Deuteronomy 8 COMMENTARY (Ellicott)

Deuteronomy 8
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
All the commandments which I command thee this day shall ye observe to do, that ye may live, and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the LORD sware unto your fathers.

(1) All the commandments.—Perhaps this verse should be placed at the conclusion of the preceding paragraph rather than at the commencement of the next. The second verse of this chapter introduces a fresh branch of the subject.

That ye may . . . go in and possess.—This does not refer simply to the passage of Jordan and the first conquest under Joshua so much as to that work of possession in detail which Joshua left for Israel to do after their first establishment in the country. On this distinction, see Joshua 13:1; Joshua 13:7 (Note).

And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no.

(2) And thou shalt remember.—The whole of the remainder of this exhortation, to the end of Deuteronomy 10, is chiefly taken up with this topic. Israel must remember (1) the leading of Jehovah, and (2) their own rebellious perversity in the journey through the wilderness. The same recollection is made the occasion for a separate note of praise in Psalm 136:16 : “To him which led his people through the wilderness; for his mercy endureth for ever.”

The way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years.—Not so much the literal journey, but “the way:” i.e., the manner. The details of the actual journey are of course included, but only as incidents of “the way.” In the Acts of the Apostles the Christian life is in several passages called “the way.” In all these things the Israelites were types of us.

To humble thee, and to prove thee.—The way in itself is described as “three days’ journey into the wilderness,” so far as the leading to Sinai is concerned (Exodus 3:18), and “eleven days’ journey from Horeb to Kadesh-barnea” (Deuteronomy 1:2). It was in the power of Jehovah to bring Israel from Egypt to Canaan, had He so willed it, without delay, in a very little time. And just so with “the way” of salvation. There is no intrinsic or necessary impossibility in the immediate turning of mankind, or of any individual, from darkness to light. And this change might be followed by immediate removal from “this present evil world” into the place which Christ has gone before to prepare for us. But manifestly the formation of human character by probation and training would vanish in such a process as this. There could be no well-tried and deliberate purpose to serve our Creator and Redeemer in any of us—or, at least, no proof of our deliberate preference for His service—under such circumstances. Nor, again, could there be that humility which arises only out of self-knowledge. The transitory nature of all mere human resolutions and impressions for good demonstrates to the man who knows himself, better than anything else could do, the power and patience of his Redeemer, and the moral cost of his redemption. This human transitoriness and feebleness is strikingly illustrated by the story of the Exodus.

To know what was in thine heart.—“To know” is not simply that He might know (“Hell and destruction are before the Lord; how much more then the hearts of the children of men! “), but that the knowledge may arise—to determine, disclose, discover. So in 2 Chronicles 32:31 : “God left him (Hezekiah) to try him, to know all that was in his heart.” What God Himself knows by omniscience He sometimes brings to light by evidence for the sake of His creatures. (Comp. Ephesians 3:10 : “To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by (by means of) the church the manifold wisdom of God.”)

And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live.
(3) And he . . . suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee.—A process naturally humbling. He might easily have fed them without “suffering them to hunger.” But He did not give them the manna until the sixteenth day of the second month of the journey (see Exodus 16:1; Exodus 16:6-7); and for one whole month they were left to their own resources. When it appeared that the people had no means of providing sustenance during their journey, “they saw the glory of the Lord” in the way in which He fed them; and for thirty-nine years and eleven months “He withheld not His manna from their mouth.”

Manna, which thou knewest not.—Its very name (but see Note on Exodus 16:15) commemorates the fact “unto this day.” All the natural things which have been called manna (and Dr. Cunningham Geikie, in “Hours with the Bible,” has described several) do not afford the least explanation of the bread which God gave Israel to eat.

That man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord.—Not here alone, but throughout the Law, as in the Gospel, we are taught that life is to do the will of God. Our Saviour called that “My meat.” What the visible means of subsistence may be is a secondary matter. Man’s life is to do the will of God: “My commandments, which, if a man do, he shall even live in them.” “He that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.”

But the special interest of these words arises from our Lord’s use of them in the hour of temptation. He also was led forty days (each day for a year of the Exodus) in the wilderness, living upon the word of God. At the end of that time it was proposed to Him to create bread for Himself. But He had learnt the lesson which Israel was to learn; and so, even when God suffered Him to hunger, He still refused to live by His own word. He preferred that of His Father. “And the angels came and ministered unto Him.” It is noticeable that all our Lord’s answers to the tempter are taken from this exhortation upon the Decalogue in Deuteronomy 6-10.

Thy raiment waxed not old upon thee, neither did thy foot swell, these forty years.
(4) Thy raiment waxed not old upon thee.—The Jewish commentators say that it grew with their growth, from childhood to manhood. We cannot say that anything miraculous is certainly intended, though it is not impossible. It may mean that God in His providence directed them to clothe themselves in a manner suitable to their journey and their mode of life, just as He taught them how to make and clothe His own tabernacle with various fabrics and coverings of skin. This tabernacle, which was God’s dwelling, was (like the Temple) a figure of man. (Comp. Ezekiel 16:10 : “I clothed thee also with broidered work, and shod thee with badgers’ skin.”)

Neither did thy foot swell.—Just as those who were to die in the wilderness could not live, so those who were to enter Canaan were preserved in health through the journey thither. It seems allowable to point out the spiritual interpretation of the passage also. If “the way” that God leads any of His children through this present evil world should seem long, and should entail constant need of renewal and cleansing in His sight, He provides us with “raiment that waxes not old,” in the everlasting righteousness of His Son, and also in the good works which He prepares for us to walk in—that “fine linen which is the righteousness of saints.” He also says of those that wait on the Lord that they shall “walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

Thou shalt also consider in thine heart, that, as a man chasteneth his son, so the LORD thy God chasteneth thee.
(5) As a man chasteneth his son.—This is the foundation of many similar sayings in Holy Scripture: Proverbs 13:24, “He seeketh chastening for him,” i.e., seeks it early. All our ideas of training necessarily imply time; it cannot be done in a moment. But the main point of the illustration is to prove God’s love. “Whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth;” else, why should He be at the pains to chasten at all?

Therefore thou shalt keep the commandments of the LORD thy God, to walk in his ways, and to fear him.
For the LORD thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills;
(7) For the Lord thy God bringeth thee into a good land.—The description in this and the following verses is most attractive; but it is a long time since any one has seen Palestine in that condition. Its desolation, no less than its beauty, is a proof of the truth of the Divine word.

Of fountains and depths that spring out.—Rather, that go forth in the valley and on the hill. The watercourse down the mountain-side, and the deep lake or still pool below, are both described here.

A land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olive, and honey;
A land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness, thou shalt not lack any thing in it; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills thou mayest dig brass.
(9) Whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills thou mayest dig brass.—We do not hear of mining operations in Palestine from sacred history. “Brass,” i.e., copper; and so in all passages.

When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the LORD thy God for the good land which he hath given thee.
(10) When thou hast eaten.—Literally, and thou shalt eat and be satisfied, and shalt bless the Lord thy God. There is a saying in the Talmud (Berachoth, p. 35a.), “It is forbidden to any man to take any enjoyment from this present world without thanksgiving; and every one who does so is a transgressor.”

Beware that thou forget not the LORD thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgments, and his statutes, which I command thee this day:
(11) Beware that.—From Deuteronomy 8:11 to Deuteronomy 8:18 inclusive is one long sentence in the Hebrew, and may be taken thus: “Take heed to thyself lest thou forget Jehovah thy God (so that thou keep not, &c.); lest thou eat and be satisfied (while thou buildest, &c.); and thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget Jehovah (thy deliverer, thy leader, thy sustainer), and say in thine heart, My power, &c.; and (take heed) that thou remember Jehovah thy God, that it is He that giveth thee power to get wealth,” &c. The caution is prophetic, as may be seen by the following examples:—

“When Rehoboam had . . . strengthened himself, he forsook the law of the Lord, and all Israel with him” (2 Chronicles 12:1).

“But when he (Uzziah) was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction” (2 Chronicles 26:16).

“Hezekiah rendered not again according to the benefit done unto him; for his heart was lifted up” (2 Chronicles 32:25).

Other instances might easily be added.

Lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein;
(12) Hast built goodly houses.—One of the conditions prescribed by Jonadab the son of Rechab to his family was, “All your days ye shall dwell in tents; that ye may live many days in the land where ye be strangers” (Jeremiah 35:7).

And when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied;
Then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the LORD thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage;
Who led thee through that great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water; who brought thee forth water out of the rock of flint;
(15) The rock of flint.—The rock in Horeb is called tsûr; the rock smitten in Kadesh, selagh. The first word conveys the idea of “hardness”; the other is rather a “cliff,” or “height,” and suggests the idea of inaccessibility. In Numbers 20:10, the words of Moses to the rebels, “Must we fetch you water out of this rock?” seem to help the distinction, whatever its purpose may be. On the associations of the word tsûr with flint, see Note on Joshua 5:2. The word challâmîsh, here used for flint, occurs in Deuteronomy 32:13, Job 28:9, Psalm 114:8 (an allusion to this passage), and Isaiah 1:7.

Who fed thee in the wilderness with manna, which thy fathers knew not, that he might humble thee, and that he might prove thee, to do thee good at thy latter end;
And thou say in thine heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth.
But thou shalt remember the LORD thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day.
And it shall be, if thou do at all forget the LORD thy God, and walk after other gods, and serve them, and worship them, I testify against you this day that ye shall surely perish.
As the nations which the LORD destroyeth before your face, so shall ye perish; because ye would not be obedient unto the voice of the LORD your God.
(20) Because ye would not be obedient.—In return for your disobedience. The same word is employed in Deuteronomy 7:12. The use of the word in these two places might fairly be taken to mark off the intervening portion as a complete section of the discourse.

Courtesy of Open Bible