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“The Judgments of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether."
HE Book of Deuteronomy is properly a book of prophecy. In some respects it is the greatest of all prophetic books, for it gives the clearest and most
complete exposition of the principles that are embodied and implied in the call of Israel, and in the commandments, ordinances, and ritual of the Old Testament.
It has been called the most spiritual book of the Old Testament, and this is true in the sense that it sets forth most vividly the relation of God to man, and the divine purpose which is to be fulfilled in human history.
The name, Deuteronomy, signifies the second giving of the law; and it does give the substance of all the commandments, statutes and ordinances that are recorded in the earlier books. But it is by no means a mere repetition of these laws. It is rather the recitation of the law as the text from which the author preaches a series of great expository sermons, setting forth the meaning and purpose of it all; and on this exposition bases the fervent exhortation to obedience and fidelity. All the discourses are based on history; the appeal to the people to be faithful is grounded on the gracious dealings of God with them in the past; the warnings and the protests, the tender pleadings and the fearful threatenings are alike sanctioned and certified by the revelation of God's character which they have seen in his good providence and tender mercies.
For this reason the history of their wandering in the wilderness, from the time God brought them out of Egypt down to
the time when Moses delivered these discourses, is fully, but briefly, given. But the gist and purpose of the book is neither in the history nor in the law, but in the prophetic revelation of the meaning and the purpose of that which God has ordained for Israel to accomplish.
The whole book may best be conceived of as a treatise on the Scheme of Redemption.
The question of the authorship of the book is somewhat uncertain. The traditional view is that it was written by Moses shortly before his death; the account of Moses' death being added by Joshua immediately after that event. The book itself does not claim to have been written by Moses, but rather purports to be the work of some one who reports the words of Moses, adding a few words of introduction or explanation here and there to set the time and place and circumstances of the deliverance of these discourses more clearly before the reader.
Just when or by whom this report was written, or just when the book as a whole was put in its present form, are matters of comparatively little interest or importance to us in our attempt to understand and profit by its contents. There is no reasonable doubt that we have here a faithful presentation of the teachings of the great law-giver, and a genuine record of his inspired prophecy.
The book is indeed a logical necessity, for it is a summary and an explanation of the entire work which God wrought by the hand of Moses—a great prevision of the scheme of redemption which the priest nation was to mediate for the world. It is a grand review of one great epoch in the history of that redemption, and the preface and introduction to the next. It is like the report which some officer, charged with some great enterprise, would make, whereby his successor might understand the work accomplished, and the lines on which it should be carried on to its completion.
The necessity for some such work is the more apparent when
we consider the unique office of Moses. The fulness of the time had come when the nation to whom the oracles of God had been committed had completed their preparation and were about to enter on the possession of their inheritance, and assume the responsibilities of their mission—a responsibility borne hitherto by Moses, almost alone.
No other man in the world's whole history has been so fully the father of his country—the builder of his nation. When we remember that he was, in native ability, in education and experience, far superior to all the people whom he led out of Egypt and organized at Sinai: that he had exercised the various offices of civil, military, and religious dictator: that at the time he delivered these discourses he was almost the sole representative of the generation that came out of Egypt, and that he had seen the whole generation that he now addressed, grow up from childhood, we can imagine something of the profound and tender solicitude with which he regarded them; and the fervid zeal with which he would exhort them to fulfil the splendid destiny they had received as a birth-right, and on which they were about to enter. How he would view with apprehension the dangers they would encounter, the temptations they would meet, the mistakes they might make! He knew their weakness, their raw inexperience, their many faults and the vices of their blood.
No wonder that he pours out his very soul in exhortation and entreaty, in warnings and threatenings, in appeals, impassioned and inspired, that the promised "light to lighten the world and the glory of Israel” might not fail to appear “as the mouth of the Lord had spoken.” Knowing what we do of Moses and the circumstances of the time and place, we would expect just such a message from his lips, just such exhortation as this book records. It is a great book, by a great man, on a great occasion.
CONTENTS OF THE BOOK
The book is composed of four discourses with a suitable preface to each, and an occasional note, added, apparently, by the editor or reporter of Moses' words. These discourses were delivered at different times, and are founded upon different texts, but the themes are very similar and the same thoughts are often reapeated and the same warnings and exhortations drawn from the different considerations. The following table of contents will be found convenient in the study of the book.
Title Page. Ch. 1:1.
Text-Historic Sketch. 1:3-III:29.
Preface to second discourse. IV:44-49.
VII:26, and XII:1—XXVI:19.
Preface to the Song of Moses. XXXI:14—30.
Note on the Song. XXXII:44–47.
The Blessing Wherewith Moses Blessed Israel. Ch. xxxIII.
Note on the Death of Moses. XXXIV.
THE WITNESS OF HISTORY
The religious teachings of the Old Testament are verified to us in many ways. They find our conscience: they satisfy our reason: they stand the tests of time and experience: but, in commending the doctrine, the chief appeal is made to history—to facts done in the sight and hearing of men, and duly certified by witnesses. Philosophy may add her testimony to corroborate the teaching of history—to interpret the facts, but the basis of our faith is laid in the works of God in creation and providence-things "not done in a corner" but "in the face of all people.” “I am the Lord thy God which brought thee out of the land of Egypt and out of the house of bondage,” is the real preface to all the exhortations which chiefly compose this book.
By the rehearsal of Israel's history Moses lays the foundation for an appeal that cannot be gainsaid or ignored.
The most interesting and important feature of this narrative of their experiences is the attribution of all their success to the providential hand of God. There was never any constraint upon their freedom, but such as is common to all people. They fought their battles, endured their hardships, accepted or rejected the counsels of Moses as they chose, and reaped the consequences of their choice. They wrought out their own destiny as any other nation. Yet Moses points out how God kept the promises which He had made to their fathers, and, in spite of their stiff-necked and rebellious disposition, brought them through the "great and terrible wilderness" and behold "ye stand this day, all of you, before the Lord your God; your elders, your captains of your tribes, and your officers, all the men of Israel, your little ones, your wives and thy stranger that