A few years ago I had one of those eye exams where they put the drops in your eyes to dilate them. I wear contacts, so first my doctor (I go to the optometrist at Costco) had me remove my contacts. He put the drops in, and then my eyes slowly started dilating. If you’ve experienced this, you know how weird it is. Light becomes so bright, as your eyes let more and more in. My doctor said that I had to wait 10 minutes for the drops to take full effect, so I could just walk around the store. You know what my thought was? “Cool! Samples!” Costco usually has a bunch of food sampling stations, so I thought I’d check them out, get a snack.
As I started across the store, I realized I hadn’t planned this out, meaning that I didn’t bring my glasses along. There I am, stumbling around Costco, barely able to open my eyes because the light is so bright from the dilation, and then when I do try to squint my eyes open, because my contacts are out and I forgot my glasses, everything is blurry. I would take a few steps, lean on a rack holding computer printers, and then stop. There was no way I was making it to the samples. I was thinking, “I hope no one I know is here,” first because I didn’t want to be mistaken for having some kind of problem, and second, because they would recognize me, but there was no way I could recognize them because I couldn’t see! So I was concerned that would offend someone. I was a mess.
You know what, though? That exam showed me something about myself. It showed me how I think, how I feel, and especially how dependent I am on corrective lenses.
Then there was the time years ago, when I went to my family doctor for an annual physical. After getting my height and weight checked, I was alone in an exam room waiting for the doctor to arrive. I looked over to the counter and noticed a body-mass index card. With my new height/weight data fresh on my mind, I thought I would check my BMI. The results I found couldn’t be right! I double-checked. Sure enough, I was in the obese category. I was shocked. Like the eye exam, that physical taught me something about myself I needed to know. I would have told you before looking at the BMI chart that I needed to lose a few pounds, eat less, exercise. But I never would have said I was obese. I was obese though. And I needed to be confronted about that.
How about you? How have tests told you the truth about yourself?
It might be a test a school. It might be a driver’s test. Maybe an annual job performance evaluation. These things all tell us the truth about ourselves. That truth might hurt, and that truth could be wonderful.
In Deuteronomy 9, Moses is examiner and he is about to give Israel an exam. The truth Israel will learn in that exam is not pretty.
Looking at this chapter structurally, there are two parts.
Part 1 – 9:1-6 – The Principle.
Part 2 – 9:7-29 – The Illustration.
Today we’ll focus on verses 1-6, looking for the principle that Moses wants to share.
To find that principle, it will be helpful to remember what we studied in chapter 8, especially because it has some similarities to chapter 9.
In chapter 8 Moses warned Israel to beware of the possibility that they would start believing that their own strength and ability are the reasons they were able to enjoy the abundance of the Promised Land. (You can review the posts we discussed this here, here and here.)
Now in chapter 9 Moses is giving them the results of an exam. He is warning them to beware of the possibility that they might believe their righteousness enabled them to eject the more powerful Canaanites out of the land.
And so the principle that Moses wants the people to learn is that they do not have righteousness in and of themselves.
Scholars tell us that the language of righteousness is actually legal terminology. Who has a right to the land? Moses says that Israel is in danger of believing that the land is rightfully theirs. Why else would God fight for them? They were the rightful owners. They were righteous.
Moses cuts this thinking off at the pass saying “Do not think like that!”
In contrast to the Israel’s proposed righteousness, Moses says that God is giving them the land because of the Canaanites’ wickedness. The Canaanites, therefore, do not have a right to the land either. So God is giving the land to Israel, and Moses knows that it could be very tempting for Israel to think they are something special.
We know what this is like. When we are blessed, it can be easy to think “I must be doing something right!” What is the right perspective, though? Think about it. We can do things right. And often, when we live simply, live righteously, and work hard, we will experience blessing.
There is a general proverb of life that if you work hard, live honestly, practice kindness, you will most likely see blessing in your relationships, financially.
Same goes for health. If you exercise and eat right, generally-speaking, you will experience health.
I’m speaking proverbially here. Proverbs are ideas that are generally true.
That means they are not always true. God does not guarantee us a perfect, easy, comfortable stress-free life if we obey him. Life is filled with the unexpected.
But when we live the way God wants us to live, generally we experience blessing.
So we can do things right. It is important to affirm that. We’re not total rejects.
But as we affirm that we can do things right, we also need to remember what Moses is warning the Israelites about. When we do things right and experience blessing, we can be tempted to think we deserve the blessing, or that we are entitled to the blessing, or that we are somehow better than other people.
Moses sees this kind of thinking in Israel’s future, and so he takes them to their annual physical exam. He has some shocking news for them. More on that tomorrow.