“Love’s Covenant Integrity” – Deuteronomy 9:7-29

August 13th, 2017

Deuteronomy 9:7-29

“Love’s Covenant Integrity”

Aux Text: Hebrews 9:11-15.

Call to Worship: Psalm 111

 

Service Orientation:  If it were not for the integrity and work of our covenant mediator Jesus, we would all have been destroyed a long, long time ago.  Live in light of His grace so you might bring grace to others as a second degree, covenant mediator.

 

Integrity =  1. An unimpaired condition.  Soundness.  2. Adherence to a code of especially morel or artistic values.  3. The quality or state of being complete or undivided. (Webster’s)

 

Bible Memory Verse for the Week:   For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time. —1 Timothy 2:5-6

 

Background Information:

  • Other Pentateuchal stories seem to suggest that God’s manner of revelation was so overwhelming that the people could not but believe and obey. Deuteronomy supplies a needed corrective, both to that concept and to the stories themselves.  Divine signs or portents do not coerce the human will.  Then as now spiritual truth was so normally mediated as to appeal to man’s reason and heart, leaving him free to accept or reject.

Allegiance to God can have no meaning unless it arises out of free response.  Jesus saw this clearly.  In the wilderness temptation, from which he had to work out the terms of his messianic ministry, he saw that man may not be bribed, forced, or amazed into the kingdom.  He must win on terms of the truth itself, on the appeal of the Spirit of God to the spirit of man.  (George Arthur Buttrick, The Interpreter’s Bible Vol 2. 393)

  • (v. 10) Placing the words in stone suggested that they were to be treasured and passed down from generation to generation. (Doug McIntosh, Holman OT Commentary: Dt, 122)
  • (v. 13) The image is one of an obstinate, intractable animal, sufficiently strong to resist the yoke on the back of the neck (cf. Isa 48:4). “Breaking the yoke and tearing the straps” is language used in the OT to describe Israel’s breaking of the Horeb/Sinai covenant (Jer 2:20; 5:5), also any other rebellion against Yahweh (Ps 2:3).  In Dt 10:16 the people are told to “stiffen the neck” no more, i.e., be no longer stubborn.  (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 364)
  • (v. 14) Because of their rebellion Moses had complained against them often. Now God was offering him a way out of the problem.  There could be a new nation to bear God’s name with Moses as the father of the nation.  What an honor that would be!  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 321)
  • (v. 14) As an idiom meaning “Let me alone” (v. 14), Yahweh’s request reflects the extraordinary relationship between him and Moses. In effect, Yahweh said he would not act against Israel without Moses’ release.  He removed all incentive for intercession by promising Moses that he would make of him a nation stronger and more populous than the Canaanites.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 248-9)
  • (v. 14) “Wiping out the name” means “wiping out the remembrance” (cf. 25:19; Ex 17:14). Israel was told to wipe out the remembrance of the Canaanites and Amalakites.  (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 369)
  • (v. 14) Yahweh is proposing to replace his covenant with Abraham (Gn 15:5; 22:17; 26:4) with a new covenant made with Moses. Moses wisely rejects the proposal (9:25-29; cf. Ex 32:11-130, and Yahweh withdraws it (Ex 32:14).  According to Nm 14:1-24, Yahweh made the same proposal to Moses when Israel murmured after hearing the report of the spies (Nm 14:12), but then he withdrew it as a result of Moses’ intercession.  (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 369)
  • (v. 15) “Fire” symbolizes the divine presence (4:11, 24, 36; 5:22-27). (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 369)
  • (v. 17) Several ancient Near Eastern treaty documents contained the provision that if one party in a suzerain/vassal treaty broke the covenant, the other party in the agreement was to smash or burn the treaty document as public confirmation that the treaty had been broken. By smashing the two stone tablets, Moses may have been acting as God’s covenant spokesman, publically declaring that Israel had broken her covenant with the Lord.  The only way to renew a broken covenant was to draft a new covenant document acceptable to both sides.  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 89)
  • (v. 18) Although he had not eaten for an identical period earlier, he endured a second sustained fast because of Israel’s sin. Grieving over the sin of others is a mark of godly character.  (Doug McIntosh, Holman OT Commentary: Dt, 123)
  • (vss. 18-21) Moses did not mention here how he went back up the mountain for the second period of forty days and nights.  Neither did he mention the remonstrance made at the time on Sinai when the Lord told him that the people had sinned and that he would destroy them.  Moses spoke of the second period of forty days and nights and also referred to two prayers on their behalf (v. 18, “once again”; v. 19, “again the LORD listened to me”).  The two prayers are telescoped, a reference to the destruction of the calf-idol being at the end of the narrative.  So the narrative is not in strict chronological order but rather in an order that emphasizes the peoples’ wrongdoing.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 3, 80)
  • (v. 19) The word feared (NIV) probably should actually be translated “extremely terrified”.  The writer of Hebrews uses the same Gk equivalent word in 12:21 as well as in Mk 9:6.
  • (vss. 22-23) The actual time sequence is Massah (Ex 17:1-7; Nm 33:15 [Rephidim is Massah]), Taberah (Nm 11:1-3), Kibroth Hattaavah (Nm 11:34), and then Kadesh Barnea (Nm 13:26; 33:36; Dt 1:19) (see KD in loc.). Here, perhaps for rhetorical effect, Moses rose from the less serious breach of loyalty to the most serious one.  The people were facing the same situation as at Kadesh, being poised at an entrance to the land for conquest.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 3, 82)
  • (vss. 16-24) At Taberah (cf. Nm 11:1-6) the Israelites had complained bitterly about the hardships of the wilderness and remembered the luxuries–not the slavery!–in Egypt. At Massah (Ex 17:1-7) they had sown a similar spirit of revolt against Moses when water ran short.  At Kibroth-hattaavah (Nm 11:7-34) they had in effect rejected God’s gift of the mysterious but satisfying manna.  What happened at Kadesh-barnea (v. 23) has already been told in more detail in 1:19-46.  Without elaborating, then, this Deuteronomic sermon was able to show that the Israelite attitude towards God displayed at Sinai–Horeb itself was not some youthful immaturity which they had rapidly abandoned, but a deep-seated and continuous spirit of rebellion (v. 24).  (David F. Payne, The Daily Study Bible Series: Dt, 68)
  • (v. 26ff) If He now destroyed Israel, even though such action would be justified because of their breaking the covenant, His action would be misunderstood. The Egyptians would mock and say that God took the Israelites out of Egypt but was unable to lead them into the Land of Promise.  If He spared their lives but didn’t bring His people to Canaan, men would lose their fear of Him, thinking that His powers were limited.  God’s Word would be held in contempt if He did not fulfill His covenant with Israel.  (John C. Maxwell, The Preacher’s Commentary, Dt, 155)
  • (vss. 26-29) The ESV has Moses using the words “you” and “your” twelve times in this short prayer of four verses (9:26-29). Verses 26 and 29 are typical:  “O Lord GOD, do not destroy your people and your heritage, whom you have redeemed by your greatness, whom you have brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand. . . For they are your people and your heritage, whom you brought out by your great power and by your outstretched arm.”  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 328)
  • (vss. 26-29) The thought is natural in the ancient world, in which the fortunes of peoples are bound up completely with the power of their gods, and it recurs in other places in the OT (e.g., Ez 20:8-9 and passim). (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 186)

 

The question to be answered is . . . Why should I care that God has covenant integrity?

 

Answer:  It is by God’s example we learn how to graciously treat others who offend us.  God was angry enough at Israel (and us) to destroy them.  But, He didn’t because of His covenant integrity and love.

 

The Word for the Day is . . . Integrity

 

Integrity is doing the right thing, even if nobody is watching.  —Jim Stovall

 

If you have integrity, nothing else matters.  It you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.  — Alan Simpson, former Senator

 

Why should I care that God has covenant integrity?:

I-  God hates sin and His integrity demands that He punish sin.  (Dt 9: 7-8, 12-14, 19-20; 22-26, see also: Ex 32; Nm 16:20-48; Ps 99:6-8; 106:19-23; Isa 66:15; Jer 7:16-20; 9; 11:14-17; 14:1-15:4; Lk 13:3-5; Rom 1:18-32; 11:22; 6:23; 2 Thess 1:7-8; 2:10; Heb 10:31; 12:28-29)

 

What a brilliant lesson we learn from Moses’ anguished prayer.  We get a clear reminder of how God feels about sin:  he’s deadly serious about it, he hates it, and he’ll punish it.  We live at a time when too many men and women have an easy conscience about sin.  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 91)

 

The Bible looks at the Wrath of God as a product of His moral integrity.— Chuck Swindoll

 

They have been in revolt against Yahweh from the day he was first introduced to them.  Although this is obviously rhetorical hyperbole, the history of sour relations between the people, on the one hand, and Yahweh and Moses, on the other, can be traced as far back as Ex 5:20-23.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 252)

 

Within a generation Israel’s apostasy would take on less subtle forms.  From the time of the judges (Jdg 2:11-23) to the days of Manasseh and beyond (2 Kgs 21:1-9), doing “the evil in the eyes of the LORD” involved the overt worship of pagan gods:  the Baals, the Ashtaroth, and the Asherim.  It is no wonder, then, that in the end Yahweh’s fury should rage against his people.  They had rejected the one who had so graciously redeemed them, invited them to covenant relationship, revealed to them his will, and cared for them in the desert, in favor of lifeless idols.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 253)

 

Moses describes his reaction to the people’s rebellion in three dramatic acts:  he seized the two tablets, threw them to the ground, and smashed them in full view of all the people.  These actions were both legal and symbolic, analogous to the Mesopotamian custom of breaking tablet on which contracts were written when the agreement had been violated.  As the representative of Yahweh, by smashing the tablets Moses declared the covenant null and void even before the people had a chance to see the divinely produced written documentation.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 250)

 

Having declared that rather than commending her to Yahweh, Israel’s character is actually repelling him, Moses gathers evidence for his counter-thesis, urging his people to see themselves as God sees them.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 246)

 

The phrase “stiff of neck,” which literally speaks of an ox resisting the yoke of his master, may have been prompted by the sight of the golden calf, with classic irony the people have become like the image they worshiped.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 248)

 

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.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, vol. II, 93)

 

The language here, as has often been pointed out, “distances” Yahweh from the people and from Moses:  “your people whom you brought out from Egypt.”  Weinfeld notes that this is the only place in the OT where the exodus is ascribed to Moses.  Cf. the “distancing language” in the NT parable of the Prodigal Son, where the older brother says to the father: “But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots” (Lk 15:30).  (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 367)

 

As Exodus 32 tells the story, no sooner was Moses’ back turned, in order to commune alone with God and receive the tables or tablets of the law, than the Israelites turned to blatant idolatry.  Even Aaron, from whom all Israel’s priests were to be descended, was implicated (v. 20).  While God himself was writing down the Ten Commandments (as the Israelites believed he had done, v. 10), his people were breaking one of them.  The story indicated that God’s anger was extreme; he all but decided to destroy Israel because of it.  Moses’ action in breaking the two tablets (v. 17) was a symbolic one:  it was a public sign demonstrating that the covenant between God and Israel had been broken.  (There is evidence that in the ancient Near East, treaty documents were publicly smashed as a sign that the treaty had been broken.)  (David F. Payne, The Daily Study Bible Series: Dt, 66)

 

The prophets and our author agree that stubbornness, not weakness, was the chief cause of Israel’s lapses and rebellions.  Yet it is hard to see how this people could have survived had they not been tough-spirited or, as they so frequently called themselves, “stiffnecked.”  Stubbornness, when it represents convictions and unwillingness to be easily swayed from a course, is desirable.  Without a measure of tenacious obstinacy, Israel could hardly have served as it did the working out of the divine purpose.

Stubbornness is merely steadfastness gone to seed.  Its antonym is vacillation.  Steadfastness clings determinedly to the faith; stubbornness closes the mind to truth.  So Paul longs for the time when Jewish stubbornness toward Christ will be transformed into steadfast Christian faith.  When they become Christian, their tough-spiritedness will be for the church as “life from the dead” (Rom 11:15).  (George Arthur Buttrick, The Interpreter’s Bible Vol 2. 393-4)

 

The people’s obstinacy in provoking God at Horeb evoked sudden reaction from Moses.  In righteous indignation he hurled the stone tablets to the ground.  Note that this display is not advanced as a reason for his exclusion from the Promised Land.  In the universal biblical view, controlled anger in the presence of sin is both normal and righteous.  Certainly something is lacking when a man is not disturbed at the sight of wrongdoing.  However, the key to morally justified indignation lies in self-control.  “Be ye angry, and sin not” (Eph 4:26).  (George Arthur Buttrick, The Interpreter’s Bible Vol 2. 394-5)

 

Josiah’s similar treatment of idolatrous objects in 2 Kgs 23:12-16 suggest these were sterotypical procedures for dealing with offensive pagan objects (cf. 7:5).  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 251)

 

As if the golden calf incident were insufficient evidence for Israel’s fundamentally rebellious disposition via-à-vis Yahweh, 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 (Nm 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 (Nm 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).  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 252)

 

The source of this rebellion was their lack of trust in the Lord and, consequently, their disobedience to him (v. 23).  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 3, 82)

 

These words of introduction to the rest of the chapter show that Moses’ intention was to douse completely Israel’s self-righteousness by reminding them of past rebellion.  Although Moses singles out a particular example, verses 7 and 24 show that this was no exceptional lapse, but simply the most horrendous illustration of their congenital and ingrained stubbornness.  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 135)

 

The children of Israel had heard the covenant spoken before it was written (v. 10); therefore, it was not out of ignorance, but out of rebellion, that they broke the First and Second Commandments.  (John C. Maxwell, The Preacher’s Commentary, Dt, 152)

 

There were incidents such as the one at Taberah, where the people complained of their misfortunes, and only because of Moses’ intercession were they spared God’s burning anger (Nm 11:1-3).  At Massah they complained because of lack of water and put God to the test (Ex 17:1-7).  At Kibroth Hattaavah the people again had complained and several perished (Nm 11:31-35).  And at Kadesh Barnea gross unbelief was displayed after the spies brought back their negative report (Dt 1:21-36; Nm 13-14.)  This last example is particularly relevant because the people on the plains of Moab faced a divine command similar to that given at Kadesh Barnea.  (John C. Maxwell, The Preacher’s Commentary, Dt, 152-3)

 

II-  Because of God’s integrity, He saves us from His own wrath through the intercession of His righteous Mediator(Dt 9:19-20, 25-29 see also: Gn 18:23-32; Ex 32-33; Nm 11:2; 14; 16:20-48; Ps 106:19-23; Isa 53:12; Jer 18:20; Amos 7:1-6; Joel 2:17; Mt 22:16; Mk 12:14; Jn 3:16; 1 Tm 2:5-6; Heb 8:6; 9:15; 12:24)

 

An intercessor means one who is in such vital contact with God and with his fellow men that he is like a live wire closing the gap between the saving power of God and the sinful men who have been cut off from that power.  An intercessor is the contacting link between the source of power (the life of the Lord Jesus Christ) and the objects needing that power and life.  (Hannah Hurnard, God’s Transmitters, 12)

 

It is a mystery that the sovereign God would change his course of action in response to the prayers of righteous people.  But that is the way he has chosen to work.  And we have the great privilege of influencing the course of history through our prayers.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 325)

 

In the NT, Paul prays constantly for the churches and admonishes the churches to do the same for each other (1 Thess 1:2-3; 5:17; Rom 1:9; 12:12).  In the NT book of Hebrews, Jesus becomes “the mediator of a new covenant” (Heb 8;6; 9:15; 12:24).  (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 368)

 

Except for the intercession of Moses and God’s forbearance Israel would have been destroyed for her rebellion.  No stronger proof could be produced for the fact that “you have been rebellious. . . from the day that I knew you” (vs. 24).  The power of intercessory prayer is an important element of biblical faith (e.g., Gn 18:23-32; 20:7, 17; Isa 53:12; 59:16; Jer 7:16; 27:18); and it is a significant part of the work of Moses in all strata of the narrative about him (cf. Especially Ex 32:11-14, 31-32; 33:12-16; Nm 14:13-19).  He was not only the charismatic leader of the people, he was also mediator, intercessor, and bearer of their sin.  The central theme of the biblical narrative about the nation’s past is thus not primarily concerned with the natural glory of great accomplishments, as the success of the Conquest would lead one to expect:  rather with the glory of God’s redemptive acts on the one hand, on the other with his struggle against the people’s sin.  Hence the role of Moses, his servant, was only partly that of political and military leader.  He was also prophet, priest, and vicarious sufferer in their behalf.  (George Arthur Buttrick, The Interpreter’s Bible Vol 2. 395-6)

 

The intercession of Moses was effective because it went to the heart of God’s own priorities as Moses already knew them from his long intimacy with God:  God’s people, God’s promises, God’s name.  As a model of intercession, his prayer stands at the head of a list of OT prayers that follow a similar pattern and focus on the same priorities (cf. Dn 9:1-19; Neh 9; Joel 2:17b); it is a powerful model for God’s people at all times.  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 138)

 

God not only allows human intercession, God invites it (in later biblical texts God also commands it), and builds it into the decision-making processes of the heavenly council in ways we can never fathom.  “God takes Moses’ contribution with utmost seriousness; God’s acquiescence to the arguments indicates that God treats the conversation with Moses with integrity and honors the human insight as an important ingredient for the shaping of the future” (Fretheim, Suffering of God, 50f.).  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 140)

 

Intercessory prayer, then, flows primarily not from human anxiety about God but from God’s commitment to relationship with human beings.  It reflects not just a dissonance between how things are and how we would like them to be but an even deeper dissonance in the heart of God’s covenantal faithfulness to a covenantally unfaithful people.  Moses was not so much arguing against God (though it doubtless felt like it), as participating in an argument within God (a tension expressed in Nm 14:17-19).  Such prayer, therefore, not only participates in the pain of God in history, but is actually invited to do so for God’s sake as well as ours.  This is a measure of the infinite value to God of commitment to persons in covenant relationship.  God chooses in sovereign freedom to link that divine sovereign freedom to human prayer.  Intercessory prayer, then, as a divine-human engagement, is not merely a human duty to be fulfilled as part of the mission of the people of God, but ultimately flows from and into God’s own mission in the created world (cf. Rom 8:18-27).  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 140)

 

This is a great test for Moses, which he passes successfully by refusing to accept Yahweh’s offer of abandoning the covenant with Abraham and beginning over with himself.  Yahweh did, of course, make a new beginning with Noah (Gn 6-9), who was a “new Adam” of sorts (Propp 2006, 554), but to abandon the covenant with Abraham and begin again with Moses would pose a huge problem, since the covenant with Abraham was unconditional and eternal and could not by any reasonable stretch be broken.  Moses wisely rejects the idea (vv. 26-29; Ex 32:12b-13), and in the end Yahweh agrees (Ex 32:14).  Moses–here as elsewhere (5:5, 31; 9:18-20, 25-29; 10:10)–is acting in the role of “covenant mediator.”  (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 368)

 

In this passage, in fact, nothing is said about any repentance on Israel’s part.  The emphasis is rather on the good offices of Moses as an intercessor, and the willingness of God to bless his own people in spite of everything.  (David F. Payne, The Daily Study Bible Series: Dt, 69)

 

The passage contains an interesting contrast.  As we have noted, Aaron was as guilty as anyone else; but Moses was not only innocent of it, he was also the man who, in a sense, saved Israel from destruction.  He prayed to God for his people, and for Aaron too, and it was only because of his intercession that God relented (vv. 18-20).  (David F. Payne, The Daily Study Bible Series: Dt, 67)

 

We see Abraham arguing and God conceding points based on his requests, until a way is found for Lot and his family to be saved.  As we said in the last chapter, it is a mystery that the sovereign Lord of the universe chooses to act in this way, but it indicates that our prayers do carry weight in God’s scheme of things.  And J. I. Packer gives another reason why God acts in this way.  From insights gained from the writings of Bishop J. C. Ryle, John Owen, John Calvin, and P. T. Forsyth, he says, “God may actually resist us when we pray in order that we in turn may resist and overcome his resistance and so be led to deeper dependence on him and greater enrichment from him at the end of the day.”  In other words, God lets us debate him for our own good and for the deepening of our faith.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 328)

 

The words let me alone resonate with meaning in this context.  They contain the implicit notion that, if Moses should choose to press the case, God would abandon his proposal for the sake of Moses’ intercession.  So it is with all biblical warnings.  If God had determined to destroy Israel, he would not have announced his displeasure with them to Moses; he simply would have executed his purpose.  Prophetic warnings carry with them either an expressed or an implied condition:  “unless you repent” (cp. Rv 2:5).  God is someone to whom we can pray, and (from our point of view at least) our prayers make a difference.  To Moses’ credit, he donned the mantle of the intercessor and pleaded for “his” people.  (Doug McIntosh, Holman OT Commentary: Dt, 123)

 

There is, of course, a mystery about prayer in general and intercession in particular, and this classic case study in intercessory prayer never fails to raise questions about the ways of God and the implications of how the conversation unfolds between God and Moses.  Was God really serious in this declared threat?  If Moses had not interceded, would God have carried out the destruction of Israel?  Had God really forgotten the things Moses challenged God to “remember?”  If God was not really planning to destroy the people (10:10b), did God only “pretend” to listen to Moses’ prayer?  Did Moses actually change God’s mind?

In answering such questions it seems important first of all to say that there is not much point in wrestling with alternative hypothetical scenarios posed by such questions.  The text purports to lay before us a genuine encounter between Moses and the God of Israel in which history meshed with prayer in a meaningful way.  Asking “what if” serves little theological purpose.  Secondly, however, it seems equally important to preserve the integrity of the encounter.  Both God and Moses appear to be behaving straightforwardly.  There is nothing in the text to suggest that God’s anger was a bluff intended to secure a hasty repentance.  Ps 106:23 indicates the critical nature of the event:  the threat of destruction was real.  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 138-9)

 

It was a crisis time.  We would have expected Moses to stay with the people to get them back onto the right path.  I suppose today most people would advise a leader in this type of situation to stay back for the sake of his own physical health and for the overall health of the people.  But at this time more important than all of this was the need to go to God and plead for his mercy on the people.  So Moses took the risk of leaving the people under the care of the leaders who had just failed so badly, and he went away to be with God.  Often when we think of solutions to problems, the importance of our actions is overrated, while the importance of pleading with God in prayer is underrated.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 322)

 

Neither excusing his people nor minimizing their crime, Moses daringly warned Yahweh that if he destroyed the Israelites, the nations would conclude that either he was unable to carry through on his mission of bringing them to the land, or that he had intentionally brought them in the desert to slaughter them.  Assuming the Egyptians would not distinguish between immediate divine causation and the Israelites’ ultimate responsibility for their own fate, what was supposed to be a gracious scheme of salvation would look like a diabolical plot.  Moses therefore argued that Yahweh’s own reputation was at stake; he could not afford to destroy his people.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 260)

 

The intercession was successful like the first, which Deuteronomy does not record but which is stated in Ex 32:14 (cf. Ps 106:23).  Yahweh can and does change his mind in response to mediation!  On Yahweh “repenting,” see “Excursus: When God Repents” in Andersen and Freedman 1989, 638-79 [= D. N. Freeman 1997, 1:4-9-46].  The power of intercessory prayer is an important element in biblical faith (G. E. Wright; Isa 53:12; Acts 12:5; Jam 5:16), seen particularly in the prophets (Gn 20:7; Jer 27:18; 42:1-3; Lundbom 2010a, 29-31).  (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 371)

 

The rebellion at Taberah (= “burning”), said in Nm 10:33 to be a three-day journey north of Mount Horeb, is recounted in Nm 11:1-3.  There the people grumbled about their misfortunes, causing Yahweh’s anger to “burn” in the camp.  The exact location of Massah is not known, but the rebellion occurring there, which included Israel’s complaint that it had no water and wished it was back in Egypt (Ex 17:1-7; Nm 20:1-13), loomed large in Israel’s collective memory (see Note for 33:8).  Dt 6:16 recalls Massah as the place where Israel put Yahweh to the test, and Moses says that must not happen again.  The rebellion at Kirbroth-hattaavah, where the people cried out for a lack of meat, is recounted in Nm 11:4-34.  The place is mentioned in Nm 33:16, but its location is not known.  On all three occasions Moses interceded for Israel and was successful (Ex 17:4-6; Nm 11:2, 11-18; 20:6-11).  (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 373)

 

Like Amos (and indeed like the suffering servant), Moses prays for divine mercy for the people, knowing fully their sin and disobedience.  In both cases, the sin of the people is not a single, rash action against the will of God but a persistent pattern of disobedience–at Horeb (v. 8), Taberah, Massah, Kibroth-hattaavah, and Kadesh-barnea (vv. 22-24).  The prophet knows the people’s sin but dares to appeal to the mercy of God no matter how extensive the history of rebellion and stubbornness.  It is almost characteristic of the intercessors of the OT that their passionate intercession is most clearly present when the sin is greatest (cf. Abraham’s pleas for Sodom and Gomorrah).  It is as if they know that the mercy of God is equal to and is as intense as the judgment of God.  (Patrick D. Miller, Interpretation: Dt, 122)

 

Here was complete identification of a man with his God, his own people, and his task.  Others have given their lives unreservedly to the work of God.  Few have been so dedicated to humanity that they could ask to be blotted out of the book of life were their people to be rejected.  To love people for their own sakes is a difficult accomplishment.  There are few complete humanitarians.  Identification with humanity, like that of Moses, is actually more noteworthy than the full surrender to God.  (George Arthur Buttrick, The Interpreter’s Bible Vol 2. 395)

 

Human beings in general may prove false to their word.  Israel in particular had spectacularly done so.  But Yahweh, the God who was “one,” and whose very being is defined by “faithfulness” (6:4; 7:9) surely could not abandon his commitment.  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 138)

 

His fasting during this period of intercession indicated the depth of his anxiety for the people who had defamed the Lord by their wicked idolatry.  Once more Moses’ prayer prevailed (v. 19).  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 3, 81)

 

Again Moses mentioned how he had interceded successfully for Israel.  From a most humble position–lying prostate before the Lord (v. 25)–Moses addressed God as “Sovereign LORD” and prayed eloquently, reminding God that these were his people, his own inheritance, and that he had redeemed them from Egypt by his great power and mighty hand (v. 26).  He called on the Lord to remember Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (v. 27)–doubtless a reference to the covenantal promises.  If God’s people were destroyed, the Egyptians would indict him on the dual charge of his inability to bring Israel into the land, on one hand, and of his trickery of leading them into the desert to slaughter them (because he hated them), on the other hand (v. 28).  Moses did not at all deny the people’s guilt but pled with the Lord to overlook their stubbornness, wickedness, and sin (v. 27).  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 3, 82)

 

Both our Lord and His bondslave Paul made clear that true prayer is not dreamy reverie.  “All vital praying makes a drain on a man’s vitality.  True intercession is a sacrifice, a bleeding sacrifice,” wrote J. H. Jowett.  Jesus performed miracles without a sign of outward strain, but “he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears” (Heb 5:7).  (J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, 87)

 

III-  As creatures in God’s image we should imitate God’s love and unchangeable integrity that allows Him to be gracious, merciful, forgiving, patient and kind while at the same time righteous, holy, pure and just.  (Job 2:3; Prv 10:9; 11:3; 13:6; Dn 9; Neh 1-2; 9; Amos 7:1-6; Mt 5:9; Rom 9:3; Ti 2:7)

 

The paradox is that in appealing to God to change, he was actually appealing to God to be consistent–which may be a significant clue to the dynamic of all genuine intercessory prayer.  So, on both sides, it is vital to maintain the full seriousness of the words spoken and the intentions expressed through them, otherwise the whole encounter, and more significantly, the whole personal relationship between God and Moses, loses both credibility and personal integrity.  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 139)

 

In his fearless role as Israel’s mediator, Moses never tried to diminish Israel’s sin.  He never said, “Aw, come on, Lord, they weren’t so bad!  There’s a first time for everything, isn’t there?  Boys will be boys!”  Such a rationalization would have insulted the Lord’s justice and would have miscalculated the deep, tragic nature of sin.  Moses appealed, instead, to the Lord’s promise:  “Lord, you promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that you would make their descendants a great people.  You kept your promise.  How could you now go back on your word?  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 91)

 

Believers are inclined to attribute their spiritual successes to their godliness when it would be more accurate to connect them with God’s faithfulness.  (Doug McIntosh, Holman OT Commentary: Dt, 127)

 

He did not plead for Israel on the basis of any merit, either theirs or his.  He simply reminds God that Israel is His inheritance.  (John C. Maxwell, The Preacher’s Commentary, Dt, 155)

 

Throughout this story there is a stark contrast between the behavior of Israel and that of Moses.  While Moses was in communion with God, the people had turned their backs on Him.  Moses was receiving the covenant while his people were breaking it.  Moses prayed while the people played.  (John C. Maxwell, The Preacher’s Commentary, Dt, 151-2)

 

Although God’s people find many successes in the world, they must not fall prey to a spirit of pride.  We succeed not because of our moral superiority but because of the faithfulness of our divine intercessor and because of the great mercy of God.  (Doug McIntosh, Holman OT Commentary: Dt, 126)

 

Clearly, Deuteronomy is more concerned with the failures of God’s people than with the wickedness of the other nations, just as the OT in general pours more condemnation on Israel’s idolatry than on that of the nations.  As a matter of missiological interest, it is arguable that dwelling overmuch on the wickednesses and idolatries of “the pagans” (so-called) can induce precisely the kind of national, ecclesiastical, or cultural superiority complex that Israel’s self-righteousness illustrates here.  The strategy of Deuteronomy 9:1-10:11 undermines such delusions by declaring that the people of God are as deserving of God’s destruction as the worst of the nations (v. 8) and that only by God’s grace are they spared it.  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 134)

 

That God must act for the sake of his holy name is a common argument in the OT, appearing in Ex 32:12; Nm 14:13-16; Josh 7:9, and often in the Prophets and the Psalms (Jer 14:7, 21; Ez 20:14, 44; 36:22-23; 39:25; Joel 2:17; Ps 25:11; 79:9-10; 109:21; 115:1-2).  (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 377)

 

Daube (1969a, 51) says the argument is an appeal to shame, which is a potent weapon in the ancient world.  These three arguments:  appeals to God’s reputation; involving the fathers’ merits; and reciting the gracious qualities of God became the three pillars of Jewish prayers for forgiveness, and they continue to be so to the present day (Weinfeld).  (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 377)

 

Another significant antidote to hypocrisy (in addition to integrity and purity) is transparency.  On one level, hypocrisy is failing to acknowledge the inconsistencies in our life.  It is denial.  It is, as the Bible describes it, trying to remove a speck from someone else’s eye when you have a log in your own.  Living with integrity starts with being transparent.  (David Kinnaman, Unchristian, 54-5)

 

Like Scripture writers, Augustine thinks of the heart not just as the seat of emotion or desire but also as the governing center of a human being–the human being at his center, at his core, considered in his fundamental orientation.  From the heart “flow the springs of life” (Prv 4:23).  Hence, in Scripture, integrity is a pure heart (Mt 5:8); where integrity is lacking, it is the heart that is “perverse” and “devious above all else” (Jer 17:9).  Accordingly, when Paul wants to describe the source of our new power, love, and integrity, he testifies that Jesus Christ has taken up residence at the governing center of human lives:  he “dwells in our hearts” (Eph 3:17).  Depending on its orientation, then, the fact that “the heart wants what it wants” may be our shame or our salvation.  (Augustine, The City of God, 14.13)  (Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, 62-3)

 

“In the deepest suffering, many find it almost impossible to pray.  Should not the rest of us intercede for them?  (D. A. Carson, How Long O Lord)

 

Pain and death are a team sport.  —John Fox

 

When a man is found confessing what is not wholly  his responsibility, something for which many others are responsible as well as himself; when he is confessing it as though it is his sin, that is identification; and when it is confession of this kind, it is acknowledgment, and it is repentance.  So I think we may speak of this as the feature of confession.  If we were using a phrase instead of a word, we would speak of vicarious repentance, repenting in the behalf of others.  But confession is sufficient, it carries with all that.

We have tried to tell ourselves in this message that we must not regard ourselves as something apart from the rest, some thing that is detached, and that looks on at things in any kind of judging, condemning, critical way, as though we had no part in it; but, being members of one Body, if one member suffers all the members suffer with it, and the suffering is the suffering of the whole Body.   With Christ I am quite sure that is true, that He suffers in the measure in which any part of His Body comes short, because He needs the whole Body, in fullness, of the fullness of His expression and realization.  So that He suffers, and if the Body is in any part coming short we are suffering in the suffering of Christ.  Is not that which the Apostle meant when he said he was filling up that which was lacking of the sufferings of Christ?   That is real intercession; prayer of confession and identification.   (T. Austin-Sparks; Nehemiah, 35)

 

If all regenerate church members in Western Christendom were to intercede daily simply for the most obvious spiritual concerns visible in their homes, their workplaces, their local churches and denominations, their nations, and the world and the total mission of the body of Christ within it, the transformation which would result would be incalculable. (Richard F. Lovelace; Dynamics of Spiritual Life An Evangelical Theology of Renewal, 160)

 

Worship Point:  When you understand God’s covenant integrity in light of our sinfulness and unfaithfulness; worship will come quite naturally.

 

This is a serious and pervasive problem in Western worship–even the worship of evangelicals, with their high claims to regeneration and new birth and authentic Christianity.  We are quick to declare our love for God, but we hate his “law.”  We are passionate in our expressions of worship, but we refuse to ask him what kind of worship pleases him.  Instead we take our idioms from the pagans around us.  We claim new life in Christ, but then we reduce Christianity to a fertility religion, perverting slogans like “God has a wonderful plan for your life” into a health and wealth gospel.  We take God’s good gifts and corrupt ourselves by making idols out of them.  The Israelites took their precious metals and made them into a divine image; we take our families, the books we write, our toys, and our money, and we make them the focus of our devotion and homage.  We have forgotten that true worship involves reverential acts of homage and submission before the divine Sovereign in response to his gracious revelation of himself and in accordance with his will.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 255)

 

God is a Spirit infinitely happy, therefore we must approach to Him with cheerfulness; He is a Spirit of infinite majesty, therefore we must come before him with reverence; He is a Spirit infinitely high, therefore we must offer up our sacrifices with the deepest humility; He is a Spirit infinitely holy, therefore we must address Him with purity; He is a Spirit infinitely glorious, we must therefore acknowledge His excellency in all that we do, and in our measures contribute to His glory, by having the highest aims in His worship; He is a spirit infinitely provoked by us, therefore we must offer up our worship in the name of a pacifying Mediator and Intercessor.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Give Praise to God A Vision for Reforming Worship, 371)

 

Gospel Application:  It is only because of the integrity and mediatorial work of our Savior Jesus that we can even begin to enjoy the benefits of covenant obedience because we are covenant breakers(Mt 22:16; Mk 12:14; Jn 3:16; 2 Cor 5:21; 1 Tm 2:5-6; Ti 3:3-7; Heb 8:6; 9:15; 12:24)

 

Sinners need a sinless mediator to step between themselves and God, one who could give God the righteousness they’ve failed to produce, one who could take away the punishment they deserved by being punished in their place.  We have that mediator in Jesus.  God declares sinners not guilty because of a life Someone Else lived and because of a death Someone Else died.  St. Paul explained God’s way of dealing with sin:  “There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people” (1 Tm 2:5, 6).  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 92)

 

The redeemed are dependent of God for all. All that we have—wisdom, the pardon of sin, deliverance, acceptance in God’s favor, grace, holiness, true comfort and happiness, eternal life and glory—we have from God by a Mediator; and this Mediator is God.  God not only gives us the Mediator, and accepts His mediation, and of His power and grace bestows the things purchased by the Mediator, but He is the Mediator.  Our blessings are what we have by purchase; and the purchase is made of God; the blessings are purchased of Him; and not only so, but God is the purchaser.  Yes, God is both the purchaser and the price; for Christ, who is God, purchased these blessings by offering Himself as the price of our salvation.  —Jonathan Edwards

 

Jesus is our master in prayer; he is also our companion in prayer.  He says to us, “I’ll pray for you….”—and he does it……(and) Jesus does not just pray for us once and leave it at that; instead, “he always lives to make intercession” for us (Heb 7:25).  Jesus prays.  He is praying for us right now.  He was praying for us yesterday.  He will be praying for us tonight as we sleep and tomorrow morning as we wake up.  Jesus praying for us is a current event.  (Eugene H. Peterson,  Tell it Slant)

 

Heidelberg Catechism questions 13-19

Q12.  According to God’s righteous judgment we deserve punishment both in this world and forever after:  how then can we escape this punishment and return to God’s favor?

  1. God requires that his justice be satisfied (Ex 23:7; Rom 2:1-22). Therefore the claims of his justice must be paid in full, either by ourselves or another (Isa 53:11; Rom 8:3-4).

 

Q13. Can we pay this debt ourselves?

  1. Certainly not. Actually, we increase our guilt every day (Mt 6:12; Rom 2:4-5).

 

14Q. Can another creature—any at all—pay this debt for us?

  1. No. To begin with, God will not punish another creature for what a human is guilty of (Ez 18:4, 20; Heb 2:14-18). Besides, no mere creature can bear the weight of God’s eternal anger against sin and release others from it (Ps 49:7-9; 130:3).

 

Q15. What kind of mediator and deliverer should we look for then?

  1. One who is truly human (Rom 1:3; 1 Cor 15:21; Heb 2:17) and truly righteous (Isa 53:9; 2 Cor 5:21; Heb 7:26), yet more powerful than all creatures, that is, one who is also true God (Isa 7:14; 9:6; Jer 23:6; Jn 1:1).

 

Q16. Why must he be truly human and truly righteous?

  1. God’s justice demands that human nature, which has sinned, must pay for its sin (Rom 5:12, 15; 1 Cor 15:21; Heb 2:14-16); but a sinner could never pay for others (Heb 7:26-27; 1 Pt 3:18).

 

Q17. Why must he also be true God?

  1. So that, by the power of his divinity, he might bear the weight of God’s anger in his humanity and earn for us and restore to us righteousness and life (Isa 53; Jn 3:16; 2 Cor 5:21).

 

Q18. And who is this mediator—true God and at the same time truly human and truly righteous?

  1. Our Lord Jesus Christ (Mt 1:21-13; Lk 2:11; 1 Tm 2:5), who was given us to set us completely free and to make us right with God (1 Cor 1:30).

 

Q19. How do you come to know this?

  1. The holy gospel tells me. God himself began to reveal the gospel already in Paradise (Gn 3:15); later, he proclaimed it by the holy patriarchs (Gn 22:18; 49:10) and prophets (Isa 53; Jer 23:5-6; Mic 7:18-20; Acts 10:43; Heb 1:1-2), and portrayed it by the sacrifices and other ceremonies of the law (Lv 1-7; Jn 5:46; Heb 10:1-10); finally, he fulfilled it through his own dear Son (Rom 10:4; Gal 4:4-5; Col 2:17).

 

Spiritual Challenge:  Purpose to live with covenant integrity.  But, when you are unfaithful; bask in the security, hope, confidence and righteousness of our covenant Mediator . . . even Jesus.  Then, intercede on the behalf of others.

 

So What?:  Understanding Jesus as our covenant Mediator helps us to love and bring grace to others as a second degree, covenant mediator.

 

 JESUS:

COVENANT MEDIATOR

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