The Book of Deuteronomy (which means “the second law”) is probably thus called because it is the second enumeration of the precepts which the Lord commissioned Moses to deliver to Israel. And the reason for this repetition is abundantly evident. All the generation which had come out of Egypt was now dead, and it was very necessary that these laws should be rehearsed in the ears of the generation which had sprung up in the place of their fathers. The wonderful love of God to His Church is also set forth in this Book, for it reveals how He always preserved His people for His own mercies’ sake. And as we see Moses’ love for Israel, he stands forth as an eminent picture of our loving Savior. Let us pray for grace and for the teaching of the Holy Spirit as we read this last Book of Moses, for we earnestly desire to discover Him of Whom Moses and the prophets wrote – namely, Jesus of Nazareth!
Moses began his narrative with the people’s departure from Mount Sinai (verse 6). This was the mount that burned with fire (Heb. 12:18) and stood as a representation of bondage (Gal. 4:24). God brought His people to this mountain so that He might humble them and prepare them, by the terrors of the law, for the Land of Promise. He kept them there about a year; and then He told them they had dwelt there long enough, and that they must go forward. Although God brings His people into trouble and affliction, He knows when they have dwelt long enough therein, and He will certainly find the best time to advance them from the terrors of the spirit of bondage to the blessings of the spirit of adoption (Rom. 8:15). The Lord gave the Israelites a prospect of a happy and early settlement in Canaan. “Behold,” He said in verse 8, “I have set the land before you.” And similarly, when God commands us to go forward in our Christian walk, He sets the heavenly Canaan before us for our encouragement!
Moses reminded the people (verses 9-18) of the happy constitution of their government, which would have made them all safe and easy, except for their own sins. In the midst of this section of his discourse, he acknowledged the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham concerning the multiplication of his descendants; and he prayed for the further accomplishment of this promise. There is no limit to the power and goodness of God; why, then, should there be a limit on our own faith and hope in that promise?
Moses spoke of the people’s own guilt in sending the 12 spies before them to search out the land of Canaan, nearly 40 years earlier. As if it was not enough that they had God Himself going before them, they wanted to send men ahead of them. Even the wicked spies themselves brought back a report of the goodness of the land – and yet they represented the difficulties of conquering it as impossible! Moses told the people how he had attempted to encourage them, assuring them that God would fight for them. And was there any cause to distrust this God? No indeed! An unbelieving heart was at the bottom of all this. All disobedience to God’s laws, and all distrust of His power and goodness, flow from disbelief of His word – just as all true obedience springs from faith.
Moses repeated the Lord’s sentence that had been passed upon the people for this sin. None of them would live to enter Canaan – except for Caleb and Joshua. Thus “we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief” (Heb. 3:19). It was not the breach of any of the commands of the law that shut them out of Canaan. It was not even their sin of making the golden calf! Rather, it was their disbelief of that promise which was a picture of Gospel-grace. This teaches us that no sin will ruin us except unbelief, which is a sin against the remedy that is to be found in Jesus alone. Yet even here, the Lord’s mercy was mixed with His wrath – for although Moses would not bring them into Canaan, Joshua would; and although that generation would not enter the land, the next would.
The people were also reminded of how their forefathers had foolishly and fruitlessly attempted to get this sentence reversed – after it was too late. They had refused to go up against the Canaanites when they had the opportunity; but when the Lord had told them they would not enter the land, they girded on their weapons of war and tried to advance anyway. In the same way, when the door to the heavenly wedding-feast is shut and the day of grace is over, there will be people who stand outside and knock. The Israelites’ rebellious plan failed accordingly, for they were chased and smitten; and by this defeat which they suffered when they had provoked God to leave them, they were shown the great success they would have enjoyed if they had kept themselves in His love.
It is profitable for us to divide our past lives into distinct periods, as Moses did here; and to give thanks to God for the mercies which we have received in each, and to confess and seek the forgiveness of all the sins which we can remember. It is good to thus renew our acceptance of God’s salvation, and our surrender of ourselves to His service. Our own plans seldom avail to good purpose. But courage in the exercise of faith and in the path of duty enables the believer to follow the Lord fully, to disregard and triumph over all opposition, and to take firm hold upon His promised blessings!
Lord, we repent of times when our hearts have been full of disbelief of His Word and promises to us. Help us to thankfully meditate upon the blessings that You have mercifully shown to us! Amen.
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