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Warning Against Self-Righteousness, Founded upon the Recital of Their Previous Sins - Deuteronomy 9-10:11
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 (Deut 9:7-24), and to secure a further renewal of the pledges of the covenant (Deut 9:25-10:11).
Warning against a conceit of righteousness, with the occasion for the warning. As the Israelites were now about to cross over the Jordan (“this day,” to indicate that the time was close at hand), to take possession of nations that were superior to them in size and strength (the tribes of Canaan mentioned in Deuteronomy 7:1), and great fortified cities reaching to the heavens (cf. Deuteronomy 1:28), namely, the great and tall nation of the Enakites (Deuteronomy 1:28), before which, as was well known, no one could stand ( התיצּב , as in Deuteronomy 7:24); and as they also knew that Jehovah their God was going before them to destroy and humble these nations, they were not to say in their heart, when this was done, For my righteousness Jehovah hath brought me in to possess this land. In Deuteronomy 9:3, היּום וידעתּ is not to be taken in an imperative sense, but as expressive of the actual fact, and corresponding to Deuteronomy 9:1, “thou art to pass.” Israel now knew for certain - namely, by the fact, which spoke so powerfully, of its having been successful against foes which it could never have conquered by itself, especially against Sihon and Og - that the Lord was going before it, as the leader and captain of His people ( Schultz: see Deuteronomy 1:30). The threefold repetition of הוּא in Deuteronomy 9:3 is peculiarly emphatic. “ A consuming fire: ” as in Deuteronomy 4:24. ישׁמידם הוּא is more particularly defined by וגו יכניעם והוּא , which follows: not, however, as implying that השׁמיד does not signify complete destruction in this passage, but rather as explaining how the destruction would take place. Jehovah would destroy the Canaanites, by bring them down, humbling them before Israel, so that they would be able to drive them out and destroy them quickly “ מהר , quickly, is no more opposed to Deuteronomy 7:22, 'thou mayest not destroy them quickly,' than God's not delaying to requite (Deuteronomy 7:10) is opposed to His long-suffering” ( Schultz). So far as the almighty assistance of God was concerned, the Israelites would quickly overthrow the Canaanites; but for the sake of the well-being of Israel, the destruction would only take place by degrees. “ As Jehovah hath said unto thee: ” viz., Exodus 23:23, Exodus 23:27., and at the beginning of the conflict, Deuteronomy 2:24.
When therefore Jehovah thrust out these nations before them ( הדף , as in Deuteronomy 6:19), the Israelites were not to say within themselves, “ By (for, on account of) my righteousness Jehovah hath brought me (led me hither) to possess this land.” The following word, וּברשׁעת , is adversative: “ but because of the wickedness of these nations,” etc. - To impress this truth deeply upon the people, Moses repeats the thought once more in Deuteronomy 9:5. At the same time he mentions, in addition to righteousness, straightness or uprightness of heart, to indicate briefly that outward works do not constitute true righteousness, but that an upright state of heart is indispensable, and then enters more fully into the positive reasons. The wickedness of the Canaanites was no doubt a sufficient reason for destroying them, but not for giving their land to the people of Israel, since they could lay no claim to it on account of their own righteousness. The reason for giving Canaan to the Israelites was simply the promise of God, the word which the Lord had spoken to the patriarchs on oath (cf. Deuteronomy 7:8), and therefore nothing but the free grace of God, - not any merit on the part of the Israelites who were then living, for they were a people “of a hard neck,” i.e., a stubborn, untractable generation. With these words, which the Lord Himself had applied to Israel in Exodus 32:9; Exodus 33:3, Exodus 33:5, Moses prepares the way for passing to the reasons for his warning against self-righteous pride, namely, the grievous sins of the Israelites against the Lord.
He reminded the people how they had provoked the Lord in the desert, and had shown themselves rebellious against God, from the day of their departure from Egypt till their arrival in the steppes of Moab. את־אשׁר , for אשׁר , is the object to תּשׁכּח ( Ewald, §333, a.): “ how thou hast provoked.” המרה , generally with את־פּי (cf. Deuteronomy 1:26), to be rebellious against the commandment of the Lord: here with עם , construed with a person, to deal rebelliously with God, to act rebelliously in relation to Him (cf. Deuteronomy 31:27). The words “ from the day that thou camest out,” etc., are not to be pressed. It is to be observed, however, that the rebellion against the guidance of God commenced before they passed through the Red Sea (Exodus 14:11). This general statement Moses then followed up with facts, first of all describing the worship of the calf at Horeb, according to its leading features (Deuteronomy 9:8-21), and then briefly pointing to the other rebellions of the people in the desert (Deuteronomy 9:22, Deuteronomy 9:23).
“ And indeed even in Horeb ye provoked Jehovah to wrath.” By the vav explic. this sin is brought into prominence, as having been a specially grievous one. It was so because of the circumstances under which it was committed.
When Moses went up the mountain, and stayed there forty days, entirely occupied with the holiest things, so that he neither ate nor drank, having gone up to receive the tables of the law, upon which the words were written with the finger of God, just as the Lord had spoken them directly to the people out of the midst of the fire, - at a time, therefore, when the Israelites should also have been meditating deeply upon the words of the Lord which they had but just heard, - they acted so corruptly, as to depart at once from the way that had been pointed out, and make themselves a molten image (comp. Ex 31:18-32:6, with chs. Deut 24:12-31:17). “ The day of the assembly,” i.e., the day on which Moses gathered the people together before God (Deuteronomy 4:10), calling them out of the camp, and bringing them to the Lord to the foot of Sinai (Exodus 19:17). The construction of the sentence is this: the apodosis to “ when I was gone up ” commences with “ the Lord delivered unto me,” in Deuteronomy 9:10; and the clause, “ then I abode,” etc., in Deuteronomy 9:9, is a parenthesis. - The words of God in Deuteronomy 9:12-14 are taken almost word for word from Exodus 32:7-10. הרף (Deuteronomy 9:14), the imperative Hiphil of רפה , desist from me, that I may destroy them, for לּי הנּיחה , in Exodus 32:10. But notwithstanding the apostasy of the people, the Lord gave Moses the tables of the covenant, not only that they might be a testimony of His holiness before the faithless nation, but still more as a testimony that, in spite of His resolution to destroy the rebellious nation, without leaving a trace behind, He would still uphold His covenant, and make of Moses a greater people. There is nothing at all to favour the opinion, that handing over the tables (Deuteronomy 9:11) was the first beginning of the manifestations of divine wrath ( Schultz); and this is also at variance with the preterite, נתן , in Deuteronomy 9:11, from which it is very evident that the Lord had already given the tables to Moses, when He commanded him to go down quickly, not only to declare to the people the holiness of God, but to stop the apostasy, and by his mediatorial intervention to avert from the people the execution of the divine purpose. It is true, that when Moses came down and saw the idolatrous conduct of the people, he threw the two tables from his hands, and broke them in pieces before the eyes of the people (Deuteronomy 9:15-17; comp. with Exodus 32:15-19), as a practical declaration that the covenant of the Lord was broken by their apostasy. But this act of Moses furnishes no proof that the Lord had given him the tables to declare His holy wrath in the sight of the people. And even if the tables of the covenant were “in a certain sense the indictments in Moses' hands, accusing them of a capital crime” ( Schultz), this was not the purpose for which God had given them to him. For if it had been, Moses would not have broken them in pieces, destroying, as it were, the indictments themselves, before the people had been tried. Moses passed over the fact, that even before coming down from the mountain he endeavoured to mitigate the wrath of the Lord by his intercession ( Exodus 32:11-14), and simply mentioned (in Deuteronomy 9:15-17) how, as soon as he came down, he charged the people with their great sin; and then, in Deuteronomy 9:18, Deuteronomy 9:19, how he spent another forty days upon the mountain fasting before God, on account of this sin, until he had averted the destructive wrath of the Lord from Israel, through his earnest intercession. The forty days that Moses spent upon the mountain, “ as at the first,” in prayer before the Lord, are the days mentioned in Exodus 34:28 as having been passed upon Sinai for the perfect restoration of the covenant, and for the purpose of procuring the second tables (cf. Deuteronomy 10:1.).
It was not from the people only, but from Aaron also, that Moses averted the wrath of God through his intercession, when it was about to destroy him. In the historical account in Ex 32, there is no special reference to this intercession, as it is included in the intercession for the whole nation. On the present occasion, however, Moses gave especial prominence to this particular feature, not only that he might make the people thoroughly aware that at that time Israel could not even boast of the righteousness of its eminent men (cf. Isaiah 43:27), but also to bring out the fact, which is described still more fully in Deuteronomy 10:6., that Aaron's investiture with the priesthood, and the maintenance of this institution, was purely a work of divine grace. It is true that at that time Aaron was not yet high priest; but he had been placed at the head of the nation in connection with Hur, as the representative of Moses (Exodus 24:14), and was already designated by God for the high-priesthood (Exodus 28:1). The fact, however, that Aaron had drawn upon himself the wrath of God in a very high degree, was intimated plainly enough in what Moses told him in Exodus 32:21. - In Deuteronomy 9:21, Moses mentions again how he destroyed that manifested sin of the nation, namely, the molten calf (see at Exodus 32:20).
And it was not on this occasion only, viz., at Horeb, that Israel aroused the anger of the Lord its God by its sin, but it did so again and again at other places: at Tabeerah, by discontent at the guidance of God (Numbers 11:1-3); at Massah, by murmuring on account of the want of water (Exodus 17:1.); at the graves of lust, by longing for flesh (Numbers 11:4.); and at Kadesh-barnea by unbelief, of which they had already been reminded at Deuteronomy 1:26. The list is not arranged chronologically, but advances gradually from the smaller to the more serious forms of guilt. For Moses was seeking to sharpen the consciences of the people, and to impress upon them the fact that they had been rebellious against the Lord (see at Deuteronomy 9:7) from the very beginning, “from the day that I knew you.”
After vindicating in this way the thought expressed in Deuteronomy 9:7, by enumerating the principal rebellions of the people against their God, Moses returns in Deuteronomy 9:25. to the apostasy at Sinai, for the purpose of showing still further how Israel had no righteousness or ground for boasting before God, and owed its preservation, with all the saving blessings of the covenant, solely to the mercy of God and His covenant faithfulness. To this end he repeats in Deuteronomy 9:26-29 the essential points in his intercession for the people after their sin at Sinai, and then proceeds to explain still further, in Deuteronomy 10:1-11, how the Lord had not only renewed the tables of the covenant in consequence of this intercession (Deuteronomy 10:1-5), but had also established the gracious institution of the priesthood for the time to come by appointing Eleazar in Aaron's stead as soon as his father died, and setting apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant and attend to the holy service, and had commanded them to continue their march to Canaan, and take possession of the land promised to the fathers (Deuteronomy 10:6-11). With the words “thus I fell down,” in Deuteronomy 9:25, Moses returns to the intercession already briefly mentioned in Deuteronomy 9:18, and recalls to the recollection of the people the essential features of his plea at the time. For the words “ the forty days and nights that I fell down,” see at Deuteronomy 1:46. The substance of the intercession in Deuteronomy 9:26-29 is essentially the same as that in Exodus 32:11-13; but given with such freedom as any other than Moses would hardly have allowed himself ( Schultz), and in such a manner as to bring it into the most obvious relation to the words of God in Deuteronomy 9:12, Deuteronomy 9:13. אל־תּשׁחת , “ Destroy not Thy people and Thine inheritance,” says Moses, with reference to the words of the Lord to him: “ thy people have corrupted themselves ” (Deuteronomy 9:12). Israel was not Moses' nation, but the nation and inheritance of Jehovah; it was not Moses, but Jehovah, who had brought it out of Egypt. True, the people were stiffnecked (cf. Deuteronomy 9:13); but let the Lord remember the fathers, the oath given to Abraham, which is expressly mentioned in Exodus 32:13 (see at Deuteronomy 7:8), and not turn to the stiffneckedness of the people ( קשׁי equivalent to ערף קשׁה , Deuteronomy 9:13 and Deuteronomy 9:6), and to their wickedness and sin (i.e., not regard them and punish them). The honour of the Lord before the nations was concerned in this (Deuteronomy 9:28). The land whence Israel came out (“the land” = the people of the land, as in Genesis 10:25, etc., viz., the Egyptians: the word is construed as a collective with a plural verb) must not have occasion to say, that Jehovah had not led His people into the promised land from incapacity or hatred. יכלת מבּלי recalls Numbers 14:16. Just as “inability” would be opposed to the nature of the absolute God, so “hatred” would be opposed to the choice of Israel as the inheritance of Jehovah, which He had brought out of Egypt by His divine and almighty power (cf. Exodus 6:6).
The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 9". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany