Thursday, April 06, 2006
Deuteronomy Chapter Nine: Preserving Promise
You've heard it said; until recently in Baseball it was, "Who can beat the Yankees;" in the realm of Computers it might be, "Who can stand up to Microsoft," and in international politics it is (sigh),"Who can compare with the United States." Apparently, a popular phrase of the ancient near-east was, "You have heard it said of them, 'Who can stand up the Anakim?'" (v.3). We might tremble with awe in contemplating the power of sports teams and nations but what we learn is that, if our attitude is "Who can stand up to..." we are forgetting the sovereign authority of God (Deut ch. 7 v.17). Thus the response to the ancient cultural maxim "who can stand up to the Anakim" is that God can, and will (v.3).
To go on, God's defeat of the inhabitants of Canaan will not be an arbitrary act, nor will it serve merely as God's announcement that his power is greater than theirs. No, while the Israelites conquest will definitely announce God's power, more importantly it will serve as the simultaneous sounding of judgment and promise. In verses four through six there is a repetition of two statements, the two are summed up well in verse five: "It is not because of your righteousness that the Lord has brought me into occupy this land; it is rather because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is dispossessing them before you." What we hear, quite clearly in this passage, is that Israel is not the Lord's worker therefore receiving due wages (Rom. 4:4). Israel receives the promised land because of grace, not because of their righteousness. In fact, in verse six we stop hearing about the wickedness of Canaan and instead hear only about Israel's faithlessness--so they have no reason to boast.
Then from verse six to twenty-four we hear vivid descriptions of how Israel has been "rebellious against the Lord" (v.7). The height of their rebelliousness takes place, ironically, while Moses is hearing from the Lord and receiving the Ten Commandments. Moses walks down the mountains and finds all of Israel involved in worshipping a golden calf. Moses then destroys the sinful object by burning it with fire, crushing it, and then "grinding it thoroughly , until it was reduced to dust," (v.21)*. Needless to say, Israel is guilty just as all other nations and people are.
So if we are all guilty, people and nations alike, why was Israel preserved while the Canaanites suffered judgment? Before that question is answered it's important to understand that oftentimes God will bring judgment against even his chosen people because of their sinfulness (the exile is one major example). But back to the original question: why not Israel here, if they are in fact rebellious? The answer is given to us in the last section of chapter nine. Here we read that Moses lies "prostrate" for forty days and forty nights interceding for Israel, so that God would not destroy Israel. He even reasons with God, saying that to destroy Israel would be to forget the "Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" (v. 27); secondly Moses reasons that God's name would be trampled by the pagans if he doesn't see the Israelites into the Promised Land. So Moses gives God two reasons to preserve Israel: (1) because of covenant, (2) and because of God's own name and reputation. Here many people would question God as truly sovereign because how can Moses 'reason' with an all-knowing sovereign God? I personally believe that God's plan was always to preserve them, and not to destroy them, therefore keeping the covenant and bringing glory to his name. The reason, I feel, God put the question to Moses: "should I destroy them?" was to challenge Moses to step up as God's appointed leader of the Israelites. If we understand this section of Deuteronomy in this light we see a sovereign God desiring that Israel's appointed leader develop a leader's heart by crying out for those he has been given to lead, here God's sovereign authority is never put into doubt.
*As an aside Moses here foreshadows Christ by: (1) serving as an intercessor between God and man, (2) and by ridding Israel of the manifestation of their sinfulness (the difference between Moses and Christ being that while Moses destroyed the manifestation of their sin Christ destroys the root of our sin by offering a sacrifice once for all time (Heb. ch. 9 v.23-28)