After many terrible threatenings of deserved wrath and vengeance, we have here surprising intimations of mercy, undeserved mercy, which rejoices against judgment, and by which it appears that God has no pleasure in the death of sinners, but would rather they should turn and live.
I. In jealousy for his own honour, he will not make a full end of them, Deut. 32:26-28. 1. It cannot be denied but that they deserved to be utterly ruined, and that their remembrance should be made to cease from among men, so that the name of an Israelite should never be known but in history; for they were a nation void of counsel (Deut. 32:28), the most sottish inconsiderate people that ever were, that would not believe the gory of God, though they saw it, nor understand his loving kindness, though they tasted it and lived upon it. Of those who could cast off such a God, such a law, such a covenant, for vain and dunghill-deities, it might truly be said, There is no understanding in them. 2. It would have been an easy thing with God to ruin them and blot out the remembrance of them; when the greatest part of them were cut off by the sword, it was but scattering the remnant into some remote obscure corners of the earth, where they should never have been heard of any more, and the thing had been done. See Ezek. 5:12. God can destroy those that are most strongly fortified, disperse those that are most closely united, and bury those names in perpetual oblivion that have been most celebrated. 3. Justice demanded it: I said I would scatter them. It is fit those should be cut off from the earth that have cut themselves off from their God; why should they not be dealt with according to their deserts? 4. Wisdom considered the pride and insolence of the enemy, which would take occasion from the ruin of a people that had been so dear to God, and for whom he had done such great things, to reflect upon God and to imagine that because they had got the better of Israel they had carried the day against the God of Israel: The adversaries will say, Our hand is high, high indeed, when it has been too high for those whom God himself fought for; nor will they consider that the Lord has done all this, but will dream that they have done it in despite of him, as if the God of Israel were as weak and impotent, and as easily run down, as the pretended deities of other nations. 5. In consideration of this, Mercy prevails for the sparing of a remnant and the saving of that unworthy people from utter ruin: I feared the wrath of the enemy. It is an expression after the manner of men; it is certain that God fears no man’s wrath, but he acted in this matter as if he had feared it. Those few good people in Israel that had a concern for the honour of God’s name feared the wrath of the enemy in this instance more than in any other, as Joshua (Josh. 7:9), and David often; and, because they feared it, God himself is said to fear it. He needed not Moses to plead it with him, but reminded himself of it: What will the Egyptians say? Let all those whose hearts tremble for the ark of God and his Israel comfort themselves with this, that God will work for his own name, and will not suffer it to be profaned and polluted: how much soever we deserve to be disgraced, God will never disgrace the throne of his glory.
II. In concern for their welfare, he earnestly desires their conversion; and, in order to that, their serious consideration of their latter end, Deut. 32:29. Observe, 1. Though God had pronounced them a foolish people and of no understanding, yet he wishes they were wise, as Deut. 5:29; O that there were such a heart in them! and Ps. 94:8; You fools, when will you be wise? God delights not to see sinners ruin themselves, but desires they will help themselves; and, if they will, he is ready to help them. 2. It is a great piece of wisdom, and will contribute much to the return of sinners to God, seriously to consider the latter end, or the future state. It is here meant particularly of that which God by Moses had foretold concerning this people in the latter days: but it may be applied more generally. We ought to understand and consider, (1.) The latter end of life, and the future state of the soul. To think of death as our removal from a world of sense to a world of spirits, the final period of our state of trial and probation, and our entrance upon an unchangeable state of recompence and retribution. (2.) The latter end of sin, and the future state of those that live and die in it. O that men would consider the happiness they will lose, and the misery they will certainly plunge themselves into, if they go on still in their trespasses, what will be in the end thereof, Jer. 5:31. Jerusalem forgot this, and therefore came down wonderfully, Lam. 1:9.
III. He calls to mind the great things he had done for them formerly, as a reason why he should not quite cast them off. This seems to be the meaning of that (Deut. 32:30, 31), “How should one Israelite have been too hard for a thousand Canaanites, as they have been many a time, but that God, who is greater than all gods, fought for them!” And so it corresponds with that, Isa. 63:10, 11”. When he was turned to be their enemy, as here, and fought against them for their sins, then he remembered the days of old, saying, Where is he that brought them out of the sea? So here, his arm begins to awake as in the days of old against the wrath of the enemy, Ps. 138:7. There was a time when the enemies of Israel were sold by their own rock, that is, their own idol-gods, who could not help them, but betrayed them, because Jehovah, the God of Israel, had shut them up as sheep for the slaughter. For the enemies themselves must own that their gods were a very unequal match for the God of Israel. For their vine is of the vine of Sodom, Deut. 32:32, 33. This must be meant of the enemies of Israel, who fell so easily before the sword of Israel because they were ripe for ruin, and the measure of their iniquity was full. Yet these verses may be understood of the strange prevalency of the enemies of Israel against them, when God made use of them as the rod of his anger, Isa. 10:5, 6. “How should one Canaanite chase a thousand Israelites” (as it is threatened against those that trust to Egypt for help, Isa. 30:17; One thousand shall flee at the rebuke of one) “unless Israel’s rock had deserted them and giv 6a8d en them up.” For otherwise, however they may impute their power to their gods (Hab. 1:11), as the Philistines imputed their victory to Dagon, it is certain the enemies’ rock could not have prevailed against the rock of Israel; God would soon have subdued their enemies (Ps. 81:14), but that the wickedness of Israel delivered them into their hands. For their vine, that is, Israel’s, is of the vine of Sodom, Deut. 32:32, 33. They were planted a choice vine, wholly a right seed, but by sin had become the degenerate plant of a strange vine (Jer. 2:21), and not only transcribed the iniquity of Sodom, but outdid it, Ezek. 16:48. God called them his vineyard, his pleasant plant, Isa. 5:7. But their fruits were, 1. Very offensive, and displeasing to God, bitter as gall. 2 Very malignant, and pernicious one to another, like the cruel venom of asps. Some understand this of their punishment; their sin would be bitterness in the latter end (2 Sam. 2:26), it would bite like a serpent and sting like an adder, Job 20:14; Prov. 23:32.
IV. He resolves upon the destruction of those at last that had been their persecutors and oppressors. When the cup of trembling goes round, the king of Babel shall pledge it at last, Jer. 25:26; and see Isa. 51:22, 23. The day is coming when the judgment that began at the house of God shall end with the sinner and ungodly, 1 Pet. 4:17, 18. God will in due time bring down the church’s enemies.
1. In displeasure against their wickedness, which he takes notice of, and keeps an account of, Deut. 32:34, 35. “Isa. not this implacable fury of theirs against Israel laid up in store with me, to be reckoned for hereafter, when it shall be made to appear that to me belongs vengeance?” Some understand it of the sin of Israel, especially their persecuting the prophets, which was laid up in store against them from the blood of righteous Abel, Matt. 23:35. However it teaches us that the wickedness of the wicked is all laid up in store with God. (1.) He observes it, Ps. 90:8. He knows both what the vine is and what the grapes are, what is the temper of the mind and what are the actions of life. (2.) He keeps a record of it both in his own omniscience and in the sinner’s conscience; and this is sealed up among his treasures, which denotes both safety and secresy: these books cannot be lost, nor will they be opened till the great day. See Hos. 13:12. (3.) He often delays the punishment of sin for a great while; it is laid up in store, till the measure be full, and the day of divine patience has expired. See Job 21:28-30. (4.) There is a day of reckoning coming, when all the treasures of guilt and wrath will be broken up, and the sin of sinners shall surely find them out. [1.] The thing itself will certainly be done, for the Lord is a God to whom vengeance belongs, and therefore he will repay, Isa. 59:18. This is quoted by the apostle to show the severity of God’s wrath against those that revolt from the faith of Christ, Heb. 10:30. [2.] It will be done in due time, in the best time; nay, it will be done in a short time. The day of their calamity is at hand; and, though it may seem to tarry, it lingers not, it slumbers not, but makes haste. In one hour, shall the judgment of Babylon come.
2. He will do it in compassion to his own people, who, though they had greatly provoked him, yet stood in relation to him, and their misery appealed to his mercy (Deut. 32:36): The Lord shall judge his people,. that is, judge for them against their enemies, plead their cause, and break the yoke of oppression under which they had long groaned, repenting himself for his servants; not changing his mind, but changing his way, and fighting for them, as he had fought against them, when he sees that their power is gone. This plainly points at the deliverances God wrought for Israel by the judges out of the hands of those to whom he had sold them for their sins (see Jdg. 2:11-18), and how his soul was grieved for the misery of Israel (Jdg. 10:16), and this when they were reduced to the last extremity. God helped them when they could not help themselves; for there was none shut up or left; that is, none that dwelt either in cities or walled towns, in which they were shut up, nor any that dwelt in scattered houses in the country, in which they were left at a distance from neighbours. Note, God’s time to appear for the deliverance of his people is when things are at the worst with them. God tries his people’s faith, and stirs up prayer, by letting things go to the worst, and then magnifies his own power, and fills the faces of his enemies with shame and the hearts of his people with so much the greater joy, by rescuing them out of extremity as brands out of the burning.
3. He will do it in contempt and to the reproach of idol-gods, Deut. 32:37, 38. Where are their gods? Two ways it may be understood: (1.) That God would do that for his people which the idols they had served could not do for them. They had forsaken God, and been very liberal in their sacrifices to idols, had brought to their altars the fat of their sacrifices and the wine of their drink-offerings, which they supposed their deities to feed upon and on which they feasted with them. “Now,” says God, “will these gods you have made your court to, at so great an expense, help you in your distress, and so repay you for all your charges in their service? Go get you to the gods you have served, and let them deliver you”, Jdg. 10:14. This is intended to convince them of their folly in forsaking a God that could help them for gods that could not, and so to bring them to repentance and qualify them for deliverance. When the adulteress shall follow after her lovers and not overtake them, pray to her idols and receive no kindness from them, then she shall say, I will go and return to my first husband, Hos. 2:7. See Isa. 16:12; Jer. 2:27, 28. Or, (2.) That God would do that against his enemies which the idols they had served could not save them from, Sennacherib and Nebuchadnezzar boldly challenged the God of Israel to deliver his worshippers (Isa. 37:10; Dan. 3:15), and he did deliver them, to the confusion of their enemies. But the God of Israel challenged Bel and Nebo to deliver their worshippers, to rise up and help them, and to be their protection (Isa. 47:12, 13); but they were so far from helping them that they themselves, that is, their images, which was all that was of them, went into captivity, Isa. 46:1, 2. Note, Those who trust to any rock but God will find it sand in the day of their distress; it will fail them when they most need it.
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