Israel could not take credit for God’s gracious works on their behalf. He freely chose to love them and care for them. Their obligation was to love Him in return, and that meant obeying Him. For Israel—and for us—expressions of love for God are empty apart from obedience to Him.
As we begin our Wisdom Journey in Deuteronomy chapters 9–11, I want to tell you a story I heard about a substitute schoolteacher years ago in West Virginia. He was assigned to an unruly class for a number of days. Finally, one of the boys had crossed the line too many times, and out came the paddle.
The class held their breath as the teacher led this boy out into the hallway. But for whatever reason, the teacher decided to teach this boy a lesson in an unusual way. He knelt down beside this youngster and said, “Listen, I’m not going to spank you, but when I whack myself on the leg, I want you to holler as loud as you can!” The teacher limped back into the room and would win a great deal of respect from his students, and that boy who deserved the paddle learned that grace was undeserved.
That happens to be one of the two great lessons Moses teaches Israel now as they prepare to enter the promised land: The grace of God is an undeserved gift.
Deuteronomy chapter 9 opens with Moses speaking:
“Hear, O Israel: you are to cross over the Jordan today . . . Know therefore today that he who goes over before you as a consuming fire is the Lord your God. He will destroy [the nations] and subdue them before you.” (verses 1, 3)
Now what Moses says next makes me think there is a growing assumption in the camp that the people are deserving of the Lord’s blessing. He says here in verse 4:
“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.’”
Again, in verse 6 he says, “The Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people.” He adds in verse 7: “From the day you came out of the land of Egypt . . . you have been rebellious against the Lord.” In other words, he’s saying, “You deserve to be taken out in the hallway and given a spanking you will never forget.”
In these next verses, Moses reminds the people of Israel of their rebellion against the word of God. Here in verse 23 Moses says, “You . . . did not believe [the Lord] or obey his voice.” And in verse 24, he says, “You have been rebellious against the Lord from the day that I knew you.” If you think Moses is giving them a verbal spanking here, you’re absolutely right—and for good reason!
Moses goes on in chapter 10 to remind the people that he went back up the mountain so God could rewrite the Ten Commandments on stone tablets since the original tablets had been destroyed. I love what Moses says here in verse 5:
“Then I turned and came down from the mountain and put the tablets in the ark that I had made. And there they are, as the Lord commanded me!”
God did not give up on His people. He didn’t get rid of them. But Moses wants them to learn the lesson that the grace of God toward them was undeserved.
And that’s true to this very day. The apostle Paul writes to New Testament believers in Titus chapter 3:
We ourselves were once foolish, disobedient . . . But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy . . . so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (verses 3-5, 7)
Beloved, your history and mine prove over and over again that grace is not earned; it is given as a gift to those who by faith trust in Jesus Christ. Have you received the gift of His forgiveness by grace alone?
Now don’t misunderstand; if you’ve received the grace of God, you are going to want to obey the Word of God. In fact, this is the second great lesson emphasized through the rest of chapter 10 and chapter 11: A life of obedience is our gift back to God.
Listen to Moses here in Deuteronomy 10:12-13:
“What does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord?”
You can’t make it any clearer than this: PQ - we demonstrate our love for God by obedience to Him.
Moses repeats this lesson a number of different ways throughout chapter 11. He says in verse 1: “You shall therefore love the Lord your God and keep . . . his commandments always.” Moses then reminds the nation of their rescue from Egypt and God’s loving care for them. Down in verse 8, Moses connects the dots by reminding the people that obeying God should be their response: “You shall therefore keep the whole commandment that I command you today.”
Now, how can Israel know they are obeying the Lord? And is there any kind of warning signal that they are about to be taken out in the hallway for a paddling? Yes. Look at verses 13-14:
“If you will indeed obey my commandments . . . to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, he will give the rain for your land in its season.”
The promised land will be blessed with rainfall if the people obey the Lord.
What happens if they turn away from the Lord? Verse 17 gives the answer: “The anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and he will shut up the heavens, so that there will be no rain.”
Here’s this early warning system from God—and we will see this played out as we journey through the Old Testament. When it doesn’t rain, we are going to know that Israel has not been demonstrating love for the Lord through obedience, and God is inviting them to repent.
Now in verses 18-25, Moses repeats the instruction from Deuteronomy 6 to diligently keep all God’s commands. Obedience gives them rainfall for their crops, as well as victory over enemy nations.
Then in verses 26-32 the Lord commands Israel to review and renew their covenant with Him with all its blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. This renewal is to take place at a designated site once they enter the land; we will see this happen when we arrive at Joshua chapter 8.
But does this have any bearing on the New Testament believer today? Absolutely. The New Testament makes it clear that God’s grace is a gift—you can’t earn it, and you don’t deserve it. That’s why it’s called grace. The New Testament also teaches that our obedience to the Lord is the evidence that we truly do love Him and belong to Him.
Just hours before going to the cross, Jesus told His disciples in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” We’re not going to love and obey Him perfectly, but that will be our priority.
Beloved, that schoolteacher taught an important life lesson. Jesus has taken our punishment, and all we can do is respond with respect, adoration, and love.
Let’s love Him and obey Him today.