(Third Sunday after Easter.)
Deut. iv.39, 40. Know therefore this day, and consider it in thine heart, that the Lord he is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath: there is none else. Thou shall keep therefore his statutes and his commandments, which I command thee this day, that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee, and that thou mayest prolong thy days upon the earth, which the Lord thy God giveth thee, for ever.
Learned men have argued much of late as to who wrote the book of Deuteronomy. After having read a good deal on the subject, I can only say that I see no reason why we should not believe the ancient account which the Jews give, that it was written, or at least spoken by Moses.
No doubt there are difficulties in the book. If there had not been, there would never have been any dispute about the matter; but the plain, broad, common-sense case is this:
The book of Deuteronomy is made up of several great orations or sermons, delivered, says the work itself, by Moses, to the whole people of the Jews, before they left the wilderness and entered into the land of Canaan; wherefore it is called Deuteronomy, or the second law. In it some small matters of the law are altered, as was to be expected, when the Jews were going to change their place and their whole way of life. But the whole teaching and meaning of the book is exactly that of Exodus and Leviticus. Moreover, it is, if possible, the grandest and deepest book of the Old Testament. Its depth and wisdom are unequalled. I hold it to be the sum and substance of all political philosophy and morality of the true life of a nation. The books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, grand as they are, are, as it were, its children; growths out of the root which Deuteronomy reveals.
Now if Moses did not write it, who did?
As for the style of it being different from that of Exodus and Leviticus, the simple answer is, Why not? They are books of history and of laws. This is a book of sermons or orations, spoken first, and not written, which, of course, would be in a different style. Besides, why should not Moses have spoken differently at the end of forty years' such experience as never man had before or since? Every one who thinks, writes, or speaks in public, knows how his style alters, as fresh knowledge and experience come to him. Are you to suppose that Moses gained nothing by HIS experience?
As for a few texts in it being like Isaiah or Jeremiah, they are likely enough to be so; for if (as I believe) Deuteronomy was written long before those books, what more likely than that Isaiah and Jeremiah should have studied it, and taken some of its words to themselves when they were preaching to the Jews just what Deuteronomy preaches?
As for any one else having written it in Moses' name, hundreds of years after his death, I cannot believe it. If there had been in Israel a prophet great and wise enough to write Deuteronomy, we must have heard more about him, for he must have been famous at the time when he did live; while, if he were great enough to write Deuteronomy, he would have surely written in his own name, as Isaiah and all the other prophets wrote, instead of writing under a feigned name, and putting words into Moses' mouth which he did not speak, and laws he did not give. Good men are not in the habit of telling lies: much less prophets of God. Men do not begin to play cowardly tricks of that kind till after they have lost faith in the LIVING God, and got to believe that God was with their forefathers, but is not with them. A Jew of the time of the Apocrypha, or of the time of our Lord, might have done such a thing, because he had lost faith in the living God; but then his work would have been of a very different kind from this noble and heart-stirring book. For the pith and marrow, the essence and life of Deuteronomy is, that it is full of faith in the living God; and for that very reason I am going to speak to you to-day.
For the rest, whether Moses wrote the book down, and put it together in the shape in which we now have it, we shall never be able to tell. The several orations may have been put together into one book. Alterations may have crept in by the carelessness of copiers; sentences may have been added to it by later prophets -- as, of course, the grand account of Moses' death, which probably was at first the beginning of the book of Joshua. And beyond that we need know nothing -- even if we need know that.
There the book is; and people, if they be wise, will, instead of trying to pick it to pieces, read and study it in fear and trembling, that the curses pronounced in it may NOT come, and the blessings pronounced in it may come upon this English land.
Now these Jews were to worship and obey Jehovah, the one true God, and him only. And why?
Why, indeed? You MUST understand why, or you will never understand this book of Deuteronomy or any part of the Old Testament, and if you do not, then you will understand very little, if anything, of the New.
You must understand that this was not to be a mere matter of RELIGION with the old Jews, this trusting and obeying the true God. Indeed, the word religion, so far as I know, is never mentioned once in the Old Testament at all. By religion we now mean some plan of believing and obeying God, which will save our souls after we die. But Moses said nothing to the Jews about that. He never even anywhere told them that they would live again after this life. We do not know the reason of that. But we may suppose that he knew best. And as we believe that God sent him, we must believe that God knew best also; and that he thought it good for these Jews not to be told too much about the next life; perhaps for fear that they should forget that God was the living God; the God of now, as well as of hereafter; the God of this life, as well as of the life to come. My friends, I sometimes think we need putting in mind of that in these days as much as those old Jews did.
However that may be, what Moses promised these Jews, if they trusted in the living God, was that they should be a great nation, they and their children after them; that they should drive out the Canaanites before them; that they should conquer their enemies, and that a thousand should flee before one of them; that they should be blessed in their crops, their orchards, their gardens; that they should have none of the evil diseases of Egypt; that there should be none barren among them, or among their cattle. In a word, that they should be thoroughly and always a strong, happy, prosperous people.
This is what God promised them by Moses, and nothing else; and therefore this is what we must think about, and see whether it has anything to do with us, when we read the book of Deuteronomy, and nothing else.
On the other hand, God warned them by the mouth of Moses that if they forgot the Lord God, and went and worshipped the things round them, men or beasts, or sun and moon and stars, then poverty, misery, and ruin of every kind would surely fall upon them.
And that this last was no empty threat is proved by the plain facts of their sacred history. For they DID forget God, and worshipped Baalim, the sun, moon, and stars; and ruin of every kind DID come upon them, till they were carried away captive to Babylon. And this we must think of when we read the book of Deuteronomy, and nothing else. If they wished to prosper, they were to know and consider in their hearts that Jehovah was God, and there was none else. Yes -- this was the continual thought which a true Jew was to have. The thought of a God who was HIS God; the God of his fathers before him, and the God of his children after him; the God of the whole nation of the Jews, throughout all their generations.
But not their God only. No. The God of the Gentiles also, of all the nations upon the earth. He was to believe that his God alone, of all the gods of the nations, was the true and only God, who had made all nations, and appointed them their times and the bounds of their habitations.
We cannot understand now, in these happier days, all that that meant; all the strength and comfort, all the godly fear, the feeling of solemn responsibility which that thought ought to have given, and did give to the Jews -- that they were the people of Jehovah, the one true God.
For you must remember that all the nations round them then, and all the great heathen nations afterwards, were, as far as we know, the people of some god or other. Religion and politics were with them one and the same thing. They had some god, or gods, whom they looked to as the head or king of their nation, who had a special favour to them, and would bless and prosper them according as they showed him special reverence, and after that god the whole nation was often named.
The Ammonites' god was Ammon, the hidden god, the lord of their sheep and cattle. The Zidonians had Ashtoreth, the moon. The Phoenicians worshipped Moloch, the fire. Many of the Canaanites worshipped Baal, the lord, or Baalim, the lords -- the sun, moon, and stars. The Philistines afterwards (for we read nothing of Philistines in Moses' time) worshipped Dagon, the fish-god, and so forth. The Egyptians had gods without number -- gods invented out of beasts, and birds, and the fruits of the earth, and the season, and the weather, and the sun and moon and stars. Each class and trade, from the highest to the lowest, and each city and town throughout the land seems to have had its special god, who was worshipped there, and expected to take care of that particular class of men or that particular place.
What a thought it must have been for the Jews -- all these people have their gods, but they are all wrong. We have the RIGHT God; the only true God. They are the people of this god, or of that; we are the people of the one true God. They look to many gods; we look to the one God, who made all things, and beside whom there is none else. They look to one god to bless them in one thing, and another in another; one to send them sunshine, one to send them fruitful seasons, one to prosper their crops, another their flocks and herds, and so forth. We look to one God to do all these things for us, because he is Lord of all at once, and has made all.
Therefore we need not fear the gods of the heathen, or cry to any of them, even in our utmost distress; for we belong to him who is before all gods, the God of gods, of whom it is written, 'Worship him, all ye gods;' and 'It is the Lord who made the heaven and the earth, the sea and all that therein is. Him only shalt thou worship, and him only shalt thou serve.' If we obey him, and keep his commandments; if we trust in him, utterly, through good fortune and through bad -- then we must prosper in peace and war, we and our children after us; because our prosperity is grounded on the real truth, and that of the heathen on a lie; and all that the heathen expect their false gods to do for them, one here and another there, all that, the one real God will do for us, himself alone.
Do you not see what a power and courage that thought must have given to the Jews? Do you not see how worshipping God, and loving God, and serving God, must have been a very different, a much deeper, and a truly holier matter to them than the miserable selfish thing which is miscalled religion by too many people now-a-days, by which a man hopes to creep out of this world into heaven all by himself, without any real care or love for his fellow-creatures, or those he leaves behind him?
No. An old Jew's faith in God, and obedience to God, was part of his family life, part of his politics, part of his patriotism. If he obeyed God, and clave earnestly to God, then a blessing would come on him in the field and in the house, on his crops and on his cattle, going out and coming in; and on his children and his children's children to a thousand generations. He would be helping, if he obeyed and trusted God, to advance his country's prosperity; to insure her success in war and peace, to raise the name and fame of the Jewish people among all the nations round, that all might say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and an understanding people.'
Thus the duty he owed to God was not merely a duty which he owed his own conscience or his own soul; it was a duty which he owed to his family, to his kindred, to his country. It was not merely an opinion that there was one God and not two; it was a belief that the one and only true God was protecting him, teaching him, inspiring him and all his nation. That the true God would teach their hands to war and their fingers to fight. That the true God would cause their folds to be full of sheep. That their valleys should stand rich with corn, that they should laugh and sing. That the true God would enable them to sit every man under his own vine and his own fig-tree, and eat the labour of his hands, he and his children after him to perpetual generations.
This was the message and teaching which God gave these Jews. It is very different from what many people now-a-days would have given them, if they had had the ordering of the matter, and the making of those slaves into a free nation. But perhaps there is one proof that God DID give it them, and that the Bible speaks truth, when it says that not man, but God gave them their law.
No doubt man would have done it differently. But God's ways are not as man's ways, nor God's thoughts as man's thoughts.
And God's ways have proved themselves to be the right ways. His purpose has come to pass. This little nation of the Jews, inhabiting a country not as large as Wales, without sea-port towns and commerce, without colonies or conquests -- and at last, for its own sins, conquered itself, and scattered abroad over the whole civilized world -- has taught the whole civilized world, has converted the whole civilized world, has influenced all the good and all the wise unto this day so enormously, that the world has actually gone beyond them, and become Christian by fully understanding their teaching and their Bible, while they have remained mere Jews by not fully understanding it. Truly, if that is not a proof that God revealed something to the Jews which they never found out for themselves, which was too great for them to understand, which was God's boundless message and not any narrow message of man's invention -- if that does not prove it, I say -- I know not what proof men would have.
But now I have told you that God bade these Jews to look for blessings in THIS life, and blessings on their whole nation, and on their children after them, if they obeyed and served him. Does God NOT bid us to look for any such blessings? The Jews were to be blessed in THIS world. Are we only to be blessed in the next?
To that the Seventh Article of our Church gives a plain and positive answer. For it says that those are not to be heard who pretend that the old Fathers, i.e. Moses and the Prophets, looked only for transitory promises -- i.e. for promises which would pass away. No. They looked for eternal promises which could not pass away, because they were according to the eternal laws of God, which stand good both for this world and for all worlds for this life and for the life everlasting.
Yes, my friends, settle in your hearts that the book of Deuteronomy is meant for you, and for all the nations upon earth, as much as for the old Jews. That its promises and warnings are to you and to your children as surely as they were to the old Jews. Ay, that they are meant for every nation that is, or ever was, or ever will be upon earth. If you would prosper on the earth, fear God and keep his commandments; and know and consider it in your heart that the Lord Jesus Christ he is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath: there is none else. He it is who gives grace and honour. He it is who delivers us out of the hands of our enemies. He it is who blesses the fruit of the womb, and the fruit of the flock, and the fruit of the garden and the field. He is the living God, in whom this world, as well as the world to come, lives and moves and has its being; and only by obeying his laws can man prosper, he and his children after him, upon this earth of God.