In this chapter, the power and love of God to Israel were made the ground and reason of a number of cautions and serious warnings; and although there is much reference to Israel’s national covenant, yet all of these words may also be applied to us who live under the Gospel. Our obedience as individuals cannot merit salvation; but it is the only evidence that we are partakers of the gift of God, which is eternal life through Jesus Christ.
The theme of Moses’ discourse in this chapter was to persuade the people to keep close to God and His service, to not forsake Him for any idol, and to not decline from their duty to Him in any way. Let us observe what Moses said to them (with a great deal of Divine rhetoric) – both by way of exhortations and directions, and also by way of motives and arguments to enforce his exhortations. He gave them a charge and a commandment – showing them what was good, and what the Lord required of them. He demanded their diligent attention to the Word of God, and to the statutes and judgments that were taught them. “Hearken, O Israel,” he says (verse 1). By this, he not only meant that they must give him a hearing; but also that whenever the Book of the Law was read to them or by them, they must be attentive to it. He charged them to preserve the Divine law – keeping it pure and entire among them (verse 2). They were not to add to it nor diminish from it; it must be kept complete and entire. He charged them to keep and observe God’s commandments (verses 2, 5, 6, 14), and to perform the Covenant (verse 13). Hearing God’s commandments was not enough; they were given in order to be put into practice; they were given in order to be the standard by which they must conform their lives to.
Moses exhorted them to be very strict and careful in their observance of the law (verse 9). Considering how many temptations we are surrounded by, and what corrupt desires we have in our hearts, we have great need to keep our hearts with all diligence! We cannot walk rightly if we walk carelessly. He charged them, in particular, to take heed of the sin of idolatry. This was a sin which – above all others – they would be most tempted to by the customs of the nations. It was a sin which they were most addicted to by the corruption of their hearts; and it would be most provoking to God, and of the worst consequences to themselves.
Moses also directed the people to teach their children to observe the Lord’s laws: “Teach them to thy sons, and thy sons’ sons” (verse 9), in order “that they may teach their children” (verse 10). Parents must particularly take care to teach their own sons and daughters to obey and love God.
In Numbers 35, God had given commandment concerning the appointment of cities of refuge. But this matter was so important that Moses himself saw to it that the Lord’s precept concerning this thing was fulfilled – at least on the east side of the Jordan River (the cities on the west side of the river were set apart later, under Joshua’s leadership). Let us look again at the Gospel-sense of these cities, which is of a very interesting nature! Are not those cities of refuge all pictures of Jesus? Is not every human being a manslayer, who slays his own soul by his sin? And if the avenger of blood, which is death, overtakes the sinner (and death is hourly pursuing him) before the poor soul-murderer has found refuge in the blood and righteousness of Jesus – is not his ruin inevitable? Brothers and sisters! Do not overlook the sweet mercy that we find in these verses! Jesus is the way for every poor sinner to find refuge in; He is open to anyone and everyone from all parts of the earth. “They shall come,” He says, “from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.” What precious salvation is freely given to us!
Verses 44-49 of this chapter are the introduction to another discourse or sermon that Moses preached to Israel, which we have in the following chapters. He had given them a general exhortation to obedience in the sermon that fills the majority of this chapter, but now he was about to repeat the law which they were to observe. He was about to set the law before them as the rule that they were to work by, and as the way that they were to walk in. He was about to set it before them as the looking glass in which they were to see their natural face, so that by looking into this perfect law of liberty, they might continue therein. He was about to repeat the same laws that were given when Israel was newly come out of Egypt.
Let us be sure that we understand our own situation as sinners, and also the nature of that gracious Covenant to which we are invited. In this Covenant, greater things are shown to us than anything that Israel ever saw on Mount Sinai; and greater mercies are given to us than they ever experienced either in the wilderness or in Canaan. There is One Who is speaking to us, Who is of infinitely greater dignity than Moses; He endured the weight of our sins upon the cross, and He pleads with us by His dying love!
Lord, what a sweet and precious chapter this is, when it is explained to our souls by the Holy Spirit, in reference to our beloved Redeemer! Give us grace to read it with all possible reverence and affection, and open our eyes to see the wondrous things of Your law. May we be enabled to see the vast claims that are upon us, by virtue of our Covenant-relationship in Christ Jesus. You have called us by Your grace, and we ask You to support and keep us by Your power. Dear Jesus! Be our city of refuge, our hiding place, our security, and our portion forever and ever! Amen.
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