Rev. VanOverloop is pastor of Byron Center Protestant Reformed Church in Byron Center, Michigan.
“When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the LORD thy God for the good land which he hath given thee. Beware that thou forget not the LORD thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgments, and his statutes, which I command thee this day.”
National holidays may and can be properly observed by the Christian. Christians in Canada (on October 8) and those in the United States (on November 22) observe their national holidays of Thanksgiving Day by gathering in worship services in order to bless and worship Jehovah, their God. The focus of the day is gratitude for material things, especially for the harvest.
Our text is one of many that call believers to express their gratitude to God for the material things of this earth on which we are dependent. We are admonished not to forget God for the physical and material blessings He gives to His children. Because it is so easy to take these blessings for granted, we are specifically warned about forgetting Him when it comes to material and earthly blessings.
Moses is informing Israel that the land of Canaan, into which they are about to enter, is a land of plenty. It was a good land, with plenty of water and fertile soil, with already cleared and planted fields and fully prepared vineyards. They would be moving into houses already built and furnished, with wells already dug. Further, Moses promises that in this land their possessions would multiply: their flocks, their silver and gold, and everything else they had. They would lack nothing, eating bread without scarceness.
This prosperity would be in marked contrast to the deprivations they endured as slaves in Egypt and during their forty-year experience in the wilderness after they were delivered from Egypt. While they had been very well cared for, never lacking, it was without plenty. But now they would experience a sharp and quick contrast, and they must be mentally and spiritually prepared to handle this great change.
In the old dispensation, God used types and shadows, physical and earthly things to picture spiritual and heavenly realities. God used the physical prosperity of the land of Canaan as a picture and type of His rich, spiritual blessings. The material abundance of Canaan was part of the blessings of God’s covenant. Canaan’s prosperity was an outward sign of God’s favor toward His people, which is the greater, spiritual blessing. God brought them out of Egypt and through the wilderness precisely to bring them to this land. In Canaan God would dwell with Israel as their God and bless them with every good blessing. In addition, Canaan’s prosperity was a picture of the fullness of blessings in heaven.
The church of God in western civilization at the beginning of the twenty-first century also enjoys great plenty. Spiritually we have been delivered from the bondage of sin. Presently we are being led through the spiritual wilderness of this life. We will be brought into the heavenly Canaan, which will be filled with the boundless riches of divine grace. In our pilgrimage through this spiritual wilderness we presently have been given a great plenty of material possessions. In the new dispensation, earthly plenty does not typify God’s blessing as it did in the old. Nevertheless, like Israel, we must learn how to use our plenty properly. We learn that whatever God gives to His children in His love and grace is to be used and enjoyed with thanksgiving (confer I Tim. 4:4, 6:17b).
In our text Moses warns that the great and serious danger that comes with material prosperity is that of forgetting Jehovah our God. Just as poverty and adversity have their dangers, so prosperity has its dangers (confer Prov. 30:8, 9). Thankfulness is not natural for our natural man. Only the Holy Spirit can enable one to be thankful to the Giver.
The specific danger of prosperity is that our hearts are easily lifted up. Moses warned about this: “…when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied: then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the LORD thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage” (Deut. 8:13, 14). When we are not in conscious need of daily necessities, then we are inclined not to be conscious of our dependence on God. We tend to forget Him when our every physical need is easily satisfied. It is not that we want to forget Him and that we do so deliberately; but the abundance of our necessities takes away the consciousness of need. Also, prosperity can intoxicate (slowly), so that we trust in riches rather than in the living God who gave the prosperity to us. Paul admonished Timothy to warn those who “are rich in this world, that they be not high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy” (I Tim. 6:17). Keep your eyes on the Giver, not on the gifts.
The other danger is that we are inclined to take credit for the prosperity, claiming that we obtained it with our might or by our efforts. “And thou say in thine heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth” (Deut. 8:17). Proverbs 30:9 explains that when we are full, then we are inclined to deny God and say, “Who is Jehovah?” as if we do not need Him. When it is easy to obtain what we need, then we tend to rely on ourselves and not on our God. Then we begin to imagine sinfully that our abundance is the result of our efforts. This is what God calls “high-minded” in I Timothy 6:17.
This forgetting is the forgetting from where we have come (our “natural face,” in James 1:23, 24). We forget that spiritually we came from the poverty of slavery (Satan’s) in spiritual Egypt and in the wilderness of want. And we forget that physically we were born with nothing (“naked,” Job 1:21), so all that we have has been freely given to us. When we remember our origin, then we realize that all that we presently have is ours by gift.
Our text admonishes us that when we have eaten and are full, then we are to bless Jehovah, i.e., speak beautiful words to our God and about Him. We bless God by thanking Him, by acknowledging again and again that He is the Giver of it all. We thank Him when we remember that He has given us all of our plenty. We thank Him when we remember that He gave us this plenty as the God of intimate friendship. He has saved us from the slavery and bondage of sin, miraculously preserving and guiding us through the wilderness of this life.
We bless Jehovah our God by sanctifying and enjoying all the material possessions He has given us. We do this by striving to remember that they are gifts from Him, each and every moment that we have them. We do this by not letting them distract us from the keeping of His commandments, the essence of which is that we love Him with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength. We do this by sharing our possessions with others and by giving to the various kingdom causes.
We bless Jehovah our God by realizing that He is the One against whom we sin with our lack of proper gratitude. So we ask Him to forgive us. Then He assures us of gracious forgiveness and declares again that we are righteous in Christ. Then we thank Him the more. Bless Jehovah, your God!