One would have thought that enough had been said to possess them with a dread of that wrath of God which is revealed from heaven against the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. But to show how deep the treasures of that wrath are, and that still there is more and worse behind, Moses, when one would have thought that he had concluded this dismal subject, begins again, and adds to this roll of curses many similar words: as Jeremiah did to his, Jer. 36:32. It should seem that in the former part of this commination Moses foretells their captivity in Babylon, and the calamities which introduced and attended that, by which, even after their return, they were brought to that low and poor condition which is described, Deut. 28:44. That their enemies should be the head, and they the tail: but here, in this latter part, he foretels their last destruction by the Romans and their dispersion thereupon. And the present deplorable state of the Jewish nation, and of all that have incorporated themselves with them, by embracing their religion, does so fully and exactly answer to the prediction in these verses that it serves for an incontestable proof of the truth of prophecy, and consequently of the divine authority of the scripture. And, this last destruction being here represented as more dreadful than the former, it shows that their sin, in rejecting Christ and his gospel, was more heinous and more provoking to God than idolatry itself, and left them more under the power of Satan; for their captivity in Babylon cured them effectually of their idolatry in seventy years’ time; but under this last destruction now for above 1600 years they continue incurably averse to the Lord Jesus. Observe,
I. What is here said in general of the wrath of God, which should light and lie upon them for their sins.
1. That, if they would not be ruled by the commands of God, they should certainly be ruined by his curse, Deut. 28:45, 46. Because thou didst not keep his commandments (especially that of hearing and obeying the great prophet), these curses shall come upon thee, as upon a people appointed to destruction, the generation of God’s wrath: and they shall be for a sign and for a wonder. It is amazing to think that a people so long the favourites of Heaven should be so perfectly abandoned and cast off, that a people so closely incorporated should be so universally dispersed, and yet that a people so scattered in all nations should preserve themselves distinct and not mix with any, but like Cain be fugitives and vagabonds, and yet marked to be known.
2. That, if they would not serve God with cheerfulness, they should be compelled to serve their enemies (Deut. 28:47, 48), that they might know the difference (2 Chron. 12:8), which, some think, is the meaning of Exod. 20:24, 25, Because they despised my statutes, I gave them statutes that were not good. Observe here, (1.) It is justly expected from those to whom God gives an abundance of the good things of this life that they should serve him. What does he maintain us for out that we may do his work, and be some way serviceable to his honour? (2.) The more God gives us the more cheerfully we should serve him; our abundance should be oil to the wheels of our obedience. God is a Master that will be served with gladness, and delights to hear us sing at our work. (3.) If, when we receive the gifts of God’s bounty, we either do not serve him at all or serve him with reluctance, it is a righteous thing with him to make us know the hardships of want and servitude. Those deserve to have cause given them to complain who complain without a cause. Tristis es et felix—Happy, and yet not easy! Blush at thy own folly and ingratitude.
3. That, if they would not give glory to God by a reverential obedience, he would get him honour upon them by wonderful plagues, Deut. 28:58, 59. Note, (1.) God justly expects from us that we should fear his fearful name; and, which is strange, that name which is here proposed as the object of our fear is, THE LORD THY GOD, which is very fitly here put in our Bibles in capital letters; for nothing can sound more truly august. As nothing is more comfortable, so nothing more awful, than this, that he with whom we have to do is Jehovah, a being infinitely perfect and blessed, and the author of all being; and that he is our God, our rightful Lord and owner, from whom we are to receive laws and to whom we are to give account: this is great, and greatly to be feared. (2.) We may justly expect from God that, if we do not fear his fearful name, we shall feel his fearful plagues; for one way or other God will be feared. All God’s plagues are dreadful, but some are wonderful, carrying in them extraordinary signatures of divine power and justice, so that a man, upon the first view of them, may say, Verily, there is a God that judgeth in the earth.
II. How the destruction threatened is described. Moses is here upon the same melancholy subject that our Saviour is discoursing of to his disciples in his farewell sermon (Matt. 24:4-28), namely, The destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish nation. Observe,
1. Five things are here foretold as steps to their ruin:—
(1.) That they should be invaded by a foreign enemy (Deut. 28:49, 50): A nation from far, namely, the Romans, as swift as the eagle hastening to the prey. Our Saviour makes use of this similitude, in foretelling this destruction, that where the carcase is there will the eagles be gathered together, Matt. 24:28. And bishop Patrick observes (to make the accomplishment the more remarkable) that the ensign of the Roman armies was an eagle. This nation is said to be of a fierce countenance, an indication of a fierce nature, stern and severe, that would not pity the weakness and infirmity either of little children or of old people.
(2.) That the country should be laid waste, and all the fruits of it eaten up by this army of foreigners, which is the natural consequence of an invasion, especially when it is made, as that by the Romans was, for the chastisement of rebels: He shall eat the fruits of thy cattle and land (Deut. 28:51), so that the inhabitants should be starved, while the invaders were fed to the full.
(3.) That their cities should be besieged, and that such would be the obstinacy of the besieged, and such the vigour of the besiegers, that they would be reduced to the last extremity, and at length fall into the hands of the enemy, Deut. 28:52. No place, though ever so well fortified, no, not Jerusalem itself, though it held out long, would escape. Two of the common consequences of a long siege are here foretold:—[1.] A miserable famine, which would prevail to such a degree that, for want of food, they should kill and eat their own children, Deut. 28:53. Men should do so, notwithstanding their hardiness, and ability to bear hunger; and, though obliged by the law of nature to provide for their own families, yet should refuse to give to the wife and children that were starving any of the child that was barbarously butchered, Deut. 28:54, 55. Nay, women, ladies of quality, notwithstanding their natural niceness about their food, and their natural affection to their children, yet, for want of food, should so far forget all humanity as to kill and eat them, Deut. 28:56, 57. Let us observe, by the way, how hard this fate must needs be to the tender and delicate women, and learn not to indulge ourselves in tenderness and delicacy, because we know not what we may be reduced to before we die; the more nice we are, the harder it will be to us to bear want, and the more danger we shall be in or sacrificing reason, and religion, and natural affection itself, to the clamours and cravings of an unmortified and ungoverned appetite. This threatening was fulfilled in the letter of it, more than once, to the perpetual reproach of the Jewish nation: never was the like done either by Greek or barbarian, but in the siege of Samaria, a woman boiled her own son, 2 Kgs. 6:28, 29. And it is spoken of as commonly done among them in the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, Lam. 4:10. And, in the last siege by the Romans, Josephus tells us of a noble woman that killed and ate her own child, through the extremity of the famine, and when she had eaten one half secretly (Deut. 28:57), that she might have it to herself, the mob, smelling meat, got into the house, to whom she showed the other half, which she had kept till another time, inviting them to share with her. What is too barbarous for those to do that are abandoned of God! [2.] Sickness is another common effect of a strait and long siege, and that is here threatened: Sore sickness, and of long continuance, Deut. 28:59. These should attend the Jews wherever they went afterwards, the diseases of Egypt, leprosies, botches, and foul ulcers, Deut. 28:60. Nay, as if the particular miseries here threatened were not enough, he concludes with an et cetera, Deut. 28:61. The Lord will bring upon thee every sickness, and every plague, though it be not written in the book of this law. Those that fall under the curse of God will find that the one half was not told them of the weight and terror of that curse.
(4.) That multitudes of them should perish, so that they should become few in number, Deut. 28:62. It was a nation that God had wonderfully increased, so that they were as the stars of heaven for multitude; but, for their sin, they were diminished and brought low, Ps. 107:38, 39. It is computed that in the destruction of the Jewish nation by the Romans, as appears by the account Josephus gives of it, above two millions fell by the sword at several places, besides what perished by famine and pestilence; so that the whole country was laid waste and turned into a wilderness. That is a terrible word (Deut. 28:63), As the Lord rejoiced over you to do you good, so he will rejoice over you to destroy you. Behold here the goodness and severity of God: mercy here shines brightly in the pleasure God takes in doing good—he rejoices in it; yet justice here appears no less illustrious in the pleasure he takes in destroying the impenitent; not as it is the making of his creatures miserable, but as it is the asserting of his own honour and the securing of the ends of his government. See what a malignant mischievous thing sin is, which (as I may say) makes it necessary for the God of infinite goodness to rejoice in the destruction of his own creatures, even those that had been favourites.
(5.) That the remnant should be scattered throughout the nations This completes their woe: The Lord shall scatter thee among all people, Deut. 28:64. This is remarkably fulfilled in their present dispersion, for there are Jews to be fond almost in all countries that are possessed either by Christians or Mahometans, and in such numbers that it has been said, If they could unite in one common interest, they would be a very formidable body, and able to deal with the most powerful states and princes; but they abide under the power of this curse, and are so scattered that they are not able to incorporate. It is here foretold that in this dispersion, [1.] They should have no religion, or none to any purpose, should have no temple, nor altar, nor priesthood, for they should serve other gods. Some think this has been fulfilled in the force put upon the Jews in popish countries to worship the images that are used in the Romish church, to their great vexation. [2.] They should have no rest, no rest of body: The sole of thy foot shall not have rest (Deut. 28:65), but be continually upon the remove, either in hope of gain or fear of persecution; all wandering Jews: no rest of the mind (which is much worse), but a trembling heart (Deut. 28:65); no assurance of life (Deut. 28:66); weary both of light and darkness, which are, in their turns, both welcome to a quiet mind, but to them both day and night would be a terror, Deut. 28:67. Such was once the condition of Job (Job 7:4), but to them this should be constant and perpetual; that blindness and darkness which the apostle speaks of as having happened to Israel, and that guilt which bowed down their back always (Rom. 11:8-10), must needs occasion a constant restlessness and amazement. Those are a torment to themselves, and to all about them, that fear day and night and are always uneasy. Let good people strive against it, and not give way to that fear which has torment; and let wicked people not be secure in their wickedness, for their hearts can f5a not endure, nor can their hands be strong, when the terrors of God set themselves in array against them. Those that say in the morning, O that it were evening, and in the evening, O that it were morning, show, First, A constant fret and vexation, chiding the hours for lingering and complaining of the length of every minute. Let time be precious to us when we are in prosperity, and then it will not be so tedious to us when we are in afflictions as otherwise it would. Secondly, A constant fright and terror, afraid in the morning of the arrow that flieth by day, and therefore wishing the day over; but what will this do for them? When evening comes, the trembling heart is no less apprehensive of the terror by night, Ps. 91:5, 6. Happy they whose minds, being stayed on God, are quiet from the fear of evil! Observe here, The terror arises not only from the sight of the eyes, but from the fear of the heart, not only from real dangers, but from imaginary ones; the causes of fear, when they come to be enquired into, often prove to be only the creatures of the fancy.
2. In the close, God threatens to leave them as he found them, in a house of bondage (Deut. 28:68): The Lord shall bring thee into Egypt again, that is into such a miserable state as they were in when they were slaves to the Egyptians, and ruled by them with rigour. God had brought them out of Egypt, and had said, They shall see it no more again (Deut. 17:16); but now they should be reduced to the same state of slavery that they had been in there. To be sold to strangers would be bad enough, but much worse to be sold to their enemies. Even slaves may be valued as such, but a Jew should have so ill a name for all that is base that when he was exposed to sale no man would buy him, which would make his master that had him to sell the more severe with him. Thirty Jews (they say) have been sold for one small piece of money, as they sold our Saviour for thirty pieces.
3. Upon the whole matter, (1.) The accomplishment of these predictions upon the Jewish nation shows that Moses spoke by the Spirit of God, who certainly foresees the ruin of sinners, and gives them warning of it, that they may prevent it by a true and timely repentance, or else be left inexcusable. (2.) Let us all hence learn to stand in awe and not to sin. I have heard of a wicked man, who, upon reading the threatenings of this chapter, was so enraged that he tore the leaf out of the Bible, as Jehoiakim cut Jeremiah’s roll; but to what purpose is it to deface a copy, while the original remains upon record in the divine counsels, by which it is unalterably determined that the wages of sin is death, whether men will hear or whether they will forbear?