““Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,’”
“Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land”
“Know, therefore, that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people. Remember and do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness.”
(Deuteronomy 9:4-7 ESV)
The people are called to go into an intimidating land and conquer it – a land that is populated with those who are greater & mightier with fortified cities. This is why they didn’t go into the land the first time – the spies (except Joshua & Caleb) said that the people were too mighty for Israel to over throw (Numbers 13:28-14:10). The Israelites are reminded that these people were indeed mighty and their cities were fortified, but their God was mightier!
God then issues a warning to the people: “Do not say in your heart, ‘it is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land” (verse 4, also 8:17). They would have viewed their military victories as God rewarding them for their righteousness; God completely obliterates that thinking. God reminds them that they were the recipients of His grace – unearned, undeserved, unmerited. They were not receiving the land because they followed or obeyed well enough, trusted deeply enough or were more spiritually attuned. No! They were being given the land because of God’s righteousness, glory and grace (see verses 5-7).
We are not much different than the Israelites. We tend to believe that the good things in our lives are the result of our obedience, intelligence or hard work. We think that God is our cosmic genie who is obligated to reward us; He owes us. Nothing could be further from the truth that the bible paints for us. The goodness in our lives is not because we are awesome & obedient; the goodness in our lives is because God is gracious – we deserve nothing, but wrath because of our (ongoing) rebellion. All good things are a gift as Paul affirms in 1 Corinthians 4:7: “what do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” We are owed nothing, not even breath – everything is a gift from on high, it is not because you unlocked the secret spiritual code, executed better than others, worked harder, were wiser or did something on your own to deserve the good that you have. God’s grace is the reason that you have any good things.
It seems like we are hard wired to take credit for the good in our lives and forget the grace of God. So how do keep the right perspective that it is God who benevolently gives us good because He is gracious, not because we are deserving? The answer is to REMEMBER. Deuteronomy 8:18 tells us to “remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth” and 9:7 tells us to “remember and do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness.” The people were called to remember their moral failures and disobedience in the wilderness to crush their self righteous pride.
You are called to remember that God delivered you, led you, provided for you, loved you – even in your rebellion. You were dead in your trespasses, but God, being rich in mercy, made you alive (Ephesians 2:4–5). You did not do anything to deserve it, you didn’t earn it, it is only by His benevolent grace that He made your heart alive to spiritual things.
Remembering involves deliberate, dependent discipline. There is indeed action on our part. Our role is to get ourselves in proximity to the waterfall of God’s grace and beg Him to ignite our hearts. The Spirit ignites the kindling that we gather around us. So let us work at gathering kindling and get ourselves in close proximity to the Almighty and beg Him to ignite our souls.