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Moses continued his speech in this chapter with the objective of providing an antidote to the conceited self-righteousness of Israel, marshalling the facts of their repeated failures and rebellions against God as proof that Israel in no way merited the great blessing they were about to receive from God. Some of the things one reads in the commentaries about this unmerited blessing are not true. For example, Scott wrote: "All is due to God's grace alone."F1 It is the word alone which is incorrect and improper. Not even the salvation of the N.T. is by grace or faith only (James 2:24). It is true, of course, that both here and in the N.T. God's grace and mercy are exalted above any human merit, but there simply has to be some factor of difference between the saved and the unsaved, and if that is not true, the whole matter of redemption is unreasonable, capricious, arbitrary, and unworthy, absolutely, of the just and impartial God of heaven and earth. There was, of course, a difference between the Israelites and the Canaanites, and in that difference we are compelled to find one of the reasons for the election of Israel.
In order to prove the opposite of this, a number of authors quoted Eph. 2:8,9. The choice of Israel to possess Canaan was "entirely on the basis of `grace through faith ... not of yourselves ... not of works, lest any man should boast.'"F2 Also Cook stated that, "The lesson of this chapter is exactly that of Eph. 2:8-9, `By grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.'"F3
Now it is not true that Israel's entry into the promised land was due entirely and solely to God's grace, because a whole generation of Israel who came up out of Egypt did not enter, also another 24,000 were put to death on the commandment of God in the defection at Baal-peor, neither did they enter. Why? Simply because, in the whole sacred record of God's dealings with mankind, it was ever and always ONLY THE BELIEVING AND THE OBEDIENT who received the blessing. Therefore, even though God's grace and mercy are paramount, above all else, and most important of all, there is also one other little factor that has to be supplied by the elect himself, namely, his faith and his obedience (to the best of his ability), or at least in some degree acceptable to God. Present-day theology denies this principle, just as Israel did of old, for it is a matter of history that Moses' warnings here were ignored by the historical Israel.
In view of so many O.T. commentators appealing to Eph. 2:8,9, we shall make a few observations about that verse. (For a full discussion of it see Vol. 8 in my N.T. series of commentaries, pp. 158-164.)
F. F. Bruce declared that the "watchword of Reformation theology is: `sola gratia, sola fide, soli Deo gloria' (`by grace alone, through faith alone, to God alone be glory')."F4 Thus, it is that in Reformation theology men have yoked the ox with two asses, namely, `sola gratia and sola fide.' If salvation is by grace alone, it cannot, at the same time, be by faith alone. Could a person be married to Ruth alone and Ann alone at the same time? Thus, the key slogans of the Reformation theology are corrupt "scriptures," being found nowhere in the Word of God. The only reference to "faith only" in the Bible is in James 2:24, where it is declared that "justification (or salvation) is not by faith only."
It is a little-known fact that the meaning of Eph. 2:8,9 is actually this:
"By grace are ye saved through the Christian faith, and that not of yourselves (meaning that people did not invent or produce our holy religion), it is the gift of God; (It was God who gave his Son, sent the Holy Spirit, and gave the gospel to mankind), not of works (that is, not by doing the works of the law of Moses), lest any man should boast (works here have no reference whatever to terms of salvation such as faith, repentance, baptism, etc.)."
Now, coming back to the question of why the Canaanites were driven out and the Israelites were ushered in. Yes, it was by the election, the grace, the mercy, and the will of God. Yes, it was in spite of the fact of Israel's having deserved no such thing, in spite of their never having merited such a blessing in any sense whatever, and with no thought whatever of their having in any sense earned it.
(1) The Canaanites had become so wicked that God could no longer tolerate their existence in the land of Canaan; and
(2) also, the Israelites were, at this point in time, better people than the Canaanites.
Furthermore, the tenure of Israel in Canaan was upon exactly the same terms as had been true of the Canaanites, when Israel became, in fact, another Canaanite civilization, God removed them. Does that sound like "unconditional" ownership of the land of promise?
Thou art to pass over Jordan this day
Here we have another meaning of the word day; and this points up the multiple uses of the same word, which is a prominent feature of the Pentateuch. Here are some of the meanings of day as used in the Bible:
(1) a day of creation;
(2) a day of the week;
(3) a thousand years;
(4) a watch in the night when it is past;
(5) the whole period of God's works in the six days of creation, and here;
(6) day means "at this time."F5
Actually, it appears to have been a matter of some weeks, or perhaps about a month, from the time Moses said this until they crossed Jordan. Clarke stated that: "This was spoken about the eleventh month of the fortieth year of their journeying, and it was in the first month of the following year that they passed over. Moses died in the interim."F6
Nations greater and mightier than thyself
The odds against Israel's being able to dispossess the kingdoms of Canaan must have appeared to be fantastic. The Canaanites had the advantage over Israel.F7 They greatly outnumbered Israel. They possessed the walled cities (walls forty feet high). They were inhabited by the Anakim, traditionally the tallest, strongest, and mightiest men of antiquity. Parker referred to the mythical Anakim,F8 but the mythical theory about this race of powerful people fits none of the facts. They were sufficiently large to instill fear into the hearts of the twelve spies. They are referred to here as known to the Israelites, and also as having been heard of them by Israel. The existence of giants in that period is too well authenticated to be set aside solely on the basis that some unbeliever of the Bible says he doesn't believe it!
Keil's chapter heading for this whole chapter is: "A Warning against Self-righteousness, Founded on a Recital of their Previous Sins."F9 The fact that is reiterated over and over again throughout the chapter is that the reason behind God's dramatic action on behalf of Israel was, "not due to intrinsic merit of Israel, but to the iniquity of the indigenous peoples."F10
Some mote-hunters find an alleged "contradiction" between "make them to perish quickly" (Deuteronomy 9:3), and Deut. 7:22 which speaks of possessing the land "little by little." "There is no contradiction for the reference there is to taking possession of the land, and here it is to the sudden destruction of the Canaanites."F11
This was a tremendous thing that was about to occur. Israel was about to defeat, plunder, dispossess, and confiscate an entire civilization composed of many nations, some of whom were considered invincible, and in possession of mighty fortifications. How easy it would be for a people taking part in such an experience to get "the big head" about themselves, their ability, their righteousness, etc. All of this is "for my righteousness" (Deuteronomy 9:4) is what Israel would be tempted to think. Therefore, God gave them the warnings of this chapter. Alas, Israel did not heed it. They did not heed it, either in that generation, nor at any time in their whole history. Even in the days of Paul, that apostle wrote of them as follows:
"If you bear the name of `Jew,' relying on the Law, priding yourself on God ... if you are persuaded that you are a guide to the blind, a light to darkened souls, a tutor for the foolish, a teacher of the simple ... Well then, do you ever teach yourself?. You teacher of other people? You preach against stealing; do you steal? You forbid adultery; do you commit adultery? You detest idols; do you rob temples? ... Why, it is owing to you that the name of God is maligned among the Gentiles!" -- from Moffatt's translation of Rom. 2:17-24.
Since the almost unbelievable wickedness of the Canaanites was the prime reason for God's dispossession of them, it is a gross error to suppose that there was anything wrong in God's consigning their whole civilization to destruction. Note this:
"Their religion was polytheistic, with a strong emphasis on fertility rites. In the temples of the Canaanites, there were both male and female prostitutes (the [~qadesh] and the [~qadeshah]), and all sorts of sexual excesses were practiced. They thought these rites caused crops and herds to prosper. Asherah was the goddess consort of Baal, and she was the inspiration of every form of passion, whether in war or in love."F12
The above description is by a famed archaeologist, and all of the unmentionable perversions suggested by him have been confirmed in the utmost detail by the spade of the archaeologist. These "prostitutes" were called "priests" and "priestesses" by the people, due to their connection with the "temples." The extent of this can hardly be imagined, some of the temples of antiquity boasting a thousand, or more, of these at a single location!
God in this passage made it clear that this settling of Israel in Canaan was connected with the promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Deuteronomy 9:5), but concerning that famed promise to the patriarchs, it should always be remembered, as Harrison pointed out that:
"The promise is to Abraham's seed (the seed singular) who is Christ (Galatians 3:16) and to all who are "in Him." Also, the blessings of the gospel demand obedience of Christ's followers."F13
Alexander pointed out the distinction between "righteousness" and "uprightness" in Deut. 9:5, thus: "The first applies to deeds and actions, the second to all inward actions and purposes."F14
What a rebellious and stiff-necked people were the Israelites! Throughout the entire O.T., there is one narrative after another of their numerous rebellions against God; and the character manifested by them in the wilderness was evidenced almost countless times afterward. In this single chapter, Oberst pointed out the following references to their rebellions, etc:F15
(a) Stiff-necked, Deut. 9:6,13
(b) Rebellious, Deut. 9:7,23,24
(c) Corrupted themselves, Deut. 9:12
(d) Provoked Jehovah to wrath, Deut. 9:7,8,22
(e) Believed not God, Deut. 9:23
(f) "Sinned" and "were evil," Deut. 9:18
(g) Quickly turned aside, Deut. 9:12
Based solely upon their conduct, Israel had long ago "forfeited all claims to the favor of God."F16 Moses here mentioned the fact that "from the day they came up out of Egypt," but, of course, their rebellions had started even before their coming up out of Egypt. It was prior to the Exodus that they rejected Moses himself, saying, "Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us?" For this reason, it is true as Keil noted that, "The words since the day that thou camest out must not be pressed!"F17
In the conquest of Canaan, Israel was undoubtedly God's tool, or His instrument, in removing the corrupt civilization that lay festering in the land of Canaan. "The prophets of God, however, proclaimed both the Assyrian and Babylonian empires to be God's tools, `the rod of His anger, and the staff of His indignation' (Isaiah 10:5)."F18 The king of Assyria was even referred to as "God's razor!" (Isaiah 7:20). Now, of course, those evil nations used by God to punish Israel did not know they were being used of God, and in the same blindness Israel here refused to recognize the same principle. But Isaiah also wrote, "Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith?" (Isaiah 10:13,15). The plain meaning of this is that, "The instrument also will suffer God's judgment against sin."F19 Israel became so conceited at having been used for awhile as God's instrument that they never reconciled themselves to the idea that they also would suffer the judgment of God against them when their wickedness reached a "ripeness" that demanded it. Dummelow complained that Deut. 9:9 was actually connected with the second giving of the law (Exodus 34:28),F20 but so what? Does Moses here say it was at the FIRST giving of it? "In this historical review, Moses condenses the narrative and does not follow the strict chronological sequence."F21 Since the people hearing Moses knew all of this already, it simply was NOT necessary to rehearse verbatim all that had occurred.
Day of assembly
(Deuteronomy 9:10). This is a reference to the dreadful day when the people stood before the mount that burned with fire and God spoke directly to Israel.F22
Finger of God
(Deuteronomy 9:10) The word for God here is [~'Elohiym], and not [~Yahweh] (used in the same verse), and, of course, this stands as an irrefutable proof that Moses himself used the two different names for God interchangeably. There are dozens of examples throughout the Bible of the same thing. (See my introduction to Genesis in this series.) Well, of course, the critics, who are married to the nonsense about different names for God meaning different authors or sources, cannot allow this to go unchallenged. What to do with it? Do what they always do with a verse of the Bible that contradicts their theories: (1) make a gloss out of it; (2) declare it to be the work of a redactor; (3) it really makes no difference how, JUST GET RID OF IT! This is the way Davies handled it here: Deut. 9:10 is perhaps a marginal gloss!F23 Any proof of such a thing? No! Any evidence whatever of any gloss in this chapter? No. It is just another critic trying to make his foolish theory stand up!
The critics have a lot of problems with this. Like any old man telling what happened years ago, Moses pays little respect to strict chronological sequence of things mentioned, but nobody present could have missed the point of his sermon. Wright spoke of some who attempt to split the passage on the basis of some pronouns being plural and some singular, but that is simply the way Moses talked. We are glad that Wright admitted this possibility, saying, "The constantly shifting pronouns seem to be a rather precarious guide for sure and certain results in literary criticism!"F24 Well, what are the dependable guides? There really are no fully dependable guides, but such things as style, vocabulary, etc. are far better than the pronoun that crutch the critics rely on here. Why don't they follow the style and vocabulary route here? It proves that Moses is the author! "Such reasons as convenience and fitness to the argument sufficiently explain the variations one finds when this chapter is minutely compared with Exo. 32--34."F25
This entire chapter is an insurmountable obstacle to the impossible notion that Jewish priests of the seventh century B.C. composed Deuteronomy. If they did, why all this record of the terrible sin of Aaron, the ancestral head of their priesthood? No. If Jewish priests had anything to do with the Pentateuch, such records as these would never have appeared.
The breaking of the tables of stone (Deuteronomy 9:17), according to the ideas of those days, "signified the end of the covenant."F26 This would have been the end of God's dealings with Israel, except for the intercessory prayers of Moses. Exodus says nothing of Moses' praying for Aaron, but as the principal in those events Moses had every right to supplement any of those events with material which he deemed appropriate here.
Having already recited at length, in a condensed form, the awful rebellion in the matter of the golden calf, Moses next recounted some other serious defections of the people.
Right here, Moses reached the climax of Israel's rebellions. "They did not believe God! ... This was the cardinal sin in the old dispensation as well as in the new. See John 16:9; Heb. 3:1-4:10."F27 (For extensive comments on the incidents connected with all of these places, see the parallel accounts in previous books of the Pentateuch.)
God credited Moses with having brought Israel out of Egypt in Deut. 9:12, but in these verses, Moses repeatedly emphasized the truth that it was God Himself who did so. Moses pleaded the promises to the Patriarchs, and in this we see the explanation of many things in the history of Israel. There must have been countless times when God would have wiped Israel off the face of the earth except for those promises! You see, God had promised that through the posterity of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Messiah would at last be born, and we must say it reverently, "God was simply stuck with Israel, until that event occurred." That truth becomes apparent here. Not only so, but when Israel actually became worse, yes, that is the word, WORSE than Sodom and Gomorrah (See Ezek. 16), justice would have required the annihilation of Israel, just as Sodom and Gomorrah had been destroyed, but then there were those promises. Since the salvation of all mankind depended on the birth of the Messiah, God continued to put up with Israel until Jesus was born.
"In all of the actions Moses mentioned here, it is not always easy to tell which occurred in one stay in the mountain, or in the other."F28 As it pertained to the purpose of Moses in recounting all this, it did not make the slightest difference. "The arrangement here, as frequently found in Hebrew narrative, subordinates strict chronological sequence to topical interests."F29
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.