Home page The Occident and American Jewish Advocate Jews in the Civil War Jews in the Wild West History of Palestine The Occident Virtual Library


Thoughts on Deuteronomy 30:6.


(Continued from Issue #3.)

Dear Friend,—

In our investigation of the teaching of the Pentateuch, we now come to the covenant made at Sinai. In this letter, and the two following letters, with which I trust close my part in this correspondence, my object will be to exhibit some of the designs of God in this covenant, and the precise relation in which it stands to the covenant already considered.

How comprehensive and grand the subject now before us! The revelation of God to his people at Sinai, is full of instruction, of command, and of promise. Behold this revelation with all its dread displays of divine majesty and justice, and consoling displays of divine condescension and forgiveness; with all its solemn assertions of the indisputable right of God to the obedience of his people; with all its commands of the acknowledgment and pure worship of God, of the honouring of his name, and of the sanctification of the Sabbath; with all its injunctions of justice and benevolence in our various social relations; with all its manifestations of the special presence of God with his people, and promises of his abiding presence, first in the wilderness and then in the city which He should choose; with all its provisions for the removal of iniquity by confession and sacrifice; with all its injunctions of those solemn fasts and feasts which were in themselves admirably adapted to express gratitude to God, and to promote humility, piety, general acquaintance, and sacred friendship; with all its regulations of vows, and consecrations of fruits, of property, of priests, and even of a whole tribe; with all its observances designed to remove uncleanness and disease, and to preserve a holy people; with all its promises of long life, of independence, of social happiness, of the highest sacred privileges, and of immortal national renown; and all its threatenings of a deadly and eternal curse in the event of disobedience. We have now before us the host of Israel encamped at Sinai. He whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain speaks to them from heaven, comes down upon the mount, and then from the mount to the tabernacle, that He may dwell among his people; and they receive the yoke of his law. The duty of loving Him is the fundamental principle of the law; the duty of constant regard to divine direction is taught by the constant presence of the oracle with the High Priest; the holiness of God is taught in the often repeated command that they should be a holy people; the justice of God is taught in the rewards and punishments annexed to the laws; the pardoning mercy of God is taught in the laws of sacrifices; the great principles of justice are taught in the judgments; the obligation of benevolence is taught in the injunctions to attend kindly to the poor, the fatherless, and the stranger; the peculiar and awful responsibility of the position of Israel is exhibited in all the essential features, and in all the circumstances of this covenant, and especially in the clear revelation that the rewards of obedience, and punishments of disobedience, will extend on to children, and children’s children, to a thousand generations. Observe, particularly, that the Lord placed obedience and disobedience, life as the consequence of the former, and death as the consequence of the latter, before the people, and that He left with them the infinitely momentous choice.

Now, sir, you do not suppose that I think in the brief survey of this single letter, to comprehend fully the design of God in this great transaction,—to comprehend every momentous relation of this covenant to truth and to Israel. With this very important premise, I now submit, and I will endeavour to prove, that God established this covenant with the certain knowledge that it would prove a magnificent, glorious, and at the same time a complete, most awful, and eternal failure. The point I intend to prove, is, that God established this covenant not that Israel might furnish themselves with ample and everlasting righteousness, but that they might be exhibited completely destitute of all righteousness; or, in more words, that it was one great design of God, by this trial of Israel, to prove that the natural free will of man, with obedience and disobedience, life and death, presented before it, chooses always and certainly, disobedience and death; that it makes this fatal choice even in the circumstances most favour able to the right choice,—even in full view of all that God can present in his threatenings to drive from disobedience, and all that he can present in promises, to draw man to himself; and that the only hope of the salvation of Israel from the curse under which they have fallen, lies in the promise placed at the head of these letters, that God himself will circumcise their hearts, himself will make them obedient, and himself will give them life.

From the beginning the working of the law was the working of death. At the foot of Sinai, while Moses was still on the Mount, the Israelites chose other gods and practised the abominations of Egypt. Such was the sin at this time, that the sons of Levi were required to enter the camp and to slay, without any regard for father or mother, or brother, or neighbour. The Lord was provoked to threaten the destruction of the people. Did He, my friend, threaten a punishment that was not deserved? How can you contemplate this first scene, and not acknowledge that the preservation and future glory of Israel has no other foundation than the amazing undeserved mercy of God? No provocation was the last: rebellion followed rebellion. Follow them a few steps farther, and you enter the immense field of the graves of those that lusted. Follow the remnant on to Paran, and here you witness, upon the return of the spies, the tenth provocation. here God determined to destroy all the generation that had come out of Egypt with the exception of two. Now the sentence of divine wrath is that they must turn with their backs to the promised land, and wander forty years in the wilderness, and thirst, and be bitten by serpents, and contend among themselves, and perish fearfully and universally. We have still before us a more humbling scene. Here it was determined that they all should be consumed within the compass of a few years; but on the day after the destruction of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, when the people again murmured against Moses, God was ready to consume them all in one moment. Here you see how the law yielded to its first subjects the bitter fruits of sorrow and death. It was not to them the tree of life. The scene in the wilderness teaches us that no external law, however solemnly delivered, and however strict, and no external circumcision, will save the Israelite, unless accompanied with the circumcision of the heart by the hand of God.

If we can prove that this covenant bears on its face essential features, the terrific import of which every candid inquirer may understand, and which clearly distinguish it as a system destined to fail,—as a covenant that will be broken; if we can point out, mingled with all the laws of Moses, predictions which present it as certain that an unprecedented manifestation of human depravity and divine wrath will be the end of this great experiment, we certainly prove our point: and that this is the fact, we will now endeavour to establish with the clearest proofs. Shortly before the death of Moses, the Lord spoke to him from the pillar of cloud, and said that after his death the children of Israel should worship other gods, forsake their own God, break his covenant, and provoke him to hide his face from them. Moses was then commanded to write the Song, and teach it to the Israelites, that it might be a witness against them when they should be brought to the promised land, and become full, and turn unto other gods, and break the covenant. This passage exhibits their breaking the covenant as indissolubly connected with their entrance into the promised land. Mark the connexion as it is presented in the languageכי אביאנו אל האדמה אשר נשבעתי לאבתיו זבת חלב ודבש ואכל ושבע ודשן ופנה אל אלהים אחרים ועבדום ונאצוני והפר את בריתי “When I shall bring them to the land which I have sworn to their fathers to give them, flowing with milk and honey, and they shall eat, and be satisfied, and become fat, and turn to other gods, and serve them, and despise Me, and break my covenant.” The Lord farther adds, as a reason for this sad prediction, that He knows their imagination (את יצרו) this day before they come to the land. He sees among them this day a יצר הרע , an evil principle, the development of which must work to the transgression of the covenant. The Song just mentioned, the song of Deut. 32, teaches us that God could not expect of the children of this covenant any fidelity in their relation to him בנים לא אמן בם

Contemplating the end to which the operation of the law would come, He says: “For a fire kindles in my countenance, and burns to the lowest abode of the dead, and consumes the earth and her increase, and kindles the foundations of the mountains.” If we view the promise placed at the head of all these letters, as unconditional, the visitation of the curse upon Israel must have been, from the beginning, certain. It is when the blessing and the curse have fallen upon them, that the Lord will circumcise their hearts: if the fulfillment of this promise is absolutely certain, and if it was so in its revelation, the melancholy antecedent was revealed as equally certain. These remarks lead us to examine some texts, which show us the nature, and especially the duration, of these coming calamities. In Lev. 26, after showing how the children of the covenant and curse should be destroyed by their enemies, and should be their own tormentors and destroyers, God says: “And they that are left of you shall pine away in their iniquity in your enemies’ lands; and also in the iniquity of their fathers shall they pine away with them.” Deut. 28:29: “And thou shalt be only oppressed and spoiled all days; and there shall be no saviour.” Verse 31: “And thou shalt not have a saviour.” Verse 33: “And thou shalt be only oppressed and broken all days.” Verse 45: “And there shall come upon thee all these curses, and they shall pursue thee and overtake thee, until thou art destroyed.” Verse 63: “And it shall come to pass, that as the Lord rejoiced over you to do you good, and to multiply you; so will the Lord cause to rejoice over you to destroy you.” Moses, with heaven and earth summoned as witnesses, testified to the people that they should utterly perish if they should serve other gods.

(To be continued.)