Moses has summoned all Israel for a final briefing before he dies and they continue on into the Promised Land.
Moses doesn't mince words about what they're facing. They are entering into the land of the An-aw-KEEM - a physically huge people with fortification and armament. But he also reminds them that it is the Lord who will be the victor.
In chapter eight (8:17), Moses warned them that once they began to prosper in the land, they would be tempted to think that it had been their own strength which had preserved and prospered them. Now, he warns them against a similar temptation: once they are victorious, they may think, "Sure, it wasn't our strength, but it was certainly our righteousness. God gave us this land because we are a lovable, righteous people!"
That's a real temptation for many of us when we see a blessing in our life. "I've gotten this as a reward because I'm so good!" But not all blessings are rewards for righteousness. Sometimes, as children of God, we're simply receiving the benefit of judgment on the wicked. Moses told them, "Hey, it's not because of your righteousness, but because of the Canaanites' wickedness."
Moses gives them the cold, hard facts: "In case you think that this land is a reward for your righteousness, let me remind you that you are stubborn, provoking, and rebellious."
And just in case they decide to disregard that declaration, he gives them plenty of examples.
At Kho-RABE (Mt. Sinai), they rebelled against the Lord by making the golden calf.
At Tab-ay-RAW they complained, so God sent fire to consume many of them (Num. 11:1). "Tab-ay-RAW" means "burning."
At Mas-SAW, the people tested the Lord because of the lack of water (Exo. 17:1-7). "Mas-SAW" means "testing."
At Kib-ROTH Hat-tah-av-AW, the people greedily consumed quail and incurred the judgment of a severe plague (Num. 11:31-34). "Kib-ROTH Hat-tah-av-AW" means "graves of lust."
At Kaw-DASHE Bar-NAY-ah, God said, "Go into the land of posess it. But again the rebelled, fearing that God was leading them to be slaughtered (Num. 14:2).
The overall lesson here is "Know who you are, and don't forget what you've done. Otherwise, you will become a self-righteous people who believe that you have earned and deserved every blessing you have."
Notice that in verse 24, he says,
Deut. 9:24 "You have been rebellious against the LORD from the day I knew you."
Is this an exaggeration? Not at all. Remember, that although Moses was born a Hebrew, the Egyptian Pharaoh had commanded that all Hebrew babies born should be put to death. When Moses was born, his mother put him into a basket and hid it in the reeds by the bank of the Nile River. When Pharaoh's daughter came down to the Nile to bath, she saw the basket and had her maid bring it to her. For a while, she had Moses' own mother nurse the baby, but once he was weaned, Moses lived in the palace until he was an adult.
In Acts seven, Stephen said,
Acts 7:22-23 "Moses was educated in all the learning of the Egyptians, and he was a man of power in words and deeds. But when he was approaching the age of forty, it entered his mind to visit his brethren, the sons of Israel."
It was at this point he had a desire to know who his people were.
Acts 7:24-28 "And when he saw one of them being treated unjustly, he defended him and took vengeance for the oppressed by striking down the Egyptian. And he supposed that his brethren understood that God was granting them deliverance through him, but they did not understand. On the following day he appeared to them as they were fighting together, and he tried to reconcile them in peace, saying, 'Men, you are brethren, why do you injure one another?' But the one who was injuring his neighbor pushed him away, saying, 'WHO MADE YOU A RULER AND JUDGE OVER US? YOU DO NOT MEAN TO KILL ME AS YOU KILLED THE EGYPTIAN YESTERDAY, DO YOU?'"
God was granting them deliverance through Moses, but they rebelled. It is certainly no exaggeration on Moses' part to say that they have been rebellious from the time that he knew them.
Back in Exodus 32, we read that Moses...
Ex. 32:15-16 ...went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets which were written on both sides; they were written on one side and the other. The tablets were God's work, and the writing was God's writing engraved on the tablets.
The first set of tablets with the Ten Commandments had been created by God and written on by the finger of God.
Ex. 32:19 It came about, as soon as Moses came near the camp, that he saw the calf and the dancing; and Moses' anger burned, and he threw the tablets from his hands and shattered them at the foot of the mountain.
Sin is something to be angry about, but Moses destroyed the written Word of God in his anger. Now, he's being disciplined a bit. This time around, God's not making the tablets - Moses is. And he's only got a short time to do it. In Exodus 34, we see another detail of the conversation, when God says,
Ex. 34:1-2 ..."Cut out for yourself two stone tablets like the former ones, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets which you shattered. So be ready by morning..."
Moses would have another set of tablets, but he'd have to cut them out himself. It's interesting that when God gives you a blessing and you mess it up, He will sometimes replace it. But the second time around, it involves more work to get back what you had before.
Moses was also to make the ark of the covenant. Remember that this was a box of acacia wood overlaid with gold inside and out. On top was a lid of pure gold called, "the mercy seat" (Exod. 25). This was an earthly representation of the throne of God, and Moses is being instructed to put the tablets of the Ten Commandments inside of it.
This instructs us in some very important aspects about the throne of God. Number one, the seat is for mercy. As the writer of Hebrews said,
Heb. 4:16 Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy...
The seat on which God sits may be mercy, but the foundation and the substance of the throne is the righteous and just Word of God. Several times in the Scriptures we read,
Psa. 89:14 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne...
God's throne is one of mercy because it is founded on His Word.
In these verses, we are reminded of two pieces of history which seem to be outside of the time frame. The translators of the NAS and NIV have put them in parenthesis to show that they are a parenthetical statement. I don't think they are as out of place as they first seem, however. Let's review the two pieces of history, and then consider why they've been put here.
We originally read about the death of Aaron in Numbers 20. Although it is commonly known that Moses didn't get to enter the Promised Land because he struck the rock instead of speaking to it, many people do not know that God said the same thing of Aaron:
Num. 20:24 "Aaron will be gathered to his people; for he shall not enter the land which I have given to the sons of Israel, because you rebelled against My command at the waters of Meribah."
Aaron was the high priest, the "second-in-command," and stood right there as it happened.
Num. 20:10 and Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly before the rock. And he said to them, "Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?"
They were both blamed, and both were forbidden to enter the Promised Land.
The other statement is regarding the Levites. Originally, you may recall, God had said that the firstborn of every family would be His (Exod. 13). But then the rebellion happened at the foot of Mt. Sinai and Moses smashed the tablets.
Ex. 32:21-26 Then Moses said to Aaron, "What did this people do to you, that you have brought such great sin upon them?" Aaron said, "Do not let the anger of my lord burn; you know the people yourself, that they are prone to evil. For they said to me, 'Make a god for us who will go before us; for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.' I said to them, 'Whoever has any gold, let them tear it off.' So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf." Now when Moses saw that the people were out of control - for Aaron had let them get out of control to be a derision among their enemies - then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, "Whoever is for the LORD, come to me!" And all the sons of Levi gathered together to him.
And so, instead of the firstborn, God appointed the Levites instead. He said,
Num. 3:12 "Now, behold, I have taken the Levites from among the sons of Israel instead of every firstborn, the first issue of the womb among the sons of Israel. So the Levites shall be Mine."
Thus, instead of being given land as an inheritance in the Promised Land, the Lord was their inheritance.
Now, why insert these two statements here? I believe Moses is making some powerful points: The first tablets were smashed when Moses came down and found Aaron had helped the people fall into idolatry. The next set was made and put into the ark. But when Aaron died, it was not at the foot of Kho-RABE, but about forty years later. He was shown mercy, because God is merciful. And in God's mercy, Aaron's tribe, the Levites, continued to carry the ark which contained the tablets, covered by the mercy seat.
Now, Moses is going back to the timeline...
After reminding them that he once again interceded for them, Moses asks the people,
Deut. 10:12 "Now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you..."
Then he lists the requirements: Fear the Lord, walk in His ways, love Him, serve Him, and keep His Word.
Does all of that seem laborious and difficult? Maybe we need to be reminded about Who God is...
God created heaven and earth. He is so powerful, yet tells us that He loves us. Amazing. With such care and attention given to us, how can we not follow His ways?
Get rid of the flesh that keeps you from loving God. Stop being like a horse that won't turn when the reins are pulled in one direction or another, those that refuse to obey, and stubbornly stiffen their necks.
God is great, mighty, and awesome, yet shows compassion and love to others. He is calling us to take on His nature.