KCC Mar 2014
Turn to Deuteronomy 9 please. We’re going after a particular question today. Here’s the same question asked in different ways: How do you explain the parts of your life that go well, when it is not going well for other people? How do you explain God’s practical kindness to you? In those parts of your life where you are a success, and others are not – why does that happen?
Moses covers this in Deuteronomy 9:1-6, so we’ll look carefully at these verses. In Deuteronomy 9:7 – 10:11 Moses tells a story to prove what he said in 9:1-6.
The Challenge: Chasing Out Powerful Enemies (9:1-2)
Hear, Israel: You are now about to cross the Jordan to go in and dispossess nations greater and stronger than you, with large cities that have walls up to the sky. 2 The people are strong and tall—Anakites! You know about them and have heard it said: “Who can stand up against the Anakites?”
Moses tells Israel about the task in front of them, and the news is not good at all. The bad news has three parts: the nations, their cities, and the people themselves.
1, nations greater and stronger than you, 2, with large cities that have walls up to the sky; 3, the people are strong and tall.
The Anakites were a race of giants, the opposite of pygmies, 7-8 feet tall, a huge advantage because war in those days was hand to hand, often a shield in one hand and a sword or spear in the other. No sniping with rifles. Not all Canaanites were Anakites, but the Canaanites generally where strong and tall.
So crossing the Jordan to chase away those nations was terrifying. The odds were all against Israel. But, Israel would succeed, because God would be on their side.
The Promise: God will Go Ahead and Destroy Them (9:3)
3 But be assured today that the LORD your God is the one who goes across ahead of you like a devouring fire. He will destroy them; he will subdue them before you. And you will drive them out and annihilate them quickly, as the LORD has promised you.
You, Israel, will cross the Jordan, BUT: 1, the LORD your God goes across ahead of you like a devouring fire. 2, He will destroy them; 3, He will subdue them before you.
The Reason for Your Success: Not Your Righteousness (9:4-6)
After you have had this great success, says Moses, be careful how you talk to yourself. Got that? There are right and wrong ways for how children of God to talk to themselves.
Moses explained the challenge in three different ways (vv1-2), he described God’s help in three ways (v3), and now he explains their success in three times, pretty much the same way each time.
1, (v4)After the LORD your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, “The LORD has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.” No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is going to drive them out before you.
2, (v5) It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the LORD your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
3, (v6)Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.
Stiff-necked means spiritually stubborn, you will not bow to God, you might actually bend your neck, but in your lives you will not bow to God. Even so, you will succeed.
V4 – You will not succeed because of your righteousness, but because of their wickedness.
V5 – You will not succeed because of your righteousness, but because of their wickedness.
V6 – you will not succeed because of your righteousness, for you are a stiff-necked people.
This is actually a continuation of something Moses covered in Deut 8:17-18, where Moses spoke to Israel about how they would explain their future wealth and prosperity.
8:17-18 – You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.
In Deuteronomy 8 Moses was asking a similar question: how do you explain the parts of your life that go well? Moses said, “don’t ever say, my power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth. Don’t forgot God. Remember God, because HE gives you the ability to produce, so that things go well.” That’s the lesson of Deuteronomy 8.
Deuteronomy 9 continues this: let’s suppose you agree with Deuteronomy 8, that it was not your strength or the power of your hands, no, it was God’s faithfulness; he’s the one that gives you your ability, one day at a time.
Next question, WHY did God give you the ability to produce, WHY did God give you success, WHY did God bless you and answer your prayers?
And we answer, it must have been my righteousness, everyone knows that, what else would explain it? NO, says Moses, it is NOT your righteousness, God has other reasons to bless you that are totally separate from your righteousness.
In preparing for this message I thought of a few different areas in my life that have gone well, successes that I explain to myself as God’s goodness, God’s power, BECAUSE OF some faith and obedience OF MINE in the past. I don’t say these things to others, because that would sound arrogant. But I talk to myself that way.
Moses says NO, do not take any credit for these things. It is God being faithful to things HE set out to do long ago.
This is grace, God’s grace. I don’t like this grace. It makes me feel uncomfortable, even anxious. I have tried to understand why. We like it that we’re not saved and made God’s children because of our righteousness, but only because God has been good to us. We like that.
But after that we like to feel a little more in control. The way Moses describes it here, we are not in control of God’s kindness at all. In fact, as Moses tells it, it is not even God’s love that makes him bless us. God blessed Israel with success in Canaan because he wanted those sinful nations chased out, and because God had made promises 500 years earlier to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Moses’ point is NOT that God does not love us. He speaks of God’s love for Israel quite a few times in Deuteronomy. What Moses wants to make clear is that when God gives you success, do NOT say this comes because of your righteousness.
Proof that it’s not Israel’s Righteousness: Covenant Made, Broken, Re-made (Deut 9:7 – 10:11)
Covenant Made. 9:7-10 – After God spoke the ten words, the ten commandments, Moses was with God on the top of the mountain for 40 days. There God wrote the ten words on two tablets of stone. Probably all ten were on each tablet, a copy of the covenant for God and a copy of the covenant for Israel, both to be kept in the ark of the covenant, in the tabernacle.
Three times in Deuteronomy 9 Moses calls these tablets, these stone plates that God engraved with the ten words, “the tablets of the covenant.” (9:9,11,15)
Covenant Broken. 9:11-29 – Israel broke the covenant within a few weeks of making it. God had not even finished writing out the spoken words. They agreed, when God spoke it, no making any image or idol in any shape, not bowing down to worship these images.
They made a golden calf, called it YHWH who led them out of Egypt, and bowed down and worshipped it (Exodus 32).
Moses saw this when he came down, and he smashed the two tablets on the ground. This was not a temper tantrum, not anger. The covenant was actually broken. Israel’s relationship with God was over. Moses smashing the two tablets of the covenant simply acted out what Israel had already done by making and worshipping the calf. He was showing them what they had done.
God said to Moses (9:14) Let me alone, Moses, so that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven. And I will make you into a nation stronger and more numerous than they.
“Let me alone so that I may destroy them.” Moses heard that, and saw some hope for Israel. Moses decided, “I will NOT leave God alone to destroy them, so then maybe he won’t.”
9:25 – I lay prostrate before the LORD those forty days and forty nights because the Lord had said he would destroy you. Moses prayed and refused to leave God alone. And it worked. God decided not to destroy them. He would lead them into the promised land after all.
Covenant Re-made. 10:1-11 – So Moses made two more stone plates to engrave, and he went up the mountain again, and he spent another 40 days up there, the third set of 40 days in the story, and God engraved two new covenant tablets with the ten words.
So, will Israel succeed in Canaan because of Israel’s righteousness? No, not that, anything but that. And in a few different places in Deuteronomy 9 Moses makes clear that the golden calf was not the only time Israel was like this. From the day you left Egypt until you arrived here, you have been rebellious against the LORD (9:7). You have been rebellious against the LORD ever since I have known you (9:24).
Why would God bless his people and give them success, if it was not because of their righteousness? Let’s read 9:27-28. This is Moses trying to convince God to forgive Israel and lead them into Canaan. Moses will use two arguments, and these two come up often.
One, you made promises long ago, LORD, and you need to keep them. Two, the nations who worship other gods are watching what you do with your people, so you need to guard your own reputation, LORD.
9:27-28 –Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Overlook the stubbornness of this people, their wickedness and their sin. 28 Otherwise, the country from which you brought us will say, ‘Because the LORD was not able to take them into the land he had promised them, and because he hated them, he brought them out to put them to death in the wilderness.’
God gives his people success because the ungodly are watching what happens between the true God and his people. God has a reputation to protect. For his own Name’s sake, God cannot afford to fail just because his people fail. So he blesses us and leads us to good places.
Through Ezekiel the prophet, God told Judah in exile the same thing. Israel had rebelled against God all along. But for His Name’s sake, God was going to keep leading Israel back to himself. Ezekiel 20 is a long and powerful story of God treating Israel well in spite of Israel’s rebellion.
I’m going to end with a story from the NT, from Acts 3. Remember the main truth Moses wants to get across is that we may NOT take God’s blessing of success as evidence that we are righteous. God has other reasons to bless us even when we are stiff-necked and rebellious.
In Acts 3, Peter and John go to the temple to pray at the temple prayer time. They see a lame man begging there, and Peter healed him of his lameness. There were many people there, because it was prayer time, and a crowd ran over to see the healed beggar. Let’s pick up the story in 3:12.
Acts 3:12 – When Peter saw this [i.e. the crowd had run together], he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?”
Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? When I teach Acts I usually prod students with this line. Was Peter right? We all agree that it was not Peter’s power but the Lord’s power that healed the lame man. But was it not Peter’s godliness?
Yes, we are inclined say, it was the Lord’s power and Peter’s godliness, that’s how the lame man was miraculously healed. The Lord does not always do this, but he did it for Peter, so it must be Peter’s godliness. My students cannot explain this miracle without giving some credit to Peter’s godliness. But Peter obviously does not think it was either his power or his godliness.
We can hardly accept Peter’s explanation that his and John’s godliness was not a part of this. No, my students tell me, Peter is just being humble, he is SO godly!
But: Peter thinks Moses is right, it is not our righteousness at all. Peter thinks that the Lord Jesus wanted that man healed, and was entirely willing to use ungodly servants to do this. Peter seems to be carrying around an awareness of his own sinfulness. Peter thinks he’s an ungodly man.
Remember, Acts 3 happens only a few months after he denied the Lord three times. Peter did the very thing that the Lord had said his followers must never do: deny Jesus before people. Peter has not forgotten his sins. That’s probably what Peter is thinking, though we don’t know.
And John, who along with his brother James had asked to sit on the Lord’s right and left in his kingdom, had run for his life when Jesus was arrested. Peter and John did not think they were godly men.
Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?
So, my brothers and sisters, let us never say to ourselves, “the Lord has given me success because of my righteousness and my godliness.” Amen.
Ezekiel 20:8b-10 – So I said I would pour out my wrath on them and spend my anger against them in Egypt. 9 But for the sake of my name, I brought them out of Egypt. I did it to keep my name from being profaned in the eyes of the nations among whom they lived and in whose sight I had revealed myself to the Israelites. 10 Therefore I led them out of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness.
Ezekiel 20:13b-14 – So I said I would pour out my wrath on them and destroy them in the wilderness. 14 But for the sake of my name I did what would keep it from being profaned in the eyes of the nations in whose sight I had brought them out.
Ezekiel 20:21-22 – But the children rebelled against me . . . So I said I would pour out my wrath on them and spend my anger against them in the wilderness. 22 But I withheld my hand, and for the sake of my name I did what would keep it from being profaned in the eyes of the nations in whose sight I had brought them out.
See also Ezekiel 20:44; 36:22-32.