5 July 2013

Deuteronomy 9:4-14

“Know, then, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to occupy because of your righteousness.” (v. 6)


In yesterday's passage, the Israelites were urged not to suppose that their economic stability came from their own efforts. Today, the focus changes to their spiritual well-being.

There is a strand in Old Testament thought which suggests that prosperity is God's gift to those who honour and obey God. King David's success, for example, is seen as a consequence of his devotion to God (eg Psalm 89). But in today's passage, the people are discouraged from using this model to interpret their good fortune. It is easy to move from this idea to thinking that prosperity is a mark of righteousness, and even to hold the opposite idea, that trouble is a sign of wickedness - one of the themes of the book of Job is a contradiction of exactly this view (see Job 4).

Moses does not allow his hearers to engage in such sloppy thinking. If they enjoy prosperity in the land, it is the consequence of God's grace, not of their righteousness. There is no room for smugness or complacency, or for what we now call 'self-righteousness'. The idea that the people have achieved righteousness through their own ability, or that they can earn God's blessing, is simply ruled out. Moses proves his point by recalling in detail the story of their unfaithfulness at Sinai, when they made the image of the golden calf (Exodus 32), and this theme emerges over and over again (Psalm 95:7-11).

So why has God chosen to lead the people into the promised land? This has already been explained: "It was not because you were more numerous ... that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you ... it was because the Lord loved you" (Deuteronomy 7:7). The choice, the promise to the ancestors, depends simply on God's love - God is free, independent, and works in the world through the choice of individual people and groups to be God's agents. But this is a mark of God's grace, not a sign that the people are better than others or that they especially deserve God's blessing. God's unpredictable, inexplicable love has fallen on them - and only God knows why.

To Ponder

  • What has God given you, as an individual and as part of a community?
  • How can you foster a culture of thankfulness, rather than taking God's gifts for granted or seeing material prosperity or spiritual well-being as your right?

Bible notes author

The Revd Caroline Wickens

Caroline is a Methodist presbyter, currently serving as superintendent of the Dudley and Netherton Circuit just outside Wolverhampton. She is married to Andrew, an Anglican priest, and has two teenage children.