Enduring Word Bible Commentary Deuteronomy Chapter 9 (2024)

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. You are to cross over the Jordan today: Israel was on the threshold of the Promised Land, and was only a few weeks from the miracle God would use for the crossing of the river (Joshua 3).

i. “This was spoken about the eleventh month of the fortieth year of their journeying, and it was on the first month of the following year they passed over; and during this interim Moses died.” (Clarke)

b. Go in to dispossess nations greater and mightier than yourself: God was leading Israel into a challenge beyond their ability to meet. It was a test that they could only meet if they trusted in God.

c. Cities great and fortified up to heaven: This was the same report Israel heard 38 years before when the 12 spies went through Canaan. They came back saying, the cities are fortified and very large and that the inhabitants were strong (Numbers 13:28). When Israel heard this report 38 years earlier, they refused to take Canaan by faith. The new generation would now face the same enemies, trusting God to fulfill His promise.

i. God did not inspire Israel with a false sense of confidence or excitement. He wanted them to realistically know what the battle ahead would be like. Jesus called His disciples with a similar sense of realism. Jesus said, If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me (Matthew 16:24). Jesus warned potential disciples of the great cost of following Him.

ii. This was so far beyond the natural ability of Israel that they were compelled to trust God in a radical way. This was not something just beyond their ability, and half-measures of faith were of no use.

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 conquering Canaan in their own strength, they were also to understand the certainty of victory in the LORD.

b. The LORD your God is He who goes over before you as a consuming fire. He will destroy them: God could conquer the Canaanites, and He would fight for Israel. In some battles, God did this directly (Joshua 10:10-11, 14). In other battles, God worked through Joshua and the army of Israel. This is implied in the promise, you shall drive them out and destroy them quickly. God was calling Israel to be workers together with Him (2 Corinthians 6:1).

i. “Almost in the same breath, Moses said that Israel would drive out the inhabitants (Deuteronomy 9:3) and that the Lord would have driven them out, indicative again that Israel’s abilities were from the Lord. At best they were the Lord’s instruments.” (Kalland)

c. 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 poses, as well as male idols associated with hom*osexual 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 would first appear in their thoughts. Before men speak proud words, they think proud thoughts. Therefore, Israel must not think in their heart that it was because of their righteousness that the LORD gave them the land. Instead, it was because of the wickedness of the Canaanite nations.

i. The same principle is true regarding the salvation of God’s people by grace through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Believers must never think that they have gained their right standing before God because of their own righteousness.

ii. John Trapp recorded several sayings or proverbs of the ancient world that 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, God’s people must look to the righteousness of Jesus alone.

iii. “In these words, another peril…is revealed, that, namely, of interpreting His goodness to them as resulting from their own righteousness. In the case of these very people, in process of time this was the particular sin that wrought their undoing. They came to look with contempt upon others, a sure sign of self-righteous pride.” (Morgan)

b. For you are a stiff-necked people: The idea is that Israel, like a rebellious domestic animal used to pull things, would stiffen its neck against the yoke God would put upon it. They would not submit to God’s direction in their lives.

i. “‘Stiff-necked’ is a metaphor for stubbornness, one suggesting unwillingness to submit to the yoke of God’s sovereignty.” (Merrill)

B. The stiff-necked character of Israel was 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. 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. They needed to remember that the entire exodus journey had been marked by times of rebellion.

b. You have been rebellious against the LORD: Remembering their past rebellions against God and the painful consequences that followed could help Israel live out a poverty of spirit that Jesus said was an important foundation for 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 32).

i. I stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights. I neither ate bread nor drank water: “This clearly miraculous sojourn gives tangible support to Moses’ own observation that ‘man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord’ (Deuteronomy 8:3).” (Merrill)

b. Written with the finger of God: The original tablets of the law Moses received on Mount Sinai were written by God Himself (Exodus 32:16) and contained the Ten Commandments. God spoke the Ten Commandments to Israel on the mountain from the midst of the fire (Exodus 20:1, 18, 19).

i. “The tables of stone or tables of the covenant were the ‘documents’ on which the covenant was recorded. This was in the manner of the Near Eastern treaties where the treaties were recorded on tablets.” (Thompson)

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 days straight, and they were burning at the very time Israel made a golden calf and began to worship it.

i. Made for yourselves a molded calf: “The animal was not intended as an object of worship but as a symbol of the deity. In some examples in the ancient Near East animals appear alone, but the context suggests that they symbolize a deity. The attempt to symbolize Yahweh’s presence among his people by a golden calf could only lead to deep confusion.” (Thompson)

e. I took the two tablets and threw them out of my two hands and broke them before your eyes: In anger at the rebellion of Israel against Yahweh, Moses broke the tablets that were written on by the finger of God (Exodus 32:19).

i. “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 favour, 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 Moses saw the sin of Israel and knew the holiness of God, he was very afraid for the sake of the people of Israel.

g. I prayed for Aaron also: Aaron’s sin, detailed in Exodus 32:1-6, was so bad, that he surely would have been destroyed in judgment by the LORD – except Moses prayed for him. Moses was a man with prevailing power in prayer, and a man who loved his brother Aaron.

i. “Moses’ intercession for Aaron is not mentioned in Exodus…. even Israel’s High Priest had to be snatched from judgment, according to Deuteronomy.” (Thompson)

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 (Exodus 32:20) for at least three reasons.

· To show this god was nothing and could be destroyed easily.

· To completely obliterate the idol.

· To make the people suffer 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 this refers to events recorded in Numbers 11:1-3. 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, miraculously provided meat became plagued in the mouths of those with greedy and discontented hearts (described in Numbers 11:31-34).

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 unbelief, the failure to believe Him. They did not believe God loved them and was mighty enough to bring them into the Promised Land. Taken together, the events and places mentioned in these verses show Israel’s long history of rebellion against God in the wilderness (from the day that I knew you).

i. “In every case Israel questioned God’s plan for her life. They neither believed his promises nor obeyed his commands.” (Thompson)

ii. “Catalogues should be kept of our sins, and oft perused, yea, though they be pardoned, that we may renew our repentance, and keep our souls humble, supple, and soluble.” (Trapp)

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 32:11-14. Moses asked for mercy upon Israel because of God’s past faithfulness to them (whom You have redeemed).

i. “His work as an intercessor was outstanding. Indeed, the biblical picture is that, had it not been for Moses’ selfless intercession and God’s merciful forbearance, the nation would have been destroyed.” (Thompson)

ii. “This prayer of Moses (Deuteronomy 9:19–20) is one of the most critical interventions in Israel’s history (Exodus 32:9–14). Another prayer of the same dimension was Samuel’s at Mizpah (1 Samuel 7:5, 8–9). The Lord reminded Jeremiah of these extraordinarily efficacious prayers when he told him that his heart would not go out to Judah in the last days of the empire (Jeremiah 15:1).” (Kalland)

b. Remember Your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: Moses asked for mercy upon Israel because of God’s past faithfulness to the patriarchs.

i. “As if he had said: ‘These are their descendants, and the covenant was made with those patriarchs in behalf of these.’ God bestows many blessings on comparatively worthless persons, either for the sake of their pious ancestors, or on account of the religious people with whom they are connected.” (Clarke)

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. In many ways, Moses could speak to God referring to Israel as belonging to Him.

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. We can pray with confidence:

· 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.

© 2017-2024 TheEnduring WordBible Commentary by David Guzik –ewm@enduringword.com

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Enduring Word Bible Commentary Deuteronomy Chapter 9 (2024)
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