The most dangerous enemy Israel faced in the Promised Land was not the Hittites or the Canaanites or the Amorites — it was the Israelites.
In this chapter God explained to His people that their wandering years had not been wasted years. God had “led” them for forty years in the wilderness (v.2), using it as a boot camp to prepare them for their greatest conquest: the battle for their hearts. All God had put them through in the wilderness was a test to reveal their inner character, to develop their faith, and to teach them to trust His word. It was a humbling process (v.2), and humility would be their greatest ally as they fought against pride and obstinance. God knew this would be their most difficult struggle.
After four hundred years as slaves and forty years as nomads, God was giving His people a land of great natural beauty and abundant natural resources (v.7-10). It was move-in ready: “great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant” (6:10-11). All these gifts of God’s grace would come so freely and easily that the people were likely to take them for granted, and even convince themselves that they had earned them (v.17). In that way they could forget God: what He had saved them from, how He had fought their battles, the covenant He had kept, the grace He had shown.
This warning is for me, too. With salvation so freely granted and grace so endlessly available, it is easy to forget all the sins God has forgiven, all the prayers He has answered, all the ways He has blessed me. When I forget that — even a little, even for a moment — I become unresponsive to God’s leadership and useless to His work. When my heart becomes “lifted up” in pride (v.14), I begin to think that I am self-sufficient. “I can handle life on my own,” I tell myself. “I can provide for myself; I can figure it out.” That kind of spiritual obstinance is the direction in which precious things die (v.19).
It was in faithful adherence to God’s Law that Israel could avoid that dead-end road (v.1,2,6,11). It is difficult to read this chapter without thinking ahead to the days when these warnings would come true, when Israel would indeed forget God, ignore His Law, and sin against His love by worshiping idols. They would feel the sting of their Father’s discipline over and over again (v.5). By God’s grace, let’s not repeat their mistakes. Let’s live obediently, humbly, and gratefully today.