The design of Moses in this chapter is to convince the people of Israel
of their utter unworthiness to receive from God those great favours
that were now to be conferred upon them, writing this, as it were, in
capital letters at the head of their charter, "Not for your sake, be it
known unto you,"
I. He assures them of victory over their enemies,
II. He cautions them not to attribute their successes to their own
merit, but to God's justice, which was engaged against their enemies,
and his faithfulness, which was engaged to their fathers,
III. To make it evident that they had no reason to boast of their own
righteousness, he mentions their faults, shows Israel their
transgressions, and the house of Jacob their sins. In general, they
had been all along a provoking people,
1. In the matter of the golden calf, the story of which he largely
2. He mentions some other instances of their rebellion,
3. Returns, at
to speak of the intercession he had made for them at Horeb, to prevent
their being ruined for the golden calf.
||B. C. 1451.|
1 Hear, O Israel: Thou art to pass over Jordan this day, to
go in to possess nations greater and mightier than thyself,
cities great and fenced up to heaven,
2 A people great and tall, the children of the Anakims, whom
thou knowest, and of whom thou hast heard say, Who can stand
before the children of Anak!
3 Understand therefore this day, that the LORD thy God is he
which goeth over before thee; as a consuming fire he shall
destroy them, and he shall bring them down before thy face: so
shalt thou drive them out, and destroy them quickly, as the LORD
hath said unto thee.
4 Speak not thou in thine heart, after that the LORD thy God
hath cast them out from before thee, saying, For my righteousness
the LORD hath brought me in to possess this land: but for the
wickedness of these nations the LORD doth drive them out from
5 Not for thy righteousness, or for the uprightness of thine
heart, dost thou go to possess their land: but for the wickedness
of these nations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before
thee, and that he may perform the word which the LORD sware unto
thy fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
6 Understand therefore, that the LORD thy God giveth thee not
this good land to possess it for thy righteousness; for thou
art a stiffnecked people.
The call to attention
Hear, O Israel, intimates that this was a new discourse,
delivered at some distance of time after the former, probably the next
I. Moses represents to the people the formidable strength of the
enemies which they were now to encounter,
The nations they were to dispossess were mightier than themselves, not
a rude and undisciplined rout, like the natives of America, that were
easily made a prey of. But, should they besiege them, they would find
their cities well fortified, according as the art of fortification then
was; should they engage them in the field, they would find the people
great and tall, of whom common fame had reported that there was no
standing before them,
This representation is much the same with that which the evil spies had
but made with a very different intention: that was designed to drive
them from God and to discourage their hope in him; this to drive them
to God and to engage their hope in him, since no power less than that
which is almighty could secure and prosper them.
II. He assures them of victory, by the presence of God with them,
notwithstanding the strength of the enemy,
"Understand therefore what thou must trust to for success, and which
way thou must look; it is the Lord thy God that goes before thee, not
only as thy captain, or commander-in-chief, to give direction, but as a
consuming fire, to do execution among them. Observe, He shall destroy
them, and then thou shalt drive them out. Thou canst not drive them
out, unless he destroy them and bring them down. But he will not
destroy them and bring them down, unless thou set thyself in good
earnest to drive them out." We must do our endeavour in dependence upon
God's grace, and we shall have that grace if we do our endeavour.
III. He cautions them not to entertain the least thought of their own
righteousness, as if that had procured them this favour at God's hand:
"Say not. For my righteousness (either with regard to my good
character or in recompence for any good service) the Lord hath
brought me in to possess this land
never think it is for thy righteousness or the uprightness of thy
heart, that it is in consideration either of thy good conversation or
of they good disposition,"
it is insisted on, because it is hard to bring people from a conceit of
their own merit, and yet very necessary that it be done:
"Understand (know it, and believe it, and consider it) that
the Lord thy God giveth thee not this land for thy
righteousness. Hadst thou been to come to it upon that condition,
thou wouldst have been for ever shut out of it, for thou art a
stiff-necked people." Note, Our gaining possession of the heavenly
Canaan, as it must be attributed to God's power and not to our own
might, so it must be ascribed to God's grace and not to our own merit:
in Christ we have both righteousness and strength; in him therefore we
must glory, and not in ourselves, or any sufficiency of our own.
IV. He intimates to them the true reasons why God would take this good
land out of the hands of the Canaanites, and settle it upon Israel, and
they are borrowed from his own honour, not from Israel's deserts.
1. He will be honoured in the destruction of idolaters; they are justly
looked upon as haters of him, and therefore he will visit their
iniquity upon them. It is for the wickedness of these nations
that God drives them out,
All those whom God rejects are rejected for their own wickedness: but
none of those whom he accepts are accepted for their own righteousness.
2. He will be honoured in the performance of his promise to those that
are in covenant with him: God swore to the patriarchs, who loved him
and left all to follow him, that he would give this land to their seed;
and therefore he would keep that promised mercy for thousands of
those that loved him and kept his commandments; he would not suffer
his promise to fail. It was for their fathers' sakes that they were
Thus boasting is for ever excluded. See
|Cautions Against Self-Righteousness; Israel Reminded of Their Rebellions.
||B. C. 1451.|
7 Remember, and forget not, how thou provokedst the LORD thy
God to wrath in the wilderness: from the day that thou didst
depart out of the land of Egypt, until ye came unto this place,
ye have been rebellious against the LORD.
8 Also in Horeb ye provoked the LORD to wrath, so that the LORD
was angry with you to have destroyed you.
9 When I was gone up into the mount to receive the tables of
stone, even the tables of the covenant which the LORD made with
you, then I abode in the mount forty days and forty nights, I
neither did eat bread nor drink water:
10 And the LORD delivered unto me two tables of stone written
with the finger of God; and on them was written according to
all the words, which the LORD spake with you in the mount out of
the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly.
11 And it came to pass at the end of forty days and forty
nights, that the LORD gave me the two tables of stone, even
the tables of the covenant.
12 And the LORD said unto me, Arise, get thee down quickly from
hence; for thy people which thou hast brought forth out of Egypt
have corrupted themselves; they are quickly turned aside out of
the way which I commanded them; they have made them a molten
13 Furthermore the LORD spake unto me, saying, I have seen this
people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people:
14 Let me alone, that I may destroy them, and blot out their
name from under heaven: and I will make of thee a nation mightier
and greater than they.
15 So I turned and came down from the mount, and the mount
burned with fire: and the two tables of the covenant were in my
16 And I looked, and, behold, ye had sinned against the LORD
your God, and had made you a molten calf: ye had turned aside
quickly out of the way which the LORD had commanded you.
17 And I took the two tables, and cast them out of my two
hands, and brake them before your eyes.
18 And I fell down before the LORD, as at the first, forty days
and forty nights: I did neither eat bread, nor drink water,
because of all your sins which ye sinned, in doing wickedly in
the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger.
19 For I was afraid of the anger and hot displeasure, wherewith
the LORD was wroth against you to destroy you. But the LORD
hearkened unto me at that time also.
20 And the LORD was very angry with Aaron to have destroyed
him: and I prayed for Aaron also the same time.
21 And I took your sin, the calf which ye had made, and burnt
it with fire, and stamped it, and ground it very small,
even until it was as small as dust: and I cast the dust thereof
into the brook that descended out of the mount.
22 And at Taberah, and at Massah, and at Kibroth-hattaavah, ye
provoked the LORD to wrath.
23 Likewise when the LORD sent you from Kadesh-barnea, saying,
Go up and possess the land which I have given you; then ye
rebelled against the commandment of the LORD your God, and ye
believed him not, nor hearkened to his voice.
24 Ye have been rebellious against the LORD from the day that I
25 Thus I fell down before the LORD forty days and forty
nights, as I fell down at the first; because the LORD had said
he would destroy you.
26 I prayed therefore unto the LORD, and said, O Lord GOD,
destroy not thy people and thine inheritance, which thou hast
redeemed through thy greatness, which thou hast brought forth out
of Egypt with a mighty hand.
27 Remember thy servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; look not
unto the stubbornness of this people, nor to their wickedness,
nor to their sin:
28 Lest the land whence thou broughtest us out say, Because the
LORD was not able to bring them into the land which he promised
them, and because he hated them, he hath brought them out to slay
them in the wilderness.
29 Yet they are thy people and thine inheritance, which thou
broughtest out by thy mighty power and by thy stretched out arm.
That they might have no pretence to think that God brought them to
Canaan for their righteousness, Moses here shows them what a
miracle of mercy it was that they had not long ere this been destroyed
in the wilderness: "Remember, and forget not, how thou provokedst
the Lord thy God
so far from purchasing his favour, thou hast many a time laid thyself
open to his displeasure." Their fathers' provocations are here charged
upon them; for, if God had dealt with their fathers according to their
deserts, this generation would never have been, much less would they
have entered Canaan. We are apt to forget our provocations, especially
when the smart of the rod is over, and have need to be often put in
mind of them, that we may never entertain any conceit of our own
righteousness. Paul argues from the guilt which all mankind is under to
prove that we cannot be justified before God by our own works,
If our works condemn us, they will not justify us. Observe,
1. They had been a provoking people ever since they came out of Egypt,
Forty years long, from first to last, were God and Moses grieved
with them. It is a very sad character Moses now at parting leaves of
them: You have been rebellious since the day I knew you,
No sooner were they formed into a people than there was a faction
formed among them, which upon all occasions made head against God and
his government. Though the Mosaic history records little more than the
occurrences of the first and last year of the forty, yet it seems by
this general account that the rest of the years were not much better,
but one continued provocation.
2. Even in Horeb they made a calf and worshipped it,
&c. That was a sin so heinous, and by several aggravations made so
exceedingly sinful, that they deserved upon all occasions to be
upbraided with it. It was done in the very place where the law was
given by which they were expressly forbidden to worship God by images,
and while the mountain was yet burning before their eyes, and Moses had
gone up to fetch them the law in writing. They turned aside
3. God was very angry with them for their sin. Let them not think that
God overlooked what they did amiss, and gave them Canaan for what was
good among them. No, God had determined to destroy them
could easily have done it, and would have been no loser by it; he even
desired Moses to let him alone that he might do it,
By this it appeared how heinous their sin was, for God is never angry
with any above what there is cause for, as men often are. Moses
himself, though a friend and favourite, trembled at the revelation of
God's wrath from heaven against their ungodliness and unrighteousness
I was afraid of the anger of the Lord, afraid perhaps not for
them only, but for himself,
4. They had by their sin broken covenant with God, and forfeited all
the privileges of the covenant, which Moses signified to them by
breaking the tables,
A bill of divorce was given them, and thenceforward they might justly
have been abandoned for ever, so that their mouth was certainly stopped
from pleading any righteousness of their own. God had, in effect,
disowned them, when he said to Moses
"They are thy people, they are none of mine, nor shall they be dealt
with as mine."
5. Aaron himself fell under God's displeasure for it, though he was the
saint of the Lord, and was only brought by surprise or terror to be
confederate with them in the sin: The Lord was very angry with
No man's place or character can shelter him from the wrath of God if he
have fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness. Aaron,
that should have made atonement for them if the iniquity could have
been purged away by sacrifice and offering, did himself fall under the
wrath of God: so little did they consider what they did when they drew
6. It was with great difficulty and very long attendance that Moses
himself prevailed to turn away the wrath of God, and prevent their
utter ruin. He fasted and prayed full forty days and forty nights
before he could obtain their pardon,
And some think twice forty days
because it is said, as I fell down before, whereas his errand in
the first forty was not of that nature. Others think it was but one
forty, though twice mentioned (as also in
but this was enough to make them sensible how great God's displeasure
was against them, and what a narrow escape they had for their lives.
And in this appears the greatness of God's anger against all mankind
that no less a person than his Son, and no less a price than his own
blood, would serve to turn it away. Moses here tells them the substance
of his intercession for them. He was obliged to own their
stubbornness, and their wickedness, and their sin,
Their character was bad indeed when he that appeared an advocate for
them could not give them a good word, and had nothing else to say in
their behalf but that God had done great things for them, which really
did but aggravate their crime
they were the posterity of good ancestors
which might also have been turned upon him, as making the matter worse
and not better,--and that the Egyptians would reproach God, if he
should destroy them, as unable to perfect what he had wrought for them
a plea which might easily enough have been answered: no matter what the
Egyptians say, while the heavens declare God's righteousness; so that
the saving of them from ruin at that time was owing purely to the mercy
of God, and the importunity of Moses, and not to any merit of theirs,
that could be offered so much as in mitigation of their offence.
7. To affect them the more with the destruction they were then at the
brink of, he describes very particularly the destruction of the calf
they had made,
He calls it their sin: perhaps not only because it had been the
matter of their sin, but because the destroying of it was intended for
a testimony against their sin, and an indication to them what the
sinners themselves did deserve. Those that made it were like unto it,
and would have had no wrong done them if they had been thus stamped to
dust, and consumed, and scattered, and no remains of them left. It was
infinite mercy that accepted the destruction of the idol instead of the
destruction of the idolaters.
8. Even after this fair escape that they had, in many other instances
they provoked the Lord again and again. He needed only to name the
places, for they carried the memorials either of the sin or of the
punishment in their names
at Taberah, burning, where God set fire to them for their
murmuring,--at Massah, the temptation, where they challenged
almighty power to help them,--and at Kibroth-hattaavah, the graves
of lusters, where the dainties they coveted were their poison; and,
after these, their unbelief and distrust at Kadesh-barnea, of which he
had already told them
and which he here mentions again
would certainly have completed their ruin if they had been dealt with
according to their own merits.
Now let them lay all this together, and it will appear that whatever
favour God should hereafter show them, in subduing their enemies and
putting them in possession of the land of Canaan, it was not for their
righteousness. It is good for us often to remember against ourselves,
with sorrow and shame, our former sins, and to review the records
conscience keeps of them, that we may see how much we are indebted to
free grace, and may humbly own that we never merited at God's hand any
thing but wrath and the curse.