These are the last words of all that ever Moses, that great writer, that great dictator, either wrote himself or had written from his dictation; they are therefore very remarkable, and no doubt we shall find them very improving. Moses, the man of God (who had as much reason as ever any mere man had to know both), with his last breath magnifies both the God of Israel and the Israel of God. They are both incomparable in his eye; and we are sure that in this his judgment of both his eye did not wax dim.
I. No God like the God of Israel. None of the gods of the nations were capable of doing that for their worshippers which Jehovah did for his: There is none like unto the God of Jeshurun, Deut. 33:26. Note, When we are expecting that God should bless us in doing well for us we must bless him by speaking well of him: and one of the most solemn ways of praising God is by acknowledging that there is none like him. Now, 1. This was the honour of Israel. Every nation boasted of its god; but none had such a God to boast of as Israel had. 2. It was their happiness that they were taken into covenant with such a God. Two things he takes notice of as proofs of the incontestable pre-eminence of the God of Jeshurun above all other gods: (1.) His sovereign power and authority: He rides upon the heavens, and with the greatest state and magnificence on the skies. Riding on the heavens denotes his greatness and glory, in which he manifests himself to the upper world, and the use he makes of the influences of heaven, and the productions of the clouds, in bringing to pass his own counsels in this lower world: he manages and directs them as a man does the horse he rides on. When he has any thing to do for his people he rides upon the heavens to do it; for he does it swiftly and strongly: no enemy can either anticipate or obstruct the progress of him that rides on the heavens. (2.) His boundless eternity; he is the eternal God, and his arms are everlasting, Deut. 33:27. The gods of the heathen were but lately invented, and would shortly perish; but the God of Jeshurun is eternal: he was before all worlds, and will be when time and days shall be no more. See Hab. 1:12.
II. No people like the Israel of God. Having pronounced each tribe happy, in the close he pronounces all together very happy, so happy in all respects that there was no nation under the sun comparable to them (Deut. 33:29): Happy art thou, O Israel, a people whose God is the Lord, on that account truly happy, and none like unto thee. If Israel honour God as a non-such God, he will favour them so as to make them a non-such people, the envy of all their neighbours and the joy of all their well-wishers. Who is like unto thee, O people? Behold, thou art fair, my love, says Christ of his spouse. To which she presently returns, Behold thou art fair, my beloved. What one nation (no, not all the nations together) is like thy people Israel? 2 Sam. 7:23. What is here said of the church of Israel and the honours and privileges of it is certainly to be applied to the church of the first-born, that are written in heaven. The Christian church is the Israel of God, as the apostle calls it (Gal. 6:16), on which there shall be peace, and which is dignified above all societies in the world, as Israel was.
1. Never were people so well seated and sheltered (Deut. 33:27): The eternal God is thy refuge. Or, as the word signifies, “thy habitation, or mansion-house, in which thou art safe, and easy, and at rest, as a man in his own house.” Every Israelite indeed is at home in God; the soul returns to him, and reposes in him as its resting-place (Ps. 116:7), its hiding-place, Ps. 32:7. And those that make him their habitation shall have all the comforts and benefits of a habitation in him, Ps. 91:1. Moses had an eye to God as the habitation of Israel when they were wandering in the wilderness (Ps. 90:1): Lord, thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations. And now that they were going to settle in Canaan they must not change their habitation; still they will need, and still they shall have, the eternal God for their dwelling-place; without him Canaan itself would be a wilderness, and a land of darkness.
2. Never were people so well supported and borne up: Underneath are the everlasting arms; that is, the almighty power of God is engaged for the protection and consolation of all that trust in him, in their greatest straits and distresses, and under the heaviest burdens. The everlasting arms shall support, (1.) The interests of the church in general, that they shall not sink, or be run down; underneath the church is that rock of ages on which it is built, and against which the gates of hell shall never prevail, Matt. 16:18. (2.) The spirits or particular believers, so that, though they may be oppressed, they shall not be overwhelmed by any trouble. How low soever the people of God are at any time brought, everlasting arms are underneath them to keep the spirit from sinking, from fainting, and the faith from failing, even when they are pressed above measure. The everlasting covenant, and the everlasting consolations that flow from it, are indeed everlasting arms, with which believers have been wonderfully sustained, and kept cheerful in the worst of times; divine grace is sufficient for them, 2 Cor. 12:9.
3. Never were people so well commanded and led on to battle: “He shall thrust out the enemy from before thee by his almighty power, which will make room for thee; and by a commission which will bear thee out he shall say, Destroy them.” They were now entering upon a land that was in the full possession of a strong and formidable people, and who, being its first planters, looked upon themselves as its rightful owners; how shall Israel justify, and how shall they accomplish, the expulsion of them? (1.) God will give them a commission to destroy the Canaanites, and that will justify them, and bear them out in it, against all the world. He that is sovereign Lord of all lives and all lands not only allowed and permitted, but expressly commanded and appointed the children of Israel both to take possession of the land of Canaan and to put the sword to the people of Canaan, which, being thus authorized, they might not only lawfully but honourably do, without incurring the least stain or imputation of theft by the one or murder by the other. (2.) God will give them power and ability to destroy them; nay, he will in effect do it to their hands: he will thrust out the enemy from before them; for the very fear of Israel shall put them to flight. God drive out the heathen to plant his people, Ps. 44:2. Thus believers are more than conquerors over their spiritual enemies, through Christ that loved them. The captain of our salvation thrust out the enemy from before us when he overcame the world and spoiled principalities and powers on the cross; and the word of command to us is, “Destroy them; pursue the victory, and you shall divide the spoil.”
4. Never were people so well secured and protected (Deut. 33:28): Israel shall then dwell in safety alone. Those that dwell in God, and make his name their strong tower, dwell in safety; the place of their defence is the munitions of rocks, Isa. 33:16. They shall dwell in safety alone. (1.) Though alone. Though they contract no alliances with their neighbours, nor have any reason to expect help or succour from any of them, yet they shall dwell in safety; they shall really be safe, and they shall think themselves so. (2.) Because alone. They shall dwell in safety as long as they continue pure, and unmixed with the heathen, a singular and peculiar people. Their distinction from other nations, though it made them like a speckled bird (Jer. 12:9), and exposed them to the ill-will of those about them, yet was really their preservation from the mischief their neighbours wished them, as it kept them under the divine protection. All that keep close to God shall be kept safely by him. It is promised that in the kingdom of Christ Israel shall dwell safely, Jer. 23:6.
5. Never were people so well provided for: The fountain of Jacob (that is, the present generation of that people, which is as the fountain to all the streams that shall hereafter descend and be derived from it) shall now presently be fixed upon a good land. The eye of Jacob (so it might be read, for the same word signifies a fountain and an eye) is upon the land of corn and wine, that is, where they now lay encamped they had Canaan in their eye, it was just before their faces, on the other side the river, and they would have it in their hands and under their feet quickly. This land upon which they had set their eye was blessed both with the fatness of the earth and the dew of heaven; it was a land of corn and wine, substantial and useful productions: also his heavens (as if the heavens were particularly designed to be blessings to that land) shall drop down dew, without which, though the soil were ever so good, the corn and wine would soon fail. Every Israelite indeed has his eye, the eye of faith, upon the better country, the heavenly Canaan, which is richly replenished with better things than corn and wine.
6. Never were people so well helped. If they were in any strait, God himself rode upon the heavens for their help, Deut. 33:26. And they were a people saved by the Lord, Deut. 33:29. If they were in danger of any harm, or in want of any good, they had an eternal God to go to, an almighty power to trust to; nothing could hurt those whom God helped, nor was it possible that the people should perish which was saved by the Lord. Those that are added to the gospel Israel are such as shall be saved, Acts 2:47.
7. Never were people so well armed. God himself was the shield of their help by whom they were armed defensively, and sufficiently guarded against all assailants: and he was the sword of their excellency, by whom they were armed offensively, and made both formidable and successful in all their wars. God is called the sword of their excellency because, in fighting for them, he made them to excel other people, or because in all he did for them he had an eye to his sanctuary among them, which is called the excellency of Jacob, Ps. 47:4; Ezek. 24:21; Amos 6:8. Those in whose hearts is the excellency of holiness have God himself for their shield and sword—are defended by the whole armour of God; his word is their sword, and faith in it is their shield, Eph. 6:16, 17.
8. Never were people so well assured of victory over their enemies: They shall be found liars unto thee; That is, “shall be forced to submit to thee sorely against their will, so that it will be but a counterfeit submission; yet the point shall be gained, for thou shalt tread upon their necks” (so the LXX.), which we find done, Josh. 10:24. “Thou shalt tread down their strong-holds, be they ever so high, and trample upon their palaces and temples, though esteemed ever so sacred. If thy enemies be found liars to thee” (so some read it), “thou shalt tread upon their high places; if they will not be held by the bonds of leagues and treaties, they shall be broken by the force of war.” Thus shall the God of peace tread Satan under the feet of all believers, and shall do it shortly, Rom. 16:20.
Now lay all this together, and then you will say, Happy art thou, O Israel! Who is like unto thee, O people! Thrice happy the people whose God is the Lord.