Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, by John Nelson Darby, [1857-62], at sacred-texts.com
Introduction to Deuteronomy
We now come to the book of Deuteronomy, a book full of interest in its moral warnings as to testimony, but presenting fewer subjects for interpretation and exegesis than those, the summary of which we have hitherto sought to give.
This book takes up Israel just on the borders of Canaan, and insists upon the faithful maintenance of their relationship with God, and on obedience to His commandments, as the only ground on which Israel can enter and continue therein, adding warnings as to the consequence of failure in obedience. It takes, in the main, the ground of their historical state (not of typical forms, presenting the thoughts of God, as the books we have just been considering do). [See Note #1]The body of it, after recalling the history of the wilderness, deals with the ordering of Israel in the land under God without a head on earth. The people are under responsibility to walk in obedience, with only God as their king and ruler. In immediate reference, the people are in enjoyment of the promised land under condition of obedience; but feasts, and such like ordinances, look forward to millennial times. At the end the distinction between possessing the land under condition of legal obedience, and by the grace which accomplishes its purpose in spite of failure is definitely brought out.
The book may be divided into three parts. The first eleven chapters insist upon obedience, presenting various motives to lead the people to it. Then come, as far as the end of the twenty-ninth? divers commandments; to which are added, by way of sanction, the consequences of obedience and the curse upon disobedience. From the thirtieth to the end we have things to come, the blessing of the people, and the death of Moses.
But this division requires more development, which will much aid our understanding of the book. The first part recounts their history, and this as insisting on the unity of an invisible God, their obligation to Jehovah who has called them, through redemption, to be with Him. This closes with chapter 4, where three cities are secured for the two tribes and a half. Moses cannot enter into the land; Jehovah their God is a jealous God. They are placed under the covenant of Sinai, but He is a merciful God, and in their tribulation they can look to the God of their fathers. In chapter 5 all Israel are called to hear as to their present place, and put upon the basis of the covenant of Sinai-to observe it in the land into which they were going to possess it. The land had been promised, but they held it under the covenant of legal obedience, but on the basis of deliverance wrought by Jehovah out of Egypt. Him they were exclusively to serve, and He was a jealous God. They were to have no kind of connection with the nations found in the land. Further, we have the terms of the government of mercy, still of righteousness, established in Moses's second ascent of Sinai. Thus we have the government of God-His ways taken into account; and so the character of their ways and their object (chapter 8). If they did not give heed they would perish. This leads to recalling, in order to humble them, how they had failed all through in the desert. The second governmental covenant is referred to, and the Lord's love that had chosen them in pure grace, and that in spite of their failures, had already so largely blessed them. They must circumcise their hearts to serve Him and Him only: one only exclusive God, and a God of government. All is summed up hortatively in chapter 11. Over Jordan they were going, there they were to keep all that was commanded. Here Ebal and Gerizim are brought in. To the end of chapter 4 it is Israel outside Jordan; chapter 5 inside the land. The first part presents the one invisible Jehovah of Horeb, jealous but merciful, though His ways in general with the people are there too; the second, the covenant of the ten words with Jehovah, and His government on the ground of their responsibility.
Of the first eleven chapters, the first four form thus a rather distinct part.
That which strikes one in the first chapters is, the pains that Jehovah takes to present all possible motives to that poor people to lead them to obedience, in order that they may be blessed. These things, which ought at least to have touched the heart, served, alas! only to prove its hardness, and to shew that, if man is to be blessed, God must give him a new heart, as it is written in the chapter which closes the second part of His exhortations to obedience: "Yet Jehovah hath not given you a heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day" (Deu 29:4).
Deuteronomy is, then, of all the books of Moses, that which is the most essentially conditional-that is to say, the first two divisions which I have pointed out.
Chapter 29, which is the last of the second division, ends, consequently, by saying, "The secret things belong unto Jehovah 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."
The chapters which follow throw this into greater prominence, by unfolding the secret things which were to happen after the people had completely failed in the fulfilment of the law, as chapter 30, and, still more strikingly, chapter 32, by speaking of righteousness by faith. For the discussion as to righteousness by the law ended with chapter 29; and chapter 30 supposes the people in a position in which the securing of righteousness by the law was impossible, and where there could only be question of the spirit and end of the law, in the counsels of God.
Now, Christ was the end of it, and it is thus the apostle applies the passage (Romans 10). It is interesting also to see that the Lord always quotes Deuteronomy in answering Satan. He put Himself on the true ground where Israel stood, in order to possess and keep the land; being not only the faithful man, but the Jew, the true Son called out of Egypt, put to the test as to His faithfulness, in the conditions under which the people were placed by Deuteronomy.
After Genesis and the earlier chapters of Exodus, there is very little of which the object is historical in the previous books of Moses. And even in Genesis and the beginning of Exodus principles and types are the most important aspect of what is related. As to the history of Israel the apostle tells us this expressly in Co1 10:11. And this appreciation of the character of these books greatly aids us in understanding them. There is no proof that one sacrifice was offered possibly the fixed ones were; but Amos, quoted by Stephen, would say the contrary. Those born in the wilderness were not circumcised, and could not rightly keep the passover.