This sacred book opens with an account of the children of Israel just as they are entering the borders of Canaan. They had nearly completed the fortieth year of their wilderness journey: and now, before they enter the promised land, Moses addresseth them in a long discourse. This chapter is the beginning of it, which goes on without much interruption, (excepting at the end of the fourth chapter) until the close of the thirtieth chapter.
1. The sacred historian seems to be the more particular in this enumeration of places, in order that we may have a clear account of the divine faithfulness to his promises. Numb. 14:33-35.
2. It is equally to be observed, the time specified yet remaining to be fulfilled; to shew how exact the Lord is to his word, and to his promise. Reader! let you and I pause in the several parts of our pilgrimage state; and depend upon it, we shall find also, no less, how faithful our God is. This is one of our God’s precepts, and the observance of it is its own reward; to remember how the Lord hath dealt by us, that we may know the righteousness of the Lord. Micah 6:5.
3. I would beg the Reader yet further to remark, from the great particularity observed, that it is not a thing of small moment to notice, where, and when, and how, divine manifestations are made to us. This memorable spot, this memorable time and manner, no doubt were sweet to Israel, when Moses halted in the journey to speak to the people once more in the name of the Lord. And is it not sweet, very sweet to us, when Jesus at any time, or in any place, arrests our souls in our pilgrimage, to speak to us by the way, and to make known to us his loves? Song 7:12.
4-5. The repeating again those instances of divine mercy to Israel, in the destruction of their enemies, forms no improper preface to Moses’s Sermon. When our Jesus had subdued our enemies by his victory on the cross, he came to speak peace to his disciples; to them that were nigh, and to them that were afar off. Luke 24:36. Ephes. 2:16, 17.
6-8. Is there not a good deal of gospel in this opening of Moses’s discourse? Was not this the Mount Sinai? and as such, is it not a figure of the bondage state of sin and Satan, under which God’s people continue as long as they are looking to a covenant of works? And is not the land of Canaan, to which God calls him to go up and take possession, a figure of that rest which remaineth for the people of God? And is not this really and truly given in the covenant engagements of God in Christ Jesus? Reader! why should we shrink back when our God calls us, as he did Israel, to leave earth for heaven? Have we not dwelt long enough in this mount, which burneth with fire, with sin, and sorrow, and evils in abundance? Shall our Jesus call and say, Come up hither, to the land which I have taken possession of in your name, and shall we feel reluctant, and wish to put off the merciful call? Dearest Lord! do thou quicken our drowsy, earthly affections, and raise them to thyself, that we may be looking and longing for the day of thy coming. 2 Pet. 3:12.
9. Reader, do not overlook in this, as well as in numberless other instances, how inferior every character is to Jesus. Moses was faithful in all his house, we are told by the apostle, as a servant, but Jesus as the Lord of his own house. He indeed is able, and he alone, to bear the burdens of the sins and the infirmities of his people. Heb. 3:3-6.
10. What a delightful view doth the increase of Israel afford! Compare this verse with the account of Jacob’s first going down into Egypt. Gen. 46:27. But what a more glorious view doth the apostle give of the church of Jesus, the true Israel of God! Rev. 7:4-9.
11. Observe, how the love and piety of Moses breaks out in the midst of his sermon, with a prayer to God. These are sweet breaks, when the soul, in the contemplation of God’s love and mercy in Christ, leaves all other considerations to look up, with faith and hope, to an unseen but well-known Redeemer. Reader, do you know any thing of this in your experience? 1 Pet. 1:8.
12. It is sweetly said of Jesus, in his unequalled undertaking, “that of the people there was none with him.” Isaiah 63:3. Oh! thou precious bearer of the burdens of thy people! may I never lose sight of thee in this soul-strengthening character. Isaiah 53:4.
13-18. All these verses refer to that period in Israel’s history, in which at the advice of Jethro, and by the divine permission, Moses took into the administration of justice with himself, certain of the elders of Israel. See Exod. 18:13-26.
19-46. I did not think it needful to stop the Reader with any observations which arise out of these verses, having already dwelt upon the subject in the Commentary on the 13th and 14th Chapters of the Book of Numbers. If the Reader will consult what is there said, he will find that what suits the one is equally applicable to the other. And he will discover, moreover, that this part of Moses’s sermon is a beautiful duplicate of that history. But while I refer the Reader to what hath been already brought before him on the subject, in order to avoid swelling the Commentary to an unnecessary length, I must beg to detain him with calling to his attention two or three leading points in this discourse of Moses, which were not in the history itself, but which serve to illustrate and explain it. It appears by that history, as if the idea of sending men to search the land had originated in the Lord’s appointment; whereas by comparing this Scripture with what is there said, we discover that it was the fear and unbelief of the children of Israel, and the doubt they had in God’s promise, that first suggested in them the thought; and that, then, the Lord, as if in gracious accommodation to the weakness of his people, permitted the thing to be. And had the spies been faithful and true to what they beheld of the promised land, and had brought back a good report, all might still have been well. But alas! what will not unbelief induce! Unbelief breeds fear, and fear begets sin. Reader! recollect what the apostle saith on this sin of Israel: they could not enter in because of unbelief. Heb. 3:19. Compare this chapter with Numbers 13 and 14. I detain the Reader only one moment longer to observe, that it appears evidently, from this part of the sermon of Moses, that the whole wandering of the people forty years in the wilderness, instead of immediately entering into Canaan when they came out of Egypt, and were so near to it, arose wholly from their distrust and disbelief of God’s promises. So very awful a thing is it to question or doubt the divine faithfulness. Reader! I would request you to pause over this view of the subject. Observe, it was not the breach of any particular command; it was not the commission of this or that particular sin, for which the Lord sentenced his people to wander in the wilderness; but it was simply their unbelief. It was the same dreadful malignity of mind, which in the gospel is threatened with everlasting exclusion from the heavenly Canaan. For “he that believeth not the record which God hath given of his Son, maketh God a liar;” and we are awfully told, that the wrath of God abideth upon him.” See John 3:36. Oh! for the grace of faith to give due credit to a most faithful covenant God in Christ.