THE SECOND COVENANT.
(1) These are the words of the covenant.—The Hebrew Bibles add this verse to the previous chapter, and begin Deuteronomy 29 at the second verse. But they cannot be right in so doing. For though the pronoun “these” in Hebrew has nothing to determine whether it belongs to what precedes or to what follows, yet the context shows that the covenant is described in Deuteronomy 29, not in Deuteronomy 28 (See Deuteronomy 29:12-15 below). It is very significant that this “covenant in the land of Moab” stands outside the tremendous sanction appended to the expansion of the Sinaitic covenant in Deuteronomy. The effect of this arrangement may be illustrated by a reference to Leviticus 26, 27. The “sanction” of the law in Leviticus, which is a complete code of ceremonial and moral holiness, is contained in Deuteronomy 26. But that chapter is followed by a passage respecting vows, which are not compulsory, and therefore obviously lie, as a whole, outside that which is “commanded.” The position of Deuteronomy 29, 30 is analogous to that of Leviticus 27. Thus we see that the tremendous curse of the Sinaitic covenant is not the end of God’s dealings with the chosen people. After that, there is still another covenant, to the force of which there is no limit (see Deuteronomy 29:15 below). The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable. Nothing can destroy the relation between Jehovah and Israel. Their resurrection as a nation may well be described by the words of Moses in Psalms 90, “Thou turnest man to destruction (national death—Deuteronomy 28), and sayest (Deuteronomy 29, 30), Return, ye children of men (resurrection). For a thousand years in thy sight (though spent in the grave) are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night” (to be followed by the dawn of morning). “A watch in the night” is not the blackness of darkness for ever.
Beside the covenant which He made with them in Horeb.—It should be carefully noted that the formal repetition of the law in Moses’ second great discourse in this book opens with these words (Deuteronomy 5:2), “the Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb.” There is no real break in Deuteronomy from Deuteronomy 5:1 to the end of Deuteronomy 26 and Deuteronomy 27, 28 are the “sanction” of that covenant.
Ye have seen.—The pronoun is emphatic. Yourselves are witnesses. I need not repeat the story. (Comp. Deuteronomy 11:2-7.)
Neither have ye drunk wine or strong drink.—A fact stated here only, and evidently coming from the lips of one who “knew their walking through the wilderness.” “They drank of that spiritual rock that followed them; and that Rock was Christ.” God cared for their physical health and strength by the natural food which He gave them, and made their natural food represent the act of feeding upon Him. It is observable also that God seems to have especially blessed the abstinence from wine and strong drink for His sake in Israel. (See Lamentations 4:7.)
(7,8) See Deuteronomy 3:1-17.
From the hewer of thy wood unto the drawer of thy water.—From this Rashi infers that “there were Canaanites who became proselytes in the time of Moses, in the same way as the Gibeonites in the days of Joshua.” It may have been so. And we know that there were many female captives of the Midianites who became slaves. (See Numbers 31)
His oath.—A word here used for the first time in Deuteronomy. It is rendered “curse” in Deuteronomy 29:19-21. It seems to mean an imprecation in the name of God (comp. Leviticus 5:4; Genesis 24:41), which may bring a curse if the thing sworn to is not fulfilled.
Which the Lord thy God maketh with thee.—Maketh; literally, cutteth. The word refers to the “covenant.”
Their idols.—Either “great blocks,” or as in the margin, a term of extreme contempt. (See Leviticus 26:30, where the word first occurs. ) It is a favourite term with the prophet Ezekiel, who uses it four times as often as other writers in the Old Testament.
A root that beareth gall and wormwood.—The same two words occur in Lamentations 3:19, and one of them (gall) in Psalm 69:21. From whatever root it came, there was One to whom it was given to drink. The LXX. form of this expression, “lest there is among you any root that springeth up in gall and bitterness,” is incorporated into the warning in Hebrews 12:15 : “Looking diligently, lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled.”
To add drunkenness to thirst—i.e., the indulgence of the desire to the desire itself; to add sin to temptation. The LXX. have a strange paraphrase, “So that the sinner shall not involve the righteous with him in destruction.” The thought seems to be that, perhaps, one idolater would not make so much difference to Israel. He would never involve the whole nation in destruction. The drunkard could not be the ruin of the thirsty, so to speak, and, therefore, he might do as he pleased, and might, in fact, escape punishment, being protected by the general prosperity of Israel. The quotation in the Epistle to the Hebrews meets this mistaken view admirably: “Lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled.” The Targums render “to add sins of infirmity to sins of presumption,” a rendering which partly explains that of the LXX.
Shall lie upon him.—As the beasts lie down in their lairs. The only other place which we can at all compare with this is the difficult expression in Genesis 4:7, “Sin lieth at the door.”