The Inspiration of the Scriptures: Deuteronomy

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The last book of the Pentateuch is as definitely marked as each of its predecessors. It alone was written in view of Israel's crossing the Jordan and entering on the land of their inheritance. It is therefore wholly different from Genesis which has a primary character, and is all but universal in its range, the word of Him Who knows the end from the beginning. Neither does it converge on redemption from Egypt, like Exodus; nor on access to Jehovah, like Leviticus; nor yet on pilgrimage through the wilderness, like Numbers. The title in the A. V. follows the Latin Vulgate, as it the Septuagint, but is at least nearer the mark than in the other cases; for the book largely consists of a special recapitulation of the law. Only we must allow for the divine affluence of scripture; which, when interpreting a vision, or a parable, or even a particular symbol, not merely repeats but adds very strikingly.
If we believe the book (and he is God's enemy who does not), Moses spoke and wrote on the eve of his approaching death. This could not but impart a peculiarly earnest and solemn tone. Ethic, affectionate, and expostulatory elements predominate beyond what we find in any other of the five books. As Moses says, in closing the brief preface of ch. 1:3-5, he began to declare or expound this law. Obedience is urged continually, and the spirit of it in the heart. It is the people as a whole therefore, who are in general addressed directly throughout, on their responsible tenure of the land. Typical teaching is comparatively rare, moral abounds, not without prophecy at the close especially. “The priests, the Levites” only appear for specific reasons, and Levites also as such. But the people are regarded as under the moral government of Jehovah their God in the land; and this accounts for its characteristics. Those born in the wilderness had been uncircumcised, and so disqualified for the privileges of Israel. This was no longer to be tolerated. Israel must henceforth take their normal place of obedience in Jehovah's land. So the book urges anticipatively.
From chap. 1:6 to the end of chap. 4 is an introduction, in which Moses first sketches in the rest of chap. 1 the journeying from Horeb to Kadesh, with the previous choice of rulers to judge, and the subsequent one of the spies, their rebellious unbelief, and its punishment. Then in chaps. 2; 3; we have their final advance, after long abidings and marches in the wilderness. They were not to meddle with Edom, Moab, or Ammon. When Sihon and Og opposed, they slew them and their people, taking all they had as spoil on that side of Jordan, and giving their lands and cities to Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh, who were as eager to possess at once even outside Canaan, as Moses pleads in vain to go over and see the good land. Chap. 4 turns shameful Baal-peor into an appeal to obey Jehovah's word, neither adding nor diminishing; as they alone have Him so nigh with His statutes and judgments, heard His voice, yet saw no similitude. Therefore were they called to abhor every image and created object, lest Jehovah should expel and scatter them among the idolatrous nations. But even there are they encouraged to turn and obey Him. The chapter closes with three cities chosen for the manslayer in the country beyond Jordan taken from the Amorite kings, Sihon and Og. Such a refuge was due to Jehovah, Who would not tolerate the shedding of man's blood on the one hand, nor on the other allow mischance to be dealt with as murder. Where His people dwelt, even though outside their proper barrier, His rights must be respected. We may observe how distinct is the setting of these refuge cities in Numbers, where they are given within the portion of the Levites, and in view of the decease of the anointed priest: a typical connection of which Deuteronomy here shows no trace, but has its own appropriate reason. What a testimony to the divine inspiration of both! What we have had hitherto suits no book, but the one that has it.
From chap. 5 to the end of 11 are given the general moral principles on which Israel were put before Jehovah. Chaps. 12-26 are rather the special terms in statutes and judgments made with the people.
In chap. 5 Moses repeats the law according to the Horeb covenant, made not with their fathers but with them; as was said just before in the face of Beth-peor to impress their danger, but in the land they had won to cheer them. Similarly to the fourth commandment is annexed, not the recall to creation as in Ex. 20, but the remembrance of His deliverance from Egypt Who now commanded its observance. Chap. 6 is a homiletic application of the first commandment, as 7 is of the second. Chap. 8 impresses the whole from their wilderness experience of God and of their own heart with Canaan in view. Chap. 9 reminds them of their weakness, though assured of victory by Jehovah's grace, and of their grievous sins and rebellion, of Moses' own indignant smashing the tables though inscribed by God's own hand, and of his deprecating divine wrath; so that he came down after other 40 days and nights with freshly written tables for the ark, as he states in a parenthesis of chap. 10 from vers. 1-9, the more singular for containing another parenthesis in 6-9. For if Aaron died at a later day, Levi “at that time” gained a good degree by devotedness, and Jehovah gave the tribe an honored place of service. Obedience therefore is insisted on most touchingly; and love too in chap, 11 in presence of His wondrous ways of mercy as well as judgment, and this to their enjoying the good land. He repeats therefore in conclusion the all-importance of keeping Jehovah's words, they and their children, as in chap. 6, that they might be blessed and their foes put down, instead of reaping a curse on their disobedience.
Now there is no place in the Pentateuch, nor in all the Bible where such appeals are so suitable as in the last words of the prophet and legislator. The very repetitions are not vain but deeply pathetic, and only despicable in the eyes of men as stiff-necked as those who kicked against them of old. It was the adaptation of the law to the new need of the generation about to enter and possess Canaan; but no language is clearer than its claim to be of Moses. If this be untrue, the book is an imposture; if true, what are they who undermine and defame it?
This design accordingly governs the enactments. They regard Israel as if in Canaan. This determines which reappear, and which do not. It has nothing to do with later times or various authors; nor any real discrepancy with the previous books. For Jehovah's land is required for His people obedient and true to His relationship, eschewing false gods and images, with one center to His name for their sacrifices, and their offerings, and either; yet with leave to kill and eat flesh, not the blood, within all their gates (12). For the same reason, prophet or dreamer that enticed to other gods must be put to death; so must be the nearest relative that enticed, however secretly; and if a whole city were thus drawn away, it must be devoted to destruction, as a traitor to Jehovah (13). As sons of Jehovah they must adopt no foreign custom, nor eat unclean food, but were truly to tithe corn, wine, oil, and first-fruits, bringing them or their value to Jehovah's central place. Even another tithe at the end of three years is claimed for their homes, and for the Levite and the sojourner, the orphan and the widow, besides that carried to the holy center (14). For the people would thus be shown in immediate relationship with Jehovah, while His sanctuary had its place also. What a witness of the book's divine design is this added tithe, here only in the Pentateuch, where alone it could be! It is the people's joy in fellowship with Him Who not only redeemed and kept them, but gave them the land, the Levites, &c. (who had none) being graciously prominent. Chap. 15 follows this up by release of a debtor by a neighbor at the end of seven years, and by a call to constant liberality, as a people blessed of Jehovah. For which reason also the hallowing of male firstlings from herd and flock is here pressed for Jehovah's center; but if a defect existed, to be eaten within their gates as hart or gazelle.
Chap. 16 is so weighty a proof of the same design, that it claims a little farther notice. It enjoins the three feasts of the year which gathered all the males to Jehovah's chosen place in the land, and not empty but according to His blessing given them. It is not the full typical circle of God's ways as in Lev. 23, nor the witness of God's worship yet to be rendered on the earth as in Num. 28; 29. In our chapter we have, first redemption, then the liberty of grace, and lastly, after the harvest and the vintage, the “whole joyfulness” of glory. Yet even so only the seven days are here, because it looks not beyond the blessing of Israel in the land, the scope of Deuteronomy. The close from ver. 18 takes up the means of sustaining the people in righteous order and in abhorrence of idolatry, before Jehovah. Chap 17 first commands integrity of conscience in sacrifice, then joint clearance of disloyalty to Him; and if any had recourse to the priests, and the judge in those days, with meekness to bow to that decision. This leads to the question of a king, who from them was to be chosen of Jehovah, to avoid fleshly and worldly ways, and to write a copy of the law for his personal guidance. Then we have the priests, indeed the whole tribe of Levi (18) with their dues. Next are denounced for Israel, the heathen abominations for which the Canaanites were dispossessed; and the promise of the great Prophet from their midst is given. Acts 3 is conclusive authority that Christ is meant; and so is Acts 7: both Peter and Stephen attesting that Moses so said to Israel.
The same principle applies to chap. 19. They when possessing the land were to separate three cities of refuge more for the unwitting slayer: the murderer must surely die. Landmarks were not to be removed, and testimony guarded. In chap. 20 we see how the fear of Jehovah controlled war, both within and without. It was not a rival to be got rid of, but the abominable races who in fact held the land, destroyed by them, for Israel to whom the land was divinely given. But chap. 26 presents moral truths of interest in the man found slain, the captive woman, the child of the hated wife, and the rebellious son: if these refer to Israel in the land which Jehovah will have hallowed, and to inconsistency judged, the close (we know) points to Him Who became a curse in infinite grace to deliver them and bless the land: the contrast of all who defile it.
On the other hand chap. 22 fosters gracious and even delicate feeling, forbids mixture of principle, punishes impurity, and protects the weak innocents against brutality. Again, in chap. 23 relation to the congregation of Jehovah is guarded, making a difference, and the seemliness even of the camp maintained; the runaway slave shielded from oppression; prostitution and its gain scouted, and interest to from a brother; vows established; kindness enjoined as to vineyard or field, but selfishness forbidden. In chap. 24 divorce was allowed under law; but the Lord brought in better things under grace. Many and various ordinances follow keeping flesh in check to the end of chap. 25.
This is closed by the unique worship in chap. 26 where the Israelite in possession of his inheritance puts the first of his fruits in a basket, goes to the chosen place, and says to the priest that shall be in that day (for Deuteronomy is the anticipation of faith), “I profess this day to Jehovah thy God, that I am come unto the land that Jehovah swore to our fathers to give them.” Then the priest takes the basket and sets it down before Jehovah's altar. And the offerer says, “A perishing Syrian was my father, and he went down to Egypt,” &e. “And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the ground, which thou, Jehovah, hast given me.” This set before Him, the Israelite worshipped: else he was free and called to rejoice in all the good which Jehovah had given him and his house, “thou, and the Levite, and the stranger that is in thy midst.”
Can anything be conceived more Deuteronomic? or more distinct from the preceding books? To call these specialties inconsistent with foregoing observances is absurd and wrong. Are man's eyes evil because Jehovah's eye is good? Hope and its accomplishment call out gratitude and generosity, as in the tithes of the third year, a characteristic institution beyond the ordinary Levitical tithes and its tithe to the priests. It was the festive and overflowing joy of the people before Jehovah when put in possession of His land. Amos 4:44Come to Beth-el, and transgress; at Gilgal multiply transgression; and bring your sacrifices every morning, and your tithes after three years: (Amos 4:4) alludes to it ironically, because the people were steeped in transgression which tainted all; Tobit (i. 7, 8), though of no divine authority, relates the fact; as does Josephus (Ant. iv. 8, § 22). It is worship, not intermediary in the sanctuary, but direct, personal or household. But the priest in the sanctuary remains none the less; to set the one against the other is only rationalistic shallowness and ill-will. The joy of communion with Jehovah's manifested goodness is provided for in the new order of things assured.
The chapters which follow are in the exactly right place. Chaps. 27 and 28 are supplemental, and each where it should be. They express the sanction of the law. First, on passing Jordan into the land, great stones were to be set up and plastered, with “all the words of this law” written on them; an altar of kindred nature also for Burnt-offerings and Peace-offerings. But a most solemn sign followed: six tribes told off to bless on Gerizim; six to curse on Ebal. Yet, whatever might be the fact, the chapter gives the Levites loudly proclaiming to all Israel nothing but the curses. Such is the basis of the apostolic word to the Galatians 3:1010For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. (Galatians 3:10), “As many (persons) as are of works of law are under curse;” not merely those who transgressed, but all on that principle, like the Galatians bewitched. Spiritually, it was no use to tell us of the blessings on Gerizim. Chap. 28 speaks, not of the personal curse, but of governmental blessings or curses and therefore temporary; whilst chap. 29 applies all to the conscience: only the last verse refers to the secret or hidden things belonging to Jehovah. This is of the deepest interest. The things revealed were as to the law; but there were secrets in divine purpose, only alluded to prophetically till the rejection of Christ, when they too were revealed. Chap. 30 illustrates this, if we compare with it the apostle's words in Rom. 10:4-94For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. 5For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them. 6But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:) 7Or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.) 8But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; 9That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. (Romans 10:4‑9).
Moses then in chap. 31 announces Joshua, not himself, as their leader over Jordan under Jehovah; and exhorts them to be courageous and strong in His going with them. “This law,” it is definitely said, Moses wrote, and delivered it to the priests, the sons of Levi, and to all the elders of Israel, with the command (at the release of every seven years, when all Israel met before Jehovah at His chosen place) to read it in their ears, men, women, children, and even the stranger within their gates. Then Joshua receives his charge at the tent of meeting and as Jehovah directed, Moses wrote that day a prophetic song, His witness against the sons of Israel. Indeed “this book of the law” too was to be put by the side of the ark for the same purpose. For Moses well knew their rebelliousness, and the evil to befall them at the end of days; but he rejoiced that Jehovah's purpose is unfailing and irrevocable.
Chap. 32 begins with the song, before which Horace's lyrics are flat and Pindar's froth. Its holy grandeur has no equal. Its prophetic insight justifies the present grace to Gentiles (21) during the hiding of Jehovah's face from His ancient people, and His future vindication of Israel when humbled and believing (35-42); and then will be the fulfillment, not inchoate but complete, when the nations shout for joy [with] His people, or speak aloud their praises, as some Jewish versions say, and in substance the Vulg. but not the Sept. Yet all point to the glorious future. It is utterly groundless that the stand-point is other than Moses then took whether on Jehovah's side or on the people's, though anticipating, as it is the aim of all Deuteronomy, their entrance on their predestined inheritance. Alas! they disobeyed and became idolaters; but Jehovah abides, and will avenge the blood of His servants, and will render vengeance to His adversaries, and will make expiation for His land, for His people. After a few words more from Moses to the people, Jehovah bids him go up Nebo, and when he had seen the land, to die.
But this was not before blessing the sons of Israel in chap. 33. His blessing is in view of Jehovah's government of His people in relationship with Himself in the land, the key-note of the book. In this way it differs from Jacob's in Genesis, which is historic and prophetically complete. Yet there is no inconsistency, but each true to its own divine design. What triumphant fervor in both the exordium and the conclusion! and what critical shortsightedness in thinking that it was not suitable to the prophet Moses in Deuteronomy to say, “He thrust out,” “and said, Destroy,” and “Israel dwelleth” or any other form in 27, 28!
There is no need whatever to take chap. 34 as written by Moses before his death. Others followed inspired like him. But, as to the contents, Jehovah buried the dead law-giver; and Jude tells us what none had revealed till then. Satan would have turned a willing people to idolize him dead, whom living they strove against. No man knows his sepulcher unto this day. The testimony to the blessed man of God better suits the successor to whom it was given of God.