9. For the Lord’s portion is his people. This is the main point, that God was moved by nothing but His own good pleasure to make so much of this people, who had been derived from a common origin with all others: for when he says, that Jacob was the portion of Jehovah, and the lot of His inheritance, he does not mean that there was anything better in them than in others, but he assigns the reason why God preferred this one nation to the rest of mankind; viz., because He took it to Himself as His hereditary portion, which dignity depends upon His gratuitous election.
10.He found him in a desert land. If the intention of Moses had been to record all the instances of God’s paternal kindness towards the people, he must have commenced from the time of Abraham; like the prophet who, when presenting a complete narrative in the Psalm, begins from that original covenant, which God had made with the fathers, (<19A508>Psalm 105:8;) and also introduces the benefits which He had conferred upon them, when they were but few in number, and strangers in the land, when they went from one nation to another, yet he suffered no man to do them wrong, and reproved kings for their sakes. (<19A514>Psalm 105:14.) But Moses, studying brevity, deemed it sufficient to bring forward a more recent and more notorious blessing; nay, he omits the early part of their deliverance, and only makes mention of the desert, he says, then, that God found them in the desert; not because He then first began to take pity upon them, since they had been previously rescued from the tyranny of Pharaoh by His marvelous power, and had passed the Red Sea dry-shod, but because it was profitable for them to have set before their eyes how they had been extricated from the deep abyss of death, in order that they might more readily acknowledge this to have been, as it were, the beginning of their life. For what was that waste and barren desert, in which not a crumb of bread, nor a drop of water was to be found, but a grave to swallow up a thousand lives? and, therefore, it is further called “the devastation of horror.” f259 The suae is, that it was a kind of type of resurrection, not from one death only, but from innumerable deaths, that the people should have escaped from it in safety. That they should have done so, even had their march through it been straight and speedy, could not have been the case without a miracle; but, inasmuch as they wandered therein for forty years, our minds can hardly comprehend a hundredth part of the miracles (which followed one upon the other. f260) Thus the word “led about,” is not superfluous, for God’s power was far more conspicuous than as if they had flown swiftly through the air. I apply the same meaning to what follows, “he instructed him;” for some, in my opinion improperly, refer it to the Law, f261 whereas it rather relates to the teaching of experience. For there was manifold, and no ordinary instruction in all these acts of bounty and punishment, wherein God, as it were, put forth His hand, and manifested His glory.
Two similitudes follow, to express God’s love, mingled with solicitude more than paternal. First, he says, that God no less anxiously protected them from all injury and annoyancethan every one is wont to protect the pupil of his eye, which is the most tender part of the body, and against the injury of which the greatest precautions are taken. And David also, when requesting that he may be kept safe under the special guardianship of God, uses the same expression. (<191708>Psalm 17:8.) Secondly, God compares Himself to an eagle, which not only fosters her young ones under her outspread wings, but also indulgently, and with maternal tenderness tempts them to fly. It would be unseasonable to enter here into more subtle philosophical discussions respecting the nature of the eagle. The Jews, who are wont to trifle hazardously with things they do not understand, have invented fables respecting this passage, which have no relation to the meaning of Moses, who unquestionably spoke of the eagle as he might of any other bird. Nor can it be doubted but that Christ, when He compares Himself to a hen, desired to express the same sedulous care.
“How often (he says) would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (<402337>Matthew 23:37.)
If, however, any should choose to apply here, what Aristotle writes respecting the eagle, I would not stand in his way: although I do not think Moses had anything in his mind, beyond what the words naturally express. And, surely that which at once occurs to us ought to be sufficient for us, viz., that we ought to be ravished with just. admiration of God’s inestimable goodness and indulgence, when He condescends so to stoop to us as to protect us with His wings, like a bird, and, hovering before us, to instruct and accustom us to follow Him: in which latter words a more than maternal anxiety to teach us is represented.
12.So the Lord alone did lead hive. This is spoken by anticipation, in order to take away every pretext from the Israelites, provided they should seek, according to their custom, to mingle their superstitions with the pure service of God. For, when they were bringing in, from all quarters, gods of various nations, this was the excuse they commonly made, that God was not thus despoiled of His due honor: and hence it came to pass, that they permitted themselves to heap together a multitude of false gods, whom they worshipped as their patrons. But Moses anticipates them, and declares that God, as having no need of external aid, had not associated with Himself any strange gods in His preservation of the people. Hence it follows, that whatever gods the people introduced, they transferred to them the honor due to the one true God. Let us then learn from this passage, that, unless God be served without a rival, religion is altogether perverted by the impious admixture.
13.He made him ride on the high places. Theirs is but a frivolous imagination, who suppose that Judea was so called as being the navel or center of the earth; f262 it is more likely that it was called high in reference to Egypt; and, indeed, it is by no means an unusual expression, that those who go into Egypt, are said to go down, and those who come into Judea to come up. Still I am rather disposed Lo think that by height he denotes its excellency; inasmuch as that land, on account of its illustrious endowments, was, as it were, the most noble theater in the world.
Moses celebrates its fertility, when he says that the people sucked honey from the rock and oil from the stones: for he means to indicate, that no part of it was unproductive, since they gathered honey from the rocks, and upon them also the olive grew. The same is the intention of the other figures, that they ate “butter of kine, and milk of sheep;” bywhich he signifies that the land was full of rich pastures. By “fat of lambs,” he undoubtedly means the plumpness of their flesh, because it was not lawful to eat their actual fat; but it is not unusual to denote by this word any kind of richness, as soon afterwards he calls the best meal or flour, from which the more delicate kind of bread was made, “the fat of wheat.” With respect to the wine, he magnifies God’s liberality by the use of a poetic figure, when he says they drank of the blood of the grape. There is no doubt but that he alludes to its color; yet he takes occasion to extol more highly the beneficence of God, by intimating that, when the juice of the grapes is expressed, it is just as if their blood flowed forth for the nutriment of men. Since, then, the metaphor is taken from the redness of wine, I have not hesitated to translate the epithet rmj, chamer, at the end of the verse, red.f263From many passages it appears to have been very delicious; and in <232702>Isaiah 27:2 the word rmj, chamer, is used for a vine of great preciousness and of exquisite flavor. Those who render it pure, have rather taken into consideration the fact, than the signification of the word.