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The Consequences of Rebelling against God
Hear, O Israel! You are about to cross the Jordan today, to go in and dispossess nations larger and mightier than you, great cities, fortified to the heavens, 2a strong and tall people, the offspring of the Anakim, whom you know. You have heard it said of them, “Who can stand up to the Anakim?” 3Know then today that the Lord your God is the one who crosses over before you as a devouring fire; he will defeat them and subdue them before you, so that you may dispossess and destroy them quickly, as the Lord has promised you.
4 When the Lord your God thrusts them out before you, do not say to yourself, “It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to occupy this land”; it is rather because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is dispossessing them before you. 5It is not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart that you are going in to occupy their land; but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is dispossessing them before you, in order to fulfill the promise that the Lord made on oath to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
6 Know, then, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to occupy because of your righteousness; for you are a stubborn people. 7Remember and do not forget how you provoked the Lord your God to wrath in the wilderness; you have been rebellious against the Lord from the day you came out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place.
8 Even at Horeb you provoked the Lord to wrath, and the Lord was so angry with you that he was ready to destroy you. 9When I went up the mountain to receive the stone tablets, the tablets of the covenant that the Lord made with you, I remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights; I neither ate bread nor drank water. 10And the Lord gave me the two stone tablets written with the finger of God; on them were all the words that the Lord had spoken to you at the mountain out of the fire on the day of the assembly. 11At the end of forty days and forty nights the Lord gave me the two stone tablets, the tablets of the covenant. 12Then the Lord said to me, “Get up, go down quickly from here, for your people whom you have brought from Egypt have acted corruptly. They have been quick to turn from the way that I commanded them; they have cast an image for themselves.” 13Furthermore the Lord said to me, “I have seen that this people is indeed a stubborn people. 14Let 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 more numerous than they.”
15 So I turned and went down from the mountain, while the mountain was ablaze; the two tablets of the covenant were in my two hands. 16Then I saw that you had indeed sinned against the Lord your God, by casting for yourselves an image of a calf; you had been quick to turn from the way that the Lord had commanded you. 17So I took hold of the two tablets and flung them from my two hands, smashing them before your eyes. 18Then I lay prostrate before the Lord as before, forty days and forty nights; I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all the sin you had committed, provoking the Lord by doing what was evil in his sight. 19For I was afraid that the anger that the Lord bore against you was so fierce that he would destroy you. But the Lord listened to me that time also. 20The Lord was so angry with Aaron that he was ready to destroy him, but I interceded also on behalf of Aaron at that same time. 21Then I took the sinful thing you had made, the calf, and burned it with fire and crushed it, grinding it thoroughly, until it was reduced to dust; and I threw the dust of it into the stream that runs down the mountain.
22 At Taberah also, and at Massah, and at Kibroth-hattaavah, you provoked the Lord to wrath. 23And when the Lord sent you from Kadesh-barnea, saying, “Go up and occupy the land that I have given you,” you rebelled against the command of the Lord your God, neither trusting him nor obeying him. 24You have been rebellious against the Lord as long as he has known you.
25 Throughout the forty days and forty nights that I lay prostrate before the Lord when the Lord intended to destroy you, 26I prayed to the Lord and said, “Lord God, do not destroy the people who are your very own possession, whom you redeemed in your greatness, whom you brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 27Remember your servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; pay no attention to the stubbornness of this people, their wickedness and their sin, 28otherwise the land from which you have brought us might say, ‘Because the Lord was not able to bring them into the land that he promised them, and because he hated them, he has brought them out to let them die in the wilderness.’ 29For they are the people of your very own possession, whom you brought out by your great power and by your outstretched arm.”
1. Thou art to pass over Jordan this day. The whole of this passage contains an eulogy on the gratuitous liberality of God, whereby He had bound the people to Himself unto the obedience of the Law. But this (as we have already seen) ought to have been a most pressing stimulus to incite the people, and altogether to ravish them to the worship and love of God, to whom they were under so great obligation. The design of Moses, then, was to shew that the Israelites, for no merit of their own, but by the signal bounty of God, would be heirs of the land of Canaan; and that this entirely flowed from the covenant and their gratuitous adoption; in order that, on their part, they should persevere in the faithful observation of the covenant, and so should be the more disposed to honor Him. For it would be too disgraceful that they, whom God had prevented by His grace, should not meet Him, as it were, by voluntarily submitting to His dominion. Moreover, lest they should arrogate anything to themselves, he commends the greatness of God’s power, in that they could not be victorious over so many nations, unless by the miraculous aid of heaven. With this view, he states that these nations excelled not only in greatness and multitude, but also in military valor. He adds that their cities were great and impregnable; and, finally, that in them were the children of the giants, formidable from their enormous stature. For Anak (as is related in Joshua 15246246 Or, more fully in Numbers 13:33. ) was a celebrated giant, whose descendants were called Anakim. And, to take away all doubt about this, he cites themselves as witnesses, that they were so terrified by their appearance as to wish to turn back again. We now understand the object of all these details, viz., that God’s glory may shine forth in the victories and success of the people. The words “whom thou knowest, and of whom thou hast heard,” have reference to the spies;247247 “Qui avoyent este envoyez pour descouvrir la terre;” who had been sent to descry the land. — Fr. for these giants had not yet become openly known to the people; but he transfers the case of a few to them all, because, by the account the spies had given, terror had invaded the whole camp, as though they had actually come into conflict with them. Since, then, they had been persuaded of their inferiority to their enemies, and utterly disheartened by the report they received, Moses convicts them on their own evidence, lest, perchance, they might hereafter assume to themselves the praise which was due to God alone. But we are taught in these words, that such is the ingratitude of mankind, that they obscure, as much as they can, God’s bounties, and never yield, except when driven to conviction.
3. Understand therefore this day. He concludes from what has preceded that the Israelites would be too perverse, unless they acknowledge that their enemies were overcome by the hand of God; and, still more to heighten the miracle, he uses a similitude, comparing God to a fire, which consumes so many nations in an unwonted and incredible manner. It is as if he had said, that it could not be effected by human or ordinary means that so many and such warlike peoples could thus quickly perish. Elsewhere God is called “a consuming fire” in a different sense, that we may fear his wrath and power; but here Moses only means that the destruction of the Canaanitish nations was His wonderful work.
4. Speak not thou in thine heart. He now more plainly warns the people not to exalt themselves in proud and foolish boasting. If they had not been naturally so depraved and malignant, it would have been sufficient to point out God’s grace in a single word; but he could not induce them to gratitude except by correcting and destroying their pride. He therefore takes away this stumblingblock, in order that God’s generosity might be conspicuous among them. “To speak in the heart” is equivalent to reflecting or conceiving an opinion. Wherefore Moses not only reproves the boasting of the lips, but that hidden arrogance, wherewith men are puffed up, when they take to themselves the praise which is due to God. Moreover, he not only prohibits them from ascribing it to their own valor, that they had routed their enemies, and gained possession of the land, but also from imagining that this was the just recompense of their merits. For God is not less defrauded of His glory when men oppose their righteousness to His liberality, than when they boast that whatever blessings they have are obtained by their own industry. To make this more ‘clear, I will repeat it. Moses does not forbid the people from thinking that they had themselves acquired the land without God’s aid; nay, he takes it for granted that they themselves will acknowledge that it was by God’s help that they were victorious; but he is not contented with this limited gratitude unless they at the same time acknowledge that they had deserved nothing of the kind, and therefore that it was a mere and gratuitous act of His bounty. The reason given in the second clause does not appear sufficiently248248 De prime face. — Fr. conclusive, viz., that the nations were driven out on account of their own wickedness; for it might have been that what God took away from these wicked reprobates He transferred to those who were more worthy; but. it appears to be an indirect admonition, that the Israelites should compare themselves with these nations; because it was evidently to be gathered by them from thence,249249 “Pour ce que, se cognoissans povres et miserables, ils devoyent aisement conclurre,” etc.; because, knowing themselves to be poor and miserable, they might easily conclude, etc. — Fr. that they had not acquired this foreign land, from which the former inhabitants had been ejected, by their own righteousness. And this is still more clearly expressed in the two next verses.
5. Not for thy righteousness. First of all, he would have the punishment inflicted upon these nations awaken the Israelites to fear, and thus that they should attribute nothing to themselves; because it was God’s design not to reward their merits, but to shew the severity of His judgment. Secondly, he confirms this by two arguments; viz., because God thus had performed what He promised Abraham; (which promise, as has been already seen, was founded on mere grace;) and, again, because the people itself was naturally perverse and rebellious. Hence, it sufficiently appears that there was no room for merits, since by them God’s covenant would have been nullified, nor, if there were, could any such be found in so depraved and contumacious a nation. And besides, God had made His covenant with Abraham almost four centuries before they were born. Hence it follows that this benefit proceeded from some other source. But he still further represses their pride, by reproaching them with being “stiff-necked;” for it would have been too absurd to imagine that God, whom they had not ceased to provoke with their sins, was under obligation to them, as if they had duly discharged their duty. This metaphor is taken from oxen, which are useless until they are accustomed to bend their necks; it is then the same as saying that they were not only unsubmissive, but that in their obstinacy they shook off the yoke. By his impressing on them, for the third time, that the Israelites had not deserved the land by their righteousness, we learn that nothing is more difficult than for men to strip themselves of their blind arrogance, whereby they detract some portion of the praise from God’s mercies. Now, if in regard to an earthly inheritance God so greatly exalts His mercy, what must we think of the heavenly inheritance?250250 L’heritage celeste, et permanent. — Fr. He would have it attributed to Himself alone, that the children of Israel possess the land of Canaan; how much less, then, will He tolerate the obtrusion of men’s merits in order to the acquisition of heaven? Nor is there anything in the pretense of the Papists that they attribute the first place to God’s bounty; because He claims altogether for Himself what they would share with Him. But if any object that this was only said to His ancient people, I reply, that we are no better than they. Let each retire into himself,251251 Pour se bien examiner. — Fr. and he will not excuse the hardness of his neck. But they who are regenerated by God’s Spirit, know that they are not naturally formed unto obedience; and thus that it is only mercy which makes them to differ from the worst of men.
7. Remember, and forget not, how thou provokedst In order to reprove the ingratitude of the people, Moses here briefly refers to some of their offenses; but he principally insists on the history of their revolt, in which their extreme and most detestable impiety betrayed itself. He therefore narrates this crime in almost the identical words which he had previously used in Exodus. He begins by urging them often to reflect upon their sins, lest they should ever be forgotten; and this constant recollection of them not only tended to humiliate them, but also to teach them at length to lay aside their depraved nature, and to accustom themselves to become obedient to God. Afterwards he proceeds to the history itself, shewing that God had been provoked by their idolatry to destroy them. If a question be here put, how it was that God was prevailed upon by Moses to change His intention, our curiosity must be repressed, lest we should dispute more deeply than is fitting respecting the secret and incomprehensible decree of God. Sure it is that God did not act otherwise than He had determined; but Moses goes no deeper than the sentence that was revealed to him; just as we must assuredly conclude that destruction is prepared for us when we transgress; and that God’s anger is appeased when we fly to His mercy in true faith, and with sincere affections. The rest has been already expounded.
17. And I took the two tables, and cast them out Moses here accuses himself of no transgression; he does not, therefore, give us to understand that he was urged to break the tables by the impetuosity of excessive anger; but rather he again repeats what they had deserved, and consequently that he discharged the office of a herald, 391391 Lat. “Fecialis munere;” alluding doubtless to the custom of the Roman Feciales, in throwing a bloody spear into the territories of others as a declaration of war. See Liv. 1:32. so as to denounce, not by word of mouth only, but by a solemn rite also, that God’s Covenant was broken and made void by their perfidiousness. For which reason also he cast down and broke the tables before their eyes, in order that being alarmed by so awful a punishment, they might more earnestly betake themselves to the expiation of their sins.
18. And I fell down before the Lord The order of the narrative is confused; for this fact of which he speaks did not precede his second ascent into the mount, when he was commanded to prepare the second tables. If so, he would have fasted three times, which we gather from other passages not to have been the case; but we must not be surprised that the same thing should be often repeated, as we shall see at the beginning of chapter 10, as well as shortly afterwards. The mention of it here, however, is seasonable, because the Covenant was to be renewed, and therefore, as if nothing had been done, he again abstained from meat and drink for forty days. Yet we have elsewhere seen that there were other prayers which had intervened before He ascended the mount a second time; but He does not here distinctly record the details, nay, he mixes up the prayers, whereby he interceded with God, with the second fast, because this was the point most worthy of observation, that the first promulgation of the Law had failed of its effect, and the Covenant which they had violated was to be repeated, as it were, from its very commencement.
Although he says that “because of their sins” he had not eaten bread nor drunk water, he does not signify that this fast was a sign of grief and mourning, like as Joel invites the people to sackcloth and ashes, and urges them to weeping and fasting for the purpose of testifying their repentance. (Joel 2:12.) For abstinence, as I have already shewn, was no more difficult or grievous to Moses than to the angels. But he simply reminds them that so great a sin could not be expiated, unless he had again renounced the life of men and had been taken up to God. Meanwhile, it must be borne in mind that previously to this, he had already made entreaty for the people, and had also been accepted; inasmuch as it was a token that God was reconciled and appeased, when He called up Moses to receive the Law, and to bring it down to them a second time. To this refers what he adds in the next verse, “For I was afraid of the anger,” etc., for he was still in anxiety as to the welfare of the people, since God did not cease to menace them. We see, therefore, that this fear and anxious earnestness in prayer are separated from the fast, as different things; and assuredly he had already propitiated God, when, by His command he hewed out the new tables whereon the Covenant was to be renewed. Still, I do not deny that he labored also in the mount in the cause of obtaining pardon, just as believers, by continuing the requests which have already been granted, confirm their faith more and more. I only warn my readers to observe the distinction of time which I have noticed.
20. And the Lord was very angry with Aaron It hence appears how vain are the pretexts whereby men endeavor to conceal their faults, until they are subdued by genuine fear of God to acknowledge their guilt. Although Aaron did not boast that he was altogether innocent, still he endeavored to blot out, or at any rate to extenuate the enormity of his crime by alleging that he was under compulsion. But Moses declares that God was very angry with him. Whence it follows that he was guilty of a very gross sin, which is also more certainly declared by the greatness of its punishment; for God would never have been thus moved even to destroy him, unless because he was worthy of this condemnation.
In the next verse, the word sin is not applied to the act; itself, 392392 “Il appelle le veau Peche du peuple, pource qu’il avoit este la matiere et object de leur idolatrie;” he calls the calf the Sin of the people, because it had been the matter and object of their idolatry. — Fr. but is transferred by metonymy to the calf, as its apposition shews. Again, by saying that he had thoroughly broken the calf to pieces by grinding it till it was reduced to powder, he signifies once more how abominable this idol was, especially when he adds, that the powder was cast into the stream, lest any memorial of it should continue in existence.
22. And at Taberah. He briefly adverts to several cases whereby he may convince the people of ingratitude and persevering obstinacy, and thus of a corrupt nature: for it is just as if he had said, that they had been rebellious against God not once only, nor in one particular way, but that they had heaped together many offences, so that it was wonderful that God had so often pardoned them. He also recounts the names given to the places as memorials of their sins, in order that they may at length cease to transgress, since, although so often provoked, God had borne with them already too long.
25. Thus I fell down before the Lord forty days Again the narrative is blended together; for it is certain that this prayer was offered before he remained fasting in the mount during the second forty days. But inasmuch as then also, being still in anxiety, he continued the same prayers, it is not to be wondered at that he should include in the forty days’ fast whatever had been done before. For there is no absurdity in supposing that after having obtained the safety of the people, for which he had petitioned, he should still be in trepidation. Moreover, that this fast was posterior to the prayer which he mentions at the same time, may be inferred from the beginning of the next chapter, where he records that the second tables were given to him, but says not a word of the fast. I have stated why he so often repeats his allusion to the forty days, viz., because it would not have been sufficient merely to intercede, unless this reconciliation had followed, which he obtained when he received the new covenant. The rest I have already expounded.