Deuteronomy 9:1-6.
 
Beware of Pride

Copyright 2012, John.W. (Jack) Carter
     www.biblicaltheology.com Scripture quotes from KJV


God has given his blessings on us, not because of our own merit, but only because of his love for us.  When we recognize that this is a graceful act of God, we can better exercise our faith, and approach Him in humble thankfulness. Conflict arises when we forget this simple truth and start to think of ourselves more than we aught.  "Besides the more vulgar pride which entirely forgets God, and attributes success and prosperity to its own power and exertion, there is one of a more refined character, which very easily spreads - namely, pride which acknowledges the blessings of God; but instead of receiving them gratefully, as unmerited gifts of the grace of the Lord, sees in them nothing byt proof of own righteousness and virtue."1 In Deuteronomy 9 - 10, Moses tells the Israelites of how God will mightily conquer the land of Canaan as they move into it, and how they will be in danger of taking credit for God's work.  

God has given people the ability to self-actualize, and by so doing, we take can great comfort in our own accomplishments.  The competitiveness of our natural spirit can lead us to think of ourselves more than we aught, lifting ourselves to a false standard of righteousness and/or authority that is inappropriate.  When we do so, we fail to acknowledge who we truly are with respect to God, ignoring the unrighteousness that we fully demonstrate, and failing to acknowledge God for who He is and for what He has done on our behalf.  When this type of pride is exercised in our lives, we find ourselves outside of God's will, subject to his discipline, and oftentimes in conflict with those around us.  For this reason, there is a tremendous amount of scripture that addresses the negative impact that pride can have on the faithful, and how God literally hates the acts of pride.  Observe each of the following scripture verses and consider what they have to say about pride:

Prov. 8:13.  The fear of the LORD is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate.

Prov. 11:2.  When pride cometh, then cometh shame: but with the lowly is wisdom.

Prov. 16:18.  Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.

Isa. 25:11.  And he shall spread forth his hands in the midst of them, as he that swimmeth spreadeth forth his hands to swim: and he shall bring down their pride together with the spoils of their hands.

Ezekiel 16:49.  Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.

Zephaniah 2:10.  This shall they have for their pride, because they have reproached and magnified themselves against the people of the LORD of hosts.

Mark 7:22-23.  Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: 23All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.

1 John 2:16.  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. 

The words spoken by Moses in this part of the book of Deuteronomy are being delivered to the Israelites immediately prior to their entry into the promised land.  This event came after the nation spent 40 years, two generations, wandering in the wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula.  During that entire period, they were never more than a few days journey from the promised land.  They were maintained in the land by God's provision of their needs.  There was nothing, for two entire generations, that the people of Israel did for which they could take credit.  Nobody, other than Joshua and Caleb who were faithful to God when Israel turned away from entering the promised land forty years before, remembered the Exodus, depending entirely on the passing of the knowledge down for any understanding of the event.  If there was ever a group of people who had no reason to be swelled up with pride, it was the Israelites as they prepared to enter the promised land.  However, Moses was well-aware of the propensity for people to think highly of themselves both as individuals and as cohesive groups.  This forty-year experience formed Israel into a very cohesive group with a unique and well-defined identity.  They saw themselves as the "children of God" or the "children of the promise," and in that already exhibited a pride that would stand between them and God's purpose for them.

Deuteronomy 9:1-2.

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, 2A 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! 

The time for passing over the Jordan is at hand.   The land of Canaan is far from uninhabited.  It is populated with an existing network of tribal communities, many of which are far superior in size and fighting power than the Israelites.  The Jews lacked the military training and ability to take the land on their own.   Just as they were not able to contribute in any significant way to their survival in the wilderness, they would be likewise unable to contribute to the defeat of the nations they were about to meet in battle.  The first mentioned are the Anakim, the tribe of Anak.  Even the name, Anak, refers to a person of unusual stature.  Descendents of the Nephilim, who terrorized others with their great fighting ability (Num. 13:33, Gen. 6:4), the Anakim were a warring people.  The last part of verse 2 is a reference to a common Hebrew proverb or idiom.  

Israel had been to the border of the land before and turned back.  Why?  One of the reasons that the majority of the spies who entered the promised land forty years ago advised against taking the land was their fear of the giants they had seen in the land.  To these faithless people, the tall and robust soldiers of the Anikim must have seemed like giants as they described themselves as grasshoppers in comparison (Numbers 13:33). God is making it clear to the Hebrews that they will be up against this same,  formidable foe: one that they cannot defeat on their own.

In addition to the mighty armies they would face, they would find the cities fortified.  How high are the city walls?  The metaphor used here indicates that they reach up to the heavens.  Obviously, this is a metaphor that indicates that the walls are too high to climb over.  The task that they are about to embark on is one that they could never hope to complete on their own.  God has a plan for them, but clearly knows their hearts.  They will fear such an enemy and appropriately doubt their ability to conquer them.  So, God gives them some clear words of hope.

Deuteronomy 9:3.

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. 

The Israelites had already defeated the Amorite kings Sihon (2:32-37) and Og (3:1-7).  The had already experienced success in battle against overwhelming armies.  Who can stand against the tribe of Anak?  The people were about to be reminded.  Though their role in battle would be absolutely necessary, the defeat of their enemies would come at the hand of God.

Who is going to defeat the enemy that stands before the Hebrews as they enter the Canaan land?  Who should take the credit?  Again, God knows their hearts, and certainly their understanding of what God is about to do would be encouraging to them, but their state of apostasy will diminish their ability to rightly acknowledge the source of their successes.  Moses described God's defeat of the Anakim in three ways.  

First, a devouring fire is often used in the Old Testament to signify God's divine intervention in the affairs of man.  It is His Shikinah Glory, the pillar of fire that has led them through the desert and has consumed the sacrifice on the day of atonement.  It was His glory that returned with the Angels when Jesus' birth was announced.  Jesus said that He was the light of the world, and in accepting Him, that light is given to us.  The fire of God consumes sin, and in the same way, the Anakim will be consumed.

Second, God stated that He would destroy them.  The Canaanites did not acknowledge God, but replaced him with gods of wood, hay and stuble.  Stone and metal objects were worshiped, and their religious practices were of the most ungodly form imaginable.  This was the time that God had set for their judgment, and this time it would be at the hands of the Jews rather than raining down fire as He did at Sodom.  The Jews would be used of God to complete part of His purpose, and in doing so, be a part of the completion of the promise that God had made to Abraham 400 years before that He would deliver them to this land.

Third, God stated that He would bring them down from their arrogant pride.  God considered the self-sufficient pride of the Canaanites a sufficient sin for their complete destruction.  If any one should have learned a lesson of the consequences of such pride, it should have been the Hebrews.  However, again, God knew their hearts, and knew that there was very little difference between the hearts of the sons of Anak and the hearts of the sons of Israel.

Deuteronomy 9:4.

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.

It is natural for us to expect blessings from God because of our righteousness.  Such an argument makes sense to us.  However, God's plan has no bearing on our own righteousness, since any righteousness we have when compared to the Glory of God is of no more value than dirty rags.  This reference in Isaiah 64:6 refers to the dirty blood-filled rags that made one ceremonially unclean.  Our own righteousness is of no more value.  Why, then, do we need to be reminded of this so often?  God instructs the Israelites that they re not to assume that God is blessing them because of their righteousness.  God's plan is not predicated by the authority or actions of mankind, but rather by His own authority and purpose.  First, God is making it clear that His purpose in what is about to take place includes the judgment of Canaan for their wickedness.  Again, here is an illustration to the Hebrews of the consequences of living a wicked lifestyle, contributing to a vile profane culture that rejects God.  Whether defeated this side of death or on the other, such people will never enter God's true presence.

Deuteronomy 9:5.

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.

This was such an important point that Moses repeated it.  Furthermore, in the grammar he uses here, Moses states that the Israelites did not earn the land they were about to possess. Two reasons for God's plan are given here.  What are they?  First, God was going to judge the Canaanites for their wickedness, and second, God would by so doing fulfill his promise to Abraham.  The covenant with Abraham was a promise from God that in turn for their faithfulness, God would grant Abraham, Isaac and Jacob a large number of descendants, and they would be granted a land in which to live.  One of the most important events of the history of Israel was about to take place.  It is important that the Jews clearly understand its purpose so that they do not swell up with pride and make the same mistakes in their culture that the Canaanites did in theirs. 

Deuteronomy 9:6

 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.

Moses gives yet another reason why the children of Israel cannot take credit for the act of God that is about to take place.  Not only do they lack the righteousness that they might think, Moses makes it very plain that they are an, undeserving,  unrighteous people.  We have to keep in mind which side of the cross that these events took place.  When Christ died on the cross, He sent the Comforter, the Holy Spirit to live in the hearts of the lives of the faithful.  When we think of the church, we tend to see the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of many of its members.  At the time of the Exodus, the Hebrews were far from a faithful people.  We see very few instances in the Old Testament of people who were filled with the Holy Spirit.  These people were described as stiff-necked.  They had continually demonstrated a failure to live by God's commands, not because they were unable, but because they were uninterested.  They were a prideful and self-centered people who did not acknowledge God in their hearts.  It was only because of God's grace that he chose to bless the descendents of Abraham.  It was not because of anything that they could or did do.

Likewise, we must understand that our righteousness is also as filthy rags, and there is nothing that we can do to deserve God's blessing of our lives.  Consequently, it is very appropriate to give true and meaningful thanks to God for every blessing that we receive:  indeed for every breath that we take.  In verses 7 through 24 Moses reminds the Hebrews of their unfaithfulness in the desert, how they had been rebellious from the time they left Egypt to the point where they are now ready to enter into the promised land.  Moses reminded them that there had been several times in the desert that God's wrath was invoked, but subdued only by His grace.  There were times when the Jews deserved to be destroyed just as the Canaanites are about to be brought down.

How, then are they (and are we) to respond to God?  We have no righteousness of ourselves, so what is it that God requires of us?  Moses turns to these questions in Chapter 10.

Deuteronomy 10:12.  And now, Israel, what doth the LORD thy God require of thee, but to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, 

What are some of the requirements that God places on us?  Many people today would argue that people can be good by just trying to be so, and that God does not place on us any particular requirements.  They would teach that what works for some people might not for others, so we should each do what works for us.  This lie serves to separate people from God in the same way that similar arrogance served the Canaanites with destruction.  God's words here are clear, that He does indeed require some behavior of us.

(1)  First we are to fear the LORD, thy God.  Of course, if we are living in sin, an emotional fear of the consequence of our actions would logically lead us to fear the instrument of that judgment, God.  However, the word that is translated as fear means much more.  The form of the word is active, implying an understanding of who God is in a way that evokes the correct fear response.  We should recognize the immensity of God and the triviality that we are in His presence.  We should be humbled by his unfathomable awesomeness to the point of profound respect for Him.  It means acknowledging that God is LORD, the One who deserves our allegiance and honor.  It is when we do this that the remaining requirements that God has placed before it can be met in the hearts and minds of His people.  

(2)  It is only when we come to that point of a proper and healthy fear of God can we, indeed, choose to walk in His ways.  Note that such a walk is a choice of our own, not one that is imposed upon us by God.  We do not need to look far to see the hearts of those who choose to ignore God.  In which of God's ways are we instructed to walk?  Note that we are instructed to acknowledge God in all of our ways.

Proverbs 3:5-6.  Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. 6In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.

(3) When we come to fear the Lord in the proper context, we are free to love Him.  Love of God is not an option, or even a choice, but is a spontaneous result of truly understanding who God is and appreciating what He has done for us.  Children learn to quickly love parents who demonstrate love for them.  Likewise, when we come to know God we also come to understand the immense love that He has for us, a love that is so great that He would provide this entire universe for our "incubation" and send Jesus, the Christ, to suffer and die in humiliation so that through that selfless act, we can be saved from the eternal separation from God that we truly deserve.  

(4) Finally, when we come to love God, there is no reasonable response other than to serve Him.  Furthermore, God is not asking for occasional service, but rather full-time dedication.  When we truly love God it is not a difficult task to dedicate to him all of the actions of our heart and soul.  Charles Spurgeon makes an interesting observation when he states that, should we succumb to a temptation it is not to our relationship with that temptation that we should look, but rather to the flaws in our relationship with Christ.  When our relationship with God is right, it is His righteousness in us that we seek for the answers to the everyday decisions we make.  Just as the proverb quoted above states, that when we acknowledge God in all our paths (all of the choices of our heart, soul, and mind) He will direct our paths.  God will not lead us down paths of destruction, but free from His love and guidance we are doomed to do so ourselves.

Pride is one of the most dangerous sins that we can commit.  Pride takes credit for ourselves those things that are only attributable to God.  Pride imposes upon us a self-centered arrogance that diminishes God's ability to work in our lives.  Pride can only serve to destroy the relationship between a person and God.  This is why God repeats the consequences of pride so many times in the holy scriptures.  Time and time again we see the consequences of the pride of people as God brings their world crashing down around them.  We cannot hold up this world, only God can, and He can do a perfect job of doing so.

God would, indeed, lead the children of Israel into the promised land and in so doing He would go before them and destroy the walls of Jericho, and defeat mighty armies.  However, the sin of pride would continue to be a central and distinctive characteristic of the Jews, and they would suffer a continuing cycle of judgment and deliverance because of it.  Finally, as God destroyed the nations of the Canaanites, God would destroy the nation of Israel as it would first divide itself from its twelve tribes into two competing nations, and then those two nations would be taken into exile in Assyria and Babylon.  God's purpose of winning the world to Himself could not be fulfilled through the prideful heart of Israel, or through any group of men for that matter.  It was necessary that God would send His Son, Jesus, to open the way for all people to respond to God in faith and to receive His Holy Spirit, the person of God through which He works to save and preserve the faithful against the final day of judgment.

Let us, indeed, learn from the pride and fall of the Canaanites, as well as the pride and fall of the Hebrews.  Let us surrender ourselves completely to the God who deserves nothing less, and promises everything more.

1 Keil, C.F.  (1996).  The Pentateuch.  Peabody, MA:  Hendrickson Publishers.  Page 892.