Moses is in the middle of preaching his second sermon to the people of Israel before he dies and the people enter into the promised land. He has been proclaiming to the people their need to remember the Lord and not forget him when they enjoy the blessings of God. Moses now addresses another important reminder for them if they want to enjoy the promised land in Deuteronomy 9.
The Challenge of Faith (9:1-3)
Moses tells the people that they are going to cross over the Jordan and dispossess nations that are greater and mightier who have great cities and fortified up to heaven. The people are strong and tall also. They are mighty warriors that the people say cannot be fought and have victory. If you remember the book of Numbers as well as Deuteronomy 1:28, this was the excuse the people gave for why they would not enter the land. The cities were too great and the people were too mighty. Notice that Moses says that this is the case. But this is what they needed to know in verse 3. The Lord your God is going ahead of you as a consuming fire. He will destroy them and subdue them. He will drive them out and make them perish quickly. This is great leadership on Moses’ part. He does not pretend that the obstacle is not real. The obstacle is great. But the people were not to give up in the face of their great challenge. They were to depend on God, believing in God’s power to give them victory. Moses is spurring them to have a greater determination and belief in what the Lord will do.
God being a consuming fire means that he consumes the enemies. This is the idea in Hebrews 12 where we read about God as a consuming fire. Your enemies are God’s enemies and you do not want to be God’s enemy. God is a consuming fire is also to be an encouragement to us. The power of the enemy is greater than us but the power of God is greater than the power of the enemy.
Always Remember Who You Are (9:4-29)
Moses tells the people that God is going to drive the people out for you (9:3). But there is going to be a temptation. The temptation is that people will think that their salvation and subsequent victory was because of their righteousness. Moses says that they must not think that they are entering the promised land because of their own righteousness. That is not the reason why they are entering. They are receiving the land because of the wickedness of these nations that inhabit the land.
In verse 6 Moses makes the point very plain. You are a stubborn people. You provoked the Lord to wrath in the wilderness. In fact, from the very day they came out of Egypt until today, they have been rebellious (9:7). Even at Mount Sinai the Lord was ready to destroy you (9:8). Moses then reminds them how he went up on the mountain to receive the law and was up there for 40 days and nights fasting. The Lord wrote on the two stone tablets. The Lord’s description of the people is important. They have quickly turned aside and made an idol (9:12). They are a stubborn people worthy of destruction (9:13-14). Moses broke the two stone tablets before their eyes to show how they had broken the covenant and then interceded on behalf of the people for 40 days and night fasting so that the Lord would not destroy them (9:18). But the Lord listened to Moses (9:19). Not only this, the Lord was ready to destroy Aaron also, but Moses prayed and interceded for him also (9:20).
Then Moses reminds the people of their rebellion to refuse to enter the promised land when they were at Kadesh (9:23). They rebelled against the commandment of the Lord and did not believe him or obey his voice. “You have been rebellious against the Lord from the day that I knew you” (9:24). Yet again Moses had to intercede for the people for 40 days and nights because God would have destroyed them then also. Moses intercedes by declaring the greatness of the Lord. The Lord did not redeem the people to destroy them (9:26). The Lord made a promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (9:27) and is always faithful to his covenant. The Lord must think about his own name and glory regarding what the world will say about him (9:28). Finally, the Lord must know that they are his people who you have saved (9:29).
So let’s recap the message before we see God’s response in chapter 10. The people are not righteous. They are stubborn. Moses cannot point to any of their good works as the basis by which they are in a relationship with God. The people deserve God’s wrath. The people should be destroyed. The people should have experienced judgment again and again and again throughout their time in the wilderness. The only reason they are still alive and have not experienced God’s wrath as they ought is because Moses has interceded for them repeatedly. The basis of his intercession is not the people’s righteousness, but God’s righteousness. God redeemed the people. God made a promise and keeps his covenant. God’s name is to be glorified. Now let’s consider what God did.
God’s Renewed Covenant (10:1-11)
God renews the covenant with the people. Through Moses, the covenant was able to be restored. We see this pointed out in Moses’ sermon. Look back at Deuteronomy 9:19. The Lord was ready to destroy the people, “but the Lord listen to me at that time also.” Notice the end of our paragraph says the same in Deuteronomy 10:10.
“I myself stayed on the mountain, as at the first time, forty days and forty nights, and the LORD listened to me that time also. The LORD was unwilling to destroy you.” (Deuteronomy 10:10 ESV)
The first ten verses spend its time talking about the tablets placed in the ark of the covenant. The point is that the new tablets were tangible proof of their forgiveness and the renewal of the covenant by God’s grace. The renewed covenant and the ark would stand as a testimony of the mercy of God. The psalmist underscores this truth when speaking about this event.
They made a calf in Horeb and worshiped a metal image. They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass. They forgot God, their Savior, who had done great things in Egypt, wondrous works in the land of Ham, and awesome deeds by the Red Sea. Therefore he said he would destroy them— had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him, to turn away his wrath from destroying them. (Psalm 106:19–23 ESV)
Notice that Moses is saying that the same thing as the psalmist. He turned away God’s wrath from destroying them. They would have been destroyed repeatedly. But Moses stood in the breach and turned away God’s wrath through his intercession. I want us to consider something at this moment. Did God’s wrath fall on Moses instead of the people? No, it did not. The picture is very simple: Moses turned away God’s wrath. God did not have to vent his wrath on someone else or something else. His wrath did not have to fall on animals or other people. This is the beautiful picture of atonement. God’s deserved wrath was turned away through Moses.
New Testament Message
Not our righteousness.
The point that God always wants us to remember is that we are not going to the promised land because of our righteousness. We were not righteous. The apostle Paul clearly proclaims that there is none who is righteous, not one (Romans 3:10). No one can stand before God and declare that they have done something worthy of their standing before God. The message to Israel is also our message. We have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory and we should be judged with God’s wrath. Never think that we are deserving of anything from God. We are entering the eternal promised land by grace alone. We cannot enter by our righteousness or achievement. We have nothing to stand on.
Our high priest’s intercessory prayer.
So we need another Moses who will permanent rescue us from the wrath of God. I believe John 17 should have particular interest to us. The picture in Deuteronomy 9 is the intercessory prayer of Moses. It is interesting that just before Jesus is betrayed and crucified, John 17 records Jesus “high priestly prayer,” as most translations give for the heading. Consider that John’s gospel is primarily showing Jesus as the new Moses who brings the new exodus through the signs and teachings of Jesus. In that prayer Jesus is praying not only for himself, but for this disciples and all who will believe in the future. It is a beautiful prayer of Jesus interceding for the people. “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you have loved me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24 ESV)
We see this even more dramatically picture with Peter. Know that Satan was coming after Peter shortly with temptations, Jesus tells him, “I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:32). We see Jesus in the wilderness for 40 days and nights, which has been a repetition in Deuteronomy 9-10. The picture is that the work of Jesus on the earth, the whole reason for his coming, is to intercede for the people to save them from the wrath of God. Jesus comes and through his life and through the cross he turns away the wrath of God that we deserve. Let me highlight again, as we highlighted with Moses, that turning away God’s wrath does not mean that God’s wrath instead fell on Jesus, another person, or another animal. The picture is simply wrath being turned away because the offering of Jesus on the cross is what will intercede for the people.
After Moses intercedes on behalf of the people, what does God do? God renews the covenant and places the tablets in the ark of the covenant as a permanent reminder of God’s mercy. Think about how we do not see this conversation happen again. We do not see God every generation saying that he will wipe out Israel and start a whole new people out of another person. Rather, all that we see with the renewed covenant that God promises that Israel will be his people. He will purify them. He will judge them. But he will not utterly wipe them out. After Jesus makes intercession for our sins, what does God do? God makes a new covenant with the world through Jesus (cf. Hebrews 8:6-13; 10:8-10). Notice how Jeremiah makes this connection. In Jeremiah 31:31-34 we see God promise that he will make a new covenant with Israel in which God will forgive their sins. The writer of Hebrews shows that this covenant was made through Jesus’ high priestly work, as we noted above. But now listen to what God says immediately after this.
Thus says the LORD, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar— the LORD of hosts is his name: “If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the LORD, then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever.” Thus says the LORD: “If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done, declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 31:35–37 ESV)
Did you see what God said? With this covenant there is hope and confidence for God’s people. The offspring of Israel will no longer be a nation before God if you see the fixed order of the sun, moon, stars, and sea ever stops. Think about this for a minute. We are to look at the certainty of the order of the world: the sun always rise to the point that we fix our clocks and calendars to it. The moon is always where we expect. The stars are doing what they always do and are always there. The sea never breaks its bounds of its own. It is all fixed and certain. This is proof that God will keep his covenant with his people and we will always be his people. Look at it further in Jeremiah 31:37. If the heavens can be measured, then God will cast off Israel for all they have done. If the depths of the earth can be explored, then God will cast off Israel for all they have done. Do we see what God is saying? We look at our sins and sit in fear. God says to not do that because intercession has been made. If you can measure the heavens, then you can think like this. But until you can, then realize that God is not casting off his people “for all that they have done.”
A life of humility.
I hope that this accomplishes in our hearts exactly what Moses wanted to happen in the hearts of the people. We are amazed by God’s love and mercy and we are humbled. We are stunned by the loving mercy of God. It is not our righteousness at all. We have nothing before God to offer or show. All we can show are our sinful hands. But Jesus lives to make intercession for us.
Therefore, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, since he always lives to intercede for them. (Hebrews 7:25 CSB)
This is how we are changed. Look at Deuteronomy 10:11. After the intercession of Moses, listen to what God says.
And the LORD said to me, “Arise, go on your journey at the head of the people, so that they may go in and possess the land, which I swore to their fathers to give them.” (Deuteronomy 10:11 ESV)
You ARE going in to the land because that is how great God is and how wonderful of an interceding Savior we have in Jesus. This humility and awe leads to a life of obedience, which is where Moses continues the sermon that we will consider in the next lesson. God did it all in spite of us. Do not be proud. Never look to ourselves. Always be in awe of what God has accomplished so that we can enter glory with the Lord. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me!