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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 L ord 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 L ord has promised you.

4 When the L ord your God thrusts them out before you, do not say to yourself, “It is because of my righteousness that the L ord has brought me in to occupy this land”; it is rather because of the wickedness of these nations that the L ord 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 L ord your God is dispossessing them before you, in order to fulfill the promise that the L ord made on oath to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

6 Know, then, that the L ord 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 L ord your God to wrath in the wilderness; you have been rebellious against the L ord from the day you came out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place.

8 Even at Horeb you provoked the L ord to wrath, and the L ord 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 L ord made with you, I remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights; I neither ate bread nor drank water. 10And the L ord gave me the two stone tablets written with the finger of God; on them were all the words that the L ord 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 L ord gave me the two stone tablets, the tablets of the covenant. 12Then the L ord 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 L ord 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 L ord your God, by casting for yourselves an image of a calf; you had been quick to turn from the way that the L ord 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 L ord as before, forty days and forty nights; I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all the sin you had committed, provoking the L ord by doing what was evil in his sight. 19For I was afraid that the anger that the L ord bore against you was so fierce that he would destroy you. But the L ord listened to me that time also. 20The L ord 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 L ord to wrath. 23And when the L ord sent you from Kadesh-barnea, saying, “Go up and occupy the land that I have given you,” you rebelled against the command of the L ord your God, neither trusting him nor obeying him. 24You have been rebellious against the L ord as long as he has known you.

25 Throughout the forty days and forty nights that I lay prostrate before the L ord when the L ord intended to destroy you, 26I prayed to the L ord and said, “Lord G od, 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 L ord 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.”

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.

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