To give emphasis to this warning, Moses holds up the future dispersion of the nation among the heathen as the punishment of apostasy from the Lord.
If the Israelites should beget children and children's children, and grow old in the land, and then should make images of God, and do that which was displeasing to God to provoke Him; in that case Moses called upon heaven and earth as witnesses against them, that they should be quickly destroyed out of the land. “Growing old in the land” involved forgetfulness of the former manifestations of grace on the part of the Lord, but not necessarily becoming voluptuous through the enjoyment of the riches of the land, although this might also lead to forgetfulness of God and the manifestations of His grace (cf. Deu 6:10., Deu 32:15). The apodosis commences with Deu 4:26. הֵעִיד, with בְּ and the accusative, to take or summon as a witness against a person. Heaven and earth do not stand here for the rational beings dwelling in them, but are personified, represented as living, and capable of sensation and speech, and mentioned as witnesses who would raise up against Israel, not to proclaim its guilt, but to bear witness that God, the Lord of heaven and earth, had warned the people, and, as it is described in the parallel passage in Deu 30:19, had set before them the choice of life and death, and therefore was just in punishing them for their unfaithfulness (cf. Psa 50:6; Psa 51:6). “Prolong days,” as in Exo 20:12.
Jehovah would scatter them among the nations, where they would perish through want and suffering, and only a few (מִסְפָּר מְתֵי, Gen 34:30) would be left. “Whither” refers to the nations whose land is thought of (cf. Deu 12:29; Deu 30:3). For the thing intended, see Lev 26:33, Lev 26:36, Lev 26:38-39, and Deu 28:64., from which it is evident that the author had not “the fate of the nation in the time of the Assyrians in his mind” (Knobel), but rather all the dispersions which would come upon the rebellious nation in future times, even down to the dispersion under the Romans, which continues still; so that Moses contemplated the punishment in its fullest extent.
There among the heathen they would be obliged to serve gods that were the work of men's hands, gods of wood and stone, that could neither hear, nor eat, nor smell, i.e., possessed no senses, showed no sign of life. What Moses threatens here, follows from the eternal laws of the divine government. The more refined idolatry of image-worship leads to coarser and coarser forms, in which the whole nature of idol-worship is manifested in all its pitiableness. “When once the God of revelation is forsaken, the God of reason and imagination must also soon be given up and make way for still lower powers, that perfectly accord with the I exalted upon the throne, and in the time of pretended 'illumination' to atheism and materialism also” (Schultz).
From thence Israel would come to itself again in the time of deepest misery, like the prodigal son in the gospel (Luk 15:17), would seek the Lord its God, and would also find Him if it sought with all its heart and soul (cf. Deu 6:5; Deu 10:12).
“In tribulation to thee (in thy trouble), all these things (the threatened punishments and sufferings) will befall thee; at the end of the days (see at Gen 49:1) thou wilt turn to Jehovah thy God, and hearken to His voice.” With this comprehensive thought Moses brings his picture of the future to a close. (On the subject-matter, vid., Lev 26:39-40.) Returning to the Lord and hearkening to His voice presuppose that the Lord will be found by those who earnestly seek Him; “for (Deu 4:31) He is a merciful God, who does not let His people go, nor destroy them, and who does not forget the covenant with the fathers” (cf. Lev 26:42 and Lev 26:45). הִרְפָּה, to let loose, to withdraw the hand from a person (Jos 10:6).