The book of Deuteronomy is the final book of laws, which to me means I should have a lot of the basics covered at this point because laws set precedence. To get you up to speed, the Israelites are on the verge of entering the Promise Land, Aaron died, and Moses misbehaved so he was banned from continuing the final length of the journey with his people.
This book is basically a review for the Israelites to remind them to obey God’s laws and ensure they don’t fall prey to temptation by adopting new customs. A major theme is the Israelites need to remain loyal to God and avoid the idols of the Canaanites. So you can displace people and slaughter them, but make sure not to believe in what they do.
Chapter 9:4 says, “After the Lord your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, “The Lord has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.” No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is going to drive them out before you. It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the Lord your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.”
This verse struck me as interesting because I thought God had chosen the Israelites to help them, but instead Moses explains to the Israelites they’re not getting this land because they were good, but because these other people were worse than them. Kind of like the lesser of two evils and the Israelites shouldn’t consider themselves so privileged. The part about categorizing the Israelites as a “stiff necked people” confused me. What exactly does this mean?
The obvious answer would be they are stubborn, but according to analytictheology.com there are some other possibilities if you read into it more.
“What did God mean by “stiff-necked”? Stiffness of the neck is a common symptom of encephalitis or “brain fever,” as Dostoyevsky would have characterized it. It seems unlikely this was God’s concern, though; because there is no other evidence in the Torah the Jewish People were suffering from this disease. Clearly, then, we must search for a more elusive explanation. Many commentators believe “stiff-necked” refers to more of a character trait, or personality characteristic, such as being argumentative, opinionated, stubborn, aggressive, internally combative, and divisive. While this has negative connotations, it also can be seen in a positive light; for example, it might promote the development of a distinct self-image, thus promoting the survival of the tribe, as it differentiates itself from its near-neighbors.”
I know as a child my mother frequently referred to me as stubborn and still does some days, but her reference was usually meant in a good way. My stubbornness farmed determination, which in turn brought success. Some might look at it as a negative personality trait, but the best way to ensure I’ll succeed at something is to simply tell me I can’t do it. I guess categorizing the Israelites as stubborn didn’t get the same response.
As you read through this book you get the feeling that Moses is trying to build the Israelites confidence while ensuring they know what is expected of them, kind of like sending your child off to school for the first time. Make sure you play nice with the other kids and remember what we told you. He also stresses the importance of The Doctrine of the Two ways, which I feel is one of the most important take away from this book. It explains there are only two choices in life: good, which means following God’s laws, or evil, which means not following God’s laws. Goodness leads to reward and happiness while evil leads to punishment and misery. For me this also ties into the “Golden Rule” as well. The only funny part is the definition of being a “good person” is kind of distorted because it means killing people and essentially wiping out entire populations, while punishing them for worshipping different gods other than our God. Basically it is saying that if you are a good person, but bad shit happens then you must have sinned along the way somewhere.
We all know that Moses sinned and in the end died, but why did he have to? We know he pissed God off royally, so did he deserve death? Was God too harsh on him? The one thing I keep reading and seems to be common knowledge when discussing the bible is that God can be harsh at times, but there is always a good reason for it and his harshness is usually temporary. Kind of like when your mum yells at you and later all is forgiven. This also shows that God doesn’t show favorites and looks on everyone as equals. He didn’t cut Moses a break because he was “Moses,” God dealt with him like any normal person. This entire situation demonstrates how important it is to praise God and don’t steal his thunder or take credit for his work, which is a life lesson people should abide by. Always make sure to give credit where credit is due!