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  • Author: Henry Maclagan
  • Publisher: Richard Clay & Sons, Limited
  • Publication Date: 1911
  • Total Pages: 494

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The Book of Deuteronomy Explained

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In commencing the exposition of this book, which, in its literal sense, is a recapitulation of the Law, as well as of the general history of what happened to the Israelites in their journey from Egypt to the borders of the promised land, it will be well to consider its general purpose in the spiritual sense. For we may be sure that this last portion of the Pentateuch has its proper relation to what precedes and to what follows in the book of Joshua in this respect also.

What state of the Church, therefore, or what state in individual regeneration, is here set before us? From all that is said in the book, we see that it clearly describes a state of transition in which the spiritual man is led to take a general review of his past experiences, and to contemplate his future progress. He has been delivered from the merely natural state into which he is born, and which is represented by Egyptian bondage; he has been instructed in Divine Truths, symbolized by the delivery of the Law from Mount Sinai; he has been tempted in the wilderness, which is fitly represented by the outward trials and conflicts of the Israelites; and he has been introduced into a certain kind of external worship, which is only like a shadow of the genuine worship of the Lord, and which is denoted by the burnt offerings and sacrifices, and the services of the tent of meeting.

But better than these things, the spiritual man has also learned, in the course of along experience, to bring into subjection the affections and powers of the merely natural man, signified by the conquest of the cuontry on the eastern side of the Jordan, and the victory gained in the wars with Sihon king of the Amorites and with Og the king of Bashan. And although the principles from which this has been done have been relatively external, such as a merely historical faith, signified by Reuben; works in which the idea of merit greatly predominated, denoted by Gad; and the new will of doing good from a higher motive than self-interest, represented by Manasseh, yet this is a good beginning; and it is well that the lower passions and intellectual activities should be in subjection, even though, as yet, they cannot be in harmony with the higher faith, the higher love, and with the activity of an unselfish love of practical usefulness.

Now these are the real experiences of the man of the Spiritual Church upon which, in a certain state of advancement in the religious life, he looks back and sees, as he could not see before, how far short he has been in those early struggles, from the true Christian life, and from an enlightened and interior perception of spiritual truths. Nevertheless, in this comparatively advanced transition state, he now looks upon the past in a new light, because the experiences of that past prepared the way to a better state of the heart and life, and consequently to a brighter and clearer perception of the old and long familiar directions of the Lawgiver. This, then, is one side of Deuteronomy. It is the retrospective view of life, when the state of instruction and of preparation is concluded; when the old Leader is about to depart; and when the new Leader, a warrior and no longer a lawgiver, is to come forward. The Divine Truth teaching man is the first; but the Divine Truth fighting for man against his interior spiritual foes-the foes of his own household-is the second.

But then, we stand just here, to notice not only the past. There is the present. And this present, of course, is not just like that past, or like the old present. We can call up that old present. Then we thought ourselves perfect because we outwardly obeyed; but this new present is the remembrance not only of our successes, but of our failures. In this transition state we remember very much our former states of evil and error. They are continually presenting themselves; and we see them now also in different light, and in a better light, although even now those evil states are, as it were, present, and we wonder whether, after all, we are any better than we were. And that is why Moses, in these addresses to the people, reminds them so much of their former backslidings: it is that the narratives may be, internally, pictures of the base passions and the vain fancies excited and stirred up in man by evil spirits through some bygone state of perverse feeling and thought.

This remembrance, however, is not all of the present state. There is the state of the affections, which is an imperfect one, which is represented by the Israelites being in the plains of Moab. Now the Moabites denote a state of adulterated good, as we have seen in the exposition of Num. xxii. and elsewhere. But "surely" it may be said, "Good and evil are opposites, and cannot mingle!" This is true; but still, as we all know, they can co-exist in the same person; and the falsities from evil may greately obscure and vitiate the state of those with whom good prevails. All through man's regeneration he is more or less in this state, and it is in evidence even just before his entrance, by the realization of good, into the promised land.

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