Cows or Commitment? Deuteronomy 9
In Summary: By now, you know the drill for Deuteronomy, so I’ll spare you the background data. Deuteronomy 9 gives us Moses recounting some of the sins of the people of Israel in the Exodus, especially during the time around Mount Horeb. Horeb is another name for Mount Sinai, so this is about the feasting that occurred during the time Moses received the Ten Commandments.
That aspect is brought up here, and some of the other times when the people sinned against God in their behavior. Moses is reminding the people to remember the grace they have received. After all, they have provoked YHWH to wrath many times, even within the first months of freedom from Egypt as they did at Horeb.
Why did they rebel even then? Perhaps it was because, like so many of us, the people of Israel were quick to forget. They were quick to forget the big things God had done for them, but even quicker to forget the little ones. Think about the little things: providence in sustaining creation; grace for all the little moments; wisdom in the universe. All in all, God is quite gracious to us all, even without doing any major things, like parting the Red Sea or giving you anything on your “wish list” of life. (Notwithstanding the problems with the “wish list” method of prayer.)
In Focus: The critical moment in this saga is the construction of the Golden Calf. (Deuteronomy 9:16) The Israelites, quite accustomed to having an idol or two around, chose to construct a metallic representation of God. While the nerds will debate whether they Calf was meant to represent God or simply to represent what God was riding upon, the overall action was sinful. It involved trading the command to wait and worship, to trust the unseen, for the ease of worshiping the visible. Trading patience for immediate gratification.
The Israelites chose to sanctify their wealth to idolatry. This is an age-old problem, and one that God is consistently against. The Israelites did it, and the result was the loss of God’s Word as carved by His Hand. Moses through this chapter links the idolatry directly through to the rebellions right up to the refusal to take the promised land.
In Practice: Today’s people, though, never worry with idolatry, right? We, especially those within the church, never carve out golden calves, do we?
Perhaps we do not do so quite so plainly, but we must consider something. How often do we take our wealth and give it over to the worship of something other than God? Not a full-out bow down, most likely, but a diversion of our hearts and cares from obeying what God has said. We do this because it is convenient to do so. We can worship this for a little while, chase after that, and then come back to God. He’s a God of grace and mercy, right?
Except we need to remember that there is only one God, and the God of grace and mercy is also the God of righteous judgment. He will judge sin, He will be provoked to wrath. Especially when we treat Him as if we should be able to pick and choose our commitments.
This is the essence of our problem with idolatry: we want gods that we can contribute to, because by contributing, we maintain control. If it’s my gold that made my god, then I’m in charge. Even if his rules are a little challenging, because I’m the one behind my idol, I can define the exceptions. And then use the rules to direct you.
When God is unseen, though, He is also uncontrolled. We have to follow what He says, do it His way. That’s not always easy. And most of us prefer the ability to have cows to the challenge of having commitment.
But that’s a choice that needs to change.
In Nerdiness: Don’t overplay the presence of the word “today” in Deuteronomy 9:1. That would put this statement, Moses’ death, and the crossing of the Jordan all in one day. Take it more as a “in these days” or a general time reference. Yes, that also bears backwards on Moses’ use of the same word for “day” in Genesis 1.
But that’s another post.