Our text verses come after a forty-year period of Wilderness journeying for the Nation of Israel. In the previous devotional, we looked at Deuteronomy 9:1-3. Today we look at verses 4-6.
Application, verses 4-6:
“Speak not thou in thine heart, after that the LORD thy God hath cast them out from before thee, saying, For my righteousness the LORD hath brought me in to possess this land: but for the wickedness of these nations the LORD doth drive them out from before thee.” (Deuteronomy 9:4)
“Not for thy righteousness, or for the uprightness of thine heart, dost thou go to possess their land: but for the wickedness of these nations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee, and that he may perform the word which the LORD sware unto thy fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” (Deuteronomy 9:5)
“Understand therefore, that the LORD thy God giveth thee not this good land to possess it for thy righteousness; for thou art a stiffnecked people.” (Deuteronomy 9:6)
Thus far, our examination of our text has focused on an exposition of verses 1-3. We have seen that Moses has presented the Children of Israel with a giant-sized problem: God promised the land; the land is inhabited by giants and nations greater and mightier than the Israelites; the odds are against the Israelites; and they have no hope in themselves. But Moses then goes on to explain that the Lord Himself will fulfill His Promise and give them the land. All they have to do is obey and follow Him.
In verses 4-6, we see the application of the principle expounded upon – that the promise of God requires the performance of God. In this second part of our text, we see God’s purpose in His performance is the complete fulfillment of His Word. As He has spoken, so the Lord is faithful to perform. God cannot lie (Hebrews 6:18), so He binds Himself to performance by His Word.
A second reason for God’s performance is the praise of His glory (Psalms 145:10). The exercise of Power in the performance of God’s Word is always seen to result in the glorifying praises given to God. All His works bear witness to His glory. Moses goes on to say:
“He is thy praise, and he is thy God, that hath done for thee these great and terrible things, which thine eyes have seen.” (Deuteronomy 10:21)
God’s performance bears witness to His Power to faithfully fulfill every promise He has made to His people. It is a matter of faith-building comfort to us to know that God’s faithfulness is what secures His blessings to us; and therefore, He alone receives praise.
We see then a third reason for God’s performance is His grace, or unmerited favor, to be shown. By this working of grace, we understand that God’s performance is not contingent upon man’s goodness since, “…we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags…” (Isaiah 64:6). None of us can, by our goodness, say that we have earned God’s favor; and our example from the Children of Israel shows us that they were anything but worthy.
“Remember, and forget not, how thou provokedst the LORD thy God to wrath in the wilderness: from the day that thou didst depart out of the land of Egypt, until ye came unto this place, ye have been rebellious against the LORD.” (Deuteronomy 9:7)
Moses reminds the Children of Israel that they have done everything in their power to rebel against the Lord (see also verses 23-25). But the Lord was faithfully making His Word come to pass to reveal His perfect Sovereignty in all things, in spite of their disobedience.
A word needs to be added regarding God’s performance as it relates to our obedience. In Chapter 11, Moses will instruct the Israelites concerning God’s promise to perform based on their obedience or disobedience:
“Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse;” (Deuteronomy 11:26)
“A blessing, if ye obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you this day:” (Deuteronomy 11:27)
“And a curse, if ye will not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside out of the way which I command you this day, to go after other gods, which ye have not known.” (Deuteronomy 11:28)
We see then that God does promise to bless obedience and to curse disobedience. This fact is the basis of the various doctrines of Salvation by works (or a work-earned grace, which is not grace). Everyone that teaches obedience for the sake of earning rewards relies ultimately on the fact that God has promised to reward obedience. There are two chief problems with this teaching. First, it tends to presume upon the grace of God, reducing Him to a Robot who acts upon the pushing of a button. Secondly, this dangerous teaching leads people to believe their works earn them something; and that God owes them.
This second problem is that which we see in our text. Moses reminds the Israelites that God’s performance of His promise is for the purpose of fulfilling His Word; and not because of their obedience, since they had only been disobedient since He brought them out of Egypt. His blessing to them then had nothing to do with their righteousness at all; rather, it was because of His judgment upon the unrighteousness of the land’s inhabitants. This principle is picked up again in the New Testament, showing its relevance to the Church.
“What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction:” (Romans 9:22)
“And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory,” (Romans 9:23)
The simple truth is that God does bless obedience; but that our blessing is no real indication that we are in the Will of God. This is a powerful statement, and one that those who preach the modern prosperity gospel will find hard to accept. For those who believe God’s blessings are theirs for the naming and claiming, any idea that God will bless those outside of His Will and not bless those who “claim His promises” (whatever that means), is to strike at the very heart of the prosperity gospel. Nevertheless, this is what we see in our text.
We see from our example today that the ultimate reasons for God’s performance are the fulfilling of His Word and the praise of His glory. Yes, God blesses obedience. And yes, God fulfills His promises. But we cannot assume our blessings are a result of our actions or our words. We cannot assume we have earned a reward by our own self-righteousness and that God owes us anything.
A Warning Against Self-Righteousness:
“Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity.” (Psalms 37:1)
“For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb.” (Psalms 37:2)
“Trust in the LORD, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.” (Psalms 37:3)
“For evildoers shall be cut off: but those that wait upon the LORD, they shall inherit the earth.” (Psalms 37:9)
What then? We have seen that God commands obedience, and promises to bless such. But we have also seen that God promises to judge wickedness. Our focus today is to discern when we are being blessed for obedience; and not to simply assume such, based on the fact of our blessings. God makes His rain fall on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45), but it is the same rain.
The difference is in the way it is received – as a blessing or as a curse. These are two distinct aspect of God’s goodness.
Israel’s possession of the Land of Canaan would take place because God had promised it. He would faithfully fulfill His Promise that He had made. Indeed, this fulfillment was a blessing to the Children of Israel – a blessing of unmerited, unearned grace. Every thought He has toward us, every blessing that comes our way, is a result of His grace.
No amount of personal righteousness will indebt God to us, or secure His blessing to us. We are commanded to be in obedience, and we are promised blessings. But we must understand that God is Sovereign, and that no self-righteousness will gain His favor; none of our good works can earn His Grace. Never let pride convince you that you deserve God’s goodness, and take His blessing for granted.
Our attitude should always be one of self-examination. In this way, we will be mindful of when we are out of God’s will. We will also recognize our blessedness and know when our obedience is being rewarded. We will realize the grace of God as He bestows favor on us because of His goodness and not our own. We will give Him the praise that is due unto Him as we behold the works of His hands. But primarily, we will not be fooled into a false sense of thinking we are in His will just because we are blessed – it may be that someone else’s wickedness has deprived them of God’s goodness.