“Know therefore that the Lord is not …”

Today’s two chapters in Deuteronomy contain the heart of Moses’ final exhortation to the people of Israel. It is an impassioned plea for them to remain faithful after his death and they cross the Jordan into the promised land. “God has led you these forty years in the wilderness that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart … And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna … that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (8:2,3).

Before God fed them in the wilderness they heard the word of the Lord, a word of promise, given through Moses. Jesus quoted this passage to the tempter in the wilderness (Matthew 4:4). These words should inspire us to make and take every opportunity to feed our minds on God’s word.

In the next chapter there is an equally important point, “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” (verse 6). We recall how stubborn they had been at stages on their wilderness journey.

It is all a lesson of how we are unable to “earn” our salvation by being constantly righteous. The New Testament makes it clear that salvation is only by faith (1 Peter 1:5,9) which creates a mind that leads us to “work out” our “salvation with fear and trembling”. Yet it is not of our own strength “for it is God who works in you to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12,13). This was the experience of the Israelites. They learnt this the hard way! And us?

Another point Moses makes should be put alongside this. It is “not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob” (9:5).

Those who hope to “inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5) because they have put on the name of Jesus, it will be because of the saving work of Jesus and their own commitment to follow as closely as they can in his footsteps, just as the Israelites succeeded when they followed in the footsteps of Moses.