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Not Because of Our Righteousness (Torah Portion – Consequence)

Deuteronomy: Ekev (consequence)
Deut 7:12-11:25

Throughout this portion, we see reminder after reminder of the wonderful fact that we are God’s chosen people but also of the terrifying fact that we are inherently and naturally wicked. Moses spends time communicating to Israel on behalf of God that there is to be an expected conversion and behavior from the people as they reap the benefits of God’s promise to their ancestors Abraham, Issac, and Jacob of possessing the land of Canaan and that a refusal of conversion and good behavior will result in drastic curses brought upon the people by God himself. I would like to focus on the passage of this portion found in Deuteronomy 9:1-8.

​ “Hear, O Israel: you are to cross over the Jordan today, to go in to dispossess nations greater and mightier than you, cities great and fortified up to heaven, a people great and tall, the sons of the Anakim, whom you know, and of whom you have heard it said, ‘Who can stand before the sons of Anak?’ Know therefore today that he who goes over before you as a consuming fire is the Lord your God. He will destroy them and subdue them before you. So you shall drive them out and make them perish quickly, as the Lord has promised you. 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,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in 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.”
(Deut 9:1-5 ESV).

Just as God finishes telling Israel that they must not forget him once they receive the promise of inheriting the land of Canaan, he explains to them that their reception of this land is in no way because they are a righteous people, but only because the Canaanites themselves are wicked and that God must make good on his promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This is especially important because there now exists a clear pattern in the Bible where wickedness and possessions are concerned. In the Garden of Eden, man was made to rule and possess the garden but was stripped of that possession upon his disobedience (wickedness) to God by eating the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:22-24). Likewise, God chose to dispossess almost all the inhabitants of the Earth in the great flood of Genesis because of their wickedness (Genesis 6:13). Further again, God chooses to destroy the people of Sodom and Gamorrah because of their wickedness (Gen 18:20). 

The Bible is littered with numerous more accounts of God choosing to dispossess people because of their wickedness and Israel is no exception. By equipping them to enter into Canaan and take possession of the land, God reminds Israel that they, too, must watch their steps as new owners of what God gives them because he will do the same to them as he has done to countless other people and nations who came before them. Surely with such a terrifying and observable threat, Israel will rise to the occasion and be the shining light of a city to spread righteousness and morality through the world, right?

Israel, in fact, does not practice righteousness as God commands them in the newly-inherited land of Canaan. Ironically, they have not even practiced such righteousness between the time God frees them from Egyptian slavery and this moment of crossing the Jordan River into Canaan; God even reminds them of their stubbornness of building a golden calf at the foot of Mount Sinai just because they thought Moses had abandoned them. However, God is merciful to Israel and does not immediately dispossess them as he promises to do so. 

Map showing the Kingdoms of Israel (blue) and Judah (orange), ancient Southern Levant borders, and ancient cities such as Urmomium and Jerash. The map shows the region in the 9th century BCE.

Israel crossed the Jordan somewhere between 1451-1260 BCE and remained a powerful nation for hundreds of years. It was not until the reign of Rehoboam (around 930 BCE) and the ensuing civil war that God had enough of their unrighteousness and allowed the dispossession process of his people begin. Following the split of the United Kingdom of Israel around 930 BCE, the successor kingdoms (the Kingdom of Israel to the North & the Kingdom of Judah to the South) both faced wars against hostile nations as well as more against each other. God spoke to the rebellious kingdoms through the mouths of his prophets such as Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Ezekiel that their continual disobedience will result in their “scattering” throughout the world (Jeremiah 9). Finally, after much pleading, God came through on his word and dispossessed his own people by allowing the Neo-Assyrian and Babylonian empires to destroy both the Kingdom of Israel (720 BCE) and the Kingdom of Judah (586 BCE) respectively. The Southern Kingdom of Judah would eventually return from Babylon after emancipation from King Cyrus the Great of Persia in 516 BCE, but the people of Israel (the Kingdom of Judah; the Jewish people) never fully recovered. Thank God above that 500 years later, a man named Jesus – God himself in human form – reappeared to his people and brought with him the redemptive solution to their wicked problems by offering himself as a sacrifice for our sins, rendering us wholly righteous by his work alone. 

So how can we reflect on what God has said and done about unrighteousness in our lives? We must remember the foundational truth spoken thousands of years ago to the men, women, and children standing on the edge of the Jordan: “It is not because of your righteousness that I am blessing you” (paraphrased). God will not cohabit with unrighteousness and wickedness; it is not in his nature and he will not tolerate it, so much so that he knew the only solution for eliminating this problem was for himself to pay the ultimate price – to dispossess himself from Heaven and take upon his shoulders the reality of flesh – killable flesh – and to lay it down willingly for us. It is not because of our righteousness that God loves us, and it is not because of our righteousness that God blesses us, for we are utterly and hopelessly damned on our own apart from him, but praise God that he has chosen to impute a righteousness on us of a caliber that we could never attain independently. With that beautiful truth, we become empowered to live as righteous and as moral as possible for him, continually depending on his power to make up for our shortcomings.

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ  and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—  that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
(Philipians 3:8-11 ESV)

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