God did not command them, no defense avails.” But there is a
more appropriate way of meeting the two cases. As to the first, we would
say, “Before you pronounce it immoral, look at the entire bearings of the
case, that you may see if the Israelites had an adequate warrant for the
course they took.” As to the second, “Before you regard this as a pattern,
look at the entire bearings of the case, that you may see if there is any
ground for adducing the wars of the Hebrews as a justification or palliation
of aggressive war now.” If men go to the Book to learn what the Israelites
did, they must in all fairness go to the Book to see the grounds on which
they did it. And the same teaching that will answer the one question, Were
they justified? will also answer the other, Should we be justified in
imitating them? Thirteen points present themselves for distinct and
cumulative consideration. We can but name them.
o God spake to Moses.
o In speaking to Moses, God but confirmed the promise made to
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
o God defines the bounds of the land to be possessed.
o God makes the claim, “All the earth is mine;” consequently He has a
right to give the land to whomsoever He will.
o God foresaw the time for carrying out this plan (Genesis 15.).
o The preparation of the land was of God (Exodus 23. 20).
o The ground on which the Canaanites were dispossessed was their
enormous wickedness (Deuteronomy 9:4-5 – It seems that the
the wickedness of the Canaanites! CY – 2020).
out an explicit Divine purpose.
To spare the Canaanites would have been to
God would deliver the nations into
o On a land and among a people recognized as God’s, the Most High
would reassert in the world the well-nigh forgotten truth, “The Lord
our God is holy.”
maintenance of the principles which had been entrusted to their
keeping, and on their loyalty to the God who had chosen them for
His own (ch. 28:49). When we put all these principles together, the
two questions suggested at the outset receive a direct and sufficient
before thee” (Exodus 32:34; 33:14; Isaiah 63:9; Malachi 3:1; Acts 7:38, 53;
John 1:51). It is only as we study the more advanced revelations of the New
Testament as to the place of angels in the Divine administration, and the
lordship of Jesus Christ over them, that all these texts of Scripture are seen
to fit in together. Note the specific statements in Exodus 23:20-33, as to God
DUTY IN REFERENCE TO
Negatively: they were neither to bow down to false gods nor to mix with
the heathen. Positively: they were to serve and fear God and to practice the
PROMISES CONCERNING PROSPERITY
DIVINELY GIVEN (Exodus 23:25). Blessing on food, health, long
life (compare Matthew 6:33; Psalm 91:16). A separate homily might well
be devoted to the temporal benefits naturally resulting from obedience to
God. The application of all this to us in these days is manifest.
(compare Exodus 19:5-6 with I Peter 2:9).
Ø In Jesus Christ we have a new covenant, a better ministry, greater
promises (Hebrews 8:6).
Ø We have a commission for the world. We have to co-operate with God
in bringing about new heavens and a new earth, by working in
accordance with His plan of redeeming and educating our race. We have
no commission to destroy. The Lord hath given us a power for
edification but none for destruction. Our commission runs, “Go, baptize
and teach.” (Matthew 28:19) We have not to supersede the occupation
of territory held by a barbarous nation, through its enforced occupation
by a civilized one, but to go and teach all nations that each nation may
supersede its own barbarism by a civilization that is equally its own.]
Ø This commission is to be fulfilled:
o by the Word of Truth, and
o by the power of God.
By spiritual weapons only can our victories be won. In the might of a
love that has conquered us, and in that might alone, we are to go forth
to make the conquest of the world.
“These weapons of the holy war,
Of what almighty force they are,
To make our stubborn passions bow,
And lay the proudest rebel low!”
Next, vs. 9-18, Moses reminds them that he had done all that was required
on his part to conduct the people to the enjoyment of what God had freely
given to them. The people had so increased in number that Moses found
himself unable to attend to all the matters that concerned them, or to
adjudicate in all the differences that arose among them. God had brought
to pass that which He had promised to Abraham (Genesis 15:5), that his
seed should be as the stars of heaven for multitude; in this Moses rejoiced,
nay, he would even that their numbers were, with the Divine blessing,
increased a thousandfold beyond what they were. But he found the burden,
the weight of care and trouble, especially in connection with their strifes
and suits thereby brought on him, too much for him; and, therefore, whilst
they were still at Horeb, he had, following the advice of Jethro, his fatherin-
law, counseled them to select competent men from among themselves,
who should relieve him by attending to those duties which he found it too
burdensome for him to have to attend to (compare Exodus 18:13-27). This
appointment of captains was quite distinct from that of the elders whom
God directed Moses to select that they might assist him in bearing the
burden of the people (Numbers 11:10-17). The occasion of the appointment was
the same in both cases, viz. the complaint of Moses that the task was too
onerous for him, but the time, the place, and the manner of the two transactions
9 “And I spake unto you at that time,” - The somewhat indefinite
phrase, “at that time” (compare Genesis 38:1), does not refer to the time
after the people departed from Horeb, but to the time generally when they
were in that region (see Exodus 18:5, 13). The imperfect (וָאֹמַד, I
spake), with vaw rel.. expresses the order of thought and not of time.
It is not mentioned in Exodus that Moses spake to the people, as
here stated, but what Jethro said to him to this effect is recorded; and as
Moses proceeded to put in execution what his lather-in-law advised, it is
probable that in doing so he told the people what he proposed to do, with
his reasons for so doing, and obtained their assent, as here mentioned.
“saying, I am not able to bear you myself alone:”
A Summons to Advance (vs. 6-9)
Moses begins by reminding the Israelites how God had formerly summoned
them to march upon
sojourn of eleven months. The verses may be applied to illustrate:
· THE CHURCH’S DANGER — to abide at the mount, to settle down
into a state of apathy or simple receptivity. This is met by the call to action
— “Ye have dwelt long enough in this mount: turn you, and take your
journey” (vs. 6-7). Notice:
enjoyed a season of rest, ratified its covenant with God, received the Law,
constructed a sanctuary, and was otherwise equipped and organized. There
must be times of getting, of learning, of consulting for one’s own
edification, else it will go hard with us in the work and battle of life. But:
Ø There was a danger that Israel’s stay at the mount might last too long.
So is it with the Church, when she concentrates her attention too
exclusively on her own spiritual improvement, and forgets her mission to
the world. We have to remember that we get and learn only that we may
apply and act. There is the peril of religion becoming a species of
enjoyment. We luxuriate in retired communion, in restful fellowship with
God, in converse with fellow-believers, in Church ordinances; and we think
how sweet it would be if this could always last. But we are wrong. It
would not be good for us always to be in this state of simple receiving.
Religion, divorced from active employment, must soon lose its robustness,
and degenerate into a sickly religiosity. There are many, many Christians
who have been long enough, and far too long, in the mount, and it would
be welt for themselves if they could hear this voice summoning them to go
· THE CHURCH’S DESTINY — to possess the land. The type was the
is the Church’s calling to conquer for Christ, and for her own possession.
Paul gives this interpretation in Romans 4:13. Taking the passage in
this light, and reading the wider truth into it, we get the idea of a land
Ø Known to God (v. 7). Known thoroughly, in all its parts, peoples,
districts, conformation, accessibilities, and inaccessibilities. In advancing
to take possession of the world for Christ, we have the encouragement of
thinking that He knows precisely to what kind of work He is sending us,
and yet promises success.
He says, “Go in and possess.”
Ø Gifted by God (v. 8). It is long since the oracle declared that God had
given Christ the heathen for His inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the
earth for His possession (Psalm 2:8). The Church, as one with Christ,
shares in His kingdom, and shall yet inherit the whole earth.
Ø The conquest of which is commanded by God. Not, indeed, by carnal
weapons, as the
Israelites were commanded to conquer
the destruction of those against whom we war; but by the nobler weapons
of the truth, and by seeking men’s salvation. This is a benigner method of
conquest, and it will prove successful if we advance with faith and courage.
Those who persist in hardening themselves must indeed be destroyed; but
not by us. The Lord puts no weapon of a kind to injure any into our hands;
but bids us leave vengeance with Himself. Our means are the preaching of
the gospel, prayer, holy living, organized and beneficent activity to reach
the lost sheep of our great communities, and multiplied missionary agencies
in foreign lands.
· THE CHURCH’S DUTY — to obey her Lord, and go forward at
once to this great work.
Ø He gives no alternative.
Ø The command is express.
Ø The world sorely needs OUR WORK!
Ø Every motive of gratitude and compassion should urge us to it.
10 “The LORD your God hath multiplied you, and, behold, ye are this
day as the stars of heaven for multitude.” (compare Genesis 15:5; 22:17).
God had promised to Abraham that his seed should be as the stars of heaven for
multitude; and Moses here reminds the people that this promise had been
fulfilled. This is hardly to be regarded as the utterance of hyperbole. When
God gave the premise to Abraham it was to the stars as seen by the
patriarch, not as actually existing in the immensity of space, that reference
was made; and as the number of stars which can be taken in with the naked
eye does not exceed 3000, and as
600,000, counting only the adult males (Numbers 2:32), — it might be
literally said of them that they had been multiplied as the stars of heaven.
The comparison, however, imported nothing more than that their numbers
were very great.
11 (The LORD God of your fathers make you a thousand times so
many more as ye are, and bless you, as he hath promised you!)
It was not the vast increase of the people in numbers that distressed Moses,
rather was this to him a matter of rejoicing, and his desire was that their increase
might become still greater, even a thousand-fold. But he felt his own inability,
as leader, ruler, and judge, alone to cope with so vast a multitude.
These verses embody the expression of a very natural state of feeling in
contemplating the marvel of the Church’s growth.
· THE CHURCH’S INCREASE AN OBJECT OF DESIRE. “The Lord
God of your fathers make you a thousand times so many more as ye are”
(v. 11). Such increase is:
1. A token of Divine favor (Acts 11:24).
2. A manifestation of Divine power (I Corinthians 1:18-30;
Ephesians 1:19; I Thessalonians 1:5).
3. A source of blessing to the world (Psalm 67.).
4. A fulfillment of the Divine counsels (Ephesians 1:10).
5. Means the ascendancy of true religion.
· THE CHURCH’S INCREASE AN OBJECT OF WONDER. (v. 10.)
The rapid spread, the extraordinary victories, the prolonged empire,
and the undecaying vitality of the Christian religion are the most wonderful
things in history, and a proof of its Divine origin. As
Divine blessing at an unprecedented rate, and in spite of all Pharaoh’s
attempts to check the increase, so has the Church flourished and spread,
proving herself in her unarmed strength more than a match for the deadliest
powers which can be arrayed against her. The present century has
witnessed a remarkable revival of this propagative energy of Christianity
(compare Numbers 23:23).
· THE CHURCH’S INCREASE A MATTER OF PROMISE. (v. 11.)
The promise to Abraham of a countless seed embraced in its widest
import the spiritual, not less
than the natural,
(Romans 4:16; Galatians 3:7-10, 14, 16, 26, 29). (Compare the promises
in Isaiah 53:10-12; 54:1-3; 60:1-12, with Daniel 2:35, 44; Matthew 8:11;
12 “How can I myself alone bear your cumbrance, and your burden,
and your strife?” Moses appeals to the good sense of the people themselves:
Cumbrance: this is a just rendering of the Hebrew word מֹרֲח, from טָרַח,, which,
though it occurs only in the Hiphil in Hebrew, in the sense of to cast down
(Job 17:11), probably was in use also in the Kal, in the sense of to lay upon,
to encumber, which is the meaning of the cognate Arabic <ARABIC>
followed by <ARABIC>. Burden (שָּׁא, from נָשָׂא, to lift up, to carry, to bear),
something lifted up and carried, a load or burden. Strife: (רִיב) here, not mere
contention, but litigation, suit-at-law. Some understand all these three, of
troubles and burdens laid upon Moses, by his being called upon to compose
differences, and adjust competing claims among the people. But other burdens
besides these came upon him as the leader of the nation; and it seems best,
therefore, to understand the first two of troubles and burdens generally.
13 “Take you” - literally, give to you or for you, i.e. yourselves. The
selection was to be made by the people themselves. Jethro, in giving Moses
the advice on which he thus acted, described the men who were to be
selected as “such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness”
(Exodus 18:21) - “wise men, and understanding,” Moses here describes
them rather by qualities, indicating ability and fitness for such a post as
that to which they were to be called; they were to be “wise” (which, indeed,
may be regarded as comprehending all good moral qualities); understanding
men, men of discernment and sagacity, as well as intelligence; - “and known
among your tribes,” – men of good repute in the community - compare Acts 6:3;
I Timothy 3:7) - “and I will make them rulers over you.” - literally, will set them
for your heads, i.e. will appoint them to act as superintendents, managers, and judges
14 “And ye answered me, and said, The thing which thou hast spoken is good
for us to do. 15 So I took the chief of your tribes, wise men, and known, and
made them heads over you, captains over thousands, and captains over
hundreds, and captains over fifties, and captains over tens, and officers
among your tribes.” The people approved of the proposal, and acted upon it;
and Moses accordingly appointed the persons selected to be chiefs over
thousands, and over hundreds, and over fifties, and ever tens (Exodus 18:21);
he appointed men also to be officers, that is, persons who should preserve order
in the tribes, keeping the registers, acting as scribes, to prescribe and to take
account of work, and perhaps also attending to fiscal arrangements (שֹׁטְרִים,
shoterim, a word of general application; Exodus 5:6, 10, 14; Joshua 3:2;
II Chronicles 26:11, Septuagint. γραμματεῖς – grammateis - and γραμματο
εισαγωγεῖς – grammato eisagogeis - ). In Exodus, Moses is said to have chosen
these functionaries (18:25); but what many do under the direction of one may
be said to be done by him. In installing the judges, Moses solemnly charged them
to deal impartially, fairly, and equitably with those who might come before them.
16 “And I charged your judges at that time, saying, Hear the causes
between your brethren,” – i.e. hear impartially both parties, whether both
parties are Israelites, or one of the parties a stranger - “and judge
righteously between every man and his brother, and the stranger
that is with him.”
Division of Labor (vs. 9-16)
(Compare Exodus 18:13-27.) An instance of a good idea:
2. readily adopted,
3. generally approved of.
This reminds us that division of labor is as important in Church work as in the arts.
· THE NEGLECT OF DIVISION OF LABOR LEADS TO SERIOUS
Ø The work is not overtaken. “Not able” (v. 9).
Ø Those who have to do it are greatly overtaxed. “Cumbrance,” “burden”
Ø Energy is wasted on subordinate tasks which might be applied to better
· THE ADOPTION OF DIVISION OF LABOR SECURES OBVIOUS
Ø Relieves the responsible heads.
Ø Expedites business and promotes order.
Ø Secures that the work is better done.
Ø Utilizes varieties of talent.
But parties must be as willing to co-operate as they were here.
· RIGHTLY TO SECURE THE ADVANTAGES OF DIVISION OF
LABOR THERE MUST BE EFFICIENT ORGANIZATION. When
Moses took in hand the appointment of assistants, he did it thoroughly
(v. 15). The work which each is to do must not be left to haphazard, or
to “understandings,” or to the tastes and inclinations of individuals, but
should be definitely marked out. There must be organization and
distribution of tasks on a general plan, which, while it affords room for all
grades of talent, allots work with a view to the aptitudes which each is
known to possess. It is characteristic of Moses’ scheme:
Ø That it took advantage of existing institutions.
Ø That it rested on a broad, popular basis; elective (v. 13).
17 “Ye shall not respect persons in judgment;” - literally, look at or regard
faces, i.e. ye shall not deal partially, favoring the one party rather than the other
(compare Exodus 23. 2-3; Leviticus 19:15); the small as well as the great
were to be heard, and neither for favor nor from fear were they to pervert
justice –“but ye shall hear the small as well as the great; ye shall not be afraid
of the face of man; for the judgment is God’s:” - appointed by God and
administered in His name, the judge acting for God and by His authority, and
being answerable to Him [many of the liberal
judges in the
Judiciary, in the lower and High Court have violated this charge and trust –
THEY WILL ANSWER TO HIM! – unfortunately, the stability of the public
good has been compromised and undermined by these actions and today the
effects are beginning to erode our very existence as a nation, and WE ARE
STARTING TO GRIEVOUSLY, PAY THE PRICE – CY – 2012] - (compare
II Chronicles 19:6). Hence the phrases, “to inquire of God,” “to bring before God”
(Exodus 18:15,19; 21:6; 22:8) phrases still in use among the Arabs for a summoning
to judicial trial. In the case of a matter coming before the judges which they found
it beyond their power to decide, they were to bring it before Moses as a superior
authority (see Exodus 18:26) - Some think there were certain causes reserved to the
cognizance of Moses; but the contrary appears by these words, that all manner of
causes were brought before the judges; and they, not the people, brought such
causes before Moses as they found too hard for them to determine. So that they, not
the person whose cause it was, judged of the difficulty of the cause - “and the
cause that is too hard for you, bring it unto me, and I will hear it. 18 And I
commanded you at that time all the things which ye should do.”
Judging (vs. 16-17)
The rules here laid down, while primarily applicable in the administration of
law, are, in their spirit and for the most part in their letter, equally fitted to
snide our private judgments. A proneness to judge is condemned by Christ
(Matthew 7:1); but His rebuke of the censorious spirit is not to be read
as forbidding the framing of such judgments upon the character, actions,
and pretensions of others as the circumstances of our position may render
necessary. We are called every day of our lives to form, and frequently to
express, judgments upon men, measures, causes, theories, disputes,
proposals; judgments as to true and false, right and wrong, wise and
unwise, expedient and inexpedient. Matters are appealed to us as
individuals, or as a part of the general community, on which judgment is
expressly asked. We must judge that we may know how to act. All this
involves the possibility of judging rashly; of judging with bias and
prejudice; of judging so as to do wrong to individuals; of judging so as to
injure truth and retard progress and improvement. The text teaches us, on
· THAT CAUSES, BEFORE BEING JUDGED, ARE TO BE FAIRLY
HEARD. How many judgments are passed daily in utter ignorance of the
real facts of the case, and without any attempt to ascertain them, perhaps
without the means of ascertaining them! Such judgments are ipso facto
unjust. It is only by the rarest chance they can be right, and their rightness
being accidental does not justify them. Let judgments be reserved for cases
in which we have an opportunity of full investigation. Hear both sides, and
Ø candidly, and
(This is certainly good advice concerning public and private judgment in
· THAT CAUSES, AFTER BEING HEARD, ARE TO HAVE
JUDGMENT PASSED UPON THEM WITH STRICT IMPARTIALITY.
“Judge not according to the appearance,” said Jesus, “but judge righteous
judgment” — an instance illustrating that wider view of judging which we
are here taking (John 7:24). Equal measure is to be meted out to all.
We are to judge impartially as between brother and brother, fellow-citizen
and foreigner, rich and poor, applying the same principles and standards to
each case, and keeping in view the essential merits as the one thing to be
regarded. (Thankfully, this is how God judges! CY – 2020) This is the plain
rule of justice, though we all feel how difficult it is to act up to it.
· THAT JUDGMENT UPON CAUSES IS TO BE GIVEN
FEARLESSLY. “Ye shall not be afraid of the face of man.” (Compare the
Regent Morton’s eulogy on Knox — “There lies he who never feared the
face of man.”) Even when just judgment is being pronounced internally, the
fear of man, or the desire of man’s favor, or the dread of temporal
consequences, often leads to a time-serving tampering with conviction, to a
saying and doing of the thing we do not at heart approve of. This is the
worst kind of COWARDICE!
· THAT JUDGMENT UPON CAUSES IS TO BE GIVEN UNDER A
DUE SENSE OF RESPONSIBILITY TO GOD. “The judgment is God’s.”
Judges are His vicegerents, deriving their authority from Him, expressing
the judgment of His righteousness, ANTICIPATING HIS OWN FINAL
JUDGMENT and themselves responsible to Him for the manner in which
they exercise their functions. Every biased, untrue, and insincere judgment
is a misrepresentation of that truth and rectitude which have their ground in
GOD’S OWN BEING!
· THAT IN CAUSES ON WHICH WE ARE INCOMPETENT TO
PRONOUNCE, JUDGMENT IS NOT TO BE ATTEMPTED. (v. 17.)
The Impartiality of God is to be Reflected in the Judges of His People
In the following Homilies we adhere to the traditional view of the Mosaic
authorship of the book, believing that no sufficient evidence has yet been
adduced by the critics for departing from that view. Moses enters upon his
addresses in the
Exodus. The first notable reference is to the appointment of the judges.
The qualifications and directions here recorded are fitted to throw precious
light upon THE DIVINE CHARACTER! Here let us notice:
· THERE WAS TO BE NO RESPECT OF PERSONS IN JUDGMENT.
And here we may quote a definition which will materially aid us in this subject:
“By the word person in Scripture signifies not a man, but those things in a
man which, being conspicuous to the eyes, usually conciliate favor, honor,
and dignity, or attract hatred, contempt, and disgrace. Such are riches,
wealth, power, nobility, magistracy, country, elegance of form, on the one
hand; and on the other, poverty, necessity, ignoble birth, slovenliness,
contempt, and the like.” These Jewish judges, therefore, were directed to
allow none of these personal accidents to influence their judgments in the
cases committed to them, but to decide as matters of pure equity.
· THERE WAS TO BE NO FEAR OF MAN IN THEIR JUDGMENTS.
· The consequences to themselves were not to be regarded. They were to be
fearless officers, representing the Most High.
· WE SEE HERE THAT WITH GOD THERE CAN BE NO RESPECT OF
PERSONS AND NO FEAR OF MAN. The strict impartiality of God has
been questioned, if representations of His procedure drawn from the Divine
Word are accepted. Now, the whole plan of salvation by grace appears
favoritism and partiality. What is the meaning of “grace?” Undoubtedly
free, unmerited favor. If, then, salvation is by grace (Ephesians 2:8),
must not God be liable to the charge of partiality? Such, at least, is the
reasoning of some in the interests of certain systems. But when the matter
is looked into more closely, we find that SALVATION BY FREE GRACE
is the most conclusive evidence of GOD’S IMPARTIALITY! It is really
saying to all men:
Ø “unless you give up the notion of recommending yourselves to me;
Ø unless you surrender the idea of some special claim in your being or
your life upon me;
Ø unless, in a word, you lay aside the fancy that you must be partially
and exceptionally treated, which is the whole meaning of
I cannot save you.” This is impartiality Par excellence; and
this is exactly God’s position in offering salvation to men. All who refuse
salvation are really refusing to be treated impartially, and are clamoring
for exceptional consideration on the ground of some fancied merit. The
rejected at the last will be found to be those who wanted favoritism, BUT
PUT AWAY FREE GRACE!
Rules to be Observed in Choosing Rulers (vs. 6-18)
This paragraph may with advantage be compared with Exodus ch.18, in
which there is a fuller account of the circumstances under which the choice
of judges and magistrates was proposed and made; this important step
towards the order and consolidation of the national life was taken at the
suggestion of Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses. Referring to the
exposition of that chapter for the historic detail, we note here simply:
1. That the choice of rulers, etc., is put into the people’s hands; they are to
select, Moses is to ratify the selection
2. They are to choose men of righteousness, who will fear God and do
3. When the judges are chosen, Moses seeks solemnly to impress on them
the high and holy responsibilities of their office.
4. The supreme reason for this care in judging rightly is found in the fact
that the cause is God’s, i.e. that they are rulers under God and for Him —
representing Divine laws in the earthly sphere. The state is sacredly to be
governed by the laws of righteousness, and BY SUCH LAWS ALONE!
Hence a subject is opened up to us which is of no small moment, viz.
Principles and facts to be borne in mind in choosing rulers of the people.
· THAT THE CHOOSING OF MEN TO TAKE PART IN MAKING OR
ADMINISTERING A NATION’S LAWS IS A SOLEMN AND
MOMENTOUS CONCERN. It matters comparatively little, so far as our
present topic is concerned, what may be the peculiar form of government
adopted, or what may be the mode of choosing men for office in the State.
Ø The position such men occupy is an exalted one. It is self-evident that
when they have to take part in governing or carrying out the laws of the
land, it is of the utmost moment that they should be men who are capable
of perceiving what measures will tend to the people’s good. A country may
be perishing from the want of good laws, if its rulers are not competent,
wise, and just.
Ø The influence such men wield in private circles is largely increased from
the fact of their public position.
Ø Their representative character is another element of great moment.
Great men and good will elevate common questions to their own level;
while worthless men will fail to appreciate the importance of the greatest
questions of the day.
4. The great matters which may — nay, must — come before the rulers of
a nation, are such as may involve that nation’s honor or discredit among
the nations of the world; yet, more, they are such as will do much,
according as they are decided, to bring upon a people the blessing or the
wrath of Almighty God! Hence:
· THE POSSESSION OF A POWER TO PUT MEN IN SUCH AN
OFFICE OR OFFICES, IS A TRUST FOR THE USE OF WHICH
THOSE WHO POSSESS THAT POWER ARE RESPONSIBLE TO
THEIR COUNTRY AND THEIR GOD! The decisions of earthly judges
ought to be the earthly expression of heavenly law. Hence to let whim, or
caprice, or passion, or partisanship carry us away, when such concerns are
at issue, and to forget the everlasting laws of righteousness, is to tamper
with the public interest, and to betray a solemn trust. Therefore —
· IN THE DISCHARGE OF THIS TRUST, STRICT REGARD
MUST BE PAID TO PERSONAL CHARACTER. (See Exodus
18:21.) Even a pagan felt this. It was the priest of Midian who said, “Thou
shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of
truth, hating covetousness” — a fourfold qualification, so comprehensive
that, where it is possessed, a man may be safely entrusted with any office.
Such men will undertake their work as those who are responsible to God;
they will ever be on the look out to perceive what the interests of their
country may require at their hands; they will seek to qualify themselves to
take part in the public questions which will come before them; without
seeking their own honor, they will aim at judging as is wisest and best; and
their supreme aim will be that the government they help to administer
should be ever in harmony with righteousness and truth. If all its public
men answer all these requirements, a country cannot go far wrong; but if a
nation’s leaders are themselves lacking in virtue, how can there be any
security for that righteousness and truth which exalt a nation, when a
country is at the mercy of men who knew not the one neither regard the
· A CONSIDERATION WHICH GIVES INFINITE WEIGHT TO
THE ABOVE PRINCIPLES IS THAT THE JUDGMENT OF EARTHLY
RULERS IS INTENDED, IN ITS WAY, TO BE A COPY OF THE
DIVINE. “The judgment is God’s,” says Moses. It is God’s judgment,
expressed through His own appointed officers (see Romans 13.). Secular
judgments should have sacred principles underlying them. And we cannot
divorce the secular from THE SACRED WITHOUT GREAT MISCHIEF
OCCURING! But, finally: the judgment is God’s in another sense. HE IS
THE SUPREME JUDGE and whether men use their judgment well or ill,
GOD WILL EXERCISE HIS OWN! The principles of the Divine government
of nations are developed by Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Amos, and others.
No nation can escape from the sway of the Mighty One; if God’s laws are
set at naught, HIS JUDGMENTS SHALL FOLLOW, that, while they are
abroad in the earth, the inhabitants thereof may learn righteousness.
The Blessing of Good Government (vs. 9-18)
the most difficult department of government, had been furnished for
administration too much for a single arm. The aim of every ruler ought to
be, not personal power, but UNIVERSAL SERVICE — the greatest
good of the greatest number. No wise man will expose himself to the
tremendous temptation of personal aggrandizement. Beside, it is a boon
to others to exercise the faculties of discrimination and judgment.
SINGLE LAW, VIZ. PERSONAL MERIT. To lift the voice for an
unqualified ruler is a crime against the State — an injury, and not a benefit,
to the person elect. To allow personal qualification to dominate the choice,
is to make God the umpire. This is, in civic affairs, “to do his will on earth
as it is done in heaven.”
STATE, FOR VARIOUS OFFICES. If a man cannot rule five thousand,
he may be able to rule fifty. (And if not fifty, “how about one? self!”
“He that ruleth his spirit (is better than) than he that taketh a city.”
(Proverbs 16:32). Service in a subordinate station may qualify for
higher dignity. Gradation of rank best conserves the interests of the
nation. “Order is Heaven’s first law.”
(Romans 13:1-4) - “The judgment is God’s.” Magistrates act in God’s stead.
Parents likewise. Every man is bound to act as God would act. He represents
God always and everywhere. All talent is a trust. We are the stewards of
SECT. Every man, however poor or ignorant, is to be accounted a brother.
In the commonwealth of Israel there are no strangers. Nationality is but a
pasteboard separation. “God hath made of one blood all nations.” (Acts
17:26) The great divider is sin. A heaven-kindled eye penetrates through
every crust of barbarism and vice, and sees a man beneath. Here is a kingly
nature, though now enslaved.
APPROBATION. In the ratio of material abundance and contentment, is
increase of population. It was one of the presages of Messiah’s kingdom,
“they of the city shall flourish like grass of the earth.” (Psalm 72:16) In
heathen lands population is sparse. War and pestilence decimate the ranks.
In proportion as sound Christianity prevails, the subjects of the state
augment. Every additional man ought to be an increment of strength and
GOVERNMENT. Promise always waits on prayer, as harvest waits on the
husbandman’s toil. However abundant are the promises, yet for the
fulfillment God will be inquired of to do it for us. When prayer has its root
in God’s specific promise, it must bear fruit in proportion as faith enlarges
her boughs. This is wise building, for we found our expectations upon
Patriotism is a goodly virtue, though not the noblest. To fence ourselves
round with selfish interests is despicable. We envy not that man’s narrow
soul who has no sympathy nor energy for his nation’s weal. The best
Christian will take some interest in everything — in municipal matters,
international treaties, literature, science, commerce, art. In the broadest
sense, he is a citizen of the world. He lives to bless others. This is Christ
Here in vs. 19-23, Moses passes from the judges to the people at large;
from charging officials to judge righteously, to reminding the people that
they also had received from him commandments which they had to obey.
The “things” referred to are either the injunctions specified in Exodus 21,
or simply the instructions mentioned in the preceding verses. God had called the
Israelites out of
Moses done all that was needed for this. But they had been rebellious, and had
opposed God’s commands, the consequence of which was that they had been
made to experience various trials, especially to wander nearly forty years in
so that of those who came out of
to see the Promised Land. The words of Moses in this section supplement and
complete the narrative in Numbers 13.; but the words are those, not of a compiler,
but of one who had been himself a witness of all he narrates.
19 “And when we departed from Horeb, we went through all that great
and terrible wilderness,” - the desert forming the western side of the Stony Arabia.
It bears now the name of Et-Tih, i.e. The Wandering, a name “doubtless derived
from the wanderings of the Israelites, the tradition of which has been handed down
through a period of three thousand years It is a pastoral country; unfitted as a whole for
cultivation, because of its scanty soil and scarcity of water” (Dr. Porter, in
Kitto’s ‘Biblical Cyclopedia,’ vol. 3. p. 1075). In the northern part
especially the country is rugged and bare, with vast tracts of sand, over
which the scorching simoom often sweeps (see on v. 1). This wilderness
they had seen, had known, and had experience of, and their experience had
been such that the district through which they had been doomed to wander
appeared to them dreadful. Passing by the way of the Amorites, as they had
been commanded (v. 7), they came to Kadesh-barnea (see Numbers 12:16).
Their discontent broke out oftener than once, before they reached
this place (see Numbers 11., 12.); but Moses, in this recapitulation, passes
over these earlier instances of their rebelliousness, and hastens to remind
them of the rebellion at Kadesh (Numbers 13 &14.), because it was this
which led to the nation being doomed to wander in the wilderness until the
generation that came out of
that Canaan was to be gained and occupied by
lacked, and so they came short of what God had summoned them to attain
(Psalm 78:22; 106:24; Hebrews 3:18-19; compare II Chronicles 20:20;
Isaiah 7:9). Hence, when they had come to the very borders of the Promised Land,
and the hills of
of God, “which ye saw by the way of the mountain of the Amorites, as the
LORD our God commanded us; and we came to Kadeshbarnea.”
“That Great and Terrible Wilderness.” (v. 19)
An emblem of the rough and afflictive way by which God leads His people
to the higher rest.
· THE FACT OF THIS WILDERNESS DISCIPLINE. We need not
exaggerate. We admit all that can be said of the world as a fair and
delightful residence, in which we have much to make us happy. But it
cannot be denied that the picture has a darker side. The man who has
drunk deepest of the world’s pleasures is he who can tell best how
unsatisfying it is as a portion for the spirit. There are more sad and weary
hearts in this same world than a glance at the surface of society would lead
us to suspect. There are numbers to whom life is one hard, dreary, terrible,
hopeless struggle with adverse conditions. The joy of a life is often blighted
by a solitary stroke; and in how many cases does some secret grief embitter
what seems from the outside a prosperous existence! The believer is no
more exempt than others from these ordinary griefs of life — from poverty,
trial, pain, bereavement. But he has thoughts and feelings of his own,
which add to the pain of his situation. He is a Christian, and contact with
the world’s evil tries and grieves him as it will not do a worldly man. (II Peter
2:8) His hope is beyond, and this makes earth, with its imperfect conditions,
its broken ideals, its unsatisfied yearnings, seem drearier to him. (see
Ecclesiasties 3:11) Like his Master, his ear is quicker to catch the strain of
human woe — “the still sad music of humanity” — than the strain of noisier
mirth. All this compels him to look at life prevailingly under an aspect of
privation, discipline, and trial, and it is in no unreal sense that he speaks of
it as the “wilderness.” When troubles crowd in on him, it is literally, as to
others, “waste and howling” (ch. 32:10), a “great and terrible” desert.
· THE ENDS OF THIS WILDERNESS DISCIPLINE. These are
Ø In part the discipline is inevitable — bound up with the conditions of
existence in a world “made subject to vanity.” (Romans 8:20) But:
Ø The discipline is useful.
o It tries and proves the heart (ch. 8:2).
o It accustoms to hardship.
o It develops the nobler qualities of character — faith, patience,
resignation, etc. (Romans 5:3).
o It makes the rest sweeter when it comes (Revelation 7:14;
20 And I said unto you, Ye are come unto the mountain of the
Amorites, which the LORD our God doth give unto us. 21 Behold, the
LORD thy God hath set the land before thee: go up and possess it,
as the LORD God of thy fathers hath said unto thee; fear not, neither be
Courage (v. 21)
“Fear not, neither be discouraged” (compare Joshua 1:7, 9).
· GOD’S WORK NEEDS COURAGE.
Ø The enemies are many.
Ø The enemies are strong.
Ø Humanly speaking, we are feeble in comparison with them.
Distinguishing between real and nominal Christianity, it might be plausibly
held that there is today greater talent, intellectual power, wealth, rank, and
social influence enlisted on the side of unbelief than on the side of faith.
But the true citadel of unbelief is THE EVIL HEART; and what powers
of our own are sufficient to storm that?
· IN GOD’S WORK THERE IS EVERY REASON FOR COURAGE.
Ø God is with us. Our cause is His cause.
Ø He has promised victory, and He is able to keep His promise.
Ø The past should encourage us.
The Church can never come through greater conflicts than those in which
she has already proved herself victorious.
22 And ye came near unto me every one of you, and said, We will send
men before us, and they shall search us out the land, and bring us word
again by what way we must go up, and into what cities we shall come.
23 And the saying pleased me well: and I took twelve men of you, one
of a tribe: 24 And they turned and went up into the mountain, and came
fruit of the land in their hands, and brought it down unto us, and brought
us word again, and said, It is a good land which the LORD our God doth
give us. 26 Notwithstanding ye would not go up, but rebelled against the
commandment of the LORD your God:” They were thus rebellious against
the commandment (literally, the mouth, the express will) of Jehovah their God;
and not only so, but with signal ingratitude and impiety they murmured against
Him, and attributed their deliverance out of
that He might destroy them (see Numbers 13:1-33, to which the narrative here
27 “And ye murmured in your tents,” - an allusion to what is recorded
in Numbers 14 - Moses addresses the people then with him as if they had been the
parties who so rebelled and murmured at Kadesh, though all that generation, except
himself, Joshua, and Caleb, had perished. This he does, not merely because of the
solidarity of the nation, but also that he might suggest to them the possibility that the
same evil spirit might still lurk among them, and consequently the need of being
on their guard against allowing it to get scope - “and said, Because the LORD
hated us, he hath brought us forth out of
the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us.”
28 “Whither shall we go up? our brethren have discouraged our heart,”
literally, hate melted or made to flow down our heart (הֵמַסּוּ, Hiph. compare מָסַס, to
flow down or melt), have made us faint hearted - “saying, The people is greater
and taller than we; the cities are great and walled up to heaven;” - literally,
are great and fortified in the heavens. To their excited imagination, the walls and
towers of the cities seemed as if they reached the very sky; so when men cease to
have faith in God, difficulties appear insurmountable, and the power of
the adversary is exaggerated until courage is paralyzed and despair banishes
hope - “and moreover we have seen the sons of the Anakims there.”-
elsewhere (Numbers 13:22; Joshua 15:14; Judges 1:20) children or sons of the ‘
Anak. ‘Anak may originally have been the proper name of an individual, but it appears
in the Bible rather as the designation of the tribe. It is the word for neck, and this race,
which were strong and powerful men, or their progenitor, may have been
remarkable for thickness of neck; this, at least, is more probable than that it
was from length of neck that they got the name, for a long neck is usually associated
with weakness rather than strength. Some have supposed the Anakim to have been
originally Cushites; but the origin of the tribe is involved in obscurity.
In vs. 29-40, Moses endeavors to rouse the drooping courage of the
people, and persuade them to go up by reminding them that God, who was
with them, would go before them, and fight for them as He had often done
before; but without success, so that God was angry with them, and forbade
their entrance into
because Moses’ appeal was unsuccessful. The whole of that generation
was bound to fall in the wilderness, except Caleb and Joshua; only their
children should enter the Promised Land.
29 “Then I said unto you, Dread not, neither be afraid of them.
30 The LORD your God which goeth before you, He shall fight for
you, according to all that He did for you
Moses exhorts the people not to be afraid, as if they had to encounter these
terrible enemies solely in their own strength; for Jehovah their God was with
them and would go before them, as He had gone before them hitherto, to
protect them and strike down their enemies.
31 “And in the wilderness, where thou hast seen how that the LORD
thy God bare thee, as a man doth bear his son, in all the way that ye
went, until ye came into this place.” Not only at the
for the defense of His people and the discomfiture of their enemies, but also in
the wilderness, which they had seen (as in v. 19), where (אֲשֶׂר, elliptically for
אֲשֶׂר בו)) Jehovah their God bore them as a man beareth his son,
sustaining, tending, supporting, and carrying them over difficulties
(compare Numbers 11:12, where a similar figure occurs; see also Isaiah 46:3-4;
63:9; Psalm 23.).
32 “Yet in this thing ye did not believe the LORD your God,” - literally,
With this thing [or With this word] ye were not believing in
Jehovah your God. The Hebrew דָבָר, like the Greek ρῆμα – raema - signifies
Either thing or word. If the former rendering be adopted here, the meaning will
be, Notwithstanding this fact of which you have had experience, viz. how
God has interposed for your protection and deliverance, ye were still
unbelieving in Him. If the latter rendering be adopted, the meaning will be,
Notwithstanding what I then said to you, ye remained unbelieving, etc.
This latter seems the more probable meaning. In the Hebrew text there is a
strong stop (athnach) after this word, AS IF A PAUSE OF
ASTONISHMENT FOLLOWED THIS UTTERANCE — Notwithstanding
this word, strange to say! Ye were not believing, etc. The participle (“believing”)
is intended to indicate the continuing of this unbelief. 33 “Who went in the
way before you,” - Here the participle form is also used — “who was going in
the way before you,” to indicate that not once and again, BUT CONTINUALLY
THE LORD WENT BEFORE THEM and this made the sin of their unbelief
all the more marked and aggravated. (For the fact here referred to, see Exodus
13:21-22, Numbers 9:15;10:33-36.) - “to search you out a place to pitch your
tents in, in fire by night, to shew you by what way ye should go, and in a
cloud by day.”
Sending the Spies (vs. 19-33)
This paragraph contains a brief review of events which are recorded in
Numbers chapters 13 and 14.
now rested in the wilderness of Paran. At this point they were not very many
days’ journey from the land of promise. But it would seem that they did
not like to go in and take possession of the land without more information
than they as yet possessed as to its accessibility and its fitness for their
permanent home. So they proposed that spies should be sent ahead. We
gather that, at the desire of the people, Moses asked advice of the Lord,
and in consequence he was bidden to accede to their request. Twelve men
were sent. Ten brought an evil report of the land; two only were full of
heart and hope, strong in faith, giving glory to God. Numbers carried more
weight than worth. The report of ten overrode that of two. The people
would not believe the Lord. They said in their unbelief, “Let us make a
captain, and return into
a captain to return to their bondage.” And a sad and sorrowful glance does
Moses cast over the sin of that time. Let us glance at it too. We will
endeavor to gather a true estimate of the course which
care, as we go on, to see how far the incidents recorded here convey
instruction to many whose feelings are analogous to theirs, In estimating
this case, let us look:
AT THE COURSE
Ø It was unnecessary. For they had been redeemed by a strong hand and
by a stretched-out arm from the bondage
and degradation of
deliverance had been effected for them by the free love, spontaneous care,
and watchful providence of God. Surely it should not have been hard to
argue on this wise: “He who has shown us such wondrous mercy will not
be wanting to us to the end.” It was surely needless to send out any scouts
theirs had done this for them, and there was no more need for them to send
to spy out the land than to have sent pioneers to clear their way through
the deep! But, in thus chiding
We have to
bethink us of a rescue, before which that of
nothingness. And how has our rescue in Christ been effected? By our
power or skill? Nay, but by a wisdom, power, and love, which in blessed
union did combine IN THE CROSS OF CHRIST TO SAVE US! Is not,
then, the inference more than warranted, “He that spared not His own Son,
but delivered Him up for us ALL, how shall He not with Him also freely
give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) But if so, why need we strain our eyes
to pierce the gloom that hangs over our future course? We need not faithlessly
Ø It was undesirable, and that on several grounds.
o It was manifestly hindering their march.
o They were confronted by the prospect of an accumulation of difficulties
which would come only one at a time.
So it is now. “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” (Matthew 6:34)
Our daily course, with its mingled comforts and cares, may be so peaceful
if we will calmly leave the future TO HIM WHO KNOWS AND PLANS
ALL, but if we, with our short foresight and our little strength, will foolishly
set before us in one perplexing combination all the difficulties which will
come only one by one; if we think and speak as if our God would leave us
alone when they come, — we shall dishonor Him, and shade the present
by anticipating the future.
LET US LOOK AT THE CONCLUSIOIN TO WHICH
CAME ON THE REPORT OF THE SPIES. They resolved to go back and
to return to
o ungrateful, and
Ø It was one-sided. True, the sons of Anak were in the way. But who was
above them all? See Caleb’s putting of the case, in Numbers 14:6-9.
Ø It was forgetful For was not the fact of all these enemies being in the
land explicitly named in one of the earliest promises (Exodus 3:17); and
had not God promised to drive them out?
Ø It was ungrateful. After all the love which had been shown them, how
could they so requite it?
Ø It was ruinous (see Numbers 14:33-38; here vs. 32-39).
But are there not some now who start fairly in the Christian race, or seem
to do so, and yet who, when some difficulty meets or threatens them, turn
back and go away (compare Matthew 13:20-21)? Nor can we safely neglect
the warning given in Hebrews 10:38. To quit the leadership of Christ
because of present or impending difficulties will be much more grievously
sinful than it was for
The four points named above will apply also here. It will be:
o One-sided. For supposing, as we try to peer into the future, possible
or even certain difficulties do present themselves, ought we not to
remember that with the demand on the strength there will be given
strength to meet the demand? (The Lord had said, “As thy days so
shall thy strength be.” (ch. 33:25) Why look at one without looking
at the other?
o It will be forgetful. For what are the words of Holy Writ? What are we
bidden to expect? Have we ever been told that we are to have a smooth
path through life? Have we never read that “through much tribulation
we must enter the kingdom?” (Acts 14:22) Have we not read that we
must expect to be “partakers” of Christ’s sufferings? (I Peter 4:13)
o It will be ungrateful. Did not our Savior tread a thorny path for us; and
have we no return to make in treading a thorny path for Him? Do we
thus intend to
repay the sorrow and blood of
o It will be ruinous if we turn back. Difficulties we seek to shun will
be multiplied a hundred-fold. The ease we would fain secure will not
be ours. While, instead of having to conquer the sons of Anak, we
shall have to encounter the condemnation of our Savior and Lord.
Let us press onward still to the rest which remaineth.
§ On! for honor demands it.
§ On! for gratitude requires it.
§ On! for love, infinite love, expects it.
§ On! only a step at a time, and if the giant Anakim appear,
THE LORD WILL FIGHT FOR US!
and if we come to
shall bring them to the ground.
§ On! and you will have many a cluster of grapes sent to you by
the Lord of the land, to show you its richness, and that you
may taste of its fruits ere you enter there!
Trust your God, ye people, follow the Lord fully, and not all the powers
of earth or hell shall keep you from THE PROMISED REST!
The Unbelief in Sending and in Hearkening to the Spies (19-33)
Moses reminds his audience of the conduct of their fathers at Kadesh-barnea,
when exhorted to go up and possess the land. Duty was clear. They
been brought up out of
path of duty, they resolved to send over spies. The result was an evil report
and an evil resolution on the people’s part not to attempt invasion. The
bitter end was death in the wilderness and exclusion from the land of
INHERITANCE. It was the promise of this land which led to the exodus.
The sojourn at Horeb was to organize the nation and give it laws. All was
ready for an entrance into the land. Its suitability was guaranteed in the
Divine promise; and if the people had been willing to walk by faith, then
the invasion would have been immediate and successful.
· THE SUGGESTION ABOUT SPIES WAS REALLY A RESOLVE
TO WALK BY SIGHT AND NOT BY FAITH. Moses at first approved of
it, although it never came from him. He thought that anything the spies saw
would only confirm them in the resolution to invade the land. But in
principle it was UNBELIEF IN GOD! It was virtually resolving not to
follow His advice unless it seemed the best. It was putting clear duty to
the trial of prudence. It was a resolve to walk by appearances and not by faith.
(The New Testament confirms that we are “to walk by faith, not by sight!”
II Corinthians 5:7 – CY – 2020) And this is the universal tendency of the
human heart to do the opposite! Prudence often conflicts
with faith and hinders wholesome action. Prudence has no voice in the
matter after God has spoken. He may lead us through over-prudence, in
absence of express commandment; but when the command is clear,
prudence should hide its head and allow faith to obey.
· IT WAS STILL WORSE TO HEARKEN TO THE SPIES WHOSE
COUNSEL CONFLICTED WITH THE COMMAND OF GOD. Having
embarked on prudential considerations, they must needs follow them out to
their unbelieving end. The spies returned, and could not but acknowledge
that the land was good. From Eshcol they carried on a staff a bunch of
grapes sufficient of itself to vindicate the Divine choice of the land. “But
the inhabitants,” said ten of the spies, “are gigantic, and the cities walled up
to heaven; and there is no use in thinking of successfully invading it.” In
vain did Caleb and Joshua counsel courage instead of cowardice, faith
instead of fear. The people resolved to take counsel of their fears and
unbelief. They would not enter the land of promise. So is it often in the
lives of men. God offers salvation and a good land to all who will believe
upon Him. But men fear the giants and their castles. They imagine that the
difficulties of the life of faith are beyond their powers, and so shirk them.
But when God points out a path of difficulty, it is not that we may
encounter its perils in our own strength, BUT IN HIS! Faith will carry us
through, while sense and sight are sure to fail us.
We see from two instances in this chapter how God’s plans leave wide
room for the independent action of the human mind. Moses got the
suggestion of appointing judges from Jethro; the idea of sending spies to
which it came made the motive of it doubtful, but as in itself a measure of
prudence, Moses was well pleased with it, and, with God’s permission,
adopted it. We have here:
· A POLICY OF CAUTION. Caution is in itself a virtue. It is never wise
to rush into undertakings without well-planned measures. The more
knowledge we have to guide us in entering upon difficult duty the better.
The sending out of these spies was fitted to procure for the Israelites
valuable information as to the nature of the land, the best mode of attack,
the state of feeling among the inhabitants, etc. The Church would do well
to improve upon the hint thus given, and have men out on the field, to keep
a sharp watch on the fortifications and movements of the enemy, and bring
back intelligence which may encourage, guide, or otherwise help those
whose time and thought are devoted to the actual warfare.
· AN UNEXPECTED RESULT OF THAT POLICY. The spies, with
two exceptions, brought back a most disheartening and ill-advised report.
We see here the danger of a policy of caution, when that springs from
over-fearfulness or an original indisposition to advance. When caution is
divorced from courage, and gets the upper hand, its natural tendency is to
neutralize enthusiasm, to concentrate attention on difficulties, to play into
the hands of those who don’t want to do anything, and to furnish them
with excuses and arguments for delay. It was so here. The real secret of the
desire of the people to have spies sent out was their lurking disbelief and
fear. The spies themselves shared in this fear. With the exception of Caleb
and Joshua, they seem to have had an eye for little else than difficulties.
They admitted the goodliness of the land, and brought with them a splendid
sample of its fruit (v. 25). But in every other respect their report was
calculated to dispirit. It is a sad thing for the Church when those who
ought to animate and encourage her begin themselves to show the cowardly
spirit. Yet over-cautious people are apt, often unwittingly, to do the very
work of these spies, by magnifying difficulties, looking only to
discouragements, and standing in the way of plans and efforts which would
do great good.
· A REBELLION OF THE PEOPLE. That rebellion was the result of
downright UNBELIEF (v. 32), and illustrates its work (compare Hebrews
3:19). We see in it how unbelief:
Ø Looks only to the seen. They thought only of the size of the people and
the strength of the cities (v. 28). The help of their invisible King was to
them as if He were not. They had not the slightest hold upon the reality of it.
Ø Looks only at the discouragements of duty. There was a bright side as well
as a dark one to the report brought to them, but nothing would make them
look at the bright one. The same two sides:
o a bright and hopeful side, and
o a side of difficulty —
exist in every situation, and it is a test of character which we are most
given to dwell upon.
Ø Misreads the providence of God. What greater perversion of God’s kind
dealings could human nature be guilty of than that in v. 27?
Ø Is blind to the lessons of the past. They had just been delivered from
Egypt, had seen mighty miracles, had been brought across the Red Sea,
had been strengthened to conquer the Amalekites, etc.; but all is already
forgotten. (Thus the importance of studies of history. Those who do not
know it are doomed to repeat it! This is a criticism of modern education
young citizens to grow up knowing what is going on! They are much
harder to control if they are in the know! CY – 2020)
Ø Issues in flat refusal to do God’s will. That is the upshot of unbelief,
wherever it exists. The report of the spies, confirmed by the grapes of
Eschol, suggests that there is very much in the world which makes it worth
conquering for Christ (genius, art, beautiful natural characteristics, etc.).
Love in the Wilderness (vs. 31-33)
This is a beautiful passage, laden with God’s compassions. We have in it:
· TENDER LOVE. The love is likened to that of the best of fathers to a
son (comparee Psalm 103:13). The New Testament goes further. It not only
likens God to a father, but tells us He is one. He is “our Father in heaven,”
“the God and Father of Jesus Christ our Lord.” This full revelation of
Fatherhood only a Son could have given; and as given in the gospel it is the
believer’s daily comfort (Matthew 6:25-34).
· CONSTANT CARE. This arises out of the relation and the love. It is a
Ø Unceasing. “All the way.”
Ø Provident. “Who went in the way before you, to search you out a place
to pitch your tents in.”
Comprehensive; embracing every
want of our lives. God “bare”
i.e. took the entire charge of the nation upon Himself; the whole
responsibility of seeing them fed, led, clothed, kept, and brought safely
to their final destination. So does He provide for His children in Christ.
Ø Tenderly sympathetic. “As a man doth bear his son.” And God has to
bear with, as well as bear us.
· SPECIAL GUIDANCE. This is included in the care, but is more
prominent as a peculiar manifestation of it (v. 33). Guidance is never
wanting to those who need it. It is from day to day — just sufficient to
show us present duty. It is given in the Bible, in the indications of
providence, and in that inward illumination which enables us to discern the
Lord’s will in both, It was furnished to the Israelites through the pillar of
cloud and fire — the symbol:
Ø Of fiery guardianship with grateful shade.
Ø Of guiding light with attendant mystery.
Ø Of light shining to us in the midst of dark providences.
Ø Of the adaptation of God’s guidance to our needs — by day the
cloud, by night the fire.
34 “And the LORD heard the voice of your words, and was wroth, and
swear, saying, (compare Numbers 14:21-24). 35 Surely there shall not one
of these men of this evil generation see that good land, which I swear to
give unto your fathers."
The Grievous Consequences of Unbelief (vs. 32-35)
Moses rehearses in the hearing of Israel the strange story of “their manners
in the wilderness,” and reminds them how their unbelief had provoked the
Lord to anger, and had deprived vast numbers of them of the rest they had
hoped to enjoy. We ought to be at no loss how to apply this to present day
uses. The Holy Ghost, by the mouth of David, renews the warning voice.
The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, both by argument and
exhortation, repeatedly says, Take heed lest a like evil befall you
(Hebrews 3:7-19; 4:1-11). Whence observe:
arrangements apparently failing of their end through the misconduct of
Ø God had made provision for securing the entrance of Israel into their
land. Early had the promise been made. Long and patiently did the
patriarchs await its fulfillment (Hebrews 11:13). God had watched over
His people’s wanderings. He beheld them in Egypt. When the time for
liberating them was come, Moses was at hand. Israel had but to stand still,
and see the salvation of the Lord, again and again.
o The Law was given from Sinai.
o Manna descended from heaven.
o Water gushed from the rock.
o The pillar of fire and of cloud was their guard, light, or shade.
o They knew what God intended to do for them.
o The promise was clear;
o the conditions were plain;
o the warnings were solemn;
o the threatenings were terrible.
No excuse of ignorance could be pleaded by the people. Yet:
Ø All were insufficient to prevent their defection of heart from God. They
were perpetually doubting God. “Ten times" Numbers 14:22).
Unbelief led to the breaking forth of lust. They forfeited the promise; and
many thousands who started for
OURSELVES AND ISRAEL, ALREADY SEEN IN GREATER
MERCY, SHOULD BE SEEN AGAIN IN A GREATER RUIN. There is
already a parallel in mercy.
Ø There is a complete arrangement for meeting all our wants on the
way to a nobler rest.
Ø In treading the way, we have a far better Leader than Moses.
Ø We have far clearer light than Israel had.
Ø We have fuller and richer promises.
Ø We have a far higher rest in view.
Ø Throughout the way there will be demands on our faith.
Ø There is a danger from within, lest we should distrust God.
Are we not conscious of such a danger? Our hearts are sinful, and
predisposed to doubt. We have doubted God very much, and thus wronged
Him in times gone by. Such unbelief may take or may have taken the form
of presumption or of despair. For an illustration of the former, see next
Homily (vs. 41-46). The latter kind of unbelief may be almost indefinitely
varied. Men may doubt:
Ø the power of God to bring them to the rest; or
Ø the willingness of God to do it; or
Ø the readiness of God to bring them to the rest, without
questioning His care for others; or they may even go so far as to
doubt whether the promises of the rest be Divine;
Ø whether there is any such rest as the one promised; and even
Ø whether there is any God of promise.
Whichever of these forms a despairing unbelief may assume, the evil of it is
sufficiently manifest. It is the greatest dishonor which we can cast on God,
to allow the thought to gain the mastery, that we are flung down hither
without any sure destiny of blessedness being disclosed, or without any
certainty of reaching it being made known. Besides, doubt prevents work;
it paralyzes. Doubting God gives the rein to every lust.
Ø And unless we “take heed,” if we suffer doubt to get the mastery, as
while unbelief has the upper hand? Doubt is essentially unrest. How can
we enjoy any future rest? What sympathy with God can we have?
Besides, God declares, “They shall not enter into my rest.” In that
heavenly rest none can or will share who do not implicitly believe
the promise and loyally obey the precept.
Ø And how much more serious it will be to trifle with Christ, than to slight
Moses (Hebrews 10:28-31) But there is a very bright side to this
subject. While unbelief will shut us out of heaven, nothing else will!
Nothing can shut us out of heaven but DOUBTING GOD!
o Poverty cannot.
o Persecution cannot.
o Reproach cannot.
o Obscurity cannot.
No one shall ever sink WHO TRUSTS GOD! See that young and
weak believer who has turned his back on the world, and set his face
heavenward. A thousand difficulties bristle up in all directions. But
he meets them all, saying:
o “God called me,
o God will help me,
o God will lead me, and
o God will guard me.”
“A feeble saint shall win the day,
Though death and hell obstruct the way!”
Yea, even so! “Them that honor me,” saith God, “I will honor.”
(I Samuel 2:30) But, must we not look to Him who awakened our faith,
to sustain it? ‘Tis even so. Ever have we to say, “Give what thou
commandest, and then command what thou wilt.” “Lord, we believe;
help thou our unbelief.” (Matthew 9L24) And is there not enough
revealed of God and of His wondrous love in Christ to put every doubt
to flight, when all that God is to us is laid home to our hearts
by the Holy Ghost? Here, indeed, is a quickening, inspiring, sustaining
force, of which
us than all they which be against us.” “He that spared not His own
Son, but gave Him up for us all, how shall He not with him also
freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) Let us doubt ourselves as
much as we will, but our God and Savior — never. He hath said,
“I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” (Hebrews 13:5) “Hath
he said, and shall he not do it? Hath he spoken, and shall he not
make it good?” (Numbers 23:19)
36 Save Caleb the son of Jephunneh; he shall see it, and to him will I give the
land that he hath trodden upon, and to his children, because he hath wholly
followed the LORD.” They were all, the whole generation of them, evil, and
therefore not a man of them should see the good land which God had promised
to their fathers, with the exception of Caleb, who had wholly followed the Lord —
had remained steadfast and faithful whilst the others fell away. Joshua also was
exempted from this doom; but before mentioning him, Moses refers to himself
as having also come under the Divine displeasure.
37 “Also the LORD was angry with me” – This must be regarded as parenthetical,
for what he here refers to in regard to himself occurred, not at the time of
the rebellion at Kadesh, but at the time of the second arrival of the people
at that place, many years later. This parenthetical reference to himself was
probably thrown in by Moses for the purpose of preparing for what he was
about to say respecting Joshua, in whom the people were to find a leader
after he himself was gone. It may be noted also that Moses distinguishes
between the anger of the Lord against him, and the wrath which broke
forth upon the people — a distinction which is aptly preserved in the
Authorized Version by the words “was wroth” (קָצפ) and “was angry”
(אָנַפ) - “for your sakes,” - rather, because of you, on accent of you. The
Hebrew word (גָלָל) comes from a root meaning to roll, and signifies
primarily a turn in events, a circumstance, an occasion or reason. Moses
reminds the Israelites that the misconduct of the people was what led to
God’s being angry also with him (see Numbers 20:7-13; compare Psalm
106:32-33) – “saying, Thou also shalt not go in thither.”
Though the rebellious generation were to perish, and Moses was not to be permitted
leader bring the people to the inheritance which He had sworn to their fathers to give
them. (For the account of Joshua’s appointment and installation, see Numbers
38 “But Joshua the son of Nun, which standeth before thee,” - i.e. to be
thy minister or servant (Exodus 24:13; 33:11; Numbers 11:28; compare for the
meaning of the phrase Deuteronomy 10:8; 18:7; Daniel 1:5) - “he shall go
in thither: encourage him:” - literally, strengthen him (compare ch.3:21-22; 31:7-8).
“for he shall cause
land.” In vs. 8 and 21, the land is spoken of as to be possessed by the Israelites; here
it is spoken of as to be inherited by them. The former has reference to their having to
wrest the land by force from the Canaanites (יָרַשׁ - to occupy by force, to dispossess;
ch.2:12, 21-22, where the verb is, in the Authorized Version, rendered by “destroy’’);
the latter has reference to their receiving the land as a heritage (נָןחל) from God, who,
when He divided to the nations their inheritance, assigned
39 “Moreover your little ones,” - Only among the young of that generation should
the inheritance be divided, as they had no part in the rebellion of their seniors.
Your little ones; i.e. children beginning to walk (טַפ, from טָפַפ, to trip, to
take short and quick steps) - “which ye said should be a prey, and your
children,” - boys and girls - “which in that day had no knowledge between good
and evil,” – rather, of whom [ye said] they know not today good and evil. The
Hebrews were wont to express totality or universality by specifying contradictory
opposites, as, e.g. great and small (II Chronicles 34:30), master and scholar
(Malachi 2:12), free and bond (Revelation 13:16; 19:18), shut up and left (ch. 32:36,
where see note; I Kings 14:10). Accordingly, when good and evil are set over against
each other, the notion of entireness or universality is expressed. Thus, when
Laban and Bethuel said to Abraham’s servant “We cannot speak unto thee
bad or good” (Genesis 24:50), the meaning is, We can say nothing at all. Absalom
spake to Amnon “neither good nor bad” (II Samuel 13:22); that is, he did not say
anything to him. The woman of Tekoa said to David, “As an angel of God, so is my
lord the king to discern good and bad” (II Samuel 14:17); i.e. There is nothing the
king does not know — his knowledge is universal. Hence to know good and evil came to
mean to be intelligent, and not to know good and evil to be unintelligent, as is a
babe. The children here referred to knew nothing, and consequently could not be held
as morally responsible; (compare Isaiah 7:15) - “they shall go in thither, and unto
them will I give it, and they shall possess it.”
ἐσθλά τε καὶ χέρεια παρὸς δ ἔτι νήπιος ἠᾶ
40 “But as for you, turn you, and take your journey into the wilderness
by the way of the
(v. 7) is recalled, and they are ordered to turn into the wilderness and go by the
way leading to the
The people, appalled at the prospect of another sojourn in the wilderness, yet
still rebellious and disobedient to God’s command, though professing penitence,
determined, in spite of direct prohibition on the part of God by Moses, to go up
and force their way
being utterly defeated and put to flight by the Amorites (compare Numbers
The Excluded and the Admitted (vs. 34-40)
· THE EXCLUDED.
Ø That whole unbelieving generation, with two excerptions (v. 35).
o Their unbelief and disobedience did not frustrate God’s purpose of the
of the land.
be peopled, the world conquered, and God’s work done, though we
in our folly and sin rebel and stand aloof (Matthew 3:9). “It remaineth
that some must enter in” (Hebrews 4:6).
o Their unbelief and disobedience effectually excluded themselves.
God swore it in His wrath, and the sentence admitted of no reversal.
A foreshadowing of the final exclusion from heaven of those who
PERSISTENTLY DISOBEY (Matthew 7:21-23; Luke 13:24-29;
Hebrews 4:11; Revelation 22:11-16).
Ø The holy Moses (v. 37; compare ch. 3:26; 4:21; 34:4). The exclusion
of Moses will be more fully considered afterwards, but we learn
from it here that God’s apparent severity is often greatest to His own
people (Amos 3:2), and that the share which others have had in leading
us into sin does not abate our own responsibility in the commission of it.
This greater apparent severity:
o repels the charge of favoritism;
o gives a peculiarly impressive demonstration of the evil of sin;
o reminds us that sin in God’s people is more dishonoring to
Him than it is in others;
o warns the wicked.
For if judgment begin at the righteous, “what shall the end be of them
that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be
saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” (I Peter 4:17-18).
· THE ADMITTED. These were to be:
Ø The faithful two — Caleb and Joshua (vs. 36, 38). The former is
signalized as having “wholly followed the Lord,” and Joshua was a
man of like faith and staunchness in a time of general defection.
Such persons God will singularly preserve and honor. Their place in
heaven will be a high one. “We must, in a course of obedience to
God’s will and of service to His honor, follow Him:
o universally, without dividing;
o uprightly, without dissembling;
o cheerfully, without disputing; and
o constantly, without declining;
and this is following the Lord fully” (Matthew Henry, on
Ø The younger generation (v. 39). Instead of the
fathers, God would take the children. What a rebuke:
o of their groundless fears. “Your little ones, which ye said
should be a prey.”
o of their unmanly cowardice. Their little children, types of
all that was humanly feeble, would do the work they were
afraid to attempt.
o of their inconsiderate selfishness. They were not ashamed
to hand down to these children their own abandoned life-tasks,
with all the work and peril, if also with all the reward and honor,
attending their accomplishment. Was not this to make themselves
objects of contempt to their own offspring? “Let no man take
thy crown” (Revelation 3:11), least of all thine own child,
41 “Then ye answered and said unto me, We have sinned” - in Numbers it is
simply said that “the people mourned greatly” (bemoaned themselves, יִתְאַבְּלוּ;
but this is not incompatible with the statement here that they confessed their sins; the
one would naturally accompany the ether. Their confession, however, was in
word only; their conduct showed that it was not sincere - “against the
LORD, we will go up and fight, according to all that the LORD our
God commanded us. And when ye had girded on every man his
weapons of war,” – In Numbers 14:44 it is said, “They presumed to go up;”
here it is said “ye were ready to go up into the hill.’ - Rather, ye acted heedlessly
with levity, or frivolity, to go up. The verb here (וַתָּהִינוּ) occurs only in this place,
and is of doubtful signification. The Rabbins compare it with the הננו, lo we! here
we be! Of the people in Numbers 14:40. It is the Hiph. of הוּן which is supposed
to be the same as the Arabic , to be light, easy; and from, this the meaning,
“ye went up heedlessly” is deduced. None of the ancient versions, however,
give this meaning. The Septuagint has συναθροισθέντες ἀνεβαίνετε εἰς τὸ ὄρος -
sunathroisthentes anebainete eis to oros – presumed to go up into the hill
country - the Vulgate, instructi armis pergeretis in montem; Onk., ושׁרתון למסק
(and ye began to ascend); Syriac, <ARABIC> (and ye incited yourselves
to go up).
42 “And the LORD said unto me, Say unto them. Go not up, neither
fight; for I am not among you; lest ye be smitten before your enemies.”
Moses, by the command of God, warned the people that, if they presumed to
go up, they should go without His protection, and so would certainly fall
before their enemies.
In vain were they thus warned. Moses spoke to them as God commanded,
but they would not be persuaded.
43 “So I spake unto you; and ye would not hear, but rebelled against
the commandment of the LORD, and went presumptuously” - rather,
acted insolently and went up; margin, Authorized Version, “Ye
were presumptuous, and went up” The verb here ((חֵזִיד, from זוּד to boil)
signifies tropically, to act proudly, haughtily, insolently (compare Nehemiah
9:29, Authorized Version, “dealt proudly”) -“up into the hill.”
44 “And the Amorites,” - for the Canaanites generally; in Numbers, the
Amalekites are specially mentioned as joining with the Amorites in
chastising the Israelites. These tribes came down from the higher mountain
range to the lower height which the Israelites had gained, and drove them
with great slaughter as far as Hormah, in Seir, chasing them as bees do,
which pursue with keen ferocity those who disturb them. Hormah (Ban-place),
the earlier name of which was Zephath (Judges 1:17), was a royal city of the
Canaanites, taken by the Israelites towards the close of their wanderings, and
placed by them under a ban (Numbers 21:1-3), which ban was fully executed only
in the time of the Judges. It is here and elsewhere called Hormah by anticipation.
The old name Zephath seems to have survived that given to it by the Israelites in
the name Sebaita or Sepata, the Arabic form of Zephath, the name of a heap of
ruins on the western slope of the rocky mountain-plateau Rakhmah, about two hours
and a half south-west of Khalasa (Ritter, ‘Geography of Palestine,’ 1:431;
identification than that of Robinson (‘Res.,’ 2:18), who finds Hormah in
the rocky defile of Es-Sufah, an unlikely place for a city of the importance
of Zephath to be in - “which dwelt in that mountain, came out against
you, and chased you, as bees do, and destroyed you in Seir, even
45 “And ye returned” - i.e. either to Kadesh, where Moses had
remained, or from their rebellious and defiant attitude to one of apparent
submission and contrition, or the whole phrase, “Ye returned and wept,”
may mean merely that they wept again, as in Numbers 11:4, where the
same words are used. “and wept” - They mourned their misfortune, and
complained on account of it (compare for the meaning of the phrase, Numbers
11:4, 18, 20) - “before the LORD;” - Before Jehovah; i.e. before the
tabernacle or sanctuary (compare Judges 20:23, 26). Their mourning was not that
of true repentance, and, therefore, the Lord would not listen to them or give
heed to their wail (compare Proverbs 1:24) - “but the LORD would
not hearken to your voice, nor give ear unto you.”
46 “So ye abode in Kadesh many days, according unto the days that ye
abode there.” It was unnecessary that Moses should tell the people the
precise length of time they abode in Kadesh after this, because that was
well known to them; he, therefore, contents himself with saying that they
remained there as long as they did remain (compare for a similar expression,
Deuteronomy 9:25). How long they actually remained there cannot be
determined, for the expression, many days, is wholly indefinite.
THE CULMINATION OF
UNPREPARED TO OCCUPY IT. The point of time referred to here was
the supreme moment in
endured privation, performed a toilsome journey, for one object, viz. to
they failed to rise to the conception of their privilege. They:
Ø feared and
Men play with opportunity as a toy, and when their eyes open to see its value,
lo! it has vanished! Possibly, there is a supreme moment in every man’s history;
yet often he is too indolent to improve it. Every morning is not a May-day.
Many reach the margin of a glorious destiny, and then turn back to the desert.
The path of duty is very plain; but self-indulgence makes us blind as a mole.
· THE DISHONESTY OF PRUDENTIAL PLEAS. These Hebrew men
thought themselves very sagacious to suggest the experiment of the spies;
and God endured their whim. Yet there was no reason for this precaution.
With God as a Pioneer and Protector, they might have known that it was
safer to follow the fiery pillar than to remain at ease in their tents. The
command was plain — “Go up and possess.” Therefore all delay, and all
reconnoitering, was sin. If we were to deal honestly with inclination, if
every whisper of conscience were obeyed, we should often see through the
thin guise of our own pretences; we should strip the veneer of insincerity
from our deeds. In some dark cavern of our hearts we may find, by honest
search, some wish that we are ashamed to avow. There is often a
conspiracy in the man against himself. We hunt for excuses to cover
· UNBELIEF DEVELOPS, THROUGH MANY STAGES, INTO
RANK REBELLION. The report of the spies confirmed the word of God.
This always accords with external fact, and with human experience. God
had not said that the Canaanites were few or weak. What mattered it how
tall and brawny they were, if so be God were on their side, and fought for
them? Old Unbelief is a fool, and ought to be decorated with cap and bells.
Unbelief is poison, and saps the basis of our strength, enervates our
courage, and melts our iron into flux. Unbelief develops into falsehood,
and perverts the truth of God into lying. Unbelief maligns and traduces
God — charges him with the basest crime. It calls evil good; purest love it
styles blackest hate. It is the essence of blasphemy. It is the CRIME of
CRIMES – the seed of misery – THE GERM OF HELL!
· THE RETRIBUTIONS OF GOD ARE SEVERE AND EQUITABLE.
Much that human judgment deems to be retribution is not
penalty. Bodily suffering is usually corrective, not destructive. The
retributions of God are co-related to the sin. Men pamper the passion for
drink: inappeasable thirst shall be their doom. Men say to God, “Depart
from me!” God responds, “Depart from me!” The Hebrews would not
march into possession of
desert. Retribution is related to sin as fruit to blossom — as wages to
work. There comes a point where return is impossible. God swears that it
shall be so. The oath is AN OATH OF RIGHTEOUSNESS! Nevertheless,
out of the crowds of the nameless ungodly, individual liegemen shall be
honored, even Caleb and Joshua. These are elect spirits — choice natures.
In the day of overwhelming calamity, God does not overlook the solitary
righteous. “He hideth him in the hollow of His hand.” The proofs of
inviolable equity are written in gigantic capitals on the heavens and on the
· THE FORECASTS OF FEAR ARE OFTEN THE REVERSE OF
REALITY. Cowardly and disobedient Hebrews pretended a far-reaching
concern for their children. “If we are slain in this invasion of
will become of our little ones?” — thus argued these malcontents. “Can we
endure to think that they shall become a prey to these human wolves?”
They were frightened at a mirage — terrified at the shadow of their own
folly. Facts were the very reverse of their fears. These “little ones” God
would take into training — drill them by the hardy discipline of the
wilderness, and qualify them for warfare and for conquest.
· REPENTANCE HAS MANY COUNTERFEITS. There is often
confession of our folly, and yet no repentance; promise of amendment, yet
no repentance. There may be poignant regret for the past, bitter shame,
sharp remorse, deep compunction, severe self-judgment, yet no repentance.
For repentance is soul-submission unto God. It brings our feeling, desire,
will, into harmony with God’s feeling and will. Repentance has not
thoroughly penetrated the soul until we love what God loves, and hate
what God hates. True repentance works for righteousness. Deceit may so
worm itself in the heart as to intertwine itself round every fiber of our
being. We may ultimately become so blind as not to discern between truth
and falsehood. The repentance of these Jews was a carnal sorrow that
produced fruits OF DEATH!
· PRESUMPTION IS AS CRIMINAL AS COWARDICE. We
dishonor God as much by going beyond the line of duty, as by falling short
of it. Each alike is an act of disobedience. We cannot atone for cowardice
yesterday by an excess of rashness today. The essence of obedience is
promptitude. It is not the same whether we observe the command today, or
tomorrow. Between the two there may be a gulf deep as hell itself. The
prohibitions of God are as sacred as His positive commands. What is a duty
today may be a sin tomorrow, because the precept may be withdrawn.
Some commands are eternally permanent; some have only temporary
· REPENTANCE OFTEN COMES TOO LATE. During lifetime,
repentance has moral productiveness. We may not attain the precise object,
which by repentance we hoped to gain; nevertheless, real repentance brings
relief and gladness to the soul! Esau was afterwards a better man for his
repentance, though he could not recover his birthright. To these Hebrews,
repentance came too late for them ever to possess the earthly
us hope it availed to gain them the heavenly. It is possible for repentance,
long-delayed, to be unavailing. “Because,” says God, “I have called, and ye
refused ... I also will laugh at your calamity, Then shall they call upon me,
but I will not answer.” (Proverbs 1:26-28) “He swore in His wrath, They
shall not enter into my rest.” (Psalm 95:11) When all gracious remedies
are exhausted, “it is impossible to renew men unto repentance.” (Hebrews
4:4-6) It is a perilous thing to tamper with conscience, or to trifle with God.
The Heirs of Promise (vs. 34-46)
We have in this passage the result of unbelief. The dread of the people was
lest their little ones should become a prey to their gigantic foes in
The Lord now declares that these little ones shall be the possessors of the
land, while they themselves shall be denied an entrance, since they refused
it when offered to them. The only exceptions are to be Joshua and Caleb,
who made the good report and gave the good counsel. Even Moses is
included in the doom of exclusion. The subsequent attempt and the
subsequent tears had no effect in reversing the deserved sentence. We learn
from this passage such practical lessons as these:
· GOD’S GRACIOUS OFFERS ARE NOT TO BE TRIFLED WITH.
The Promised Land lay open to the Israelites, who had been mercifully
guided to its gates. The all-important “Now,” the time for decisive action
had come, and it remained with them to determine whether they would go
in and receive the blessing, or remain without. They preferred to delay, to
trifle with the offer, and so the time went past. So sinners are offered
pardon and acceptance as an immediate boon (II Corinthians 6:2), but
when the offer is despised and trifled with, it may be withdrawn
· PRESUMPTION IS A POOR SUBSTITUTE FOR FAITH. When the
people saw the mistake they had made, they would go up and fight in a
spirit of presumptuous chagrin. They now fought without commissions.
The result was disastrous defeat, and a hurling of them back from the gates
their presumption, since they would not follow Him in humble faith.
So may it be with sinners. Despised mercy may be succeeded by deserved
defeat. The wild and proud efforts of presumption are in stark contrast to
the quiet courage of faith. Toil and tears may be insufficient to retrieve
disaster when once courted by unbelief.
· JOSHUA AND CALEB’S GOOD FORTUNE SHOWED WHAT
WAS POSSIBLE TO WHOLEHEARTED FAITH. These two spies, in
wholly following the Lord and in counseling courage, showed an humble
faith. They stood alone faithful in face of an unbelieving majority, and God
gave them a corresponding assurance that they should enter into the land.
They were greatly honored in being allowed to do so. And they are surely
encouragements to believing souls throughout all time.
· THE ASSURANCE OF THE CHILDREN THAT THEY SHOULD
BE HEIRS OF THE LAND VINDICATED GOD’S PROCEDURE AND
FAITHFULNESS. The little ones, for whom they feared, are selected as
the heirs of promise. But they are to get the land after discipline and
sorrow in the wilderness. God’s ways are not ours. Yet wisdom regulates
them all. And the Divine grace was magnified in this arrangement. The
Israelites, as they died in the wilderness, would be cheered by the thought
that, though they were justly excluded from the land because of their
unbelief, their children would receive the inheritance in the exercise of
faith. The judgment on the fathers would be sanctified, like the sickness of
Hymenaeus and Alexander (I Timothy 1:20), and their spirits, let us
hope, saved in the day of the Lord Jesus (I Corinthians 5:5).
Tardy Repentance (vs. 40-46)
In the conduct of these Israelites we have a typical exhibition of human
nature. In its folly, its fickleness, its unreasonableness, and its obstinacy.
Forbidden to enter
them but to “go up” and do the thing they had formerly said they would
not do. They are vociferous in their professions of repentance, and will not
be reasoned out of their self-willed purpose, but persist in following it up
to their own after discomfiture. We have here to notice:
· HOW UNCHANGED CHARACTER MAY COEXIST WITH A
CHANGED FORM OF MANIFESTATION. Underneath these loud
professions of repentance, “We have sinned” (v. 41), it is not difficult to
Ø The old UNBELIEF. They disbelieve God’s threatening, as before they
refused to believe His promise.
Ø The old SELF-WILL. It is not what God wills, but what they will
themselves, that is to be done. They do not ask, “Will God permit
us to do this?” but they take the law into their own hands, and
ignore God’s wishes altogether.
· HOW INSINCERE REPENTANCE NATURALLY PASSES OVER
INTO PRESUMPTUOUS SIN. It does this inasmuch as there was never in
it the element of real submission. The undertaking of the Israelites was
typical of many more. It was:
Ø Presumptuously conceived.
Ø Presumptuously prepared for.
Ø Presumptuously persevered in.
It is, therefore, the type of all undertakings set on foot and carried out:
Ø in defiance of God’s will;
Ø without God’s assistance;
Ø in face of God’s expressed displeasure.
It is a case, in short, of flying in the face of God; of defying Him, and
entering into direct contest with Him; as every one does whose schemes are
in opposition even to natural and economical, and stilt more if they are in
opposition to moral and spiritual, laws; or in any way contrary to what we
know to be God’s will. Presumption may show itself in REFUSAL TO BE
SAVED except in ways or on terms of our own dictation.
· HOW GODLESS ENDEAVOR RECOILS IN DISASTER ON
THOSE WHO PERSIST IN IT. ( v. 44.) So must it be with all schemes
that have God’s frown upon them.
Ø Repentance MAY COME TOO LATE (v. 45; Matthew 25:11-12;
Ø Disobedience may cloak itself in the guise of obedience (v. 41).
Ø The test of obedience is willingness to do what God requires at the
time He requires it, and not at some time of our own.
Forced Back (vs. 41-46)
In the preceding paragraph we had an illustration of unbelief in doubting
the promise of God, and of the effect of that unbelief in excluding from the
promised rest. Here we have an illustration of a like unbelief working in
precisely the opposite direction; as
the promise of God, so now we find them resolving to go up in spite of the
prohibition of God, “acting,” as an expositor remarks, “in contempt of the
threatening, as they had before acted in contempt of the promise, as if
governed by a spirit of contradiction.” The points in the history which
should be noted are these.
1. As the men of that generation (two only excepted) were debarred from
of people wanting the best of both worlds, here we find those who are in
danger of experiencing the worst of both worlds! CY - 2020)
2. They rebel against this Divine arrangement, though we, who at this
distance of time “see the end of the Lord,” can perceive how much mercy
there was in it. (James 5:11)
3. There was a short
human judgment would seem preferable to a “march far wandering round.”
4. In this route enemies would surely assail — Amorites, Amalekites, etc.
6. God forbade their going up. Moses forbade them. The ark was not
moved from its place in the camp.
7. The people were resolved to go up, defiantly, insolently.
8. They paid dearly for their presumption. They were forced back.
9. They grieved and wept over their disappointment.
10. Such weeping God does not regard. “Tears of discontent must be wept
over again.” As they had before found out the folly of distrusting God’s
strength, so now they had to bewail the uselessness of presuming on their
own! We cannot be wrong in continuing to follow the apostolic teaching in
regarding the Canaan of Israel’s hope as a type of the higher “rest” which
“remaineth for the people of God’ (Hebrews 4:1).
· THE LAW OF OLD IS IN FORCE STILL, THAT THE
UNBELIEVING SHALL NOT ENTER INTO REST. This is the teaching,
under varied forms, of no small part of the Old Testament and of the New.
We may inquire, if we will, into the philosophy of this; and in doing so, we
shall find but little difficulty in seeing the essential impossibility of one who
doubts God finding rest anywhere. Doubt is unrest. But whether or no one
can discern the deep reason of it, there stands the word, with its awful bar,
“He that believeth not is condemned already.” (John 3:18)
· IT IS A DREARY OUTLOOK FOR THE UNBELIEVER. To wander
on, and to be moving towards some destiny or other, but yet to have no
prospect of rest at the end of the journey, is it not dreary? We do not deny
that men may, as they say, resign them, selves to the inevitable. And we
even admit that men may so far control themselves, as, with stoical
unfeelingness, to take “a leap in the dark.” But not all this can blind us to
the misery of those who move on under the ban, “The unbeliever shall not
· THE SAME UNBELIEF WHICH DOUBTS THE PROMISE ALSO
DESPISES THE THREATENING. Both promise and threatening come
from one and the same God; hence whoever doubts Him will be as likely to
question one as the other. And it is very, very easy for unbelief to urge
plausible arguments or questionings concerning the threatenings; e.g.:
Ø “Has God said that?”
Ø “God will not be so severe;”
Ø “God cannot mean me;”
Ø “Who can tell whether the judgment day will ever come?” etc.
· THIS UNBELIEF MAY MAKE A DESPERATE EFFORT TO
PROVE THE THREATENING NULL AND VOID. “We will go up!”
How much does this remind us of what our Savior says in His Sermon on
the Mount (compare Matthew 7:22)! As if unbelief would carry its daring up
to the very judgment seat (see also ibid. ch. 25:10-12; Luke 13:24- 26).
AN ATTEMPT TO ENTER THE
GOD’S WORD, WILL BE FORCED HELPLESSLY
disastrously repulsed, and found it “hard to kick against the pricks.” (Acts
9:5); “Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker!” (Isaiah 45:9); “Hath
any hardened himself against God, and prospered?” (Job 9:4 - see
continuation of New Testament passages referred to above). Man can
do many wonderful things, but there are five things he never can do:
Ø he cannot evade the sentence of God;
Ø he cannot postpone it;
Ø he cannot nullify it;
Ø he cannot modify it;
Ø he cannot impeach it.
“We are sure that the (δικαιωμα - dikaioma – right judgement) sentence
of God is according to truth.” (Romans 2:2)
· THE WEEPING OF DISAPPOINTMENT WILL BE UNAVAILING.
“Ye returned and wept before the Lord; but the Lord
would not hearken to your voice, nor give ear unto you.” It will be of no
use whatever trying to enter
against us, “Ye shall not see my rest;” nor will it avail to try to enter by any
other than God’s own appointed way; nor will the murmuring, or wailing,
or gnashing of teeth at all alter the matter. There may be as much unbelief
in tears as in trifling! By no other means than implicit faith in and
unswerving loyalty to God in Christ, can we find rest for our souls either
here or hereafter. Oh that sinful men would “hear the voice of Jesus say,”
“Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you
rest!” (Matthew 11:28) Apart from Christ, our souls must wander in dry
places, SEEKING REST and FINDING NONE! (ibid. ch. 12:43)
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