And Moses came and spake. It is not without reason that Moses again records that he repeated this Song before the people; because it thence appears how far from all ambition he was, in that he did not fear, at the very close of his life, to irritate all their minds, so as to render the memory of his name hateful; and besides, his authority was sanctioned by the silence and submissiveness of the people, when they suffered themselves to be thus severely dealt with. For, such was their general refractoriness, that they never would have listened to him, had not the secret inspiration of the Spirit interposed to subdue them.
He associates with himself Joshua, whom he undoubtedly desired to furnish with equal authority, and, what is worthy of observation, he bids them be attentive to the threatenings and reprehensions, in order to obtain reverence for the law. For we often see that bare doctrine is cold and nerveless, unless the sluggishness, which as it were stifles men's minds, is sharply stimulated; lest, then, the teaching of the Law should be despised or forgotten, or, from being but languidly received, should gradually be obliterated from their minds, he as it were spurs them up by the vehemence of this Song, and commands that their posterity should be instructed in it, in order that their attention may be aroused by its menaces. In the next verse (47) he recommends to them zeal in the observance of the Law on the score of its profitableness; for translators render it improperly, as it seems to me, |Lest it should be an empty word to you,| or, |It is not an empty word, such as you should despise.| Jerome's translation is better -- |The precepts are not given you in vain;| for Moses simply intimates that the Law was not given in vain, so as to end in fruitlessness; and consequently they were to beware lest they should frustrate God's purpose, who desired to do them good. rq, rek, therefore, is used as the converse of |fruitful,| as more clearly appears from the confirmation immediately added, that they |might prolong their days in the promised land.| The Law, then, is said not to be vain, because it is fruitful unto salvation. In what way it is also deadly, and has no inherent efficacy, I have already shown. It is indeed true that the Law, as being the sure rule of righteousness, does not deceptively promise salvation to men; but, since there is no one who actually performs what God requires, through the accidental guilt of men, life is turned into death; but, when all are plunged beneath the curse, a new remedy supervenes, and by God's gratuitous pardon they are so reconciled to Him, as that their obedience, such as it is, becomes acceptable.
48. And the Lord spake unto Moses. We infer that this is not recorded in its regular order, because it is certain that Moses was warned of his approaching death before the Song was composed; and this the second passage, which I have here appended, expressly confirms; for he says that, before he substituted Joshua for himself, the place was pointed out to him in which he was to die. It is, however, by no means unusual for the order of narration to be inverted.
We may here perceive a singular specimen of faith and obedience. All naturally fly from death, so that no one hastens towards it of his own accord. He would never, therefore, have voluntarily entered the tomb, unless relying on the hope of a better life. We have already seen a similar instance in the case of Aaron: although the resurrection was not then so clearly revealed as it now is by the Gospel, nor had Christ appeared, who is the first-fruits of them that rise again. Wherefore, though our carnal sense may be averse from death, let our faith prevail to overcome all its terrors: even as Paul teaches that God's children, although they desire not |to be unclothed,| still long to be |clothed upon, that mortality may be swallowed up of life.| (2 Corinthians 5:4.) This, however, was remarkable obedience, to prepare himself no less willingly for death than as if he had been invited to some joyful banquet. Thus it is plain that these holy men had so consecrated themselves to God, that they were ready to live or to die, according to His pleasure.
Mount Abarim seems to have obtained its name from its angles or sides, because it was divided into many hills; as it is called also Nebo in this place, and elsewhere by divers other names. Others think it is named from a passage; but the other opinion is more probable, since it is called in the plural number Abarim, that is, heights, or summits, or interstices, which were situated on opposite heights.
Although we shall presently see that there was another reason why God desired to withdraw His servant from the sight of men, still we must take notice of the consolation, which is here referred to, that the pain of his death was alleviated by the permission to behold the land of Canaan. For this reason he is commanded to get up into the top of the mountain; for, although he would have been satisfied with the mere promise of God, even had he been deprived of this blessing, still it had no slight additional effect in enabling him more cheerfully to leave the people on the threshold of their inheritance. For faith does not altogether deprive God's children of human feelings; but our heavenly Father in His indulgence has compassion on their infirmity. Thus, as it was a cause of sorrow to Moses to be withheld from entering the land, he was supported by a seasonable remedy, that he might not be hindered in his course by this impediment.
51. Because ye trespassed against me. We perceive from his punishment how necessary to Moses was such a token of favor. For death in itself would not have been so bitter, but the cause, which is again alleged, grievously wounded the mind of the holy man, in that he saw himself to be excluded in God's just vengeance from the common inheritance on account of his own guilt, which is more afflictive to the pious than a hundred, nay, innumerable deaths. Hence those mournful complaints of David and Hezekiah, and others elsewhere, when their life is taken from them by all angry God:
|the grave cannot praise thee, death cannot celebrate thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth.| (Isaiah 38:18; Psalm 6:5; Psalm 115:17.)
Surely it was not so formidable a thing for them to die, but that they would have calmly and cheerfully departed from the world when their time came; but what they deprecated was the awful judgment of God, at the thoughts of which they were alarmed. The same grief might have overwhelmed the mind of Moses, had it not been alleviated.
But since none, however eminent, have been altogether exempt from temporal punishments, let us learn to bear them patiently. God did not spare Moses; what wonder if our condition is no better than his? Moreover, in the opinion of men it was a trifling offense, for the sake of which he was so severely chastised; for, carried away by indignation, he had been so irritated against the people that he had attributed less power to God that was due to Him. Now, those errors, into which we fall through thoughtless impetuosity, are more easily pardoned; but hence it is manifest; how precious to God is His glory, when He does not suffer it to be obscured with impunity even by inadvertence. At the same time, also, we are taught that nothing is more irrational than to assume to ourselves the judgment respecting sins, and to weigh them in our own balance, when God is their only legitimate assessor.
But, although He declares that Moses and Aaron revolted, and were rebellious |to His mouth,| still, lest it should be thought that they studiously refused credence to God's word, a kind of qualification is added, viz., that they did not sanctify God in the midst, or before the eyes, of the children of Israel. Hence it. is plain that they were only condemned for the excessive violence of their passion, whereby they did not uphold God's glory before the people with sufficient energy.
As to the rest, it may be looked for under Numbers 20.