Why I caused them to go forth out of the land of Egypt, and brought them into the wilderness.…
Wherefore I caused them to go forth out of the land of Egypt, etc. The chief teachings of this section of the chapter may be developed under the following heads.
I. THE KINDNESS OF GOD IN HIS DEALINGS WITH HIS PEOPLE. This is brought into our notice in four respects.
1. In the deeds which be wrought for them. "l caused them to go forth out of the land of Egypt, and brought them into the wilderness." Their emancipation from their oppressors was effected by the mighty hand of God, and of his unmerited grace to them. Our Lord Jesus is the great Deliverer from the serfdom of sin and Satan (cf. Isaiah 61:1; John 8:36).
2. In the gifts which he bestowed upon them.
(1) His Law. "And I gave them my statutes, and showed them my judgments, which if a man do, he shall live in them." Statutes and judgments express the general idea of law. This God gave to them at Sinai, soon after their deliverance from Egypt. And this Law was given for life unto them (cf. Exodus 20:12; Matthew 19:17; Romans 7:10, 12). "The precepts which God gave his people," says Hengstenberg, "bring life and salvation with them to him who does them. What grace in God, who gives such precepts! what a summons to true obedience! These precepts also imply before all things that they shall confess their sins and seek forgiveness in the blood of atonement. This is required by the laws concerning the sin offerings, which in the Mosaic Law form the root of all other offerings; the Passover, which so strictly requires us to strive after the forgiveness of sins, and connects all salvation with it and the great Day of Atonement."
(2) His sabbaths. "Moreover also I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctify them.' The sabbath was instituted by God, and was peculiar to Israel. It was a mutual sign between him and them. By establishing it amongst them the Lord sanctified them, separated them from the nations as a people chosen for himself; and by keeping it they manifested their allegiance to him and honoured him. By its institution he owned them as his people; by its observance they owned him as their God. By so doing they also promoted their best interests. How rich and manifold are God's gifts to us! Laws, ordinances, sabbaths, sanctuaries, religions ministries, his sacred Word; his beloved Son, his Holy Spirit!
3. In the forbearance which he exercised towards them. "Then I said, I would pour out my fury upon them in the wilderness, to consume them. But I wrought for my Name's sake," etc. (vers. 13, 14, 17). Many and extreme were the provocations of the Israelites in the wilderness. "How oft did they rebel against him in the wilderness, and grieve him in the desert!" More than once it seemed as though he would have destroyed them utterly, as they certainly deserved. Yet in wrath he remembered mercy. "He being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not," etc. (Psalm 78:38, 39). How frequently and grievously have we stoned against him! We too have tried his patience, have provoked him by our unfaithfulness, our rebelliousness, our perversity. Great has been his long suffering toward us (cf. Psalm 103:8-11; 2 Peter 3:9).
4. In the appeals which he addressed to them. God did not stand by (as it were), patiently bearing with them in their sin, yet making no effort to save them therefrom; but he appealed to them earnestly and repeatedly to keep his commands. "I said unto their children in the wilderness, Walk ye not in the statutes of your fathers," etc. (vers. 18-20). The reference in these verses is to the regiving of the Law in the plains of Moab, as recorded in the Book of Deuteronomy. That book is one great appeal, in many tones and by many arguments, to the younger generation to be true to the Lord their God. How graciously and powerfully God appeals to us in this Christian age! to our sense of duty and our sense of interest; by authoritative command and gracious persuasion; by strong fears and thrilling hopes; by his Divine Son and by his Holy Spirit.
II. THE PERSISTENT WICKEDNESS OF THE PEOPLE IN THEIR RELATION TO GOD, Three features of their wickedness are here exhibited.
1. Apostasy of heart. "Their heart went after their idols" (ver. 16); "Their heart was not right with him, neither were they faithful in his covenant" (Psalm 78:37). Their sin was not merely on the surface of their lives, but deeply rooted in their moral nature. "Out of the heart come forth evil thoughts, murders," etc. (Matthew 15:19); "Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life."
2. Rebellion of life. "'The house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness," etc. (ver. 13); "They despised my judgments," etc. (ver. 16). It is quite unnecessary to specify their rebellions, because they were so numerous. And the profanations of the sabbath must not be restricted to the attempt to gather manna on that day (Exodus 16:27-30), or to the case of the man who gathered sticks thereon (Numbers 15:32-36). God required them to sanctify the sabbath (Deuteronomy 5:12); to "hallow" it (ver. 20); "to consecrate it in every respect to him, and withdraw it wholly from the region of self-interest, of personal sinful inclination;" and as they failed to keep it thus, they profaned it. Failing to sanctity it by reverent worship and hearty service, they are charged with desecrating it. And it behoves us earnestly to endeavour to preserve the Lord's day for the promotion of the bent interests of man and the supreme honour of God. Its secularization would be an irreparable loss and injury to man.
3. Successiveness in sin. "The children rebelled against me," etc. (ver. 21). The younger generation were tar from being so wicked as their fathers (Joshua 24:31); they were also far from being true and faithful in their relation to the Lord their God. Scott says truly "that the generation that entered Canaan was the best which there ever was of that favored nation." Yet they frequently rebelled against the Lord. What a lamentable successiveness in sin there has been in the generations of our race! Real advance certainly has been made; but still sin, dark and prevalent, has characterized every generation of mankind.
III. THE DIVINE RETRIBUTION ON ACCOUNT OF THE SINS OF THE PEOPLE.
1. The nature of this retribution. The elder generation was excluded from the promised land because of their unbelief and rebellion against God and against the leaders whom he had chosen. "I lifted up my hand unto them in the wilderness, that I would not bring them into the land which I had given them." etc. (vers. 15, 16; and cf. Numbers 14:26-35; Psalm 106:24-26). They disbelieved God's word of promise, and they should not share in its fulfilment; "they despised the pleasant land," and they were not allowed to enter therein; they wished that they had died in the wilderness, and in the wilderness they died. And as to the younger generation, their retribution is thus described: "I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live," etc. (vers. 25, 26). "The 'judgments whereby they should not live' are those spoken of in ver. 18, and are contrasted with the judgments in vers. 13, 21, laws other than Divine, to which God gives up those whom he afflicts with judicial blindness, because they have wilfully closed their eyes (Psalm 81:12; Romans 1:24)" ('Speaker's Commentary'). Hengstenberg says, "We may compare here Romans 1:24, according to which God, in just retribution for their revolt, gave over the heathen to vile affections; Acts 7:42, where it is traced back to God that the heathen served the h, st of heaven; and 2 Thessalonians 2:11, where God sends the apostates strong delusions. God has so constituted human nature that revolt from him must be followed by total darkness and disorder; that no moderation in error and sin, no standing still at the middle point, is possible; that the man, however willing he might be to stand still, must, against his will, sink from step to step. Revolt from God is the crime, excess in error and moral degradation the merited doom, from which all would willingly escape if this were in their power. By way of example, the custom of sacrificing children is mentioned in ver. 26. 'To cause to pass through' the fire (ver. 31; cf. ch. 16:21; 23:37) is the current phrase for sacrificing children which were offered to Moloch. Into such a detestable custom did God in his righteous judgment permit them to fall, that the merited punishment might come upon them ('that I might lay them desolate'), by which they learn that their paternal God, whom they set at nought, is God in the full sense, whom to forsake is at once to fall into misery."
2. The design of this retribution. "To the end that they might know that I am the Lord." (See our notes on these words in Ezekiel 6:7, 10; Ezekiel 7:4.) We must every one be brought to know him, either by the way of his grace or by the way of his judgments. - W.J.
Parallel VersesKJV: Wherefore I caused them to go forth out of the land of Egypt, and brought them into the wilderness.