Deu_33:29. Happy art thou, O Israel: who is like unto thee, O people saved by the Lord, the shield of thy help, and who is the sword of thy excellency!
THE God of Israel is infinitely exalted above all the gods of the heathen: and though there cannot be any such disparity between one creature and another, as between the Creator and the creature, yet is there a wonderful difference between the people of God and all other people upon the face of the whole earth. This indeed is a necessary consequence of the former: for, if there be no god like the God of Israel, there can be no people like the Israel of God, since they, and they only, have Jehovah for their God. These truths are united in the passage before us: the former had been mentioned in a preceding verse [Note: ver. 26.]; and, in the text, the latter is declared, together with its dependence on the former.
From these words we shall consider,
The happiness of God’s people—
The manner in which Moses speaks on this subject is worthy of notice: we may observe in his address to Israel a strong persuasion of the truth he was uttering, an unfeigned delight in declaring it, and an affectionate solicitude, that they might both be persuaded of it themselves, and live in the comfortable enjoyment of it. He affirms that they were,
[It is God’s own declaration, “Happy art thou, O Israel!” and, if appearances were ever so unfavourable, we might be sure that his judgment was according to truth. But this testimony agrees with the experience of God’s people in every age. They are represented as possessing a “peace that passeth understanding,” and a “joy that is unspeakable and glorified.” Is it objected that they are also represented as mourning [Note: Mat_5:3-4.], as tempted [Note: Jam_1:2; Jam_1:12.], as persecuted [Note: Luk_6:22-23; 1Pe_4:14.]? True; yet none of these things interfere with their real happiness; yea, instead of destroying, they advance it [Note: See the passages just referred to.]. If then they can be happy in such situations as these [Note: Act_16:23-25.], and even derive happiness from these situations [Note: Act_5:41; 2Co_12:10.], they must be truly happy.]
[It is God himself who challenges all mankind to vie with his people; and this too, not in respect of privileges merely, or of prospects, but in respect of present enjoyments. Who are they that will presume to rival the Lord’s people? Ye great, ye rich, ye gay, what is your happiness, when compared with that which God’s Israel possess? Is not all your happiness mixed with gall? Is it not altogether dependent on the creature? Is it not cloying, even in the very possession? Do you not find it transient, and, on the whole, delusive, promising far more in the anticipation than it ever affords in the enjoyment? In all these things it is the very reverse of the Christian’s happiness. His, as far as it is derived from spiritual things, is unmixed: none can rob him of it, because none can intercept the visits of his God: no man was ever surfeited with spiritual delights: if we lived to the age of Methuselah, we might, by a retrospect, revive a sense of them in our souls: and, if our expectations be raised to ever so high a pitch, the reality will far exceed them. We will therefore confidently repeat the challenge, and say, as in the text, “Who is like unto thee, O people, saved by the Lord?”]
To shew that this is no enthusiastic conceit, we proceed to notice,
The grounds of their happiness—
It will soon appear that their blessedness is not a baseless fabric, if we consider,
What God has done for them—
[They are “a people saved by the Lord.” Salvation is not a blessing which they merely hope for, but which they already possess. They are saved from the guilt and punishment of sin: all “their iniquities are blotted out;” and there remains “no condemnation to them:” they are “complete in Christ;” they stand “before God without spot or blemish.” But great as this mercy is, they would not be truly happy, if they were not also saved from the power and dominion of sin. It is true, they yet carry about with them a “body of sin and death;” but they never commit iniquity as they were wont to do in their unregenerate state: they “cannot sin thus, because they are born of God, and his seed remaineth in them.” God has promised that “sin shall not have dominion over them;” and they experience the accomplishment of this promise to their souls, being “redeemed from all iniquity, and purified unto God a peculiar people zealous of good works [Note: Tit_2:14.].”
And is not this salvation a ground of happiness, more especially if we consider by whom it was procured, and by whom conferred? It was “the Lord,” even Jesus, who purchased our freedom from guilt; and it is “the Lord,” even the Holy Ghost, who vouchsafes us a deliverance from sin. Surely such a salvation, bought at such a price, and imparted by such an agent, cannot but be a source of unspeakable felicity to the soul.]
What God will be unto them—
[In vain would all past mercies be, if they were not secured to them by the continued agency of Jehovah. A vessel fitted out and freighted, would not more certainly be overwhelmed by storms, if destitute of a pilot, than man, however gifted, would become a prey to Satan, if he were not constantly aided and protected by his God. But Israel is happy in this respect also, since, notwithstanding he is yet upon the field of battle, he is placed, if we may so speak, beyond the reach of harm. He is not only furnished with defensive and offensive armour, but has God himself for his “shield,” and God himself for his “sword;” so that his enemies must elude Omniscience, before they can destroy him; and must withstand Omnipotence if they do not fall before him. Hence it is that he attains such “excellency,” and proves victorious in all his conflicts.
View the believer thus environed, and thus armed, and you may well say to him, “Happy art thou, O Israel! who is like unto thee?” for the salvation he already possesses, is a pledge and earnest of his everlasting triumphs.]
[To whom, besides the true Israel, can we venture to say, “Happy art thou?” Art thou happy, who, instead of having experienced salvation, art yet under the guilt and power of all thy sins; and, instead of having Jehovah for thy shield and thy sword, hast the almighty God for thine enemy? Deceive not thyself: thou mayest dream of happiness; but thou art in a pitiable condition. So far art thou from rivalling the happiness of Israel, thou art even inferior to the beasts that perish; and, if thou wert sensible of thy state, thou wouldest envy them their prospect of annihilation. Oh, if ever thou wouldest be happy, seek to be “saved by the Lord,” even by the blood and righteousness of the Lord Jesus, and by the sanctifying influences of his Spirit. What Moses said to his father-in-law, that would God’s people say to thee, “Come thou with us, and we will do thee good; for God has spoken good concerning Israel [Note: Num_10:29.].”
As for you who are of the true Israel, seek to be as distinguished for your holiness, as you are for your happiness. When we speak of your felicity, the world cannot understand us, because they are strangers to your feelings. But they can judge of holiness with some considerable degree of accuracy; and your superiority in this respect will be more effectual for their conviction, than all that can be said respecting the happiness of your state. Endeavour then so to live, that we may challenge the world to produce any persons comparable to you in holiness. Enable us to say with confidence, Who is like unto thee, O Israel? Who is dead to the world, as thou art? Who abounds in all holy duties, in all devout affections, in all amiable dispositions, like thee? This will silence those who call your happiness enthusiasm, and will convince them, that you are superior to others, “not in word and in tongue, but in deed and in truth.”]