1 - 3 The LORD Crosses over Before His People
1 “Hear, O Israel! You are crossing over the Jordan today to go in to dispossess nations greater and mightier than you, great cities fortified to heaven, 2 a people great and tall, the sons of the Anakim, whom you know and of whom you have heard [it said], ‘Who can stand before the sons of Anak?’ 3 Know therefore today that it is the LORD your God who is crossing over before you as a consuming fire. He will destroy them and He will subdue them before you, so that you may drive them out and destroy them quickly, just as the LORD has spoken to you.
The word “listen” (or “hear”) that this chapter begins with is characteristic of Deuteronomy (Deu 4:1; 5:1; 6:3). It is to call attention to the words of God, to what He has to say.
To describe the power of the enemy, Moses uses the same words as the unbelieving spies (Deu 1:28), for that power is reality. We should not belittle the power of the enemy, but rely on a much greater power: the power of God.
4 - 6 Not Because of Their Righteousness
4 “Do not say in your heart when the LORD your God has driven them out before you, ‘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 dispossessing them before you. 5 It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land, but [it is] because of the wickedness of these nations [that] the LORD your God is driving them out before you, in order to confirm the oath which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 6 “Know, then, [it is] not because of your righteousness [that] the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stubborn people.
In Deuteronomy 8 the warning is that they should not think that they will have conquered the land by their own power (Deu 8:17). Here is a warning against the thought that they got the land because they are better than the people in the land. Thus, as Christians, we should not think that God has given us spiritual blessings because we are better people than the people around us. As if we are more faithful and by our own merit have received those blessings.
Proof of undeserved grace can be abused by the flesh by interpreting it as proof of its own righteousness and inherent uprightness. God shows that it is not a question of their righteousness, where the flesh can make boast, but that they have entered the land because of the iniquity of the people. Israel is the rod in God’s hand to judge those nations. Later Nebuchadnezzar will be the rod in God’s hand to remove Israel from the land (2Chr 36:20-21a).
Another aspect is the promise made to the fathers. That is what we see in the counsel of God. He has intended it and promised it to his fathers. The time of fulfilment of that promise has come.
God emphasizes the fact that there is no righteousness from us that underlies the blessing He has given us (cf. Eze 36:32). That we may now possess blessings is only because Christ defeated our enemies on the cross: “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him” (Col 2:13-15).
7 - 8 Israel Provoked the LORD to Wrath
7 Remember, do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness; from the day that you left the land of Egypt until you arrived at this place, you have been rebellious against the LORD. 8 Even at Horeb you provoked the LORD to wrath, and the LORD was so angry with you that He would have destroyed you.
The history of the golden calf should remind them that they were not chosen because of their righteousness. They must remember how the LORD was for them during the journey (Deu 8:2). He didn't make it difficult for them, but He was busy with them to finally do them good. In Deuteronomy 8 the failure of the people is not remembered. At the same time, as is said here, they must remember that they provoked the LORD to wrath (verse 9). They have shown, in different forms time after time, what is in them, even after forty years of wilderness experiences.
9 - 11 Receiving the Law by Moses
9 When I went up to the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant which the LORD had made with you, then I remained on the mountain forty days and nights; I neither ate bread nor drank water. 10 The LORD gave me the two tablets of stone written by the finger of God; and on them [were] all the words which the LORD had spoken with you at the mountain from the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly. 11 It came about at the end of forty days and nights that the LORD gave me the two tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant.
Moses reminds the people how he was on the mountain with the LORD and received from His hand the law of the covenant.
12 - 14 The LORD Wanted to Destroy Israel
12 Then the LORD said to me, ‘Arise, go down from here quickly, 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 a molten image for themselves.’ 13 The LORD spoke further to me, saying, ‘I have seen this people, and indeed, it is a stubborn people. 14 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.’
While Moses is on the mountain with the LORD, the LORD sees how the people have made a golden calf (Exo 32:1-5). He talks about how they were “quick” to deviate. That is man.
He says to Moses that they are a stubborn people and asks Moses permission, as it were, to destroy them. His proposal then is to make Moses a great people. Here we see how the people deserved the judgment. This should make them all the more grateful that they are now about to enter the land that God has given them as a gift. They deserve to be destroyed rather than blessed with a gift.
15 - 17 The Two Tablets Smashed
15 “So I turned and came down from the mountain while the mountain was burning with fire, and the two tablets of the covenant were in my two hands. 16 And I saw that you had indeed sinned against the LORD your God. You had made for yourselves a molten calf; you had turned aside quickly from the way which the LORD had commanded you. 17 I took hold of the two tablets and threw them from my hands and smashed them before your eyes.
When Moses saw the sin of the people, he smashed the two tablets of the law in pieces before their eyes. The people witnessed it for themselves. The smashing of the tablets into pieces expresses the fact that the people have smashed their relationship with the LORD. Moses seals that by smashing the tablets to pieces.
18 - 20 The Intercession of Moses
18 I fell down before the LORD, as at the first, forty days and nights; I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all your sin which you had committed in doing what was evil in the sight of the LORD to provoke Him to anger. 19 For I was afraid of the anger and hot displeasure with which the LORD was wrathful against you in order to destroy you, but the LORD listened to me that time also. 20 The LORD was angry enough with Aaron to destroy him; so I also prayed for Aaron at the same time.
After the tablets of the law were broken, it was not the people who fell down before the LORD in confession of their sin, but Moses. He was impressed by God’s righteous anger. This led him to intercede for the people of God and brother. The fact that Moses prayed for Aaron makes it clear that the priesthood is also a work of God’s grace. Later Aaron himself became an intercessor (Psa 99:6,8; cf. Lk 22:32). The LORD heard Moses, as God hears the Lord Jesus.
Moses and Samuel are valued by the LORD as intercessors for the people (1Sam 7:5,8-9; Jer 15:1). Are we, too, intercessors for Gods people?
21 The Calf Grinded Until Dust
21 I took your sinful [thing], the calf which you had made, and burned it with fire and crushed it, grinding it very small until it was as fine as dust; and I threw its dust into the brook that came down from the mountain.
Intercession does not make the exercise of judgment over sin superfluous. Moses has grinded the calf, which he calls “your sin”, until it was as fine as dust, and made it unfit for any reuse. It is infinite grace, which accepts the destruction and devastation of the idol instead of the destruction and devastation of the idolaters.
Similarly, any object that is connected with sin in our lives must be thoroughly disposed of from our lives. This is only possible after prayer. When we become aware of this, it is the result of the intercession of the Lord Jesus, the true Moses.
22 - 24 Even More Rebelliousness
22 “Again at Taberah and at Massah and at Kibroth-hattaavah you provoked the LORD to wrath. 23 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 command of the LORD your God; you neither believed Him nor listened to His voice. 24 You have been rebellious against the LORD from the day I knew you.
The sin of the golden calf has not been an isolated incident. The rebelliousness of Israel is a characteristic that has repeatedly manifested itself. For as long as Moses had known them, so they had been. The Lord Jesus also knows us as an ever-wandering people who are led by their own willfulness and are not willing to be led by Him.
1. At Taberah, the people were influenced by the rabble that went with Israel out of Egypt (Num 11:1-10). They became dissatisfied and grumbled against God.
2. At Massah they questioned the LORD’s presence in their midst (Exo 17:7). As if He had never cared about them before, whereas the evidence is so abundantly present in their redemption from Egypt.
3. At Kibroth-hattaavah they were carried away by their desire for meat (Num 11:31-34; Psa 78:29).
4. Kadesh-barnea speaks of unbelief. From there the spies were sent into the land because the people were not content with the promise of the LORD (Num 32:8-13).
25 - 29 Even More Intercession of Moses
25 “So I fell down before the LORD the forty days and nights, which I did because the LORD had said He would destroy you. 26 I prayed to the LORD and said, ‘O LORD GOD, do not destroy Your people, even Your inheritance, whom You have redeemed through Your greatness, whom You have brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 27 Remember Your servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; do not look at the stubbornness of this people or at their wickedness or their sin. 28 Otherwise the land from which You brought us may say, “Because the LORD was not able to bring them into the land which He had promised them and because He hated them He has brought them out to slay them in the wilderness.” 29 Yet they are Your people, even Your inheritance, whom You have brought out by Your great power and Your outstretched arm.’
These verses connect to verses 11-14 of this chapter. In both parts it is about intercession in the first forty days on Mount Horeb. In verse 18 it is the second forty days on Mount Horeb, after Moses broke the first stone tablets because of the golden calf.
In verse 27 we read the third “remember” (Deu 8:2; 9:7), but Moses doesn’t say this here to the people, but to God. The true Moses says to God that He should not look at the stubbornness and wickedness of the people, but asks Him to think of His own Being. Here we see the intervening of the Lord Jesus and His performance as Advocate with the Father.
Before the times of the ages, the Father made the promise of eternal life (Tit 1:2a). The Son reminds us of this promise of eternal life before the times of the ages (Jn 17:1-2). For two thousand years now, He has said to the Father: “Remember.” God has heard the Lord Jesus on behalf of us many times already (verse 19). On that basis, God’s desire for a testimony on earth from a people longing for the blessing of the land is still being met.