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29. Renewal of the Covenant

These are the words of the covenant, which the Lord commanded Moses to make with the children of Israel in the land of Moab, beside the covenant which he made with them in Horeb.

2And Moses called unto all Israel, and said unto them, Ye have seen all that the Lord did before your eyes in the land of Egypt unto Pharaoh, and unto all his servants, and unto all his land; 3The great temptations which thine eyes have seen, the signs, and those great miracles: 4Yet the Lord hath not given you an heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day. 5And I have led you forty years in the wilderness: your clothes are not waxen old upon you, and thy shoe is not waxen old upon thy foot. 6Ye have not eaten bread, neither have ye drunk wine or strong drink: that ye might know that I am the Lord your God. 7And when ye came unto this place, Sihon the king of Heshbon, and Og the king of Bashan, came out against us unto battle, and we smote them: 8And we took their land, and gave it for an inheritance unto the Reubenites, and to the Gadites, and to the half tribe of Manasseh. 9Keep therefore the words of this covenant, and do them, that ye may prosper in all that ye do.

10Ye stand this day all of you before the Lord your God; your captains of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, with all the men of Israel, 11Your little ones, your wives, and thy stranger that is in thy camp, from the hewer of thy wood unto the drawer of thy water: 12That thou shouldest enter into covenant with the Lord thy God, and into his oath, which the Lord thy God maketh with thee this day: 13That he may establish thee to day for a people unto himself, and that he may be unto thee a God, as he hath said unto thee, and as he hath sworn unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. 14Neither with you only do I make this covenant and this oath; 15But with him that standeth here with us this day before the Lord our God, and also with him that is not here with us this day: 16(For ye know how we have dwelt in the land of Egypt; and how we came through the nations which ye passed by; 17And ye have seen their abominations, and their idols, wood and stone, silver and gold, which were among them:) 18Lest there should be among you man, or woman, or family, or tribe, whose heart turneth away this day from the Lord our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations; lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood; 19And it come to pass, when he heareth the words of this curse, that he bless himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of mine heart, to add drunkenness to thirst: 20The Lord will not spare him, but then the anger of the Lord and his jealousy shall smoke against that man, and all the curses that are written in this book shall lie upon him, and the Lord shall blot out his name from under heaven. 21And the Lord shall separate him unto evil out of all the tribes of Israel, according to all the curses of the covenant that are written in this book of the law: 22So that the generation to come of your children that shall rise up after you, and the stranger that shall come from a far land, shall say, when they see the plagues of that land, and the sicknesses which the Lord hath laid upon it; 23 And that the whole land thereof is brimstone, and salt, and burning, that it is not sown, nor beareth, nor any grass groweth therein, like the overthrow of Sodom, and Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboim, which the Lord overthrew in his anger, and in his wrath: 24Even all nations shall say, Wherefore hath the Lord done thus unto this land? what meaneth the heat of this great anger? 25Then men shall say, Because they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord God of their fathers, which he made with them when he brought them forth out of the land of Egypt: 26For they went and served other gods, and worshipped them, gods whom they knew not, and whom he had not given unto them: 27And the anger of the Lord was kindled against this land, to bring upon it all the curses that are written in this book: 28And the Lord rooted them out of their land in anger, and in wrath, and in great indignation, and cast them into another land, as it is this day. 29The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.

29. The secret things belong. The conciseness and brevity of this passage has rendered its meaning ambiguous; still there is no necessity for discussing the various expositions of it. I will only shortly touch upon those most generally accepted, lest they should lead to error. The meaning is forced which some of the Hebrews273273     S.M. quotes Aben-Ezra as saying, “The secret things done by men belong to God, that he may punish them. But the things which become manifest, or are publicly done, belong to us, and such things we are bound to punish.” Where the ה demonstrative is repeated with the conjunction, as noticed by C., our A. V. has properly but those. W. give it, viz., that God is the sole avenger of hidden crimes, whilst those transgressions, which come to the knowledge of men, should be punished by earthly judges; for here the execution of punishment is not the subject in discussion, but Moses is simply commending the use of the doctrine of the Law. The opinion of those who conceive that the excellency of the Law is maintained, because God has manifested by it His secret things, would be more probable, if the rules of grammar did not oppose it; for the words are not to be read connectedly.” The secret things of God are revealed unto us,” since the ה, or demonstrative pronoun,274274     In C.’s Latin “ה agedia,” or as spelt in Buxtorf’s Thesaurus Gram. Ling. Sanctae, Lib. 2, c. 5, “ה hajediha, that is הידיעה, translatable which maketh known, is the name given to the prefix ה, when its effect is demonstrative” — W which is adjoined to both, does not permit this any more than the copula which stands between them. To me there appears no doubt that, by antithesis, there is a comparison here made between the doctrine openly set forth in the Law, and the hidden and incomprehensible counsel of God, concerning which it is not lawful to inquire. In my opinion, therefore, the copula is used for the adversative particle; as though it were said, “God indeed retains to Himself secret things, which it neither concerns nor profits us to know, and which surpass our comprehension; but these things, which He has declared to us, belong to us and to our children.” It is a remarkable passage, and especially deserving of our observation, for by it audacity and excessive curiosity are condemned, whilst pious minds are aroused to be zealous in seeking instruction. We know how anxious men are to understand things, the knowledge of which is altogether unprofitable, and even the investigation of them injurious. All of them would desire to be God’s counsellors, and to penetrate into the deepest recesses of heaven, nay, they would search into its very cabinets. Hence a heathen poet truly says, —

“Nil mortalibus arduum est:
Coelum ipsum petimus stultitia.”
Hor. Od. 1: 3-37.

“Nought for mortals is too high;
Our folly reaches to the sky.”

On the other hand, what God plainly sets before us, and would have familiarly known, is either neglected, or turned from in disgust, or put far away from us, as if it were too obscure. In the first clause, then, Moses briefly reproves and restrains that temerity which leaps beyond the bounds imposed by God; and in the latter, exhorts us to embrace the doctrine of the Law, in which God’s will is declared to us, as if He were openly speaking to us; and thus he encounters the folly of those who fly from the light presented to them, and wrongfully accuse of obscurity that doctrine, wherein God has let Himself down to the measure of our understanding. In sum, he declares that God is the best master to all who come to Him as disciples, because He faithfully and clearly explains to them all that it is useful for them to knew. The perpetuity of the doctrine is also asserted, and that it never is to be let go, or to become obsolete by the lapse of ages. How far the Law is perpetual I have more fully discussed in the Second Book of the Institutes, chap. 11. The rule of just and pious living even now retains its force, although we are delivered from the yoke of bondage and from the curse; but the coming of Christ has put an end to its ceremonies in such a way as to prove more certainly that they were not mere vain and empty shadows. Lastly, Moses requires obedience of the people, and reminds them that the Law was not only given that the Israelites might know what was right, but that they might do all that God taught. True is it indeed that all His precepts cannot be fully obeyed; but the perfection which is required, compels those to ask for pardon who otherwise feel themselves to be exposed to God’s judgment, as will be hereafter explained. Besides, we must observe that the doctrine that we must keep the whole Law has this object, that men should not separate one commandment from the others, and think that they have done their duty by performing only a part of it; since God admits no such divorce, having forbidden us to steal no less than to kill (James 2:11.)


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