The blessing in store for them was God's free gift to them; and when they came to enjoy it they were not to allow themselves to say in their heart , i . e . to think or imagine, that the prosperous condition in which they were placed was the result of their own exertions; they were to ascribe all to God's gracious bounty, for from him had come the power by which prosperity had been gained, and this he had given, not on account of any merit in them, but that he might fulfill his covenant engagements to their fathers. Get wealth עָשָׂה חַיִל , to make strength, to gather substance ( Genesis 12:5 ), to procure wealth. As it is this day. "As was quite evident then, when the establishment of the covenant had already commenced, and Israel had come through the desert to the border of Canaan (see Deuteronomy 4:20 )" (Keil).
(See Homiletics: Deuteronomy 6:10-19 .)
Danger of self-glorification.
The enjoyment of God's mercies, which should be so provocative of thankfulness, may become a snare, if we are not careful to guard against their misuse. Several of the dangers to which prosperity makes us liable are dealt with in the Homily referred to above. Here, there is one specially named, which is perhaps the most common of all, viz. that of attributing success in life to one's own skill, or wisdom, or might: "And thou say in thine heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth" (see Ezekiel 28:4 , Ezekiel 28:5 ; Ezekiel 29:3 ; Psalms 12:3 ; 7:2 ). So strong is the tendency to accredit ourselves with any gains which may be ours, in a vain, self-glorifying spirit, that we cannot be too anxious to guard against it, by exposing the sin and evil of it.
I. IT IS UNTRUE . However much care we may have taken to ensure success, whether we gain our end or no, has been dependent at every moment on a conjunction of circumstances, which we were as powerless to bring about or to avoid, as to create the tides or arrest the moon. And even the ability to take care, and to put forth effort, has been a gift. We are violating the first rudiments of most certain truth, when we take the credit of success in life to ourselves.
II. IT IS DISLOYAL . For it is God who gives us the power to get wealth. We owe all we have to his bounty, and even the very breath we draw, to his unceasing care. The laws on which we have relied to bring prosperity have been of God's creation. And for a creature to plume himself on the gifts of the Creator, who can adequately set forth such injustice to high Heaven?
III. IT IS UNGRATEFUL . For, as if it were not enough that the Most High should have all our faults to bear with unceasingly—is it not marvelously ungrateful that creatures who would have long ago been cut down except for the long-suffering of God, should pride themselves on the abilities which have been in such forbearance continued to them?
IV. IT IS MOST MISCHIEVOUS IN ITS EFFECTS . For it nurses pride, instead of fostering thankfulness. It genders selfishness, it freezes benevolence, and will surely breed a covetous, tyrannous, haughty disposition, if not fought against and overcome.
V. IT IS OFFENSIVE IN GOD 'S SIGHT , ( Proverbs 6:16 , Proverbs 6:17 ; James 4:6 ; 1 Peter 5:5 .) God sets himself in array against pride of heart. How can it be otherwise? "What communion hath light with darkness?" God will dwell with the contrite and humble spirit, but "the proud he knoweth afar off."
VI. IT IS THE REVERSE OF THAT WHICH GODS DESIGNS . ( Deuteronomy 8:16 .) For the varied experiences of life are an appeal of God to men as moral beings, "to humble them and prove them;" and if, in spite of all, any take the credit to themselves of their own prosperity, God's own intent in their life-history is being reversed.
VII. IT WILL SOONER OR LATER BRING HUMILIATION AND SUFFERING , ( Proverbs 29:23 .) Again and again does our Savior also lay down this principle, that pride exposes to much shame ( Matthew 23:12 ; Luke 14:11 ; Luke 18:14 ). It is not for us to say, in any individual case, in what form the debasement or disappointment will come. But come it will. It may be in one or more of the following ways:
1. By the removal of the wealth which was gained, and a sudden plunge from prosperity to adversity. It is sad when men have to part with all before they will learn that God gave all!
2. By depriving men of any further power to attend to worldly concerns, they may have to see their utter helplessness without God.
3. By a searching dealing with the spirit in the furnace of tribulation, God may graciously burn up the pride, and purge away corruption. But the process is a terrific one, even here. It is being saved, "yet so as by fire." Still, it is better to be saved, even thus, cost what it may ( 1 Corinthians 3:18 ). It is only when God succeeds in "humbling" us, that he can do us good "at the latter end."
4. If, after all warnings, teachings, and strivings, God's voice is still unheard, and pride still rears itself up against him, he will reckon the proud one as "the chaff which the wind driveth away." And oh, how will this self-elation shrivel up then (see Isaiah 2:10-22 )! God will not give his glory to another ( 1 Samuel 2:30 ; Malachi 4:1 ). What reversals of position will that day witness! That which the world reckoned as "great wealth" will come to naught, and the "wealthy" one will be bankrupt for eternity; while those who in lowliness of spirit have received thankfully the least of God's gifts, shall have him as their "exceeding great Reward." To such he will say, "Friend, come up higher!"
Wealth perilous to piety.
God's policy in the government of men is to win by prodigal kindness. A churlish parsimony has never been found with him; the very opposite. An open eye discovers widespread munificence—a royal banquet. The present is only a sample of the future. The full inheritance is always the object of hope. The children of a king have large expectations. This passage contains—
I. A NOTABLE INSTANCE OF DIVINE MUNIFICENCE .
1. The heritage of Israel was a " good land ." Both climate and soil were suited to every variety of natural production. The fruits of the North, and the fruits of the Tropics, might alike find a home there. Untold ages had passed, during which God had been slowly preparing that land for Israel, and storing it with elements of fertility, and wealth of minerals.
2. Others had been employed to bring the virgin soil under culture . The harder and more unprofitable toil bad been accomplished. The house of Israel was already well furnished, as when a bridegroom brings home his bride.
3. There was every variety of provision . This betokened thoughtful foresight and tender affection. No needed good had been overlooked. The beneficent Creator had furnished, not only the necessaries of life, but every luxury. Whatever could please the palate, or gratify a taste, or invigorate the health, was there. These were pictures of heavenly good; for as yet the people could not appreciate the imperishable treasures of the spirit-land.
4. This inheritance was unpurchased and unreserved . It made them, body and soul, debtors to God. Had they preferred to purchase it with money, they had naught of their own; they could not create the medium of barter. They had not obtained it by the merit of obedience. They were the recipients of distinguished favor—pensioners on the Divine bounty. If it be said that they obtained the land by right of conquest, it must be counter-said that the Lord had given them victory. The battle was the Lord's. Herein God designed to conquer their proud spirits by the generosity of his love.
5. This inheritance was not the final end . God had ulterior purposes of good yet beyond, towards the realization of which this was a stepping-stone. His next design was to "establish his covenant with them." At present, they were reaping the fruit of their fathers' faith. This was a reward for Abraham's piety. If they should prove faithful, they too should be promoted to higher things. Canaan was not a home, but a school-house.
II. THE PASSAGE CONTAINS VALUABLE COUNSEL . The counsels of clear-eyed, venerable wisdom are more precious than pearls.
1. The counsel prescribes grateful recollection . Having received such measureless kindness, it would be the rankest villany to forget the Giver. Over the sunken rock of ingratitude a triple beacon stands: "Beware!" Give this murderous reef ample sea-room. Here many a gallant ship has gone to pieces.
2. The counsel directs suitable requital . "Thou shalt bless the Lord thy God!" But can man confer any blessing on his Maker? Can we add to God's wealth or enjoyment? In a sense we can. Dispositions are accepted as deeds. If we are not willing to give to God all we have , our hearts are base. We can bring him the wealth of our love. We can bring him the music of our praise. We can bring him the devotion of our lives. Does his voice whisper to us from heaven, "It is well that it is in thine heart?" Does he smell the sweet savor of our sacrifice?
3. The counsel includes practical obedience . Obedience, if genuine, will be complete. It will embrace every known command. If we observe some commandments, and consciously neglect others, this is not obedience ; we are merely doing our own will. Whether we perceive the reason of the command or not, we shall honor it as oar Lord's will—as our Lord himself. No matter what compliance costs, we will give it. Ours not to reason why. True obedience is hearty, complete, perpetual.
III. THIS PASSAGE INDICATES IMMINENT PERILS .
1. Wealth often leads to fleshly indulgence . With abundance in our possession, it is easier to indulge the appetites than to deny them. Yet the higher life can only be developed at the expense of the lower. "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom."
2. Wealth breeds self-sufficient pride . It serves to weaken our sense of dependence upon God. When from our visible stores every felt need can be supplied, we are prone to forget the unseen Giver. Most men may well thank God that the temptations of wealth dwell not under their roofs. "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!" In the hot-bed of riches, the flower of sweet humility does not thrive.
3. Wealth loses sight of its own origin . It has a short memory for obligations. The millionaire soon forgets the days of poverty and struggle—forgets the Friend who succored him in his extremity—kicks away the ladder by which he rose. Riches naturally encumber and stifle the flame of religious feeling.
4. Riches beget in us false confidence . Like Nebuchadnezzar, we say, "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built?" We find a delicious pleasure in hearing our own skill and sagacity praised. The tide of natural feeling sets strongly towards self-trust.
5. Riches tend towards idolatry . In the days of poverty we did not object to be accounted singular; but in the time of wealth we aspire to do as others do. It is arduous to have to think for one's self, to rely upon one's own judgments, to pursue a course which men will ridicule. If others bow clown to their own net, or rear a popular idol, we too must bow down and worship it. Wealth has given us prominence, set us on high, and we must not risk our new reputation. It is easier to drift with the stream than to stem it.
6. Justice , with her balances and sword , is always nigh . No man can defraud God. If the Amorites were thrust out from the land because they had become flagrant idolaters, so also shall the Israelites if they become votaries of idols. As the Hebrews conquered the Canaanites, so did the Assyrians vanquish the Hebrews. One law shall prevail for all. If we have not been overwhelmed in one disaster, we may be overtaken suddenly by another minister of justice. Sin shall bear its own proper fruit. Every nation and every individual shall "go to his own place." From the summit of earthly magnificence to the lowest pit of misery, there is often a single step. "I saw," says Bunyan, "that there was a way to hell, even from the gate of the celestial city." "Be not highminded, but fear." Riches make a slippery descent to ruin.—D.
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
The dangers of wealth.
I. WEALTH IS DANGEROUS WITHOUT THE PREVIOUS TRAINING OF ADVERSITY . Those who, cradled in the lap of luxury, have never known struggle and difficulty are rarely persons of meek, humble, chastened dispositions. As rarely are those whose schemes have been so uniformly prosperous as to give color to the thought, "My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth." The former class lack moral fiber, are seldom competent to grapple with the problems of earnest life, shrink from action, and consequently fall an easy prey to the temptations of their wealth. The others are bold, daring, self-sufficient, and superior to religious considerations. They waive God aside from their plans and schemes—"I do not need that hypothesis"—and refuse to worship, honor, pray to, or serve him. Adversity, to a certain extent, tends to correct these faults. It teaches humility and dependence, proves the heart, and forms it to habits which enable it to use wealth rightly.
II. WEALTH IS DANGEROUS , EVEN WITH THE TRAINING OF ADVERSITY , UNLESS THE LESSONS OF ADVERSITY HAVE BEEN IMPROVED . Adversity, unhappily, does not always produce in men's hearts the salutary effects which philosophy assigns to it. It may harden instead of softening and subduing. Multitudes pass through it and are none the better. They are unyielding, unsubmissive, impenitent. They grow bitter in spirit, and accuse the God of heaven. In such a case the return of prosperity, or the gift of it, is no blessing. The heart gets haughtier than ever, and God is defied ( Obadiah 1:3 , Obadiah 1:4 ). It is a serious question for a nation to put to itself, after passing through a period of adversity, Is it morally the better for its sufferings? For, if not, the revival of prosperity will mean but the revival of the old follies, extravagances, and inflations—the very things which formerly led God to turn his frown upon it.
III. THERE IS A DANGER , WHEN WEALTH COMES , OF THE LESSONS LEARNED IN ADVERSITY BEING AGAIN FORGOTTEN . This is the peculiar danger apprehended in the text. Wealth has so subtle and ensnaring an influence, it draws the affections so stealthily away from God, that no temptation is to be compared with it in point of insidiousness. A threefold danger:
1. Undue elation of heart.
2. Forgetfulness of God.
3. A spirit of self-sufficiency and self-glorification.
The preventive lies in the cultivation of a thankful spirit ( Deuteronomy 8:10 ), and in the recollection that the power to get wealth is not of ourselves, but from God ( Deuteronomy 8:18 ). This is the root-error in the matter—stopping at second causes, putting nature and nature's laws, or our own wisdom, energy, and forethought, in place of him without whom we could not think a thought, move a muscle, or carry through to completion one of our purposes. Best preventive of all is the laying up of treasure in heaven; for, "where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" ( Matthew 6:19-22 ).—J.O.
God forgotten amid second causes.
The support of the wilderness was manifestly miraculous. They could not doubt their dependence there upon God. They might murmur even amid daily miracle, but they could not doubt it. It would be different in Canaan, and it is in view of this Moses warns them. There they would get sustenance in ordinary ways; and they might say that their own power, and not God's blessing, made them wealthy.
I. THERE IS A VERY GREAT TENDENCY TO FORGET GOD AMID THE ORDER OF NATURE . It is supposed God has nothing to do, because we get our supplies through steady "second causes." But God claims recognition when he blesses us through ordinary channels as well as when he blesses us through extraordinary. The natural order is either due to God or arranged itself. We have not credulity sufficient for the latter hypothesis, and must accept the former.
II. WHEN GOD ASKS US TO BE FELLOW - WORKERS WITH HIM , IT IS NOT TO BE ENGROSSED WITH OUR WORK AND TO IGNORE HIS . In the wilderness God fed them out of his own hand, so to speak. But in Canaan he directed them to work for their daily bread. They were raised from being "spoon-fed" to be "fellow-workers." The temptation in Canaan gas to think that their own hand and power had produced the wealth. It is the same still. From being fellow-workers with God, men, by mere forget fullness, pass into the delusion of being sole workers. Life is workable, they think, without God. Atheism is the principle underlying such a life.
III. THIS UNHOLY INDEPENDENCE OF SPIRIT IS THE SURE PRELUDE OF NATIONAL DECAY . It is not national "self-reliance" which serves a state, but national reliance upon God in the use of the means he has appointed. Nations that think they can get on alone are left at length to do so, and God-deserted they perish. The Canaanites were illustrating this in their own case. They should be a warning to Israel. Living without God in the world, depending on themselves, they were about to be removed violently from their ancestral scats. It was so afterwards with Israel. They were as a nation effaced from the land where they had been placed in probation. The captivity of the ton tribes was terrible, and so was that of Judah and Benjamin. It is this which nations must still guard against. God will not be ignored. If nations attempt it, they only efface themselves. Dying dynasties and scattered nations proclaim the existence and retribution of God.
IV. HOW NEEDFUL , THEN , TO RECOGNIZE GOD 'S HAND IN ALL THINGS ! The procession of nature—all that is beautiful in second causes, has come from him. The "First Cause" may surely be allowed to work through "second causes" without forfeiting his right to recognition and thanksgiving. Our times are largely atheistic, because our little knowledge of second causes affords such fussy occupation to us, that we have not taste or time to see the First Cause behind all and using all for his glory.—R.M.E.
The land on which they were about to enter is described as a good laud, fertile and well watered, and yielding abundant produce to its cultivators; and they are cautioned against forgetting, in their enjoyment of the gift, the bounty of the Giver, or congratulating themselves on having achieved the conquest of such a land, instead of gratefully acknowledging the grace which had sustained them during their protracted wandering in the wilderness, and by which alone they had been enabled to take possession of that favored land.