Deuteronomy 8–11“Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe His commands, His laws and His decrees that I am giving you this day” (Deut. 8:11).Memory is a great gift. Our tomorrows may be shaped by how well we remember God’s past deliverances and His judgments.
Definition of Key Terms
In the Old Testament “remember” is more than the mental act of thinking about something that has happened in the past. Its deepest meaning is to recall or pay attention to, and then to act on what has been remembered. In these chapters God called on Israel to remember what had happened on the journey to Canaan, in order to help them make better choices when they entered the Promised Land.
Israel was to remember the wilderness years, when God taught His people to depend on Him (8:1–20). Events on that journey revealed Israel’s rebelliousness (9:1–29) and the faithfulness of the God who kept on calling His people to holiness (10:1–22). Looking back was to help Israel love God, to carefully observe His commandments, and so to experience His blessing (11:1–32).
Understanding the Text
“He humbled you” Deut. 8:1–9. The Hebrew root of “humble” means to be poor and thus dependent. During the wilderness years God let Israel hunger, then fed His people, to teach them to depend fully on Him. When Jesus was challenged by Satan to turn stones into bread (Matt. 4; Luke 4), He quoted a verse from this passage: “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” Jesus knew what it means to depend completely on God and to be satisfied with what the Lord provides. Before we assume that God intends to keep His people in poverty, note what the Lord provided for Israel. Food (v. 3), clothes that did not wear out (v. 4), and good health (v. 4). In the land they were about to possess God would give Israel agricultural and mineral wealth (vv. 7–9). God may hold back material things to teach us to depend on Him. But Isaiah’s promise still holds. “If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land” (Isa. 1:19). “It is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth” Deut. 8:10–20. Pride and humility are contrasting attitudes.
The humble person acknowledges his dependence on God. The proud individual credits his own “power and the strength of [his] hands” for his success. The curse of the proud is that in taking credit for abilities God has given, they forget the Lord. Moses warned that if Israel became proud, “You will surely be destroyed.” Paul portrayed the viewpoint you and I are to develop. “Who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Cor. 4:7) If all that we have is ultimately a gift of God, we have nothing to be proud about but much to be grateful for. This small metal calf was recovered by archeologists at a hilltop worship site in territory once occupied by the Israelite tribe of Dan. A calf or bull was a frequent motif in Canaanite worship. The animal either represented Baal, or was thought of as a throne on which the invisible deity sat. The bull symbolized virility in religions where ritual prostitution and sexual orgies played a major part. Israel’s worship of a golden calf was a retreat to gross paganism. “Because of my righteousness” Deut. 9:1–29.
How are we to interpret God’s good gifts? Moses warned Israel not to assume that God’s blessings were “because of your righteousness or your integrity.” In fact, as the incident of the golden calf (vv. 7–21) and several other events (vv. 22–29) demonstrated, Israel had been “stiff-necked.” This one graphic term sums up Scripture’s portrait of sinful human nature. All mankind, like Israel, is unresponsive to God, disobedient, and actively rebellious. Israel’s occupation of the land is evidence of God’s faithfulness to the covenant promises, not of Israel’s righteousness. God’s love and faithfulness, not our good works, are the true explanation of any blessings He may shower on you or me today. “At that time” Deut. 10:1–11. God’s matchless grace is displayed in these verses. God forgave Israel’s sin, provided new tablets on which His Law was inscribed, and told Moses to “lead the people on their way, so that they may enter and possess the land that I swore to their fathers to give them.”
When remembering God, we must stand amazed at His forgiving grace. “What does the Lord your God ask of you?” Deut. 10:12–22 In a brief review, Moses summed up the holy way of life God expected His people to live. Today too we are to “circumcise our hearts” (demonstrate inner commitment to God) by loving others and by worshiping and praising the Lord. “Faithfully obey” Deut. 11:1–32. Note how intimately this chapter links remembering and responding. Again and again Moses reminded his listeners of what God had said and done. On this basis he called on Israel to “love the Lord your God and keep His requirements” (v. 1), to “observe therefore all the commands” (v. 8), to “faithfully obey the commands” (v. 13), to “be careful” to worship God only (v. 16), and to “carefully observe all these commands I am giving you to follow—to love the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and to hold fast to Him” (v. 22).
Yet Moses did more than appeal to the past to show the value of obedience. He looked ahead as well, and linked the divine promise of future blessing to loving and serving God. In remembering God and how He had dealt with His people Moses was “setting before you today a blessing and a curse—the blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God . . . the curse if you disobey.” What God has done, He will do. For God is faithful and consistent.
Remember Our Golden Calves (Deut. 9:7–10:11)
I really don’t like to remember my sins. That flush of shame, that awareness of failure, aren’t at all pleasant. Besides, as forgiven people, aren’t our sins forgiven and the past forgotten? While there’s nothing spiritual about wallowing in guilt, every now and then we need to revisit sites where we have erected golden calves. The golden calf that Israel made on the plains of Sinai was the ultimate affront to God. God had delivered His people from slavery; Israel ignored Him and chose to worship an idol. God had fed and protected Israel; they decided to praise a creation of their own hands. In the most basic way the golden calf was a total rejection of God. And yet, the Bible says, “At that time, the Lord said” (10:1). At that time, when Israel overtly rejected Him, God told Moses to return to the Mount, and there God gave Moses new tablets containing His Law (vv. 2–8). And at that time, God also said, “Go . . . and lead My people on their way, so that they may enter and possess the land that I swore to their fathers” (vv. 10–11).
Moses reminded Israel of the golden calf not to shame them, but to help them realize how great and how gracious God is. This is why we need to revisit our golden calves now and then. To remember how forgiving, how loving, how gracious God has been to us. “At that time” in our lives, the time of our greatest failure, God came to us in Jesus. He lifted us up, took us in His arms, forgave us, and set us on our way again. Revisiting our golden calves reminds us that not even our sins can cut us off from the love of God. Whenever we fail, God is able to pick us up and set us on the path of righteousness once again.
What event in your past makes you most grateful for God’s forgiveness?