The Happy People!
William Nicholson, 1862
"Happy are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD? He is your shield and helper and your glorious sword. Your enemies will cower before you, and you will trample down their high places!" Deuteronomy 33:29
The lips of the dying often utter the most weighty and interesting truths. The expressions of a dying man, and especially of a dying Christian, have frequently made a deep and lasting impression.
Moses was ordered to ascend Mount Nebo to die. Before his death, he blessed the twelve tribes of Israel — and at the close of this chapter he describes the happiness of the Israelites, verse 26-29. The conduct of Moses in blessing the tribes, etc., very much resembles the conduct of the Prophet like unto Moses, who prayed for, and advised his disciples the evening before his crucifixion.
The language of the text is descriptive of the Incomparable Happiness of God's People. As the children of Israel were a chosen nation, and distinguished in many respects from all the nations of the earth — so the people of God are distinguished from the wicked . . .
by the work of grace on their hearts,
by the love and care of the Almighty, and
by the hope of glory which inspires them.
The various particulars in the text, so descriptive of the happiness of the Israelites, are applicable to God's people now. Consider, then,
I. They were happy in Their Name.Denominated "Israel." This name implies, "A prince with God — or prevailing with God." It was given to Jacob. Genesis 32:30. It is applied to the whole of his descendants; and it is frequently used for the universal Church, who are the true Israel of God, Isaiah 45:17, 25; Galatians 6:16. "It is not as though God's word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel." Romans 9:6. "A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code!" Romans 2:28-29
Such a name implies:
1. That God has chosen and prepared them to be his people. This is an infinite honor.
2. He has privileged them with communion with himself. Through Christ they can prevail with God to grant them the blessings they require. See John 14:13; 15:16.
II. They Were Happy as a Saved People."O people saved by the Lord." They were delivered from the bondage of Egypt by Divine power — they were saved from famine in the wilderness. Great indeed was their salvation as a nation. "He gave Egypt for their ransom," and threw all their hosts into the Red Sea.
God gave his only-begotten Son for the ransom of his people. John 3:16. He has delivered them from Satan's yoke and dominion — he has turned away from them the curse, and delivered them from the wrath to come. They now rejoice in the pardon of sin, etc. etc.
They are a saved people, and invested with all the privileges of God's people.
Taking no merit to themselves they say, "May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!" Galatians 6:14
III. They Were Happy in Being Divinely Helped in Every Time of Need."He is your shield and helper and your glorious sword!"
Look back at the context "Your shoes shall be iron and brass. As your days — so shall your strength be." verse 25, and verse 26-28. These declarations, combined with the text, imply the following —
1. Divine protection. "He is your shield and helper." All God's attributes, if requisite, shall be employed to protect the redeemed. They, like a shield, shall preserve the righteous from danger. "Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield," Genesis 15:1; Psalm 84:11; "If God is for us — then who can be against us?"
2. Divine security. "The eternal God is your refuge," verse 27. Was not this verified, again and again, as they passed through the wilderness?
How important is the harbor of refuge to the storm-tossed mariner! How valuable the cities of refuge to the manslayer of old! But much more valuable is the divine refuge to the Church. In affliction, persecution, temptation, when assailed by fears, the "name of the Lord is a strong tower — the righteous run into it and are safe!" "God is their hiding-place," Psalm 116:7; 32:7.
The everlasting arms shall support the Church that it shall not sink. Underneath the Church is the Rock of Ages, Matthew 16:18. In trouble believers may often be — yet "everlasting arms" are underneath them to bear up their spirits, 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 sustained and kept cheerful in the worst of times.
3. The conduct of Divine Providence in the supply of their needs. verse 28. Their bread and their water shall be sure. If God cared for his people then, so as to provide them with temporal abundance in Canaan — then will he not also supply the bodily wants of his people now? See Matthew 6:24-30, etc.
4. Strength and equipment for warfare. "Your shoes shall be iron and brass. As your days — so shall your strength be." The way may be rough, hard, and difficult; but the strength to be imparted to your soul by my Spirit, will enable you to surmount all. "Your feet shall be shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace." Ephesians 3:16.
IV. They are happy in the prospect of a Complete Conquest Over All Their Enemies."Your enemies will cower before you, and you will trample down their high places." Deuteronomy 33:29
With an excellent sword, God arms his people. It is called "the sword of the Spirit," Ephesians 6:17, because it comes from the Spirit, and receives its fulfillment in the soul through the operation of the Spirit. An ability to use this on necessary occasions, as in times of temptation and trial, cannot fail to repulse the enemy. "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." Hebrews 4:12. This word penetrates deeper into the soul than any sword; it destroys the love of sin, and effectually resists sin, the world, and Satan. With this sword, Christ defeated the Evil One. "It is written . . ." Matthew 4:7.
"He is your glorious sword!" God is the strength and author of all their victories. He makes them to excel, and gloriously conquer and triumph over their enemies. How excellent does the Christian appear when, by the use of this sword, he escapes the pollutions of the world — when he rises superior to it — when by it he slays his enemies! How excellent does he appear in a dying hour! How excellent at the day of judgment! "The righteous is more excellent than his neighbor." Revelation 2:7, 17; 3:5.
"Your enemies will cower before you." Who said you should never be able to gain possession of the good land; but I will conduct you there, to their utter disappointment and dismay.
"You will trample down their high places," their towers, their fortresses, their cities, though strongly fortified, and apparently impregnable.
And, Christian, has not your fearful heart often told you that you should utterly fail? Has not Satan suggested to your mind that you were under delusion, and would be rejected at last? Have not persecutors mocked and taunted you, traduced your character, misrepresented your motives, called you an enthusiast, fanatic, etc.? Have not infidels assailed your faith? O Christian, do not be afraid! "The triumphing of the wicked is short!" You shall overcome. And when at the last day they see you accepted by Him whose smile is Heaven, and whose frown is death — they will say to the mountains, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!" Revelation 6:16.
V. They Are Happy in Their Ultimate Arrival in the Land or Canaan.They passed through the wilderness — Canaan was enjoyed. The promise was fulfilled. They trod upon their high places — God thrust out the enemy before them, verse 27.
Just so, God will guide his people in a right path to the city of habitation. He will "guide them by his counsel, and afterwards receive them to glory!" By and by, he will say, "Enter into the joy of your Lord." "Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world!" Matthew 25:34. And O what a kingdom is that! What a vast, glorious, rich inheritance! "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him!" 1 Corinthians 2:9
1. Such is the happiness of God's Israel. It is ineffable, inconceivable. "Who is like unto you?" O incomparable people! Talk not of the wealth of empires, or crowns of kings!
2. How destitute and miserable, is the state of sinners!
3. Pray to be made Israelites indeed. God can take you out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and engraft you into Christ the good olive tree, that you may partake of the sap and fatness of the root.