“But That Wasn’t Me!” – Deuteronomy 9-10

Read Deuteronomy 9-10

Moses continues to tell the upcoming generation of their nation’s history and warns them of their parents’ history when he says, “Remember and do not forget how you provoked the Lord your God to wrath in the wilderness” (9:17a). In essence, Moses was telling them, “Here is an important lesson from your parents and grandparents: they made God angry, and you should do everything possible not to follow their rebellious ways.”

The event Moses refers to is known as the Golden Calf incident (Exodus 32). Moses recounts how he was coming down the mountain, bringing with him the two tablets that contained the Ten Commandments. It was right then, He found the people worshipping a golden calf, in clear violation of God’s commandments. Moses was so angry that he threw down the tablets, shattering them. He stopped the idolatry of the people and then prayed for forty days and nights in an effort to persuade God to restrain His wrath against His people. In the midst of his sermon, you can almost see Moses’ pointing his finger at the people in an accusatory tone:

“And I looked, and behold, you had sinned against the LORD your God. You had made yourselves a golden calf. Youhad turned aside quickly from the way that the LORD had commanded you. 17So I took hold of the two tablets and threw them out of my two hands and broke them before your eyes.” (Deuteronomy 9:16-17)

Here in the heart of Moses’ speech, he repeatedly accuses the children and grandchildren of doing what their parents or grandparents actually did. Is Moses simply an old, confused man near the end of his life? No, he is neither confused nor senile. In fact, Moses sees this incident against a larger picture of the nation’s rebellion as a whole.

The Bible speaks of corporate responsibility, and it is not referencing a corporation’s responsibility to its shareholders. Instead, we see a clue to the broader picture of biblical ethics in Deuteronomy 5:3: “Not with our fathers did the LORD make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today.” Please note, God made the covenant with their fathers and grandfathers before they were even born.

When American believers encounter the principle of corporate responsibility in the pages of the Bible, it surprises us. We wonder how the children are to identify with the sins of the parents? Each one of us is responsible for our own actions. Yet, God sees individuals in connection with the community to which they belong. In today’s passage, the children would eventually follow in their rebellious footsteps of their parents. The words of Ajith Fernando, an expert on Deuteronomy, are helpful on this point:

This is something that Christians must take into account, especially when they relate to groups in which the idea of corporate solidarity is still very strong. And that is the way it is in most of the non-Western world. So in the last century when Japanese Christians met with other Asian Christians at conferences, it was quite common to see them enact some formal rituals of apologizing to the people and seeking their forgiveness for the atrocities the Japanese committed in their nations about fifty years earlier. I am sure that none of those people personally had anything to do with those actions. But they knew it was their duty to apologize for the sins of the Japanese imperialists. The result was a sense of healing and new openings for true fellowship between the Japanese and other Asians, such as the Chinese and the Koreans.[i]

[i] Ajith Fernando, Deuteronomy: Loving Obedience to a Loving God, Preaching the Word, ed R. Kent Hughes (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 319.

Michael Slater