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Moses explained the reasons God was giving Canaan to the Israelites. In addition to God’s promises to the patriarchs (Deuteronomy 9:5), God was using Israel as a broom to sweep away the spiritually and morally polluted Canaanites. Israel was His instrument of judgment. The people of God should not conclude that their righteousness was what merited God’s blessing. Essentially they were a stubborn people (Deuteronomy 9:6), unresponsive to God’s will, as the Canaanites had been. The expression "stiff-necked" pictures unwillingness to submit to the yolk of God’s sovereignty (cf. Exodus 32:9; Exodus 33:3; Exodus 33:5; Exodus 34:9; Isaiah 48:4). God’s choice to bless them was not due to their righteousness. Their righteousness was not essentially superior to that of the Canaanites. God’s choice rested on His purposes in electing Israel (Deuteronomy 9:5; cf. Ephesians 1:4).
Warning against self-righteousness 9:1-10:11
"From a literary standpoint Deuteronomy 9:1 to Deuteronomy 10:11 is a travel narrative much like Deuteronomy 1:6 to Deuteronomy 3:29, with which, in fact, it shares much in common. For example, both are introduced (Deuteronomy 1:1-5; Deuteronomy 9:1-6) and concluded (Deuteronomy 3:29; Deuteronomy 10:11) by a setting in the plains of Moab in anticipation of the conquest of Canaan." [Note: Merrill, Deuteronomy, p. 189.]
This pericope contains the second important lesson from the past.
"Secondly, any success they might enjoy in the coming conquest was not to be interpreted as a mark of divine approval for their own righteousness (Deuteronomy 9:1-6). In fact, both in the incident of the golden calf (Deuteronomy 9:7-21) and in a number of other incidents (Deuteronomy 9:22-23), Israel had proved herself stubborn and rebellious. She was delivered only after the intercession of Moses (Deuteronomy 9:24-29). Past experience should remind the people that they needed discipline for their rebellious ways. Yet through all their recalcitrance Yahweh remained faithful, even to the extent of granting them two more tables of stone when the first ones were broken (Deuteronomy 10:1-11; cf. Exodus 32:19; Exodus 34:1-4). All the experiences of the past would underline the fact that Israel was dependent on Yahweh for divine care, provision, protection, and forgiveness. To forget these facts was to display base ingratitude and self-deifying pride." [Note: Thompson, p. 134.]
"Besides the more vulgar pride which entirely forgets God, and attributes success and prosperity to its own power and exertion, there is one of a more refined character, which very easily spreads-namely, pride which acknowledges the blessings of God; but instead of receiving them gratefully, as unmerited gifts of the grace of the Lord, sees in them nothing but proofs of its own righteousness and virtue. Moses therefore warned the Israelites more particularly of this dangerous enemy of the soul, by first of all declaring without reserve, that the Lord was not about to give them Canaan because of their own righteousness, but that He would exterminate the Canaanites for their own wickedness (Deuteronomy 9:1-6); and then showing them for their humiliation, by proofs drawn from the immediate past, how they had brought upon themselves the anger of the Lord, by their apostasy and rebellion against their God, directly after the conclusion of the covenant at Sinai; and that in such a way, that it was only by his earnest intercession that he had been able to prevent the destruction of the people (Deuteronomy 9:7-24), and to secure a further renewal of the pledges of the covenant (Deuteronomy 9:25 -chap. x. 11)." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 3:334-35.]
Moses provided ample evidence of Israel’s stubbornness. Again he called the Israelites to remember their past (Deuteronomy 9:7). He gave their rebellion at Horeb extended attention in this address because it was a very serious offense. They followed reception of God’s greatest blessing, the revelation of Himself and His will, with immediate apostasy.
"The very finger of God [Deuteronomy 9:10]. This is a double figure of speech (1) in which God is ascribed human features (anthropomorphism) and (2) in which a part stands for the whole (synecdoche). That is, God, as Spirit, has no literal finger nor, if he had, would he write with his finger. Rather, the sense is that God himself-not Moses in any way-was responsible for the composition of the Ten Commandments (cf. Exodus 31:18; Exodus 32:16; Exodus 34:1)." [Note: The NET Bible note on 9:10.]
"To ’blot out the name’ [Deuteronomy 9:14] is, in the context of covenant disloyalty, tantamount to the Lord’s termination of his relationship with his people." [Note: Merrill, Deuteronomy, p. 193. Cf. Thompson, p. 140.]
Moses fasted for 40 days and nights following the Golden Calf incident, neither eating bread nor drinking water (Deuteronomy 9:18), which reflects his total dependence on God. Then Moses alluded to the failures at Taberah, Massah, Kibbroth-hattaavah, and Kadesh (Deuteronomy 9:22-29). He did not name these in chronological order but in the order of their importance, proceeding from the lesser to the greater offenses. This presentation should have had great rhetorical and persuasive impact on Moses’ original audience, and it should have the same effect on us. Moses also referred to God’s faithfulness to His people in their failures that further demonstrated how wicked these sins really were.
Moses returned in these verses to the rebellion at Sinai to illustrate further how Israel had no basis for boasting of her own righteousness before God. God had preserved Israel only because of His mercy and covenant faithfulness.
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 9". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19