Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
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,IX.
EXHORTATION TO REMEMBER THE SINS OF THE EXODUS.
(1) Hear, O Israel.—A fresh portion of the exhortation begins here. The cause of Israel’s conquest of Canaan is not to be sought in their own merit, but in the choice of Jehovah.
Thou art to pass.—Literally, thou art passing: i.e., just about to pass.
Nations greater and mightier than thyself.—If this is true (and there is no reason to doubt it), the responsibility of the conquest does not rest with Israel; they were the Divine executioners. (See Note on Joshua 5:13-14.)
Cities . . . fenced up to heaven.—Comp. the expression in Genesis 11:4, “a city and a tower whose top may reach unto (literally, is in) heaven.” So here, “cities great and fortified in the heavens.” Was St. Paul thinking of this expression when he said, “We wrestle against spiritual wickedness in the heavenly regions?” (Ephesians 6:12).
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!(2) Whom thou knowest.—The pronoun is emphatic. The twelve spies, two of whom were still living, had seen them (Numbers 13:33), and their fame was doubtless notorious. It seems to have been a common saying, possibly among the Anakim themselves, “Who will stand up to the children of Anak?” No one could be found to face them.
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.(3) Understand therefore.—Literally, the connection seems to be this: “The children of Anakim thou knowest—thou knowest also (the same word) to-day, that it is Jehovah thy God Himself that passeth over before thee, a consuming fire. He will destroy them, and He will make them to bow down before thee. And thou shalt make a conquest of them, and speedily annihilate them, according as Jehovah hath commanded thee.”
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.(4) But for the wickedness.—“Say not in thine heart, ‘in my righteousness,’ when it is in consequence of their wickedness that Jehovah is dispossessing them 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.(5) Not for thy righteousness . . . dost thou go.—The pronoun is emphatic. There is no reason why thou of all others shouldest be thus honoured.
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.(6) Understand therefore.—Literally, and thou knowest. Three times the formula occurs in these verses. “The children of Anak thou knowest; and thou knowest the Lord thy God; and (thirdly) thou knowest thyself too.”
A stiffnecked people.—The metaphor seems to be taken from a camel or other beast of burden, who hardens his neck, and will not bend it for the driver.
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.(7) Remember, and forget not.—More abruptly in the original, “Remember—do not forget—how thou hast stirred the indignation of Jehovah.”
Rebellious.—Not simply rebels, as Moses called them (in Numbers 20:10) at Meribah, but provoking rebels—rebels who rouse the opposition of Him against whom they rebel.
Also in Horeb ye provoked the LORD to wrath, so that the LORD was angry with you to have destroyed you.(8) Also.—Even in Horeb. In the very sight of the mountain of the Law, the Law was flagrantly violated.
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:(9) I neither did eat bread nor drink water.—This fact is not related in Exodus concerning the first forty days which Moses spent in Mount Sinai “with his minister Joshua.” It might be supposed or implied, but it is not recorded.
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.(10) Two tables of stone.—Of these tables it is said in Exodus 32:16, “the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables.”
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.(12) Arise, get thee down.—The words recorded here and in Deuteronomy 9:13-14, are given at length in Exodus 32:7, &c. Moses’ intercession at that time is recorded also.
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.(15) So I turned . . .—This verse nearly repeats Exodus 32:15.
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.(16) Ye had turned aside quickly.—The words of Jehovah in Deuteronomy 9:16, repeated here, and also recorded in Exodus 32:8. There is nothing so sad in human experience as the rapidity with which good resolutions and impressions fade from the natural heart of man.
And I took the two tables, and cast them out of my two hands, and brake them before your eyes.(17) I . . . brake them before your eyes.—This shows that the act was deliberate on Moses’ part. He did not simply drop the tables in his passion before they reached the camp; he deliberately broke the material covenant in the face of the people, who had broken the covenant itself. When we remember the effect of hastily touching not the tables of the Law themselves, but the mere chest that contained them, in after-times, we may well believe that the breaking of these two tables was an act necessary for the safety of Israel. In Exodus 33:7, we read that Moses placed the temporary tabernacle outside the camp at the same time. The two actions seem to have had the same significance, and to have been done for the same reason.
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.(18) And I fell down before the Lord, as at the first, forty days and forty nights.—Moses had already interceded for them in Sinai before he came down on the fortieth day (Exodus 32:11-14). He now spent forty days and nights in the work of intercession. We are not to understand that the first forty were so spent. At that time he received the pattern of the tabernacle and the directions for the priesthood, which he did not deliver to Israel until after he descended from Sinai the second time. (See Exodus 24:18-18, and Exodus 35:1. &c.) During the first forty days, Joshua was with Moses in the mount (probably to help in taking the pattern for the tabernacle); during the second forty Moses was alone.
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.(19) For I was afraid.—In Hebrews 12:21, the words “I exceedingly fear” are (in the Greek) identical with these.
And the LORD was very angry with Aaron to have destroyed him: and I prayed for Aaron also the same time.(20) I prayed for Aaron also.—Jewish commentators ascribe the loss of Aaron’s two sons (Leviticus 10:1-2) partly to God’s anger at this 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.(21) I took your sin . . . and I cast the dust thereof into the brook.—The stream from the rock in Horeb not only gave Israel drink, but bore away their “sin” upon its waters. “And that Rock was Christ.” This identification of the sin with the material object is in harmony with the Law in Leviticus, where “sin” and “sin-offering”—“trespass” and “trespass offering”—are respectively denoted by a single word.
And at Taberah, and at Massah, and at Kibrothhattaavah, ye provoked the LORD to wrath.(22) At Taberah.—The first place mentioned after they left Sinai.
At Massah.—The last scene described before they reached it. Sinai is made the centre of provocation.
At Kibroth-hattaavah.—The first encampment named after Sinai. It is not certain that they halted at Taberah. (See Numbers 11)
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.(23) Ye rebelled against the commandment.—Literally, the mouth of Jehovah.
Ye believed him not—when He encouraged you to go up.
Ye have been rebellious against the LORD from the day that I knew you.(24) Ye have been rebellious against the Lord from the day that I knew you.—This is one side of the truth. The other may be found in the words of Balaam, which Jehovah Himself put into his mouth: “He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, nor seen perverseness in Israel” (Numbers 23:21). (See also Deuteronomy 31:16.)
Thus I fell down before the LORD forty days and forty nights, as I fell down at the first; because the LORD had said he would destroy you.(25) Thus I fell down . . .—Literally, And I fell down before Jehovah forty days and forty nights, as 1 had fallen down (originally on the fortieth day) when the Lord said He would destroy you: i.e., when He told Moses of the calf.
I prayed therefore unto the LORD, and said, O Lord GOD, destroy not thy people and thine inheritance, which thou hast redeemed through thy greatness, which thou hast brought forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand.(26) I prayed therefore . . . and said.—The words that follow are very similar to those which are recorded in Exodus 32:11-13. Moses appears to be alluding to his first intercession here, before he descended from Sinai for the first time.
Remember thy servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; look not unto the stubbornness of this people, nor to their wickedness, nor to their sin:(27) Remember thy servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.—This is found exactly in Exodus 32:13. Very few of the words used by Moses in the second forty days are found in Exodus. (See Exodus 34:9.)
Yet they are thy people and thine inheritance, which thou broughtest out by thy mighty power and by thy stretched out arm.(29) Thy people . . . which thou broughtest out.—So Exodus 32:11. It is noticeable that God said to Moses, “Thy people which thou broughtest out . . . have corrupted themselves” (Exodus 32:7). Moses said, “Lord, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people which thou hast brought forth?”