In my last post, I mentioned that in Deuteronomy 9 Moses gives the people of Israel an exam, and he has shocking news for them. Remember the principle? They are not righteous in and of themselves. They were in danger of thinking that God brought them to the Promised Land because they were so good. So to help them see the truth about themselves, Moses reminds them of their nation’s major mess-up, that time they made an idol and worshiped it. You can go back to Exodus 32 and read the original account. Here in Deuteronomy 9 Moses just summarizes it.
Here’s what happened in a nutshell:
The people of Israel had just witnessed the amazing miracle of walking through the Red Sea, as the waters are parted. That is one of the miracles most people would long to see. Israel saw it. If I saw that, I think I would be committed to Jesus for the rest of my life. I would never doubt him. My faith would never waver.
Guess what? A month and a half later Israel is worshiping a golden calf, an idol they made. How is that possible? It is tempting to think that something is wrong with Israel. As if they are an especially disobedient and fickle people. You’d think they’d make it longer than a month and a half trusting in God, after having seen him part the waters of the Red Sea.
But you have to remember that they are still getting to know this God. And when Moses, their primary connection to this God, leaves them to go up the mountain to meet with God, which is exactly what happened right before they made the idol, what is Israel to think? They have no word from Moses as to how long he will be gone. How long do they wait for him to come back? How long would you wait? Think about how you would feel after a week? And then two weeks go by? Then another week! I am totally thinking in terms of our impatient American culture where we want everything done fast. But waiting even a couple weeks for Moses to return seems like an interminably long time.
It does not take long for any people in any era to get impatient. And the people of Israel at this point are at an especially precarious spot in their walk with God. They don’t have the benefit of centuries of watching God remain faithful. They have one and a half months. It is really hard for us to put ourselves in their shoes, how they must have felt.
And yet, Moses is hard on them here in Deuteronomy 9 isn’t he? He totally faults them for what they did. As I thought about it, part of me wants Moses to tone it down, to give Israel some grace. “Come on Moses, they didn’t have the vantage point that you had on the mountain. They thought you had left them, or maybe that you had died up there. It’s not like you took food and water enough for 40 days! Geez.”
I think, though, it is possible that I want grace and mercy for Israel because I know I am like Israel. I know I need mercy and grace too. We all do.
And yet, Israel did do something incredibly wrong. They were impatient. They demanded that Moses’ brother Aaron, who was the high priest, take their gold and make an idol for them to worship. And Aaron did just that. He made an gold idol in the shape of calf. The people were impatient, desperate for a god they could see and touch. They weren’t so sure about this YHWH who was invisible, who had taken their leader Moses away.
So Israel made an idol and worshiped it. That’s the story of the Golden Calf.
As Moses stands before them here in Deuteronomy 9, that golden calf episode was 40 years prior. The generation that committed that act of idolatry has passed away.
That makes me question why Moses says to the new generation in verse 7: “Remember this and never forget how you provoked the Lord your God to anger in the desert.” Does that strike you as odd too? He lumps that generation right in with their forefathers. It could seem unfair. If I was there listening to Moses, maybe I would be thinking, “Wait a minute, Moses, I didn’t do that. I wasn’t there. I wasn’t even born yet.” And yet Moses goes into detail retelling the story as if they did it, as if they were there. Why? Moses needs them to face the fact that the Golden Calf episode, though a part of their history that they themselves were not responsible for, still serves as a reminder of how weak their faith can be.
So let’s bring this all back around to what Moses is attempting to do in chapter 9. In Part 1, which is verses 1-6, Moses is teaching a principle which he clearly states in verses 4-6: Israel should not think they are righteous and that their righteousness is why God is giving them the Promised Land.
Then comes Part 2, verses 7-29, where Moses illustrates for them how unrighteous they have been.
What is Moses doing? He is giving them the truth. He knows they could easily have a false impression about themselves. He knows they could become prideful and arrogant, and they have no business being prideful and arrogant considering how unrighteous they have been. Moses is giving them a dose of reality.
Just as Moses is giving Israel a needed dose of reality, how can we have a healthy, appropriate honest self-assessment, without pridefully or arrogantly thinking that we don’t need it?
We need the correct view of ourselves. We should not assume that we already have a healthy self-assessment. We might have the correct view of ourselves, but we should always be cautious about that.
This can go both ways. Some of us, like Israel, already have or are in danger of having a too-high view of ourselves. Others among us have a too-low view of ourselves. Neither are healthy. We might think we’re righteous when we’re not. And we might think we’re evil or worthless when we’re not. I’ve heard a lot of both. People who think they are wonderful, and people who think they are failures.
Instead we need the truth. We need to be people who actively seek God’s view of us. What is God’s view of us? We get a picture of God’s view of us when we look at how Moses finishes Deuteronomy 9. Moses was so upset at the people during that golden calf incident. But he still prayed for them in verses 25-29. He intervened for Israel. God wanted to destroy Israel and start over with Moses. But Moses pleads with God to show mercy. God listens to Moses!
What does that show us about how God views us? God forgives and showers his mercy on us. That is the kind of loving God he is. God hears and cares. He listens. He sees all the rebellion and disobedience we can do, yet he is so willing to forgive.
There is hope for us who have worshipped golden calves. There is hope for us who have failed. Because God is merciful and forgiving. No matter if our opinion of ourselves is too high or too low, we have a God who loves us.
When you look intently into the mirror of God’s word, what will you learn about yourself? What will you see in the mirror? You will see a person who God created, a person who bears the divine image, a person who God loves. That is you.
Therefore, knowing that we are loved more than we can imagine, let us fight hard to have a healthy self-perspective. Do not trust yourself to give yourself a true perspective of who you are.
Invite others into the process of self-evaluation.
Spend time in the Bible. The mirror of God’s word, as James calls it (see James 1:19-27). Ask God to speak to you through his word.
Think about how you have annual evaluations at work. Wouldn’t it be interesting if we had annual evaluations as to how we are doing as disciples of Jesus?
Evals are intimidating and scary. I feel that too. Every year our Faith Church Pastoral Relations Committee gives me my annual evaluation. I’m always nervous going in to that meeting. But every year it is so, so good to learn about myself.
I encourage you to ask for the eval, invite it, beg for it. Fight for it. Become desperate for the truth about yourself. Strive hard to answer the questions, “How is my attitude? How am I thinking about myself? Am I believing any lies about myself?”
As you learn the truth about yourself, there might be things you don’t like. Things that need to change. Work on changing them. Do not only receive the information about yourself, begin to make strides to change. Remember that God loves you, and that he is a forgiving God. And he wants to empower us to make those changes.