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3

For I will proclaim the name of the Lord;

ascribe greatness to our God!

 

4

The Rock, his work is perfect,

and all his ways are just.

A faithful God, without deceit,

just and upright is he;

5

yet his degenerate children have dealt falsely with him,

a perverse and crooked generation.

6

Do you thus repay the Lord,

O foolish and senseless people?

Is not he your father, who created you,

who made you and established you?

7

Remember the days of old,

consider the years long past;

ask your father, and he will inform you;

your elders, and they will tell you.

8

When the Most High apportioned the nations,

when he divided humankind,

he fixed the boundaries of the peoples

according to the number of the gods;

9

the Lord’s own portion was his people,

Jacob his allotted share.

 

10

He sustained him in a desert land,

in a howling wilderness waste;

he shielded him, cared for him,

guarded him as the apple of his eye.

11

As an eagle stirs up its nest,

and hovers over its young;

as it spreads its wings, takes them up,

and bears them aloft on its pinions,


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The Song of Moses. (b. c. 1451.)

1 Give ear, O ye heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth.   2 My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass:   3 Because I will publish the name of the Lord: ascribe ye greatness unto our God.   4 He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.   5 They have corrupted themselves, their spot is not the spot of his children: they are a perverse and crooked generation.   6 Do ye thus requite the Lord, O foolish people and unwise? is not he thy father that hath bought thee? hath he not made thee, and established thee?

Here is, I. A commanding preface or introduction to this song of Moses, v. 1, 2. He begins, 1. With a solemn appeal to heaven and earth concerning the truth and importance of what he was about to say, and the justice of the divine proceedings against a rebellious and backsliding people, for he had said (ch. xxxi. 28) that he would in this song call heaven and earth to record against them. Heaven and earth would sooner hear than this perverse and unthinking people; for they revolt not from the obedience to their Creator, but continue to this day, according to his ordinances, as his servants (Ps. cxix. 89-91), and therefore will rise up in judgment against rebellious Israel. Heaven and earth will be witnesses against sinners, witnesses of the warning given them and of their refusal to take the warning (see Job xx. 27); the heaven shall reveal his iniquity, and the earth shall rise up against him. Or heaven and earth are here put for the inhabitants of both, angels and men; both shall agree to justify God in his proceedings against Israel, and to declare his righteousness, Ps. l. 6; see Rev. xix. 1, 2. 2. he begins with a solemn application of what he was about to say to the people (v. 2): My doctrine shall drop as the rain. "It shall be a beating sweeping rain to the rebellious;" so one of the Chaldee paraphrasts expounds the first clause. Rain is sometimes sent for judgment, witness that with which the world was deluged; and so the word of God, while to some it is reviving and refreshing—a savour of life unto life, is to others terrifying and killing—a savour of death unto death. It shall be as a sweet and comfortable dew to those who are rightly prepared to receive it. Observe, (1.) The subject of this song is doctrine; he had given them a song of praise and thanksgiving (Exod. xv.), but this is a song of instruction, for in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, we are not only to give glory to God, but to teach and admonish one another, Col. iii. 16. Hence many of David's psalms are entitled Maschil—to give instruction. (2.) This doctrine is fitly compared to rain and showers which come from above, to make the earth fruitful, and accomplish that for which they are sent. (Isa. lv. 10, 11), and depend not upon the wisdom or will of man, Mic. v. 7. It is a mercy to have this rain come often upon us, and our duty to drink it in, Heb. vi. 7. (3.) He promises that his doctrine shall drop and distil as the dew, and the small rain, which descend silently and without noise. The word preached is likely to profit when it comes gently, and sweetly insinuates itself into the hearts and affections of the hearers. (4.) He bespeaks their acceptance and entertainment of it, and that it might be as sweet, and pleasant, and welcome to them as rain to the thirsty earth, Ps. lxxii. 6. And the word of God is likely to do us good when it is thus acceptable. (5.) The learned bishop Patrick understands it as a prayer that his words which were sent from heaven to them might sink into their hearts and soften them, as the rain softens the earth, and so make them fruitful in obedience.

II. An awful declaration of the greatness and righteousness of God, v. 3, 4.

1. He begins with this, and lays it down as his first principle, (1.) To preserve the honour of God, that no reproach might be cast upon him for the sake of the wickedness of his people Israel; how wicked and corrupt soever those are who are called by his name, he is just, and right, and all that is good, and is not to be thought the worse of for their badness. (2.) To aggravate the wickedness of Israel, who knew and worshipped such a holy god, and yet were themselves so unholy. And, (3.) To justify God in his dealings with them; we must abide by it, that God is righteous, even when his judgments are a great deep, Jer. xii. 1; Ps. xxxvi. 6.

2. Moses here sets himself to publish the name of the Lord (v. 3), that Israel, knowing what a God he is whom they had avouched for theirs, might never be such fools as to exchange him for a false god, a dunghill god. He calls upon them therefore to ascribe greatness to him. It will be of great use to us for the preventing of sin, and the preserving of us in the way of our duty, always to keep up high and honourable thoughts of God, and to take all occasions to express them: Ascribe greatness to our God. We cannot add to his greatness, for it is infinite; but we must acknowledge it, and give him the glory of it. Now, when Moses would set forth the greatness of God, he does it, not by explaining his eternity and immensity, or describing the brightness of his glory in the upper world, but by showing the faithfulness of his word, the perfection of his works, and the wisdom and equity of all the administrations of his government; for in these his glory shines most clearly to us, and these are the things revealed concerning him, which belong to us and our children, v. 4. (1.) He is the rock. So he is called six times in this chapter, and the LXX. all along translates it Theos, God. The learned Mr. Hugh Broughton reckons that God is called the rock eighteen times (besides in this chapter) in the Old Testament (though in some places we translate it strength), and charges it therefore upon the papists that they make St. Peter a god when they make him the rock on which the church is built. God is the rock, for he is in himself immutable immovable, and he is to all that seek him and fly to him an impenetrable shelter, and to all that trust in him an everlasting foundation. (2.) His work is perfect. His work of creation was so, all very good; his works of providence are so, or will be so in due time, and when the mystery of God shall be finished the perfection of his works will appear to all the world. Nothing that God does can be mended, Eccl. iii. 14. God was now perfecting what he had promised and begun for his people Israel, and from the perfection of this work they must take occasion to give him the glory of the perfection of all his works. The best of men's works are imperfect, they have their flaws and defects, and are left unfinished; but, as for God, his work is perfect; if he begin, he will make an end. (3.) All his ways are judgment. The ends of his ways are all righteous, and he is wise in the choice of the means in order to those ends. Judgment signifies both prudence and justice. The ways of the Lord are right, Hos. xiv. 9. (4.) He is a God of truth, whose word we may take and rely upon, for he cannot lie who is faithful to all his promises, nor shall his threatenings fall to the ground. (5.) He is without iniquity, one who never cheated any that trusted in him, never wronged any that appealed to his justice, nor ever was hard upon any that cast themselves upon his mercy. (6.) Just and right is he. As he will not wrong any by punishing them more than they deserve, so he will not fail to recompense all those that serve him or suffer for him. He is indeed just and right; for he will effectually take care that none shall lose by him. Now what a bright and amiable idea does this one verse give us of the God whom we worship; and what reason have we then to love him and fear him, to live a life of delight in him, dependence on him, and devotedness to him! This is our rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him; nor can there be, Ps. xcii. 15.

III. A high charge exhibited against the Israel of God, whose character was in all respects the reverse of that of the God of Israel, v. 5. 1. They have corrupted themselves. Or, It has corrupted itself; the body of the people has: the whole head sick, and the whole heart faint. God did not corrupt them, for just and right is he; but they are themselves the sole authors of their own sin and ruin; and both are included in this word. They have debauched themselves; for every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust. And they have destroyed themselves, Hos. xiii. 9. If thou scornest, thou alone shalt bear the guilt and grief, Prov. ix. 12. 2. Their spot is not the spot of his children. Even God's children have their spots, while they are in this imperfect state; for if we say we have no sin, no spot, we deceive ourselves. But the sin of Israel was none of those; it was not an infirmity which they strove against, watched and prayed against, but an evil which their hearts were fully set in them to do. For, 3. They were a perverse and crooked generation, that were actuated by a spirit of contradiction, and therefore would do what was forbidden because it was forbidden, would set up their own humour and fancy in opposition to the will of God, were impatient of reproof, hated to be reformed, and went on frowardly in the way of their heart. The Chaldee paraphrase reads this verse thus: They have scattered or changed themselves, and not him, even the children that served idols, a generation that has depraved its own works, and alienated itself. Idolaters cannot hurt God, nor do any damage to his works, nor make him a stranger to this world. See Job xxxv. 6. No, all the hurt they do is to themselves and their own works. The learned bishop Patrick gives another reading of it: Did he do him any hurt? That is, "Is God the rock to be blamed for the evils that should befal Israel? No, His children are their blot," that is, "All the evil that comes upon them is the fruit of their children's wickedness; for the whole generation of them is crooked and perverse." All that are ruined ruin themselves; they die because they will die.

IV. A pathetic expostulation with this provoking people for their ingratitude (v. 6): "Do you thus requite the Lord? Surely you will not hereafter be so base and disingenuous in your carriage towards him as you have been." 1. He reminds them of the obligations God had laid upon them to serve him, and to cleave to him. He had been a Father to them, had begotten them, fed them, carried them, nursed them, and borne their manners; and would they spurn at the bowels of a Father? He had bought them, had been at a vast expense of miracles to bring them out of Egypt, had given men for them, and people for their life, Isa. xliii. 4. "Is not he thy Father, thy owner (so some), that has an incontestable propriety in thee?" and the ox knoweth his owner. "he has made thee, and brought thee into being, established thee and kept thee in being; has he not done so? Can you deny the engagements you lie under to him, in consideration of the great things he has done and designed for you?" And are not our obligations, as baptized Christians, equally great and strong to our Creator that made us, our Redeemer that bought us, and our Sanctifier that has established us. 2. Hence he infers the evil of deserting him and rebelling against him. For, (1.) It was base ingratitude: "Do you thus require the Lord? Are these the returns you make him for all his favours to you? The powers you have from him will you employ them against him?" See Mic. vi. 3, 4; John x. 32. This is such monstrous villany as all the world will cry shame of: call a man ungrateful, and you can call him no worse. (2.) It was prodigious madness: O foolish people and unwise! Fools, and double fools! who has bewitched you? Gal. iii. 1. "Fools indeed, to disoblige one on whom you have such a necessary dependence! To forsake your own mercies for lying vanities!" Note, All wilful sinners, especially sinners in Israel, are the most unwise and the most ungrateful people in the world.

7 Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he will show thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee.   8 When the most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel.   9 For the Lord's portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance.   10 He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye.   11 As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings:   12 So the Lord alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him.   13 He made him ride on the high places of the earth, that he might eat the increase of the fields; and he made him to suck honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock;   14 Butter of kine, and milk of sheep, with fat of lambs, and rams of the breed of Bashan, and goats, with the fat of kidneys of wheat; and thou didst drink the pure blood of the grape.

Moses, having in general represented God to them as their great benefactor, whom they were bound in gratitude to observe and obey, in these verses gives particular instances of God's kindness to them and concern for them. 1. Some instances were ancient, and for proof of them he appeals to the records (v. 7): Remember the days of old; that is, "Keep in remembrance the history of those days, and of the wonderful providences of God concerning the old world, and concerning your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; you will find a constant series of mercies attending them, and how long since things were working towards that which has now come to pass." Note, The authentic histories of ancient times are of singular use, and especially the history of the church in its infancy, both the Old-Testament and the New-Testament church. 2. Others were more modern, and for proof of them he appeals to their fathers and elders that were now alive and with them. Parents must diligently teach their children, not only the word of God, his laws (ch. vi. 7), and the meaning of his ordinances (Exod. xii. 26, 27), but his works also, and the methods of his providence. See Ps. lxxviii. 3, 4, 6, 7. And children should desire the knowledge of those things which will be of use to engage them to their duty and to direct them in it.

Three things are here enlarged upon as instances of God's kindness to his people Israel, and strong obligations upon them never to forsake him:—

I. The early designation of the land of Canaan for their inheritance; for herein it was a type and figure of our heavenly inheritance, that it was of old ordained and prepared in the divine counsels, v. 8. Observe,

1. When the earth was divided among the sons of men, in the days of Peleg, after the flood, and each family had its lot, in which it must settle, and by degrees grow up into a nation, then God had Israel in his thoughts and in his eye; for, designing this good land into which they were now going to be in due time an inheritance for them, he ordered that the posterity of Canaan, rather than any other of the families then in being, should be planted there in the mean time, to keep possession, as it were, till Israel was ready for it, because those families were under the curse of Noah, by which they were condemned to servitude and ruin (Gen. ix. 25), and therefore would be the more justly, honourably, easily, and effectually, rooted out, when the fulness of time should come that Israel should take possession. Thus he set the bounds of that people with an eye to the designed number of the children of Israel, that they might have just as much as would serve their turn. And some observe that Canaan himself, and his eleven sons (Gen. x. 15, &c.), make up just the number of the twelve tribes of Israel. Note, (1.) The wisdom of God has appointed the bounds of men's habitation, and determined both the place and time of our living in the world, Acts xvii. 26. When he gave the earth to the children of men (Ps. cxv. 16), it was not that every man might catch as he could; no, he divides to nations their inheritance, and will have every one to know his own, and not to invade another's property. (2.) Infinite wisdom has a vast reach, and designs beforehand what is brought to pass long after. Known unto God are all his works from the beginning to the end (Acts xv. 18), but they are not so to us, Eccl. iii. 11. (3.) The great God, in governing the world, and ordering the affairs of states and kingdoms, has a special regard to his church and people, and consults their good in all. See 2 Chron. xvi. 9, and Isa. xlv. 4. The Canaanites thought they had as good and sure a title to their land as any of their neighbours had to theirs; but God intended that they should only be tenants, till the Israelites, their landlords, came. Thus God serves his own purposes of kindness to his people, by those that neither know him nor love him, who mean not so, neither doth their heart think so, Isa. x. 7; Mic. iv. 12.

2. The reason given for the particular care God took for this people, so long before they were either born or thought of (as I may say), in our world, does yet more magnify the kindness, and make it obliging beyond expression (v. 9): For the Lord's portion is his people. All the world is his. He is owner and possessor of heaven and earth, but his church is his in a peculiar manner. It is his demesne, his vineyard, his garden enclosed. He has a particular delight in it: it is the beloved of his soul, in it he walks, he dwells, it is his rest for ever. He has a particular concern for it, keeps it as the apple of his eye. He has particular expectations from it, as a man has from his portion, has a much greater rent of honour, glory, and worship, from that distinguished remnant, than from all the world besides. That God should be his people's portion is easy to be accounted for, for he is their joy and felicity; but how they should be his portion, who neither needs them nor can be benefited by them, must be resolved into the wondrous condescensions of free grace. Even so, Father, because it seemed good in thy eyes so to call and to account them.

II. The forming of them into a people, that they might be fit to enter upon this inheritance, like an heir of age, at the time appointed of the Father. And herein also Canaan was a figure of the heavenly inheritance; for, as it was from eternity proposed and designed for all God's spiritual Israel, so they are, in time (and it is a work of time), fitted and made meet for it, Col. i. 12. The deliverance of Israel out of slavery, by the destruction of their oppressors, was attended with so many wonders obvious to sense, and had been so often spoken of, that it needed not to be mentioned in this song; but the gracious works God wrought upon them would be less taken notice of than the glorious works he had wrought for them, and therefore he chooses rather to advert to them. A great deal was done to model this people, to cast them into some shape, and to fit them for the great things designed for them in the land of promise; and it is here most elegantly described.

1. He found him in a desert land, v. 10. This refers, no doubt, to the wilderness through which God brought them to Canaan, and in which he took so much pains with them; it is called the church in the wilderness, Acts vii. 38. There it was born, and nursed, and educated, that all might appear to be divine and from heaven, since they had there no communication with any part of this earth either for food or learning. But, because he is said to find them there, it seems designed also to represent both the bad state and the bad character of that people when God began first to appear for them. (1.) Their condition was forlorn. Egypt was to them a desert land, and a waste howling wilderness, for they were bond-slaves in it, and cried by reason of their oppression, and were perfectly bewildered and at a loss for relief; there God found them, and thence he fetched them. And, (2.) Their disposition was very unpromising. So ignorant were the generality of them in divine things, so stupid and unapt to receive the impressions of them, so peevish and humoursome, so froward and quarrelsome, and withal so strangely addicted to the idolatries of Egypt, that they might well be said to be found in a desert land; for one might as reasonably expect a crop of corn from a barren wilderness as any good fruit of service to God from a people of such a character. Those that are renewed and sanctified by grace should often remember what they were by nature.

2. He led him about and instructed him. When God had them in the wilderness he did not bring them directly to Canaan, but made them go a great way about, and so he instructed them; that is, (1.) by this means he took time to instruct them, and gave them commandments as they were able to receive them. Those whose business it is to instruct others must not expect it will be done of a sudden; learners must have time to learn. (2.) By this means he tried their faith, and patience, and dependence upon God, and inured them to the hardships of the wilderness, and so instructed them. Every stage had something in it that was instructive; even when he chastened them, he thereby taught them out of his law. It is said (Ps. cvii. 7) that he led them forth by the right way;. and yet here that he led them about; for God always leads his people the right way, however to us it may seem circuitous: so that the furthest way about proves, if not the nearest way, yet the best way home to Canaan. How God instructed them is explained long after (Neh. ix. 13), Thou gavest them right judgments and true laws, good statutes, and commandments; and especially (v. 20), Thou gavest them also thy good Spirit to instruct them; and he instructs effectually. We may well imagine how unfit that people would have been for Canaan had they not first gone through the discipline of the wilderness.

3. He kept him as the apple of his eye, with all the care and tenderness that could be, from the malignant influences of an open sky and air, and all the perils of an inhospitable desert. The pillar of cloud and fire was both a guide and a guard to them.

4. He did that for them which the eagle does for her nest of young ones, v. 11, 12. The similitude was touched, Exod. xix. 4, I bore you on eagles' wings; here it is enlarged upon. The eagle is observed to have a strong affection for her young, and to show it, not only as other creatures by protecting them and making provision for them, but by educating them and teaching them to fly. For this purpose she stirs them out of the nest where they lie dozing, flutters over them, to show them how they must use their wings, and then accustoms them to fly upon her wings till they have learnt to fly upon their own. This, by the way, is an example to parents to train up their children to business, and not to indulge them in idleness and the love of ease. God did thus by Israel; when they were in love with their slavery, and loth to leave it, God, by Moses, stirred them up to aspire after liberty, and many a time kept them from returning to the house of bondage. He carried them out of Egypt, led them into the wilderness, and now at length had led them through it. The Lord alone did lead him, he needed not any assistance, nor did he take any to be partner with him in the achievement, which was a good reason why they should serve the Lord only and no other, so much as in partnership, much less in rivalship with him. There was no strange god with him to contribute to Israel's salvation, and therefore there should be none to share in Israel's homage and adoration, Ps. lxxxi. 9.

III. The settling of them in a good land. This was done in part already, in the happy planting of the two tribes and a half, an earnest of what would speedily and certainly be done for the rest of the tribes. 1. They were blessed with glorious victories over their enemies (v. 13): He made him ride on the high places of the earth, that is, he brought him on with conquest, and brought him home with triumph. he rode over the high places or strong holds that were kept against him, sat in ease and honour upon the fruitful hills of Canaan. In Egypt they looked mean, and were so, in poverty and disgrace; but in Canaan they looked great, and were so, advanced and enriched; they rode in state, as a people whom the King of kings delighted to honour. 2. With great plenty of all good things. Not only the ordinary increase of the field, but, which was uncommon, Honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock, which may refer either, (1.) To their miraculous supply of fresh water out of the rock that followed them in the wilderness, which is called honey and oil, because the necessity they were reduced to made it as sweet and acceptable as honey and oil at another time. Or, (2.) To the great abundance of honey and oil they should find in Canaan, even in those parts that were least fertile. The rocks in Canaan should yield a better increase than the fields and meadows of other countries. Other productions of Canaan are mentioned, v. 14. Such abundance and such variety of wholesome food (and every thing the best in its kind) that every meal might be a feast if they pleased: excellent bread made of the best corn, here called the kidneys of the wheat (for a grain of wheat is not unlike a kidney), butter and milk in abundance, the flesh of cattle well fed, and for their drink, no worse than the pure blood of the grape; so indulgent a Father was God to them, and so kind a benefactor. Ainsworth makes the plenty of good things in Canaan to be a figure of the fruitfulness of Christ's kingdom, and the heavenly comforts of his word and Spirit: for the children of his kingdom he has butter and milk, the sincere milk of the word; and strong meat for strong men, with the wine that makes glad the heart.




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