Deuteronomy 9

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Again, just like yesterday, we may ask, ‘What is new in today’s reading that we haven’t already read in previous chapters?’ What has already been said is that Israel is about to enter and possess the land which Yahweh swore to give to them. They will be able to drive out the inhabitants because of God’s power and might.

What is fresh in the passage is the repeated insistence that it is not because of Israel’s righteousness that they have a right to this land. Moses catalogues their sins, the worst of which is retold in the story of the golden calf, cast at the bottom of the mountain while Moses was at its top receiving the law. They have been rebellious ever since, grumbling in the desert, arrogant and proud, lacking faith and obedience (9:23). The stories are told in shorthand by listing the place names where they happened. No, it is not because of Israel’s righteousness that they are receiving this land, surely not. Rather, it is the other nations’ wicked sin which is leading the Lord to drive them out; Israel in this portrayal of the story is merely a tool in God’s hand.

Another important aspect of the story in this chapter is the presentation of Moses as intercessor and mediator. His stay on the mountain for forty days and nights without food and water is even multiplied in this recounting of the tale (9:11,18,25). First of all he received the word of God, inscribed on the two tablets. Then he heard Yahweh’s word and reflected his anger to the people. But he also turned his face back to Yahweh to beg for forgiveness, and Yahweh listened to him and did not destroy the people as he had threatened. It happened also with Aaron as a representative of the people. Despite the great number of times the people rebelled against God, Moses continued to intercede for them so they would not be punished for their stubbornness. His argument is twofold: firstly, that if God did away with the Israelites then the Egyptians would end up with the last laugh; and secondly, that Israel was God’s own people, his inheritance.

This narrative is a precursor to one of the great themes of the New Testament: that our entry into the promised land is all of grace, by faith, not by the works of our own hands. We have no righteousness of our own. In fact, even as God’s own people, his family, we are stubborn, arrogant, complaining, and rebellious, just like the Israelites. But his way is always to have grace, for his own glory’s sake. There is nothing in us deserving of salvation, and yet he is mighty to conquer even the greatest foes.

Prayer: Lord, Father, your mercies are new every morning. All my righteousness is like filthy rags before you. Forgive me, and forgive my people, for stubbornness and pride. Help me to trust you and to obey your word. Thank you that my salvation is not dependent on my goodness, but on your strength to save.