Deuteronomy 9 begins with Moses telling the people “you are to cross over the Jordan today”. But that is the start of a very long day that takes the next 25 chapters to complete – as Moses gives them their final instructions and reminders before turning them loose. Lots of things to remember, retrain, re-educate, re-examine. Moses is on a mission to prepare the people to succeed in their new land.
He begins by reminding them as to the why this is all happening. The children of Israel will be entering the Promised Land “to dispossess nations greater and mightier than yourselves”. It isn’t that they are more powerful or even able to take over these lands. It is totally and completely because of God. “He who goes over before you as a consuming fire is the Lord your God. He will destroy them and subdue them….drive them out and make them perish quickly”. This is a God thing all the way. And it isn’t happening because the people have been good. In fact, it is just the opposite. “Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations”. God is giving them over because these nations were even more wicked than the disobedient Israelites.
What has been the problem? Moses makes it clear: “you are a stubborn people….you have been rebellious….provoked the Lord to wrath….the Lord was so angry with you that he was ready to destroy you”. We often forget just how irritated and angry God was with His people. Their disobedience was a real problem. God was very unhappy with them, not just once or twice, but somewhat regularly. Never say that we don’t serve a patient and gracious God. He was willing to give them multiple opportunities to get it right and move to obedience.
But the reality is that Moses was key to their ability to survive God’s wrath. He too was frustrated with the people. “You have been rebellious against the Lord from the day that I knew you”. Let’s face it, the people tested Moses patience over and over. But he loved his people. He was a true leader. And time after time he put himself between the rebels and God. He was the definition of intercession. Time and again he was on his face before God trying to get God to not destroy the people. And God listened to Moses and his passion: “the Lord listened to me that time also”. What if Moses hadn’t been willing to put himself in that spot and stand in the gap for the people? It could have turned out very differently. But Moses showed what a true leader must do – to take care of his followers even when they are falling short. Of course after dealing with God he tried to deal with the people. And that is what most of these next chapters are about – preparing the people to live in obedience to God.