Moses is preparing the people of Israel to enter the Promised Land, the land which the Lord promised to give to Abraham and his descendants after him; a land flowing with milk and honey and filled with good things for them to enjoy; a land which they did not deserve or merit, but which he graciously and freely gave to them; a land where they would enjoy the presence of the Lord in their midst; a land which was a foretaste of the new heaven and earth, where all of God’s people will live in peace and safety forever and forever.
Last week, when we studied chapter 8, we saw how Moses taught the people that the Lord caused them to hunger in the wilderness in order to humble them and to teach them not to rely on bread alone and on the things around us which we can see, but to rely on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. So, rely on the Lord and on his promises and on his commands. Believe his promises. Obey his commands. That’s what they needed to learn; and it’s what God’s people in every generation need to learn. And so, even today, the Lord may afflict us, and he may send troubles into our life, in order to humble us and to teach us to rely not on the things around us, but on the Lord and on his promises and commands. Believe his promises. All of them. Obey his commands. All of them.
And we also saw last week that Moses warned the people of Israel about the dangers of prosperity. He knew that the Lord would bless them in the Promised Land and fill their lives with good. But he also imagined a time when they would forget to give thanks to the Lord or give him the credit for all that they had received. He imagined a time when they would boast about themselves and forget that it was the Lord who gave them all the good things they were to enjoy. And so, Moses warned them that prosperity and success would be a snare for them.
And that too is a warning which God’s people in every generation need to learn. While we may cry out to the Lord and cling to him whenever we’re struggling and suffering, we often forget the Lord; and our commitment to him wanes once he answers our prayers and delivers us from our troubles. And so, we need to watch out lest we forget the Lord. And we need to be careful to walk in his ways and to do his will while we wait for our Saviour to come again to bring us at last to our eternal home. Moses told the people to observe God’s commands, because he was bringing them into a good land. And the Lord is bringing us and all who trust in his Son into a greater land than Israel; he’s bringing us to a heavenly land. And Christ the Saviour has done all things necessary to bring you there. And since he’s bringing us into a good land, a better land, we ought to observe his commands as a sign of our gratitude to him for all his kindness to us.
Those are some of the things we learned from chapter 8. Today, we’re studying the passage which begins at verse 1 of chapter 9 and continues until verse 11 of chapter 10. And it can be divided into four main parts. Firstly, in verses 1 to 6, Moses anticipates how they will conquer the land, but he’s careful to point out that they did not deserve the land. Secondly, in verses 7 to 24, Moses recalls the rebellion of the people in the past in order to make clear that they did not deserve the land. Thirdly, in verses 25 to 29, Moses recalls how he interceded for the Israelites after their rebellion at Mount Sinai. And fourthly, in verses 1 to 11 of chapter 10, he recalls how the Lord renewed the covenant which they broke at Mount Sinai.
And so, let’s study these four main parts one by one.
Verses 1 to 6
Verses 1 to 6 begin with Moses anticipating how they will conquer the land and dispossess the nations. He tells them how they will soon cross the River Jordan to take the land. And the nations from whom they will take the land are greater and stronger than they are. And their cities are well fortified, with strong walls which reach up to the skies. And the people themselves are strong and tall. He mentions the Anakites, who are mentioned in the book of Numbers as well, where it says they were related to the Nephilim, who were a race of giants who populated the earth before the flood. So, Moses is telling the people that some of the people they will encounter in the Promised Land are giants. Indeed, when the previous generation of Israelites sent out men to spy out the Promised Land forty years previously, they came back and reported that the saw the Anakites in the land. And as a result of their report, the people at that time refused to enter the land. They were too afraid. Well, forty years later, Moses is once again reminding the people that the Anakites are in the land. Those giants are there, and it’s said of them:
Who can stand up against them?
So, the cities are strong and high. The people are strong and tall. However, Moses adds in verse 3:
Be assured of this: the Lord is with you.
When you cross the River Jordan, be assured that the Lord your God has crossed over ahead of you. And he’s like a devouring fire. And the Israelites have seen the fire of the Lord, because the Lord went ahead of them in that pillar of cloud and fire; and from time to time fire came from the Lord to destroy some of them whenever they rebelled against him in the wilderness. They knew all about the fire of the Lord; and now Moses was assuring them that the fire of the Lord will burn against their enemies in the Promised Land. So, he will destroy their enemies and subdue them, enabling them to drive them out and to annihilate them quickly. They don’t need to fear the nations, even though they are strong and tall and live behind strong and high walls. They don’t need to fear, because the Lord will fight for them.
At this point we should remember what I’ve said before: that when the Lord sent the Israelites to destroy the nations, it wasn’t an act of terrorism or genocide, but of justice, because the Lord was using the Israelites to punish the nations in Canaan for their wickedness. They were a wicked people; and the historians can tell us about the wicked things they used to do. And though the Lord was patient with them and gave them many years to repent, they refused to repent and they continued to sin against the Lord and to do evil. And so, eventually, the Lord sent the Israelites to punish them for their wickedness.
And punishing the nations in this way was a foretaste of that great and terrible day of judgment which is coming, when the Lord Jesus will gather all the nations before him and he will judge the living and the dead, all who have ever lived, for what they have done. And while those who are righteous by faith will be declared not guilty and will be brought into the presence of the Lord to enjoy everlasting life, all the unrighteous, all who have done wrong and refused to repent, will be condemned and sent out of the presence of the Lord to be punished forever.
And so, when God sent the Israelites to dispossess and to destroy the nations in Canaan, it was an act of justice by which he punished the nations for their wickedness and warned all peoples everywhere of the coming day of judgment when Christ will judge the world in righteousness.
And, of course, I should also add what I said before that the task of God’s people today is not to kill the nations, but to convert the nations. After his resurrection, the Lord Jesus commanded his church to make disciples of all nations, baptising them and teaching them. Today, he does not send his people to destroy the nations, but to convert them to a true faith in Christ. And so, he calls on his church to declare the unsearchable riches of Christ and to call on people everywhere to repent and believe the good news of salvation.
But returning to our text, Moses was re-assuring the Israelites that the Lord would be with them to help them. The previous generation doubted the Lord and turned back. And so, Moses encouraged this generation to trust the Lord and to go forward, because hadn’t the Lord promised to give them the land? Well, since he had promised to give them the land, they can count on him to help them to deal with their enemies who were living in the land at that time.
However, Moses continues in verse 4 to say to them that after the Lord has driven out the nations and given them the land to live in, none of them should say that the reason the Lord has given them the land is because of their own righteousness. In other words, they mustn’t ever think that the reason they received the land was because they were somehow more righteous or better than the other nations. They mustn’t ever think that they somehow earned or merited or deserved to receive the land. They mustn’t think that.
And in case they’re ever tempted to think that, Moses gives three reasons why this is not the case. First of all, in verse 4, one of the reason the Lord chose to take the land from the Canaanites and give it to the Israelites is because of the wickedness of the Canaanites. They were a wicked people and the Lord was now punishing them for their wickedness. And Moses repeats the same thing in the first half of verse 5. Secondly, in the second half of verse 5, Moses refers to God’s promise to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.
So, why was he giving the Israelites the land? Not because of their own righteousness and goodness, but because the Lord had made a promise to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob to give them and their descendants the land. Thirdly, in verse 6, you mustn’t ever say that the reason you received the land was because of your own righteousness, because in fact, you’re not righteous at all. In fact, you’re a stiff-necked people. A stiff-necked people are a stubborn and rebellious people.
The image of a stiff-neck is from the farm. We’re to think of an ox which had a stiff and strong neck to carry a yoke. However, the ox was often stubborn and refused to do what it was supposed to do. Well, the people of Israel were like a stiff-necked ox, because they too were stubborn and rebellious and refused to do what they were supposed to do. On Wednesday evenings last year, we went through the book of Numbers, which tells us about their time in the wilderness. And one of the features of the book is the number of times the people rebelled against the Lord and against Moses, their leader. Again and again and again they disobeyed the Lord and they complained about the Lord and about Moses and about their circumstances. They were not an obedient people, but a disobedient and stubborn people.
So, the reason they received the land was certainly not because of their righteousness, because instead of doing what is right, they so often did what was wrong. They were not any better than the Canaanites and they did not deserve or merit life in the Promised Land. Life in the Promised Land was God’s gift to them. Though they did nothing to deserve it, he graciously and freely gave it to them in accordance with his promise which he graciously and freely made to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.
And life in the Promised Land to come, life in the new heaven and earth, life in the presence of God, is not something that we can earn or merit, because we too are often stiff-necked and instead of obeying the voice of our Master, we rebel against him; and we refuse to do what he says; and we insist on going our own way. Isn’t it the case, that when we hear God’s will for us, instead of humbling ourselves before the Lord and submitting to his will as revealed in the Scriptures, we stubbornly refuse to obey his will? Isn’t it the case, that though we believe our times are in God’s hands, and that he may send us trouble for our good, nevertheless we complain about his will for us? Aren’t we often stubborn and stiff-necked?
Many of us have been Christians all our lives, and have benefitted from his grace and mercy and faithfulness in countless ways; and yet still we disobey him and we go back to the same sins over and over again. The Lord is bringing us to a heavenly land. He’s bringing us to eternal life in his presence. But life in the Promised Land to come is not something we have earned or merited. How could we? — because we’re sinners who sin against the Lord continually. No, life in the Promised Land to come is his gift to us, which he graciously and freely gives to us for the sake of Christ, who died in order to bring us to God.
And so, we ought always to give thanks to the Lord for his grace towards us, because we cannot earn or merit life in the new heaven and earth, but we receive it by grace and through faith in Christ who promises eternal life to all who believe in his name.
Verses 7 to 24
Let’s move on to the second main part which is verses 7 to 24. And there’s no need to spend too much time on this section, because all Moses is doing is recalling how the Israelites rebelled against the Lord in the past. ‘Remember and never forget’, he says in verse 7. Isn’t that interesting? The Lord promises to remember our sins no more, but he instructs his people through Moses that they’re to remember their own sinfulness and failures, because remembering our sins reminds us of God’s grace and mercy in forgiving us our sins. And so, Moses reminds them of the time when he went up Mount Sinai — here it’s called Mount Horeb — to receive the Ten Commandments, written on two stone tablets. However, while Moses was on the mountain with the Lord, the people down below forsook the Lord and made for themselves a golden calf which they bowed before and worshipped. So, when Moses went down the mountain and saw what they had done, he smashed the stones tablets before them as a sign of how they had broken the terms of Lord’s covenant with them. Nevertheless, Moses prayed for them at that time, so that instead of destroying them — which is what they deserved — the Lord listened to Moses and he did not destroy them.
But, of course, that was not the only time they rebelled against the Lord. Back in verse 7 Moses said they were rebellious from the time they left Egypt until the day they arrived where they were now camped. So, for the whole of the forty years in the wilderness, they rebelled against the Lord and were unfaithful to him. And in verses 22 to 24 Moses refers to other occasions when they sinned against the Lord. And he concludes in verse 24 by saying that they have been rebellious ever since he has known them.
Once again, he’s making clear that there were no more righteous than the Canaanites and they did nothing to deserve or merit life in the Promised Land of Canaan. It was God’s gracious and free gift to them. And their story is also our story, because we too are sinners who sin against the Lord continually. Though we love him and want to obey him, we find ourselves disobeying him all of the time in thought and word and deed. Wasn’t that Paul’s testimony in Romans 7? The good he wanted to do, he did not do. The evil he did not want to do, he kept on doing. Sin inside us us bosses us around and makes us do things we don’t want to do. But the good news is that we have an Advocate with the Father, someone who pleads our cause at God’s right hand in heaven. And that takes me to the third main part of today’s passage, which is verses 25 to 29 of chapter 9.
Verses 25 to 29
Back in verse 18, Moses recalled how he fell before the Lord and prayed for the Israelites for forty days and nights. In verses 25 to 29 he tells us a little more about what he said to the Lord when he prayed for them. The Lord had said he was going to destroy them, because they had forsaken him and were worshipping the golden calf. And so, Moses prayed for them. And in his prayer, he pleaded with the Lord not to destroy them. And he gave three reasons why the Lord should let them live.
Firstly, in verse 26, he should let them live because the Lord redeemed them from Egypt. In other words, he delivered them from Egypt and rescued them from their captivity so that they now belong to him. They are his people. They are his inheritance. He rescued them from the Pharaoh and they now belong to him. So, don’t destroy your own people, your own possession.
Secondly, in verse 27, the Lord should let them live because of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. Presumably Moses has in mind the promise God made to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob to make them into a great nation and to give them the Promised Land. So, you need to let them live in order to keep your promise.
And thirdly, in verse 28, the Lord should let them live in order to preserve his own reputation. If he destroyed them, the Egyptians would hear of it and they would think the Lord was unable to give them the land. He was too weak and he was powerless to help them. Or they would think the Lord hated the Israelites and only brought them into the wilderness to destroy them. In either case, his reputation would be ruined. And so, for the sake of your reputation, for the sake of your glory among the nations, do not destroy the Israelites, but let them live.
Moses prayed to the Lord. He interceded on their behalf. And the Lord heard his prayer and listened to what he said. He did not destroy them, even though they deserved it. He let them live. And we too have an Advocate with the Father, someone who appears before the Father in heaven to intercede for us. Though we are guilty sinners, who deserve to be destroyed, the Lord Jesus intercedes for us, so that we are not destroyed, but pardoned by God. Moses interceded for the people for forty days and nights. And no doubt, after that, he interceded for them on other occasions. However, eventually Moses died and his ability to intercede for the people came to an end. But the Lord Jesus, who died, was raised from the dead and he now lives forever. And so, forever and forever he’s able to intercede for us. And though our own conscience accuses us, and though God’s law accuses us, and though the Devil accuses us, the Lord Jesus is standing before the Father on our behalf, asking the Father to pardon us. And, since he knows our weakness, he’s able to ask the Father to send us the help we need to become more and more willing and able to do God’s will here on earth.
And the Lord will pardon us, because through faith in Christ we’ve been added to his church and we now belong to his people. And since we belong to him, we can count on him to keep us. And the Lord will pardon us, because he has promised it, hasn’t he? He has promised to forgive all who trust in his Son. And the Lord will pardon us, because it’s all to the praise of his glorious grace; and by pardoning sinners, God displays the glory of his grace and mercy.
Verses 1 to 11
At Mount Sinai, after the people rebelled, Moses broke the tablets of stone as a sign of how the people had broken the terms of the covenant. But the Lord is gracious and merciful and he does not treat us as our sins deserve. And so, in verses 1 to 11 of chapter 10, we hear how the Lord commanded Moses to chisel out two more stone tablets like the first ones and to come up the mountain again. The Lord also commanded him to make a wooden chest. It’s likely that this wooden chest is the ark of the covenant, which was later kept in the tabernacle and temple. And the Lord promised to write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets. In other words, the Lord would write on them the Ten Commandments which summarised the terms of the covenant. And the tablets — two copies — were to be kept in the wooden chest.
According to verse 3 Moses made the wooden chest. According to Exodus 25, the ark was made by other people. However, there’s no contradiction, because it’s easy to see that the ark was made by others, but under Moses’s supervision. Moses also prepared the tablets and went up the mountain once again. And the Lord wrote down on them once again the Ten Commandments. And when he descended the mountain, he placed the tablets in the wooden chest.
In verses 6 to 9, Moses recalls the time Aaron died. Aaron was the High Priest at that time, but his son succeeded him. And at that time, the Lord set aside the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant. And they were to serve the Lord in the tabernacle. The point of all this is that the Lord gave his people priests and Levites to help them to worship the Lord and to remain faithful to him and to his covenant. And the chapter ends with Moses reminding the people how he stayed on Mount Sinai and how the Lord listened to him, so that he did not destroy them. Instead of destroying them, the Lord was determined to bring them to the Promised Land.
Of course, we know from Old Testament history that the people continued to sin against the Lord and they were unfaithful to him and to the terms of the covenant. Though they promised to do everything which the Lord commanded, they continually disobeyed him. And in time they forsook the Lord and turned to false gods and idols. And though the Lord was patient with them, and sent them prophets to call on them to repent, they continued to sin against him. And so, eventually, the Lord drove them out of the Promised Land and they were exiled among the nations.
But the Lord still did not forget them or abandon them. In fact, through the prophet Jeremiah, he announced that the day would come when he would make a new covenant with them. This new covenant would not be like the old one, the one he made with them at Mount Sinai and which they broke. No, this would be a better covenant. With this new covenant, he would write his laws, not on stone tablets, but on their hearts, so that they would all know the Lord and his will. And the Lord promised that he would forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more. And then, through the prophet Ezekiel, he promised to sprinkle them in order to cleanse them from their guilt. And he promised to give them a new heart to love him like never before. And he promised to give them his Spirit to enable them to obey him like never before. The Lord promised his rebellious and sinful people that he would make a new covenant with them.
And years later, on the night he was arrested, the Lord Jesus took a cup and he said:
This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
The cup of the Lord’s Supper signifies his blood, which he shed on the cross to establish the new covenant, by which God promises to cleanse you from the guilt of your sin if you trust in him. The Lord promises to remember your sins no more. And he gives to all who trust in his Son a new heart to love him. And he gives us his Spirit to help us to renounce sin and ungodliness and to live holy and obedient lives, while we wait for the day to come when we will enter the Promised Land to come to be in the presence of the Lord forever and forever.
God said to Moses:
Go and lead the people on their way, so that they may enter and possess the land that I swore to their fathers to give to them.
Moses was the mediator of the Mount Sinai covenant which they broke. But the Lord Jesus is the mediator of the new covenant which cannot be broken. And the Lord Jesus is the one who has done all things necessary so that we may enter and possess the Promised Land to come and live in it always.