DESPITE ISRAEL’S HISTORY OF PROVOKING THE LORD TO ANGER, COVENANT PRIVILEGES PERSIST
Daniel Block: Deuteronomy 9:1–10:11 is a self-contained literary subunit whose boundaries are marked by Moses’ anticipation of crossing the Jordan and claiming the land in 9:1, and by Yahweh’s command to Moses to lead the people away from Sinai/Horeb to go and possess the land he had sworn to their ancestors (10:11). The intervening material is held together by the motif of Israel’s rebellion, the tone of tension between Israel and Yahweh, and the temporal phrase “forty days and forty nights.”
Eugene Merrill: From a literary standpoint Deut 9:1–10:11 is a travel narrative much like Deut 1:6–3:29, with which, in fact, it shares much in common. For example, both are introduced (1:1-5; 9:1-6) and concluded (3:29; 10:11) by a setting in the plains of Moab in anticipation of the conquest of Canaan. . .
In the previous passage, Moses’s concern was that the people would forget Yahweh and take credit for their own prosperity. In this text, the issue is not the likelihood that Yahweh will be forgotten but that Israel will attribute whatever good he does for Israel to their own worthiness (von Rad 1966a:74). In a sense, chapter 8 deals with salvation by works and chapter 9 with salvation by self-righteousness. Neither mindset is cognizant of the need for divine grace.
Duane Christensen: In times past, when Moses left the people to receive the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, the people forsook YHWH and provoked him to anger—to the point that he decided to destroy them (9:12–14). But Moses interceded in their behalf and God spared them (9:26–29). Now Moses is about to leave them permanently, and he fears that the people will once again act presumptuously. . . This time he will not be there to intercede with God in their behalf.
Paul Barker: Moses has already dealt with one trap of pride into which Israel may fall, the pride of wealth and abundance. A more basic trap is now dealt with at some length. If Israel does cross over the Jordan and conquer “nations larger and mightier than you, great cities fortified to the heavens, a strong and tall people, the offspring of the Anakim,” what a great victory and national celebration there will be! What a time for national pride!
Peter Craigie: In the previous chapter, the address centered on the contrast between memory and forgetfulness; a living memory of God aided in the maintenance of a living relationship with God, but forgetfulness undermined the continuity of love which was the basis of the covenant relationship. In this chapter there is a shift in emphasis, and now the stubbornness of Israel becomes the focal point of attention. Stubbornness can be a good quality, but it is not an unyielding, stubborn faithfulness to the covenant that is described in this portion of the address. Israel is described rather as being stubborn in its perversity, stubborn in its continual provocation of God.
I. (9:1-6) COVENANT PRIVILEGES NOT BASED ON ISRAEL’S MERIT
A. (:1-3) Guarantee of Conquesting Superior Foes in the Land = Major Covenant Privilege
1. (9:1-2) Superior Foes Must be Defeated to Possess the Land
“Hear, O Israel! You are crossing over the Jordan today to go in to dispossess nations greater and mightier than you, great cities fortified to heaven, 2 a people great and tall, the sons of the Anakim, whom you know and of whom you have heard it said, ‘Who can stand before the sons of Anak?’”
Eugene Merrill: Moses commenced this section on a note of greatest urgency and importance by his use of the imperative ma , “listen!” He did so three other times in Deuteronomy (4:1; 5:1; 6:4), each time either introducing a major section of the book or drawing attention to something of unusual significance (as the Shema in 6:4-5).
2. (9:3) Subdued by God in Order to be Defeated by Israel
“Know therefore today that it is the LORD your God who is crossing over before you as a consuming fire. He will destroy them and He will subdue them before you, so that you may drive them out and destroy them quickly, just as the LORD has spoken to you.”
Gerald Gerbrandt: Earlier the image of God as a devouring fire illustrated God’s jealousy for Israel with regard to exclusive worship (4:24). Its connotation here remains similar: God has the power to consume those who in some way withstand him; but now that fire is turned on the inhabitants of the land. Israel is called upon to dispossess and destroy, but first it says God will defeat them and subdue them (9:3; cf. 7:1–2; 11:23; 19:1; 31:3). The two are treated as essentially one, but the focus is on God’s action. As was proclaimed at the beginning of Deuteronomy and the beginning of their journey from Horeb, God is giving them the land in fulfillment of his promise (1:8, 21): Israel only has to take possession.
Peter Craigie: These opening verses set the scene by bringing together many themes that have already been mentioned earlier in Deuteronomy. The people were poised on the verge of the conquest. Beyond the river were more powerful nations, heavily fortified cities, and the gigantic Anakim. But the people knew that their strength and hope of victory lay in God’s strength and in his word of promise. The contrast is between the weakness of Israel and the strength of the Canaanites, but the latter are eclipsed by the power of God. In v. 3, the power of God is described in three ways:
It is he who crosses ahead of you as a devouring fire;
It is he who will destroy them;
It is he who will humble them before you.
There is thus a strong emphasis on the role of God in giving military victory to his people in the coming conquest, but nevertheless the people are not simply bystanders or observers.
B. (:4-6) Gift of the Land Not Based on Israel’s Righteousness
1. (9:4-5a) Refutation of National Pride or Claiming Credit –
Nations Deserve Defeat Due to Wickedness
“Do not say in your heart when the LORD your God has driven them out before you, ‘Because of my righteousness the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,’ but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is dispossessing them before you. 5 It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land, but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD your God is driving them out before you,”
2. (:5b) Reason for Giving Israel the Land
“in order to confirm the oath which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
Gerald Gerbrandt: God is giving Israel the land in order to fulfill the promise … to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob (9:6; cf. 1:8, 21, 35; 6:10, 18, 19, 23; 7:8, 12, 13; 8:1, 18; etc.). Obviously this does not resolve the problem. It simply raises the question to another level: why did God promise this to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? But it does place the giving of the land into a larger historical context, and it does draw attention to God’s faithfulness.
Eugene Merrill: For one people to be chosen to salvation out of all other possible candidates is a mystery beyond human understanding.
3. (9:6) Reality of Israel’s Stubbornness in Provoking God –
Israel Does Not Deserve Victory
“Know, then, it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stubborn people.”
Daniel Block: With the promise of Yahweh’s confirmation of the covenant to the fathers in the background (8:18), Moses speaks of Yahweh’s dispossessing the Canaanites and handing over their land to Israel. This raises the question: Why should Yahweh be interested in the Israelites at all? Moses answers this question first by refuting any claim to merit as the basis for the divine favor, and then by highlighting the mercy of Yahweh in getting them to the Promised Land. Loosely following the form of a disputation speech, this section divides into two major paragraphs (vv. 1–3 and vv. 4b–6), separated by a hypothesis explaining Yahweh’s interest in Israel, cast as direct speech in the mouth of a hypothetical interlocutor (v. 4a). . .
If this were a pure disputation speech, Moses would have begun his response to the mistaken hypothesis by explicitly disputing the claim. He does indeed do so twice in this short paragraph—in verse 5a and then in verse 6. However, around these repudiations of the hypothesis, he weaves his counter-thesis, which consists of three arguments, each relating to a different party in this equation.
(1) The Canaanites. Yahweh’s act of driving out the Canaanites is not grounded in Israel’s righteousness but is a response to the wickedness of the Canaanites.
(2) Yahweh. Yahweh is driving out the Canaanites to fulfill the promise that he made to the patriarchs, listed here by name as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (v. 5; cf. 1:8; 8:18).
(3) Israel. Saving the most devastating argument for last, Moses declares that far from claiming “righteousness” as their characteristic attribute, the Israelites are fundamentally “a stiff-necked people.” This idiom is based on the image of draft animals, especially yoked oxen, whose locus of power is perceived to be in the neck, but who often refuse to work as their master directs.
With his verdict of “stiff-necked” Moses pricks Israel’s balloon of inflated self-esteem and sets the stage for his portrayal of the Israelite’s fundamentally flawed character. They have nothing to commend themselves to God: no physical greatness (7:7), or power (8:17), or moral character. Their election, occupation of the land, and prosperity within it are all gifts of divine grace, granted to them in spite of their lack of merit.
Gerald Gerbrandt: The Canaanites may be guilty and deserve their fate, but in no way does this imply Israel’s innocence. In rejecting this corollary, Deuteronomy is indirectly questioning the explanation it just gave. Rejecting such a possible misinterpretation of election then becomes the major focus of the chapter. . .
The election claim remains, but its grounds ultimately are unfathomable. The passage’s focus on the stubborn and rebellious nature of Israel then serves to accentuate the graciousness and mercy of a God who elected Israel and gave it the land.
Peter Pett: The implications of this statement are huge. It is saying that it is not anything in them that brings them within Yahweh’s purposes, it is all of His mercy. He has chosen them because of His love for their fathers (Deuteronomy 4:37; Deuteronomy 10:15), and because of His sovereign love (Deuteronomy 7:8) and that is why they are acceptable before Him, and that is why He is bringing them into the land. It is all of His grace, His positive and unmerited love in action towards the undeserving. They have been delivered from Egypt by His gracious act, and they are entering the land by His gracious act. All He requires of them is the faith to respond. Nevertheless the result must be that they become righteous in response to His love. That is the purpose of His bringing them into the land, and if they do not they will be thrust out of the land.
II. (9:7-24) COVENANT PRIVILEGES SURPRISING IN LIGHT OF ISRAEL’S HISTORY OF PROVOKING THE LORD
(:7) Introduction to Israel’s History of Provoking the Lord
“Remember, do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness; from the day that you left the land of Egypt until you arrived at this place, you have been rebellious against the LORD.”
Daniel Block: Verse 7b begins the exposition of the thesis announced in verse 7a. In fact, it functions as a front bookend for this subsection, whose final counterpart occurs in verse 24. These two statements mirror each other both with respect to content and structure:
A From the day you left Egypt until you arrived,
B you have been rebellious against the LORD. (9:7)
B´ You have been rebellious against the LORD
A´ ever since I have known you. (9:24)
Peter Craigie: Remember! Do not forget (v. 7)—the emphatic call to remember is reminiscent of the theme of ch. 8, but it is prompted by the topic of vv. 4–6. If the people were ever foolish enough to claim that the gift of the land was a result of their righteousness, then they would be suffering from a severe case of religious amnesia. They are called, therefore, to remember the long history of their stubbornness and provocation of God, which had extended from the time of the Exodus from Egypt up till the present moment on the plains of Moab (v. 7b).
A. (9:8-21) Provoking the Lord at Horeb –
Requiring Intercession of Moses
1. (:8-14) Anger of the Lord
a. (:8) Severity of the Provocation at Horeb
“Even at Horeb you provoked the LORD to wrath,
and the LORD was so angry with you that He would have destroyed you.”
Duane Christensen: The recollection of events associated with Mount Sinai/Horeb here is similar to themes developed in Deut 1–3. The choice of Horeb is probably dictated by its central importance in the experience of nascent Israel. If there was ever a time when the people should have been faithful to their covenant God, it was during the events that actually produced that covenant. But “even in Horeb you provoked YHWH to anger” (9:8). The people’s behavior at that time was such that God almost destroyed them; thus there was no way they could argue that the gift of the land was the reward for their righteous behavior.
b. (:9) Preparation for Receiving the Two Tablets of the Covenant
“When I went up to the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant which the LORD had made with you, then I remained on the mountain forty days and nights; I neither ate bread nor drank water.”
c. (:10-11) Reception of the Two Tablets of the Covenant
“And the LORD gave me the two tablets of stone written by the finger of God; and on them were all the words which the LORD had spoken with you at the mountain from the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly. 11 And it came about at the end of forty days and nights that the LORD gave me the two tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant.”
d. (:12-14) Anger of the Lord at Israel’s Ungrateful Apostasy
1) (:12) Abomination of the Molten Image
“Then the LORD said to me, ‘Arise, go down from here quickly, for your people whom you brought out of Egypt have acted corruptly. They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them; they have made a molten image for themselves.’”
Peter Pett: Perhaps a word should be said here about the molten calf. It is doubtful if Aaron would have made it if he had seen it as an image of another god. Indeed the people at this stage probably did not want another god. What they wanted was the Yahweh Who had delivered them from Egypt brought down to earth, and not in that dreadful Mount. We know from elsewhere that bulls and other animals were often seen as the pedestal that supported the god. Hadad, Canaanite god of storm, is depicted as standing on a bull. Thus the idea may have been that here was the place where they could visualize the presence of their invisible God. But many, if not all, probably did see the calf as representing Yahweh, and that was always the danger.
However, Yahweh had forbidden the making of a molten image before which men bowed, for such an image regularly did indicate a god. Baal was regularly depicted as a bull. Thus what possibly began as a pedestal containing an invisible god would soon become a representation of God Himself. And that was unthinkable. Such blurring of the truth is always dangerous. It is very possible that much later worship of Baal by the Israelites began with their calling Yahweh ‘baali’, ‘my Lord’. Then they may have persuaded themselves, or each other, that they could see Baal images as Yahweh’s throne. It was not then long before many went the whole way and worshipped Baal.
This is probably also the explanation for the golden calves that Jeroboam would later make and set up in Bethel and Dan when he was desperate to prevent the people from seeking to Yahweh in Jerusalem (1 Kings 12:26-30).
2) (:13-14) Annihilation Proposed
“The LORD spoke further to me, saying, ‘I have seen this people, and indeed, it is a stubborn people. 14 Let Me alone, that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven; and I will make of you a nation mightier and greater than they.’”
2. (:15-21) Actions of Moses in Response
a. (:15-17) Smashed the Tablets
1) (:15) Bringing the Tablets Down the Mountain
“So I turned and came down from the mountain while the mountain was burning with fire, and the two tablets of the covenant were in my two hands.”
2) (:16) Viewing the Abomination of the Molten Calf
“And I saw that you had indeed sinned against the LORD your God. You had made for yourselves a molten calf; you had turned aside quickly from the way which the LORD had commanded you.”
J. Vernon McGee: At the very moment when God was giving them the Commandments, they were turning from Him — yet they were saying they would obey Him. People can be more phony in religion than in anything else. It seems to be something that is characteristic of the human nature. Even people who are really sincere are as phony as can be. We all need to pray the prayer of the psalmist, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23-24). Every child of God needs to pray this. Paul has this admonition for the believers: “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” (2Cor. 13:5). Check whether you are in the faith or not. I believe and I preach the security of the believer, my friend. I believe that the believer is secure. But I also believe and preach the insecurity of the make-believer. There are a lot of make-believers. We need to search our hearts, every one of us.
3) (:17) Smashing the Tablets
“And I took hold of the two tablets and threw them from my hands, and smashed them before your eyes.”
Gerald Gerbrandt: With the mountain still ablaze (cf. 4:11, 24, 36; 5:22–27) with the presence of God, Moses descends to the people. Once Moses sees the sin of the people for himself, he takes the drastic step of smashing the two tablets of the covenant. This is not a spontaneous act of uncontrolled temper but a symbolic statement representing what Israel has done to the covenant through its mutinous action. It announces to the people that they have violated the covenant. It may be compared to formally tearing to shreds a contract that has been broken. The reference to doing this before your eyes suggests the legal nature of his action (Mayes: 200), but it also ties it to those many other events that Deuteronomy uses to teach Israel about God (cf. 1:30; 4:3, 9, 34; 6:22; 7:19; etc.).
John Schultz: For Moses, the forty-day encounter with God, when the Ten Commandments were received, was, in more than one sense, a mountain top experience. Never before had any human being thus communed with God. A more striking contrast between the presence of the Almighty on top of the mountain in the midst of what appears to have been a volcanic eruption, and the riotous idol worship at the foot of the mountain, can hardly be imagined. More than mere common anger must have gripped Moses when he smashed the two stone tablets.
b. (:18-19) Interceded for the People
1) (:18) Humbling Himself by Fasting
“And I fell down before the LORD, as at the first, forty days and nights; I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all your sin which you had committed in doing what was evil in the sight of the LORD to provoke Him to anger.”
Peter Pett: Note the strong threefold phrase, ‘the sin that they had sinned in doing evil ’. He wanted them to realise the grossness of their sin.
Eugene Merrill: The forty-day session with the Lord to which Moses referred was that in which he had received the revelation of the covenant in the first place (Exod 24:18; cf. 32:11-14). It was appropriate, then, that he spend forty more days in confession and repentance as he awaited the renewal of the gracious covenant of the Lord (Exod 34:28; Deut 9:9,11; 10:10). The number forty throughout Scripture symbolizes testing and/or judgment (cf. Gen 7:17; 8:6; Num 13:25; 14:33-34; 32:13; Deut 8:2; Ps 95:10; Matt 4:2). In the present account it is noteworthy that Moses fasted throughout the time of covenant reaffirmation, an act that not only expressed his brokenhearted mediation for his people but his total preoccupation with spiritual things. This, too, was the concern of Christ, who, in agonizing trial in the Judean desert, reminded the tempter that “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4; cf. Deut 8:3).
2) (:19) Fearing the Potential of God’s Wrath
“For I was afraid of the anger and hot displeasure with which the LORD was wrathful against you in order to destroy you, but the LORD listened to me that time also.”
Daniel Block: In his recollection Moses highlights the transformation in the symbolism of Horeb from a place of grace and glory, of revelation and response, of covenant and promise, to a place of human rebellion and divine fury.
c. (:20) Interceded for Aaron
“And the LORD was angry enough with Aaron to destroy him;
so I also prayed for Aaron at the same time.”
d. (:21) Destroyed the Golden Calf
“And I took your sinful thing, the calf which you had made,
and burned it with fire and crushed it, grinding it very small until it was as fine as dust; and I threw its dust into the brook that came down from the mountain.”
Daniel Block: Moses concludes this phase of his report of the rebellion at Horeb by describing how he disposed of the calf itself. Referring to the “calf” as “that sinful thing of yours” (lit., “your sin”), he describes his actions against it with a rapid-fire sequence of verbs: He “took” it, “burned it,” “ground it to power as fine as dust,” and “threw the dust” into the stream flowing down the mountain, flushing it away as excrement. Josiah’s similar treatment of idolatrous objects in 2 Kings 23:12–16 suggest these were stereotypical procedures for dealing with offensive pagan objects (cf. 7:5).
Gerald Gerbrandt: All detail is subservient to the central point of the section: Israel’s apostasy at the mountain is the foremost illustration of its persistent stubbornness. The story provides a permanent reminder that Israel should never understand its receiving the land as a reward for righteousness.
B. (:22) Provoking the Lord on Multiple Occasions
“Again at Taberah and at Massah and at Kibroth-hattaavah
you provoked the LORD to wrath.”
Daniel Block: Moses offers four additional illustrations of their unrighteousness. For the first three he simply lists place names that serve as code words for different dimensions of their rebellious character. Taberah (“Burning”) symbolizes Yahweh’s response to Israel’s sour disposition; it illustrates both Yahweh’s destructive power as “a consuming fire” and the constant need for Moses’ intervention (Num. 11:1–3). Massah (“Place of Testing”) is a code word for Israel’s contentious disposition toward Moses (the place was also called Meribah, “Place of Contention”) and testiness toward Yahweh (Ex. 17:1–7). At Kibroth Hattaavah (“Graves of Craving”), the people had expressed their boredom with Yahweh’s provision by complaining about the manna (Num. 11:4–34), to which Yahweh responded by providing quail and punishing by plague. Regarding Kadesh Barnea, in verse 23 Moses summarizes in a sentence what he had described in great detail in 1:26–43. Here the Israelites’ refusal to enter the land from Kadesh Barnea was paradigmatic of their rebellion, unbelief, and disobedience (cf. 1:26, 32).
John Schultz: The first major failure was at Horeb, where the people made the Golden Calf. Then there is mention of incidences at Taberah, at Massah and at Kibroth Hattaavah. At Taberah the people complained about their hardship, and by way of punishment a fire broke out in the camp. The incident at Massah (and Meriba) pertained to the people complaining about a lack of water. At Kibroth Hattaavah the people craved for meat, and were fed such an abundance of quail, that it lasted them for a whole month.
C. (:23) Provoking the Lord at Kadesh-Barnea
“And when the LORD sent you from Kadesh-barnea, saying,
‘Go up and possess the land which I have given you,’
then you rebelled against the command of the LORD your God;
you neither believed Him nor listened to His voice.”
(:24) Summary of Israel’s History of Provoking the Lord –
Requiring Intercession of Moses
“You have been rebellious against the LORD from the day I knew you.”
Patrick Miller: The issue of innocence and guilt, righteousness and wickedness, in these verses is not an issue of the relation of Israel to “these nations” but of each of them to God. Even the victor who is favored by God can claim no special merit; quite the contrary. The theological conclusion of these verses, therefore, is similar to the argument and claim of Paul in Romans 1–3 that all are under the power of sin, Jew no less than Gentile (3:9). Although he does not allude to this passage, Paul found basis for that conviction all through the Old Testament. He knew that the torah, the divine instruction, is to be kept (Rom. 3:31) and that the keeping of it is the responsibility of the people of God in their relationship with God. But the story will always show a failure to do so that vitiates any claims to righteousness.
Peter Pett: But the point of bringing all this out here was to disillusion the people about their own righteousness. Through God’s grace He had accepted them as His people. But it was not because they deserved it. If it had been left to their righteousness they would not be there. Let them then take to heart that they deserved nothing. They were not worthy. It was all of grace.
III. (9:25 – 10:1) COVENANT PRIVILEGES AND CONQUEST MISSION PERSIST DUE TO GOD’S GRACE, POWER AND FAITHFULNESS
A. (9:25-29) Intercession of Moses to Maintain Covenant Privileges –
Based on 4 Arguments
(:25-26a) Intercession of Moses Introduced
“So I fell down before the LORD the forty days and nights,
which I did because the LORD had said He would destroy you.
26 And I prayed to the LORD, and said,”
1. (:26b) Argument #1 – Redemption Cannot End in Destruction –
Emphasis on God’s Power
“O Lord God, do not destroy Thy people, even Thine inheritance,
whom Thou hast redeemed through Thy greatness,
whom Thou hast brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand.”
2. (:27) Argument #2 — Remember the Believing Patriarchs –
Emphasis on God’s Mercy
“Remember Thy servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob;
do not look at the stubbornness of this people
or at their wickedness or their sin.”
3. (:28) Argument #3 — Reputation of the Lord at Stake –
Emphasis on God’s Faithfulness
“Otherwise the land from which Thou didst bring us may say,
“Because the LORD was not able to bring them into the land
which He had promised them and because He hated them
He has brought them out to slay them in the wilderness.’”
Gerald Gerbrandt: Regardless of the justification God might have in destroying Israel, Moses argues, it will be interpreted either as failure (Because the Lord was not able to bring them into the land) or as a sign of God’s duplicity (because he hated them, he has brought them out to let them die in the wilderness) (v. 28). The first challenges God’s sovereignty, the second questions God’s integrity. God’s very reputation is at stake, Moses charges.
4. (:29) Argument #4 — Relationship Commitment as God’s Inheritance –
Emphasis on God’s Power
“Yet they are Thy people, even Thine inheritance,
whom Thou hast brought out by Thy great power
and Thine outstretched arm.”
Daniel Block: The chapter division between chapters 9 and 10 creates a false impression, inviting readers to separate these two chapters from each other. However, these parts belong together as cause and effect, or action and response.
Peter Craigie: The prayer of Moses expresses his understanding and knowledge of God: the justice of God is balanced by the mercy of God, and it was to God’s mercy that Moses appealed. But the prayer expresses boldness, for it involved the attempt, in humility, to turn aside the wrath of a righteous God. Thus the recollection of the prayer in Moses’ address served to bring a sobering influence on his audience; in the past, there had been moments when the whole future of the people of Israel had been in the balance. In the present, therefore, the people were to remember the past mercies of God and to commit themselves wholeheartedly in allegiance to their Lord.
B. (10:1-5) Covenant Renewed
1. (:1-3) Preparations Commanded and Completed
a. (:1-2) Preparations Commanded
“At that time the LORD said to me, ‘Cut out for yourself two tablets of stone like the former ones, and come up to Me on the mountain, and make an ark of wood for yourself. 2 And I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets which you shattered, and you shall put them in the ark.’”
Gerald Gerbrandt: The new element is the introduction of the ark of wood, as it is called here. This is the first mention of the ark in Deuteronomy. Within Deuteronomy the ark functions exclusively as a container for the two tablets containing the Decalogue (cf. 1 Kings 8:9), the content of the Horeb covenant (cf. 4:13). As such, it fulfills a role similar to the religious shrines of that day in which copies of political treaties would be kept (Craigie 1976: 199).
Michael Grisanti: As Wright (Deuteronomy, 143) points out: The point of Deut. 10:1–5 is not to give a detailed physical description of the ark or to explain every aspect of its religious significance, but rather, in the context of ch. 9, to see its construction for the purpose of storing the new tablets of the Law as tangible proof of the forgiveness of the people and the renewal of the covenant by God’s grace.
Peter Pett: The covenant having been broken we come now to the renewing of the broken covenant, followed by the renewal of the priesthood and the replacing of the firstborn sons of failed Israel with the Levites who had proved their worth. The first part of the chapter is a miscellany of different activities importantly involved in the renewing of the broken covenant and the provision for its protection once renewed. It includes the renewing of the priesthood and the appointment of the Levites, put together in no particular chronological order in a typical speech approach. The purpose was to indicate that the renewed covenant was finally prepared, sealed, delivered and put under the direct protection of Yahweh with the priesthood renewed and new servants appointed for the Tabernacle. he is concerned with what happened, not the order in which it happened.
b. (:3) Preparations Completed
“So I made an ark of acacia wood and cut out two tablets of stone like the former ones, and went up on the mountain with the two tablets in my hand.”
2. (:4) Ten Commandments Inscribed on the New Tablets
“And He wrote on the tablets, like the former writing,
the Ten Commandments which the LORD had spoken to you on the mountain from the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly;
and the LORD gave them to me.”
3. (:5) Two Tablets Placed in the Ark of the Covenant
“Then I turned and came down from the mountain,
and put the tablets in the ark which I had made;
and there they are, as the LORD commanded me.”
Duane Christensen: The renewal of the covenant relationship at Horeb following the incident with the golden calf illustrates the graciousness of God, who has made possible the survival of the people of Israel throughout their long journey in the wilderness. The ark of the covenant is the visible symbol of God’s presence, and a constant reminder of the covenant obligations that are based on the contents of the two stone tablets within that container. The death of Aaron sets the stage for the death of his brother Moses as well, and the beginning of a new era in the life of God’s chosen people.
C. (10:6-9) Aside: Death of Aaron and Role of the Levites
1. (:6-7) Death of Aaron and Succession of Eleazar
“(Now the sons of Israel set out from Beeroth Bene-jaakan to Moserah. There Aaron died and there he was buried and Eleazar his son ministered as priest in his place. From there they set out to Gudgodah; and from Gudgodah to Jotbathah, a land of brooks of water.”
Michael Grisanti: Although there is a slight difference between this listing of sites and that found in Numbers 33:30–33, that difference need not be attributed to variant traditions of Israel’s itinerary during the wilderness wanderings. Instead, since Israel probably passed through this region repeatedly during their almost four decades of wanderings, they likely visited these sites in different sequences. Most of these sites cannot be identified with any certainty.
2. (:8-9) Role of the Levites
“At that time the LORD set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the LORD, to stand before the LORD to serve Him and to bless in His name until this day. 9 Therefore, Levi does not have a portion or inheritance with his brothers; the LORD is his inheritance, just as the LORD your God spoke to him.)”
Gerald Gerbrandt: Two short passages interrupt the narrative at this point. The first (vv. 6–7) is a fragment from a travel report (cf. Num 33:30–33). Its reference to Aaron dying at Moserah (cf. Num 33:37–38) confirms that the intercession Moses made on his behalf (Deut 9:20) was fruitful. Not only did he live, but also his son succeeded him. God’s forgiveness is again demonstrated.
Perhaps triggered by the reference to the ark (vv. 1–5), a second insertion reports the designation of the tribe of Levi for special service to God (vv. 8–9). According to Exodus 32:25–29 it was the Levites’ zeal in punishing those who had succumbed to the temptation of the calf that occasioned their designation to God’s service. The background is omitted here, but the commission remains.
Peter Craigie: According to Moses, Yahweh himself is the inheritance of the Levites (10:9). In other words, the Levites would live by participating in that which was given directly to the Lord. Though they would not have the physical security derived from their own personal property, they had the high honor of directly serving the Lord on behalf of their fellow Israelites.
Duane Christensen: vv. 1-7
A Moses is told to replace the tablets and make an ark to hold them 10:1
B God promises to write the words again on the tablets 10:2
C Moses made the ark, took the tablets and went up the mountain 10:3
X YHWH wrote the Ten Words and gave them to Moses 10:4
C´ Moses went down the mountain 10:5a
B´ Moses put the tablets in the ark he had made 10:5b
A´ Israel journeyed on, Aaron died and was replaced by Eleazar 10:6–7
Daniel Block: The narrator summarizes the professional privileges/duties of the Levitical priests with four infinitive purpose clauses:
(1) “to carry the ark of the covenant of the LORD,” which means to serve as custodians of the tablets inside, and by implication of the covenant itself;
(2) “to stand before the LORD,” which elsewhere represents official court language authorizing entrance into the presence of the king (cf. Dan. 1:4);
(3) “to minister” to Yahweh, a reference to the cultic service they would render by presenting offerings and sacrifices on the altar, maintaining the tabernacle/temple as Yahweh’s residence (Num. 18:1–6; Ezek. 44:11), and resolving disputes on God’s behalf (Deut. 21:5); and
(4) “to pronounce blessings” before the people in the name of Yahweh, which probably involved pronouncing the “Aaronic benediction” of Numbers 6:24–26 (cf. Lev. 9:22; 1 Chr. 23:13).
D. (:10:10-11) Conquest Mission Initiated
1. (:10) Destruction Averted
“I, moreover, stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights
like the first time, and the LORD listened to me that time also;
the LORD was not willing to destroy you.”
Peter Craigie: The concluding verse of the section emphasizes the principal theme, namely, that Moses’ prayer had been answered, the people had not been destroyed, and the covenant relationship between God and his people was still intact, only through the grace of God.
2. (:11) Destination Pursued
“Then the LORD said to me, ‘Arise, proceed on your journey
ahead of the people, that they may go in and possess the land
which I swore to their fathers to give them.’”
Eugene Merrill: Moses had come to learn that God’s irrefragable promises prevail no matter what; for should they not, he himself would lose his reputation and glory among the nations and, in fact, would deny himself (Exod 32:11-14). On the basis of his very person and promises, therefore, he had commanded Moses to lead the people on to the land he had promised their fathers to give them (v. 11).
David Guzik: Israel’s rebellion at Mount Sinai with the golden calf was significant; it was no small matter. Yet God was not done with them. After they came back to His word and came through His priesthood, it was time to move on. God had a place to take them and they had to get about the business of getting there. That they may go in and possess the land: Getting right with God after a time of rebellion must always come to a place of progress again. It does no good to come back to the word, come through God’s priesthood in Jesus, and then remain stuck in the same place. God wants us to move on with Him, and when we are walking right with God again, we will go in and possess the land.
Michael Grisanti: The whole section ends, as it began in 9:1, with the onward movement of the people into the land of promise. In the light of all that has come between the beginning and the end of this section, this should be a chastened people about to move into the land; a people with every confidence in their God, but with no illusions about themselves.