“Hear, O Israel: Thou art to pass over Jordan this day, to go in to possess nations greater and mightier than thyself, cities great and fenced up to heaven, A people great and tall, the children of the Anakims, whom thou knowest, and of whom thou hast heard say, Who can stand before the children of Anak!” (Deuteronomy 9:1-2)
Forty years before, in Numbers 13:30-33, the spies had brought back the report about the land. “And Caleb stilled the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it. But the men that went up with him said, We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we. And they brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched unto the children of Israel, saying, The land, through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature. And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.”
Nothing has changed. The people of the land were still in fortified cities with standing armies, and the Giants, the sons of Anak were still there, and their adversaries were still intimidated by their size.
“Understand therefore this day, that the LORD thy God is he which goeth over before thee; as a consuming fire he shall destroy them, and he shall bring them down before thy face: so shalt thou drive them out, and destroy them quickly, as the LORD hath said unto thee.” (Deuteronomy 9:3)
Though the sons of Anak were giants, and the defenses too strong for Israel to defeat them, God would go before them like a fire burning brush. There would be nothing left to resist their advance. Sieges against fortified cities often took months or years to succeed, depending on how well the city was provisioned. God would enable them to quickly occupy the land and displace the inhabitants.
“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. 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.
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. 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 9:4-7)
Israel was not the get the idea that they were better than the people God drove out before them. The wickedness of the people in the land was causing them to be driven out. Because he had promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob the land, God was going to give it to their descendants, but it was not because they were better than the others. They needed to realize how rebellious and sinful they were from the beginning.
Too often religious people believe they are superior because they have more knowledge about God than others and keep some particular moral code they perceive as superior to that followed by others. It is especially prevalent among those who have higher levels of education. As I Corinthians 8:1 declares, “…Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.” Titus 3:5 stresses it is not because we are superior in some way. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;” Our salvation is based solely on God’s decision to save anyone who would believe in Christ.
John 15:16 states, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain…” Based on that fact, Romans 14:13 commands: “Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way.” Galatians 6:1 instructs, “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” It is easy to lose sight of our own failings in our pride.
Moses then recounted one of their most egregious sins.
“Also in Horeb ye provoked the LORD to wrath, so that the LORD was angry with you to have destroyed you. When I was gone up into the mount to receive the tables of stone, even the tables of the covenant which the LORD made with you, then I abode in the mount forty days and forty nights, I neither did eat bread nor drink water: And the LORD delivered unto me two tables of stone written with the finger of God; and on them was written according to all the words, which the LORD spake with you in the mount out of the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly.
And it came to pass at the end of forty days and forty nights, that the LORD gave me the two tables of stone, even the tables of the covenant. And the LORD said unto me, Arise, get thee down quickly from hence; for thy people which thou hast brought forth out of Egypt have corrupted themselves; they are quickly turned aside out of the way which I commanded them; they have made them a molten image.
Furthermore the LORD spake unto me, saying, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people: Let me alone, that I may destroy them, and blot out their name from under heaven: and I will make of thee a nation mightier and greater than they. So I turned and came down from the mount, and the mount burned with fire: and the two tables of the covenant were in my two hands.
And I looked, and, behold, ye had sinned against the LORD your God, and had made you a molten calf: ye had turned aside quickly out of the way which the LORD had commanded you. And I took the two tables, and cast them out of my two hands, and brake them before your eyes.” (Deuteronomy 9:8-17)
Right after having seen the glory of God come down on the mountain and committing to obey his law, while Moses was on the mountain to pick up the hard copy, Israel had turned away and gone into sin to such a degree that God threatened to destroy them and start over with Moses and his family. Moses didn’t even know what had happened until he came down from the mountain and saw them.
“And I fell down before the LORD, as at the first, forty days and forty nights: I did neither eat bread, nor drink water, because of all your sins which ye sinned, in doing wickedly in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger. For I was afraid of the anger and hot displeasure, wherewith the LORD was wroth against you to destroy you. But the LORD hearkened unto me at that time also.
And the LORD was very angry with Aaron to have destroyed him: and I prayed for Aaron also the same time. And I took your sin, the calf which ye had made, and burnt it with fire, and stamped it, and ground it very small, even until it was as small as dust: and I cast the dust thereof into the brook that descended out of the mount.” (Deuteronomy 9:18-21)
Moses then spent forty days praying and interceding for the nation, and especially for Aaron, who had been given the responsibility of representing God to the people. It had been necessary to eliminate all trace of the sin to appease God.
“And at Taberah, and at Massah, and at Kibrothhattaavah, ye provoked the LORD to wrath. Likewise when the LORD sent you from Kadeshbarnea, saying, Go up and possess the land which I have given you; then ye rebelled against the commandment of the LORD your God, and ye believed him not, nor hearkened to his voice. Ye have been rebellious against the LORD from the day that I knew you.” (Deuteronomy 9:22-24)
Unfortunately, the sin at Mount Sinai was not the only time. They had gone against God repeatedly, in various camps during the forty years in the wilderness. They had a rebellious attitude or spirit from the time they left Egypt, and regularly let it take over their thoughts and behavior.