Beware of Pride
Sunday School Lesson for January 13, 2002
Background Passage: Deuteronomy 9:1-11:32
Focal Teaching Passage: Deuteronomy 9:1-6; 10:12-13
The Lord’s Promise of Victory (9:1-3)
Once again Moses addresses the sons of Israel as they prepare to march victoriously into the land given to them by God. As they ready themselves to take possession of it, they are reminded of the fact that conflict with the Canaanites will be necessary. The nations occupying the Promised Land, though "greater and stronger" and living in "large cities that have walls up to the sky," must first be removed. Thus, engagement in holy warfare will be the solemn responsibility of the Israelites.
As Moses readies his people for war, he takes them back to the report of the spies who had first surveyed the land years earlier (Numbers 13:28). While in Canaan they had discovered a people, the "Anakites," who were "strong and tall," and seemingly invincible. At first glace, the people of Israel would be inclined to ask, "Who can stand up against" them? Yet, Moses quickly reminds the Israelites that Yahweh Himself will be the One who will enter the land "ahead of you like a devouring fire" (v.3). The awesome wrath of God, which the people of Israel had witnessed first hand at Sinai, would be turned against the inhabitants of Canaan. Yahweh would both "destroy" and "subdue" them on behalf of His covenant children. They would then "drive them out and annihilate them quickly" just as God had "promised" earlier.
These verses, then, set the stage for what would follow from the lips of Moses. To summarize, we may observe two major points being stressed here: First, "in the Holy War of conquest the real victor would be Yahweh and Israel was only His agent; secondly, since it would be Yahweh who gave the victory Israel ought not to claim that she was led to victory because of some inherent virtue or righteousness she possessed" (J. A. Thompson, 137).
The Lord’s Warning Against Pride (9:4-6)
Now Moses addresses what is perhaps the greatest threat the children of Israel would face upon entrance into Canaan. It would not come from a hostile force positioned against them, but from within their own hearts—"do not say to yourself, ‘The Lord has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.’" There would be the ever-menacing temptation to explain their victory over the Canaanites in terms of their own merit rather than in terms of the grace of God. They might selfishly assume that their "righteousness" plus the "wickedness of these nations" would be the direct cause of their victorious march into the land of promise. That is, Israel might be seduced into believing that "she must have been ‘in the right herself’ and that Yahweh was therefore bound to give her the land as a reward for her ‘righteousness’" (Thompson, 138). However, such a sinful assumption would be directly opposed to the consistent message that God had delivered to them regarding their gracious standing before Him. All that God had done, and would do in the future, was anchored firmly to His nature as a gracious, longsuffering Lord who had chosen the nation as His special possession (7:7). In addition, God’s purposes of judgment against the Canaanites would also come to fruition though the Israelite conquest of the land—"it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is going to drive them out before you." In other words, the evil and wickedness of the Canaanites "did not establish Israel’s righteousness. Nor did God’s use of Israel as the agent of God’s judgment assume or confer righteousness on Israel’s part" (Wright, 133). In fact, as Eugene Merrill remarks, "were it not for God’s elective grace, Israel should never have been allowed to enter [Canaan]" (TNAC, vol. 4. Deuteronomy, 190).
The same theme is repeated here with the addition of another factor. God would not only grant the Israelites the land of Canaan as a display of sovereign grace—"it is not because of your righteousness or your integrity"— but would do so as a demonstration of His complete faithfulness to the covenant promises—"to accomplish what he swore to your fathers" (see 7:8).
Note carefully the emphatic way in which the grace of Yahweh is highlighted here. Twice in these two verses the Lord states that the blessing of land is in no way connected to any "righteousness" on the part of Israel. To the contrary, they had proven time and again to be a "stiff-necked people" (see 9:7-26 for further evidence of this fact). Yet, on account of God’s infinite grace they had been granted entrance into a beautiful land that would become their permanent home.
Christopher Wright helpfully summarizes this section:
At a primary theological level, these verses reinforce the point made already in many ways that Israel owed all they were and all they possessed to the grace and gift of God, and not in any way to their own merit. They could stake no claim on divine favors in advance, nor could they retrospectively explain any success and prosperity that came their way as the due reward for their righteousness (131).
The Lord’s Call to Covenant Living (10:12-13)
In what has been described as one of the richest texts in all of the Old Testament, the Lord summarizes for Israel the demands of the covenant in terms of ethical and moral conduct. Here a basic question is answered— "what does the Lord God ask of you . . .?" Stated another way, this question might be "what does covenant life look like?" In setting forth the answer, Moses focuses upon five responsibilities or demands placed upon each member of the covenant family (compare to Micah 6:8).
The phrase, "with all your heart and with all your soul" (v. 12), which may be taken to modify each of the five imperatives, provides an answer to another critical question: How is Israel to love, fear, walk, serve, and obey? The answer is that Israel should do these things without restraint or reservation. God is to be loved, worshipped, and obeyed with the totality one’s being. There should be no dimension of life that is not dedicated to these solemn tasks.
Major Questions for Application and Discussion
One: What are some of the more subtle forms in which pride may manifests itself in our lives as New Testament believers? What are some of the consequences and results of pride in the life of a Christian? Can you think of other significant biblical passages that address this issue?
Two: How may the sin of pride be conquered in our lives? Hint: Make a note of the times the word "remember" occurs in the first eleven chapters of Deuteronomy. Why do you think the Lord so frequently called upon Israel remember His gracious dealings with them? What does remembering have to do with pride?
Three: What place does the observance of "the Lord’s commands and decrees" (10:13) have in the lives of believers on this side of the cross? In other words, what is the New Testament believer’s relationship to God’s Law? What purpose, if any, does it serve in our lives toady?
Four: The lesson passage calls for worship, service, obedience, and love for God without restraint. What does this mean for us today? How can we serve the Lord in this way in our culture? What cultural and societal factors influence our degree of commitment to Christ?