Deuteronomy 9 – The Battles Ahead and the Failures Behind
A. Considering the battles ahead.
1. (1-2) The difficulty of the battles ahead.
Hear, O Israel: You are to cross over the Jordan today, and go in to dispossess nations greater and mightier than yourself, cities great and fortified up to heaven, a people great and tall, the descendants of the Anakim, whom you know, and of whom you heard it said, “Who can stand before the descendants of Anak?”
a. Go in to dispossess nations greater and mightier than yourself: God was leading Israel into something too big for them. It was a challenge they could only meet if they trusted in God.
b. Cities great and fortified up to heaven: The cities they would battle against were mighty and the people they would battle against were great and tall. Yet God had called them to enter into this seemingly impossible battle.
i. There was no way Israel could do this in the flesh, or on their strength. God commanded them to do something that was just beyond their ability to do in themselves.
ii. Obviously, God did not inspire Israel with a false sense of confidence or hype. He wanted them to realistically know what the battle ahead would be like.
iii. In the same way, Jesus never calls us with hype or false promises that would lead to false confidence. He plainly says, If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. (Matthew 16:24) Jesus let us know right from the beginning that following Him would require giving God everything.
2. (3) Why victory is possible with the difficult battles ahead.
Therefore understand today that the LORD your God is He who goes over before you as a consuming fire. He will destroy them and bring them down before you; so you shall drive them out and destroy them quickly, as the LORD has said to you.
a. Understand today: Just as much as Israel had to understand the impossibility of the battle on their own, they also must understand the certainty of victory in the LORD.
b. The LORD your God is He who goes before you as a consuming fire. He will destroy them: It was a battle too big for Israel, but not too big for the LORD. Israel could know both facts: That in themselves, the job was impossible (without Me you can do nothing, John 15:5), but in God the battle could not be lost (I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, Philippians 4;13).
c. He will destroy them: God was also calling Israel to a partnership in winning the battles. He will destroy them does not contradict you shall quickly drive them out and destroy them quickly. Was God going to do it, or was Israel going to do it? Both, really – God was calling Israel to be workers together with Him (2 Corinthians 6:1).
d. Destroy them quickly: God did not want the Israelites to show mercy to the Canaanites. He wanted Israel to be a unique army of judgment against the Canaanites and their culture, which was so depraved that it deserved this kind of judgment.
i. Archaeologist William F. Albright, in his book From the Stone Age to Christianity, describes what the primary focus of Canaanite religion was: sex. The featured idols recovered by archaeologists are hundreds of nude female forms in sexually suggestive forms, as well as male idols associated with homosexual cults (From the Stone Age to Christianity, pages 232-235).
ii. “Thus the Canaanites, with their orgiastic nature-worship, their cult of fertility in the form of serpent symbols and sensuous nudity, and their gross mythology, were replaced by Israel.” (Albright, page 281).
3. (4-6) The danger of pride when the LORD gives them victory.
Do not think in your heart, after the LORD your God has cast them out before you, saying, “Because of my righteousness the LORD has brought me in to possess this land”; but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out from before you. It is not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart that you go in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD your God drives them out from before you, and that He may fulfill the word which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Therefore understand that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stiff-necked people.
a. Do not think in your heart: Israel’s temptation to pride did not come in something they would actually say. Long before we will say proud words we think proud thoughts in our heart. Therefore, Israel must not think in their heart that it was because of their righteousness that the LORD has given them the land.
i. This is a preview of salvation by grace through faith, in which we cannot think that it is our righteousness that has obtained it. Instead, it is the righteousness we have received in Jesus Christ.
ii. When we receive any gift from God, we are tempted to take it and use it to glorify ourselves. Israel must not do this in regard to the gift of the Promised Land, and we must not do it in regard to any gift the LORD would give us.
iii. Sayings or proverbs of the ancient world reflect man’s desire to earn his own righteousness and justification before God. “I will not have heaven for nothing” said one, and another said, “Give me heaven, for Thou owe it to me.” The same idea is expressed in an old Roman Catholic teaching that dying men should pray, “LORD, join my righteousness with Christ’s righteousness” as if the two together could accomplish something. Instead, we look to the righteousness of Jesus alone.
b. For you are a stiff-necked people: The idea is that Israel, like a rebellious domestic animal, would stiffen its neck against the yoke God would put upon it. They would not submit to God’s direction in their life.
i. Stiff-necked “is a figurative expression for stubborn, intractable, obdurate, and hardheaded.” (Kalland)
B. The stiff-necked character of Israel is demonstrated in their past failures.
1. (7) A call to remember their past rebellions.
Remember! Do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness. From the day that you departed from the land of Egypt until you came to this place, you have been rebellious against the LORD.
a. Remember and do not forget: God’s purpose in reminding Israel of their rebellions against Him was not to discourage them or to make them feel defeated. The purpose was so that they would recognize their own weakness and trust in Him.
b. You have been rebellious against the LORD: The same idea is communicated in the New Testament at 1 Corinthians 10:12: therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. When we remember our sinful nature, we walk in the poverty of spirit Jesus said was essential to a life of blessing (Matthew 5:3).
2. (8-21) Remembering the rebellion at Mount Horeb.
Also in Horeb you provoked the LORD to wrath, so that the LORD was angry enough with you to have destroyed you. When I went up into the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant which the LORD made with you, then I stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights. I neither ate bread nor drank water. Then the LORD delivered to me two tablets of stone written with the finger of God, and on them were all the words which the LORD had spoken to you on the mountain from the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly. And it came to pass, at the end of forty days and forty nights, that the LORD gave me the two tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant. Then the LORD said to me, “Arise, go down quickly from here, for your people whom you brought out of Egypt have acted corruptly; they have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them; they have made themselves a molded image.” Furthermore the LORD spoke to me, saying, “I have seen this people, and indeed they are a stiff-necked people. Let Me alone, that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven; and I will make of you a nation mightier and greater than they.” So I turned and came down from the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire; and the two tablets of the covenant were in my two hands. And I looked, and behold, you had sinned against the LORD your God; had made for yourselves a molded calf! You had turned aside quickly from the way which the LORD had commanded you. Then I took the two tablets and threw them out of my two hands and broke them before your eyes. And I fell down before the LORD, as at the first, forty days and forty nights; I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all your sin which you committed in doing wickedly in the sight of the LORD, to provoke Him to anger. For I was afraid of the anger and hot displeasure with which the LORD was angry with you, to destroy you. But the LORD listened to me at that time also. And the LORD was very angry with Aaron and would have destroyed him; so I prayed for Aaron also at the same time. Then I took your sin, the calf which you had made, and burned it with fire and crushed it and ground it very small, until it was as fine as dust; and I threw its dust into the brook that descended from the mountain.
a. Also in Horeb you provoked the LORD to wrath: This recalls the events at Mount Sinai, where Israel worshipped a golden calf when Moses was gone a long time on Mount Sinai, receiving the law from the LORD (Exodus 19-32).
b. Written with the finger of God: The original tablets of the law Moses received on Mount Sinai were actually written by God Himself and contained the Ten Commandments (all the words which the LORD had spoken to you on the mount from the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly, found in Exodus 20).
c. I will make of you a nation mightier and greater than they: God told Moses of His desire to wipe out Israel in judgment, and to start over again with a new nation, descended from Moses himself.
d. The mountain burned with fire: The burning fires on Mount Sinai were physical representations of the glory of God and His holy presence. The mountain began to burn when Israel first came to Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:18). Those fires had burned for 40 straight days, and they burned at the very time Israel made a golden calf and began to worship it.
e. I took the two tablets and threw them out of my two hands and broke them before your eyes: Moses broke the tablets, “Not by an unbridled passion, but in zeal for God’s honour, and by direction of God’s Spirit, to signify to the people, that the covenant between God and them contained in those tables was broken and made void, and they were now quite cast out of God’s favor, and could expect nothing from him but fiery indignation and severe justice.” (Poole)
f. For I was afraid: The Hebrew word here is a rare word, translated in the Septuagint by the strong word ekphobos, which means “exceedingly frightened” or “stricken with terror.” When he saw the sin of Israel and knew the holiness of God, Moses was very afraid for the sake of the people of Israel.
g. I prayed for Aaron also: Aaron’s sin, detailed in Exodus 32, was so bad, that he surely would have been destroyed by the LORD – except Moses prayed for him. This shows both the prevailing power of Moses’ prayer and the great love in the heart of Moses.
h. Burned it with fire and crushed it and ground it very small: Moses burnt the idol, ground it up, and sprinkled it in the people’s drinking water for three reasons.
· To show this god was nothing and could be destroyed easily.
· To completely obliterate this idol.
· To make the people pay an immediate consequence of their sin.
3. (22-24) Parenthesis: remembering the rebellions at Taberah, Massah, Kibroth Hattaavah, and Kadesh Barnea.
Also at Taberah and Massah and Kibroth Hattaavah you provoked the LORD to wrath. Likewise, when the LORD sent you from Kadesh Barnea, saying, “Go up and possess the land which I have given you,” then you rebelled against the commandment of the LORD your God, and you did not believe Him nor obey His voice. You have been rebellious against the LORD from the day that I knew you.
a. Also at Taberah: The name Taberah means “burning,” and in Numbers 11, when the people of Israel first left Mount Sinai to head towards Kadesh Barnea and the Promised Land, they immediately complained, and God sent fires of judgment against them at a place they called Taberah because of the burning fires of God’s judgment.
b. And Massah: Exodus 17:7 describes the naming of a place called Massah, which means “tempted,” because there Israel provoked the LORD by doubting His loving care and concern for them in the wilderness.
c. Kibroth Hattaavah: The name means “graves of craving” and was the place where Israel longed for meat instead of manna, and God gave them meat. However, it became plagued in the mouths of those with greedy and discontent hearts (described in Numbers 11).
d. When the LORD sent you from Kadesh Barnea: Moses briefly remembered the rebellion at Kadesh Barnea, where Israel doubted God’s love for them and refused to enter the Promised Land by faith – rebelling against the LORD (Numbers 13-14).
e. You did not believe Him nor obey His voice: Israel’s disobedience to God began with their unbelief. They did not believe God loved them and was mighty enough to bring them into the Promised Land.
4. (25-29) Moses’ prayer of intercession for Israel when they rebelled at Mount Horeb.
Thus I prostrated myself before the LORD; forty days and forty nights I kept prostrating myself, because the LORD had said He would destroy you. Therefore I prayed to the LORD, and said: “O Lord GOD, do not destroy Your people and Your inheritance whom You have redeemed through Your greatness, whom You have brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Remember Your servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; do not look on the stubbornness of this people, or on their wickedness or their sin, lest the land from which You brought us should say, ‘Because the LORD was not able to bring them to the land which He promised them, and because He hated them, He has brought them out to kill them in the wilderness.’ Yet they are Your people and Your inheritance, whom You brought out by Your mighty power and by Your outstretched arm.”
a. Therefore I prayed to the LORD: This great prayer of intercession from Moses is described more fully in Exodus 32. Moses asked for mercy upon Israel because of God’s past faithfulness to them (whom You have redeemed).
b. Remember Your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: Moses asked for mercy upon Israel because of God’s past faithfulness to the patriarchs.
c. Lest the land from which You brought us should say, “Because the LORD was not able”: Moses asked for mercy upon Israel because of concern for the glory of God’s own name and His reputation among the nations.
d. Your people… Your inheritance… You brought out… Your mighty power… Your outstretched arm: Moses asked for mercy upon Israel because they were God’s people.
i. We can seek the mercy and power of God through prayer by praying with the same heart and by pleading the same reasons before the LORD. Prayer on solid reasons like these is far more effective than merely casting wishes up towards heaven.
· Because of God’s past faithfulness to us.
· Because of His past faithfulness to our forefathers.
· Because of His own glory and reputation among the nations.
· Because we are His people.
ii. Keeping these things in mind is also a way to refine our prayers. When we pray only for the things consistent with God’s glory, we have our hearts set on the right things.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission