Deu_13:6-11. If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers; namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth; thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him; but thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people, And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die; because he hath sought to thrust thee away from the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. And all Israel shall hear, and fear, and shall do no more any such wickedness as this is among you.
THERE is a striking difference between the laws of man and the laws of God: those which are framed by human legislators, proportion always the sanctions to the influence which crimes have upon the public welfare: whereas those enacted by our heavenly Lawgiver, mark with greater severity the evils which more immediately affect his own honour and glory. If one man robbed or maimed another, his law required only a four-fold restitution, or the infliction of a punishment precisely similar to the injury sustained: but if a man, even the dearest relative they had, should only propose to any of his people to worship another god in preference to Jehovah, he must instantly be brought before the magistrates, and, on conviction of the offence, be stoned to death.
It will be proper to consider this ordinance in a two-fold view;
As a temporary enactment—
This enactment, or law, appears at first sight to be severe: but we undertake to shew that it was,
Just, as it respected the individual—
[The greatest crimes against any human government are treason, and murder; and, by the general consent of mankind, the principals who are found guilty of those crimes are put to death. Now, in the tempting of men to idolatry, both these crimes were contained: there was treason against the King of kings; and there was murder, not indeed of the bodies, but of the souls, of men. The person who made the proposal, did by that very act endeavour to draw men from their allegiance to God, and to engage them on the side of God’s enemy and rival. And, as far as his endeavours were attended with success, he eternally destroyed all who complied with his solicitations. Now compare the crimes, and see whether those committed against God and the souls of men be not infinitely more heinous than those which reach no further than to human governments, and the bodily life: and, if they be, the justice of the punishment annexed to them will admit of no doubt: it will be just, that He whose throne we would subvert, should inflict upon us the penalty of death; and that they whom we would ruin for ever, should be made the executioners of that sentence.]
Merciful, as it respected the public—
[The Jews had been nurtured in the midst of an idolatrous nation; and, after their settlement in Canaan, they were surrounded with idolaters on every side. Moreover they were of themselves exceedingly addicted to idolatry. But the consequence of their departure from God would be, that they would bring his heaviest judgments upon them, and be reduced to a more calamitous condition than any people under heaven. But God was graciously pleased to put a barrier in their way, which, it might be hoped, they should never be able to pass. He not only annexed the penalty of death to an act of idolatry, but even to a proposal to commit that sin: yea, to prevent such a proposal from being ever made, he not only authorized, but commanded, the person to whom it was made, to give immediate information of it to the magistrates, and to be the first in inflicting the punishment of death. If the person making the proposal should be ever so dear to him, though it should be his own brother, or son or daughter, or even the wife of his bosom, or his friend that is as his own soul, he must make no difference; he must shew no respect of persons whatever: “Thou shalt not consent unto him, says God, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him; but thou shalt surely kill him:” all natural affection must be laid aside, and be swallowed up in a concern for God’s honour; and the man himself must become the informer, the witness, and the executioner, even where the delinquent is dearer to him than his own soul. What child, what wife, what friend, if he had conceived an idolatrous inclination in his heart, would dare to mention it, when the person to whom he should mention it was precluded from all exercise of mercy, and was constrained to proceed against him according to this law? Thus then provision was made to prevent the possibility, as it should seem, of the nation ever yielding to idolatry, or provoking God to abandon them according to the threatenings which he had denounced against them. We are informed in the text that the very execution of this law was designed to produce this salutary effect [Note: ver. 11.]; and therefore much more must the enactment of it be an expression of love and mercy to the whole nation.]
This law indeed was only temporary: it was to continue in force only during the continuance of the Jewish polity: but it is nevertheless most instructive to us,
As a lasting admonition—
To the very end of time it will speak loudly to us; it declares to us, in the strongest terms,
The evil of departing from God—
[The annexing of the penalty of death, and of so cruel a death as that of stoning, is of itself no slight intimation of the evil of idolatry: but the requiring a man to execute this sentence against the wife of his bosom, or the friend that is as his own soul: the requiring him to do it even on account of a mere proposal, though the proposal was never carried into effect; the not suffering him to overlook or conceal the matter, but constraining him instantly to enforce the law without pity; how was it possible for God himself to mark the evil of this sin in blacker colours, or to shew his abhorrence of it in a stronger manner, than by such an enactment as this? The command to destroy a whole city for idolatry was scarcely a more awful demonstration of his anger than this [Note: ver. 12–18.].
But it may be said, “This was idolatry, a sin to which we have no temptation.” It was idolatry: but permit me to ask, wherein the great evil of idolatry consists? Is it not in alienating our affections from God, and placing them on some creature? Is it not justly described by the Apostle as “loving and serving the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for evermore?” Is it not in this very view of the subject that covetousness is called idolatry, and that men are said to make “a god of their belly?” Is it not in this view that St. John says to all the Christian Church, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols?” What then does it signify, that we are not bowing down to stocks and stones, if there be idols enthroned in our hearts? God is equally provoked to jealousy, whether our idolatry be open and carnal, or secret and spiritual: and though he does not authorize man to proceed against us, he will take the matter into his own hand, and inflict upon us the punishment we deserve. It is in reference to this that St. Paul utters that severe denunciation against all who decline from their love to Christ; “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema maran-atha;” that is, His departure from Christ deserves the heaviest judgments; and though we are not now at liberty to inflict them, God surely and quickly will.
O that all who have waxed cold in their affections towards God, would lay this to heart! If God be not seated on the throne of our hearts and sweetly ruling and reigning there, the creature is: and whether the idol be pleasure, or riches, or honour, or any thing else, however excellent or however base, we are idolaters; and shall be made to feel, that “it is an evil and bitter thing to forsake the Lord;” yea, that “it were better never to have known him, than, after knowing him, to depart from him.”]
The danger of being accessory to any one’s departure from him—
[There are a variety of ways in which we may be instrumental in turning others from God. What if we scoff at religion, and deride the practice of it as folly or enthusiasm; do we not, in fact, say to those around us, “Come, let us serve other gods?” What if we exert our influence and authority to deter people from attending where the word is preached with fidelity and power, or from associating with the despised followers of Jesus; are we not yet more decidedly guilty of hostility to God? for when we only scoff at religion, we leave people an alternative; but when we set ourselves to intimidate men from following after God, we are no longer seducers, but persecutors. But, supposing we do not take so decided a part against God, yet, if all our fears are against excess in religion, and none against a defect in it, if all the advice we give is to shun the cross and avoid the shame of a religious profession, and none at all to “endure the cross and despise the shame,” whom is it that we serve? Can we with propriety be called the friends and servants of our God? No: Find us in all the sacred records one single servant of his that ever shewed such dispositions as these. I forget: we can find one: we remember Peter’s kind solicitude for his Master, and his affectionate expression of it too; “Master, spare thyself:” but we remember also the answer of Jesus to him; “Get thee behind me, Satan; thou art an offence unto me; for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.” Let me then warn friends and relatives of every description how they use their influence; lest, whilst they think that they are shewing kindness to man, they be found in reality fighting against God. Let me remind them, that, whether they succeed or not, their guilt is the same; they have made the proposal, and for that proposal they shall die: and would to God that the being stoned to death were the worst punishment they shall endure! but, alas! it were infinitely “better that a millstone were put about their neck, and that they were cast into the midst of the sea, than that they should offend one of God’s little ones:” it were better, I say; because they would lose only the bodily life: but in turning any one from God, they forfeit their own souls, and expose themselves to everlasting misery in hell. If friends would see what use they should make of their influence, the prophet will tell them; they should endeavour to draw one another nearer unto God; and should themselves endeavour to lead the way [Note: Zec_8:21.].]
The need we have of firmness and steadfastness in religion—
[No one can tell what temptations he may have to encounter, or from what quarter they shall spring, or how specious and powerful they may be. Perhaps the children whom we have fondled with delight, or the wife of our bosom, or the friend that is as our own soul, may be our tempters to decline from God, or the occasions of our yielding to temptation. Perhaps the suggestion may be so specious, that it shall appear to have come from a prophet of the Lord, and to have been confirmed by a sign from heaven [Note: ver. 1–5; 2Co_11:13-13.]. But our principles of religion should be so fixed, as to be incapable of being moved even by an angel from heaven [Note: Gal_1:8-9.]; and our practice of it should be so determined, that no considerations whatsoever should be able to make us swerve for one moment from the path of duty. The fate of the man of God who listened to the lying prophet, should teach us this [Note: 1Ki_13:18-24.]. Our rule is clear, and we should follow it without turning either to the right hand or the left [Note: ver. 4.].
But it will be asked, How shall I obtain this steadfastness? I answer, Compare the God whom you serve, with all the gods that are his rivals and competitors. This is the consideration by which God himself enforces that which might otherwise have appeared a sanguinary edict: he grounds the severity of his displeasure on the greatness of the mercies he had bestowed upon them [Note: ver. 10.]. But what were those mercies in comparison of the blessings he has conferred on you? Think from what a bondage you are redeemed; think by what means that redemption has been accomplished for you; think what an inheritance is purchased for you; and then say whether any thing in this world can have such a claim to your regards as the Lord Jesus Christ has. Only get your hearts impressed with a sense of his love, and the vanities of time and sense will be to you no more than the dirt under your feet. Only commit yourselves to Christ, “and be strong in the grace that is in him,” and you will find, that “neither angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus:” for “he is able to keep you from falling,” and “will preserve you blameless unto his heavenly kingdom.” Whatever then your temptations be, or from whatever quarter they may spring, I say to every one of you, “Hold fast that thou hast, and let no man take thy crown [Note: Rev_3:11.].”]