The Parable of “The Good Samaritan” Reconsidered

Tullian Tchividjian contends the context of this parable speaks of the vertical relationship to God instead of a horizontal one between people and how Christians have failed to understand it historically. Despite my initial acceptance of his view, upon further reflection, I must disagree with his thoughts here and maintain that the parable does speak to interpersonal relationships. I will leave his post but answer why I don’t agree with his interpretation.

Jesus says that He came only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Mt. 15.24) when the Canaanite  woman asked for her daughter’s healing; so how could He self identify with a “Good Samaritan?” Further, He tells the woman at Jacob’s well in Sychar: “Salvation is of the Jews.” The woman notes that Jews and Samaritans have no dealings among themselves when Jesus, the Jew asks her for a drink of water. It would be a strange connection then in our parable for Jesus to liken Himself a Samaritan when He is addressing this Jewish lawyer. For these reasons I feel the parable speaks to human horizontal relationships.

Who is the Good Samaritan?

Dying Gaul

For every good story in the Bible there’s a bad children’s song. This is the one I remember for the Good Samaritan:

The man who stopped to help, right when he saw the need; he was such a good, good neighbor, a good example for me.

On the surface, this little ditty may seem harmless. The problem, however, is that Jesus wants us to identify with every person in the parable except the good Samaritan. He reserves that role for himself.

“You should be like the Good Samaritan.” If you grew up in church or Sunday School, you probably heard this a thousand times. In fact, even outside the church, the parable of the Good Samaritan is used to exhort neighborly love and concern for the downtrodden. This parable is perhaps the best known story Jesus ever told  after the parable of The Prodigal Son. It is, however, also the most misunderstood.

You know the story: a man is walking down the road when he is set upon by robbers, who mug him, beat him, and leave him for dead. As he lies, suffering, in the roadside ditch, a priest and a Levite, in turn, pass by on the other side of the street, preferring not to get their hands dirty. It is the hated half-breed—a Samaritan—who comes to the man’s aid, setting him on his donkey, taking him to an inn, paying the inn-keeper to take care of him and promising to return to see that his needs are attended to.

You also know the common interpretation: don’t be like the priest and the Levite, too concerned with themselves to help another. Be like the Good Samaritan – be a good neighbor. In other words, our preachers want us to (at least eventually) identify with the Good Samaritan, the hero of the story.

The parable of The Good Samaritan is the second of the great commandments in narrative form: love your neighbor as yourself. In fact, Jesus tells the story to answer a lawyer’s question about who his neighbor is. The lawyer, trying to trick Jesus, asks him what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus tells him to follow the laws he already knows so well: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind;” and, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). Then, “seeking to justify himself,” the lawyer asked Jesus a follow-up question: “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus answers him by telling the parable of The Good Samaritan…and we miss the point completely.

If Jesus had been asked, “How should we treat our neighbors?” and had responded with this story, perhaps “Be like the Good Samaritan” would be an acceptable interpretation. Instead, Jesus was asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He was asked a vertical question (a question about a person’s relationship to God) rather than a horizontal one. The lawyer was, after all, seeking to “justify” himself. This parable must, therefore, be interpreted vertically. It’s about justification, not sanctification.

The context puts Jesus’ final exhortation to “go and do likewise” in perspective. Remember, this is the same Jesus who told his audience at the Sermon on the Mount that they “must be perfect, as [their] Father in Heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). What Jesus is saying in the parable of The Good Samaritan is that, to inherit eternal life, you must keep God’s law perfectly—which includes loving your neighbor as yourself. No wiggle room. You must always love perfectly, sacrificially, selflessly—not just on the outside, but on the inside too. You must, in other words, always want to love perfectly, sacrificially, and selflessly. You must never hurt anyone—physically, emotionally, relationally. And you must always help everyone—physically, emotionally, relationally. You must never harbor grudges. Never. You must never seek retribution. Ever. You must never want to seek retribution. When someone cheats you, instead of trying to get your stuff or money back, you have to give them more. You have to turn the other cheek to your most aggressive enemies. You must love perfectly.

“Go and do likewise” is, therefore, not a word of invitation to be nice. It’s a word of condemnation in answer to the laywer’s question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Far from telling the story to help us become like The Good Samaritan, Jesus tells this story to show us how far from being like The Good Samaritan we actually are! Jesus’ parable destroys our efforts to justify ourselves; to find a class of people we can call “neighbors” that we actually do love. In destroying our self-salvation projects, the story of The Good Samaritan destroys us. Jesus brings the hammer of the Law (“Be perfect…”) down on our self-justifying work.

In a rich irony, we move from being identified with the priest and the Levite who never perfectly love our best friends “as ourselves,” much less our enemies, to being identified with the traveler in desperate need of salvation. Jesus intends the parable itself to leave us beaten and bloodied, lying in a ditch, like the man in the story. We are the breathless bruised. We are the needy, unable to do anything to help ourselves. We are the broken people, beaten up by life, robbed of hope.

But then Jesus comes.

Unlike the Priest and Levite, He doesn’t avoid us. He crosses the street—from heaven to earth—comes into our mess, gets his hands dirty. At great cost to himself on the cross, he heals our wounds, covers our nakedness, and loves us with a no-strings-attached love. He brings us to the Father and promises that his “help” is not simply a one time gift—rather, it’s a gift that will forever cover “the charges” we incur.

Yes, Jesus and Jesus alone is the Good Samaritan.

“All souls are mine” says The Lord: Generational Curse Broken

{As I was looking up ideas as to the meaning of the proverb found in Ezekiel and Jeremiah I came across a good and succinct explanation on the blog: Pastor Josh’s Ramblings and share it here}

The Proverb of the Sour Grapes

The Proverb of the Sour Grapes
Ezekiel 18:1-4

Out text begins with an eye-catching proverb that had become popular in Israel and represented popular opinion.
Even today some people hold to the false belief that this proverb represents, but God has seen fit to occupy an entire chapter refuting this false doctrine.
The end result of the chapter is that we find ourselves wholly responsible for our own sins before God and not for the sins of someone else.Let us begin by reading just the first four verses of our text:

Ezekiel 18:1 ¶ The word of the LORD came unto me again, saying,
2 What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge?
3 As I live, saith the Lord GOD, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel.
4 Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die. 

The first element of our text that strikes our eye is the proverb about the sour grapes.
Have you ever eaten sour grapes?
Have you noticed the aftertaste?
This is what is referenced in the proverb, that after effect of the sourness.
The people were saying that a man might commit a certain sin, symbolized in the proverb by the sour grape, and his children would be predetermined to suffer under the guilt of that sin and even carry God’s judgment for their father’s sin.

It is a common belief among people even today and is called by different names – Generational Sin among those superstitious Christians who have adopted this doctrine, Generational Curse among the occultist religions from whence this doctrine came.
The result of this false teaching is manifold:
1. It produces a sense of hopelessness in the follower of God regarding real spiritual freedom.
2. It produces a sense of unfairness regarding the nature of God.
3. It produces a lack of self-responsibility among those who hold this teaching.

God debunks Israel’s false doctrine in one powerful sentence:
“The soul that sinneth, it shall die.”

Every man must give an account of himself before God.
Hebrews 9:27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:

Every man suffers under the guilt of his own sins alone:
Galatians 6:7 Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

Every man is determined by his own actions to suffer the eternal penalty for his sins.
Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death;

The first and foremost truth of this chapter is that every man must answer to God for his own sins.

This is not to say that our sins do not have an impact on those around us, including our children:
Let us take a moment to discuss this.
So often we see a man who is abusive and disrespectful to his wife in the home:
When he has a son, often that son grows into a man that treats his own wife in the same shameful manner.
When he has a daughter, she grows up to marry a man that treats her as her father treated her mother.
Why is this?
Surely we can see that this is learned behavior.
The son takes the role model of his father and follows the pattern that was set for him.
The daughter accepts in her heart that such is the role of a woman and marries an abusive man.

It is the same with other sins that seem to continue from one generation to another.
A son sees the wandering eye of his father and justifies his own lustful heart to act in the same manner.
A girl sees the idolatrous ways of her mother and learns to depend upon idols as well.

Truly our sin does impact the next generation by way of example.

Our kids are watching and learning about how the family is supposed to operate, and they will often carry the same weaknesses and strengths into their own family.

HOWEVER, we must draw a definitive line here:
The son is not guilty of his father’s sins until he commits the same sin himself.
Never in the Bible are we encouraged to confess the sins of our fathers, such an injustice would cast doubt on the fairness of God.

Certainly I have inherited a sinful nature as every man has since Adam, but there is no sin that my father committed that has a generational hold on my life.
I make the decisions and the choices to sin or do right in my life and I bear full responsibility for my decisions.

There is a positive side to this doctrine as well:
The next verses in chapter 18 outline the life of a man that is just and follows the law, living by what is right in God’s eyes.
He does not worship idols or commit adultery.
He is not unclean or oppressive to any.
He pays his debts and lives peaceably.
He gives to the hungry and comforts the needy.
He defrauds no one and is just in his business dealings.
Verse 9
Ezekiel 18:9 Hath walked in my statutes, and hath kept my judgments, to deal truly; he is just, he shall surely live, saith the Lord GOD.

It is clear that just as God judges the individual sinner for his individual actions, so He blesses the individual who lives uprightly before Him.

Now here is a question:
Does that man’s righteousness cover the sins of his children?
Read on:
Ezekiel 18:10 ¶ If he beget a son that is a robber, a shedder of blood, and that doeth the like to any one of these things,
11 And that doeth not any of those duties, but even hath eaten upon the mountains, and defiled his neighbour’s wife,
12 Hath oppressed the poor and needy, hath spoiled by violence, hath not restored the pledge, and hath lifted up his eyes to the idols, hath committed abomination,
13 Hath given forth upon usury, and hath taken increase: shall he then live? he shall not live: he hath done all these abominations; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon him.

Clearly the answer is that the son is responsible for his own actions.
The son exercises individual soul liberty and decides to sin – “The soul that sinneth it shall die”

Now, what about that man’s son?
Will he bear the sins of his father?
Read on:
Ezekiel 18:14 Now, lo, if he beget a son, that seeth all his father’s sins which he hath done, and considereth, and doeth not such like,
15 That hath not eaten upon the mountains, neither hath lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, hath not defiled his neighbour’s wife,
16 Neither hath oppressed any, hath not withholden the pledge, neither hath spoiled by violence, but hath given his bread to the hungry, and hath covered the naked with a garment,
17 That hath taken off his hand from the poor, that hath not received usury nor increase, hath executed my judgments, hath walked in my statutes; he shall not die for the iniquity of his father, he shall surely live.

Such is the just and fair judgment of God.
The next verse tells us that the father alone will bear the penalty of his actions.

There is much hope here in these verses that I want to point out to you this morning:
Have you had a father whose sinfulness has cast a pall and a shadow across your childhood?
You are not destined to follow in his steps and you are not guilty of his sins.
Have you had a mother whose sinfulness has caused nothing but pain in your life?
You are not guilty of her sins.

This was a shock to the people of Israel who had so bought into the traditional false doctrine of generational sin and generational guilt that they had stepped away from the one-on-one personal responsibility that keeps a man or a woman righteous before their God.
Ezekiel 18:19 Yet say ye, Why? doth not the son bear the iniquity of the father? When the son hath done that which is lawful and right, and hath kept all my statutes, and hath done them, he shall surely live.
20 The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.

Now we get to an even more bright and hopeful passage.

What if I have found myself following the pattern of sinfulness set by my father?
What if I have modeled the same weaknesses and poor judgment that my mother laid out before me?
What then?
Am I now destined to follow these proclivities?

Look to the following verses for hope:
Ezekiel 18:21 ¶ But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die.
22 All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live.

Praise the Lord!
Did you hear that?
If I confess my sin now, repent of my ways and follow the Lord, my iniquities will be remembered no more.
He will never even mention them to me!

This wonderful doctrine is consistent throughout Scripture.
It is not just an Old Testament promise to a limited group.
Hebrews 8:12 For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.
Hebrews 10:17 And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.

How could God be so merciful?
Ezekiel 18:23 Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord GOD: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?

God is much more desirous that you repent than that you suffer the penalty of your sins.
2Peter 3:9 ¶ The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
1Timothy 2:4 Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.

Know this, that your past righteousness will not keep you from judgment any more than your past sin will keep you from grace.
Ezekiel 18:24 But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die.
25 Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal. Hear now, O house of Israel; Is not my way equal? are not your ways unequal?
26 When a righteous man turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and dieth in them; for his iniquity that he hath done shall he die.

This warning does not indicate that a saved person can lose their salvation, but that we are all under God’s government and will answer for our actions.
Do not think, as some have stated, that your righteous living builds up credits against which you can draw in times of sinfulness.
Righteous living is a requirement not a freewill deposit we make in the bank of Heaven.
The only righteousness that has built up any real value in the bank of heaven is that of Jesus Christ.
He made a deposit there that covers the sins of the whole world for those who will accept it as payment for their sin.

That said, we must understand that He still rules from His throne and chastises the errant and rewards the obedient.

One more time now let us drive this truth home again:
Ezekiel 18:27 Again, when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive.
28 Because he considereth, and turneth away from all his transgressions that he hath committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.
29 Yet saith the house of Israel, The way of the Lord is not equal. O house of Israel, are not my ways equal? are not your ways unequal?

Our God is ready now to accept your repentance.
You need never repent for your father’s sins – that Freudian philosophy is not from the pages of scripture nor anywhere affirmed by this book.
You are encouraged to take responsibility for your own actions and revel in the freedom to make the right choices now, for you do have that freedom.

God will judge us for our own actions in this world and reward us for our own actions in the next.
Ezekiel 18:30 ¶ Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord GOD. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin.
31 Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel?
32 For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord GOD: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye.

There is one more aspect at which we have only hinted in this sermon:
Your own righteousness could never cover your previously committed sin, and you could never be absolutely perfect from this point on.
You will falter and fall.
There must be a more perfect righteousness that gains us a position in heaven.
This is where Jesus comes in.
When your righteousness was not good enough, He offered his own for you to wear.
Will you accept it today as your only way to have a relationship with God?

Then and only then will you be freed to live a life of purity and holiness before Him.

The World and Worldliness Defined

It is helpful to see exactly from Scripture what the world consists of since our thinking often becomes muddled. I propose to show that self-righteous, supposedly “do-gooders” are worldly.

1Jn. 2.15-17 gives the qualities of worldliness:

Do not love the world or anything in it. If you love the world, love for the Father is not in you.Here is what people who belong to this world do. They try to satisfy what their sinful natures want to do. They long for what their sinful eyes look at. They brag about what they have and what they do. All of this comes from the world. It doesn’t come from the Father.The world and its evil longings are passing away. But those who do what God wants them to do live forever. (NIRV)

Notice that all the “things” are internal: 1. sinful nature (flesh in some versions). 2. The “longing” of the eyes. 3. The “bragging about what they have and do” is pride, an internal state.

Too often the message from the pulpit is something like this: “Don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t chew; and don’t go around with those who do.” Sometimes it is also other lists or even “try harder.” These recommendations are powerless unless one recognizes that as Christians we become a new creation and that the same faith that saved us operates to sanctify (becoming progressively holy) us as well:

You received Christ Jesus as Lord. So keep on living in him. Have your roots in him. Build yourselves up in him. Grow strong in what you believe, just as you were taught. Be more thankful than ever before. Make sure no one captures you. They will try to capture you by using false reasoning that has no meaning. Their ideas depend on human teachings. They also depend on the basic things the people of this world believe. They don’t depend on Christ. (Col. 2.6-8 NIRV)

What does the “world” look like? Jn. 7.1-7 clearly defines those who are “the world”:

After this, Jesus went around in Galilee. He stayed away from Judea on purpose. He knew that the Jews there were waiting to kill him. The Jewish Feast of Booths was near. Jesus’ brothers said to him, “You should leave here and go to Judea. Then your disciples will see the kinds of things you do. No one who wants to be well known does things in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” Even Jesus’ own brothers did not believe in him. So Jesus told them, “The right time has not yet come for me. For you, any time is right. The people of the world can’t hate you. But they hate me. This is because I give witness that what they do is evil. (NIRV)

Here it shows that the Jewish religionists were murderers motivated to do so because Jesus had exposed their evil. Jesus labels them “the world.”

These were religious authorities of the one true faith: the Jews. However they missed the need for a rebirth (see Jn. 3.1-15 and especially v. 10 where Nicodemus was supposed to know this from the Torah). They needed heart circumcision not only flesh circumcision:

But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery that they committed against me, and also in walking contrary to me, so that I walked contrary to them and brought them into the land of their enemies—if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity, then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land. (Le. 26.40-42 ESV).

Also Ez. 44.7-9 alludes to everyone needing heart circumcision even though it speaks of foreigner here, it is clear that it was required of every worshipper to have a new heart:

In addition to all your other detestable practices, you brought foreigners uncircumcised in heart and flesh into my sanctuary, desecrating my temple while you offered me food, fat and blood, and you broke my covenant. Instead of carrying out your duty in regard to my holy things, you put others in charge of my sanctuary. This is what the Sovereign Lord says: No foreigner uncircumcised in heart and flesh is to enter my sanctuary, not even the foreigners who live among the Israelites. (NIV).

R.C. Sproul: “Does God Repent?”

Here is a good explanation on the bible passages where it is stated that God repents about a course of action (courtesy of Ligonier Blog) 


To “change one’s mind,” in the New Testament means to repent. When the Bible speaks of my repenting or your repenting, it means that we are called to change our minds or our dispositions with respect to sin—that we are to turn away from evil. Repent is loaded with these kinds of connotations, and when we talk about God’s repenting, it somehow suggests that God has to turn away from doing something wicked. But that’s not what is always meant when the Bible uses this word.

Using a word like repentance with respect to God raises some problems for us. When the Bible describes God for us, it uses human terms, because the only language God has by which to speak to us about himself is our human language. The theological term for this is anthropomorphic language, which is the use of human forms and structures to describe God. When the Bible talks about God’s feet or the right arm of the Lord, we immediately see that as just a human way of speaking about God. But when we use more abstract terms like repent, then we get all befuddled about it.

What About Moses in Numbers 14?

There’s one sense in which it seems God is changing his mind, and there’s another sense in which the Bible says God never changes his mind because God is omniscient. He knows all things from the beginning, and he is immutable. He is unchanging. There’s no shadow of turning within him. For example, He knows what Moses is going to say to him in Numbers 14 before Moses even opens his mouth to plead for the people. Then after Moses has actually said it, does God suddenly changes his mind? He doesn’t have any more information than he had a moment before. Nothing has changed as far as God’s knowledge or his appraisal of the situation.

What in Moses’ words and actions would possibly have provoked God to change his mind? I think that what we have here is the mystery of providence whereby God ordains not only the ends of things that come to pass but also the means. God sets forth principles in the Bible where he gives threats of judgment to motivate his people to repentance. Sometimes he spells out specifically, “But if you repent, I will not carry out the threat.” He doesn’t always add that qualifier, but it’s there. I think this is one of those instances. It was tacitly understood that God threatens judgment upon these people, but if somebody pleads for them in a priestly way, he will give grace rather than justice. I think that’s at the heart of that mystery.

Is God confused, stumbling through all the different options—Should I do this? Should I not do that? And does he decide upon one course of action and then think, Well, maybe that’s not such a good idea after all, and change his mind? Obviously God is omniscient; God is all wise. God is eternal in his perspective and in his full knowledge of everything. So we don’t change God’s mind. But prayer changes things. It changes us. And there are times in which God waits for us to ask for things because his plan is that we work with him in the glorious process of bringing his will to pass here on earth.

Some Notes on the Earliest Manuscript of Paul’s Letters

Papyri is ancient Egyptian paper that could take over a year to produce. It was cheaper than animal hides but would not generally last as long. It was exported from Egypt to lands in Europe and the MidEast. It served as media for the copied writings of Scripture in Egypt and elsewhere. The manuscripts that were stored in the desert regions of North Africa could survive thousands of years due to the dry climate.

In 1976 I was able to examine the Bodmer Papyri in Switzerland traveling to its repository while in Europe as an apprentice church worker. Textual transmission and its study has fascinated me for 40 years. Dan Wallace, a leading textual scholar, has just examined the Chester Beatty p46 manuscript and reports his findings on his blog.

Daniel B. Wallace

The publication of P46 in 1935–37––then, and now, the oldest extant manuscript of Paul’s epistles––has not ceased to pique the interest of biblical scholars. Beginning with the plates and text published by Kenyon (1936, 1937), and continuing with the virtual birth of reasoned eclecticism with Zuntz’s magisterial The Text of the Epistles: A Disquisition on the Corpus Paulinum (1953), and reconsiderations of its date (Young Kyu Kim, “Palaeographical Dating of P46 to the Later First Century,” Biblica 69 [1988] 248–57), this priceless document has made its way to the front lines of biblical scholarship for a long time. Though Kim’s suggestion that Chester Beatty Biblical Papyrus II was written before the reign of Domitian (81–96 CE) has been refuted, the consensus continues that it was produced c. 200 CE.

Where Are the Pastoral Epistles?
One curiosity of this papyrus is that, in its current state, it lacks the pastoral letters…

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Centered in God

Pr.4.27In the future when my building activities are complete (there is light at the end of the tunnel), I plan on showing from the Bible the many ways the walk with God is like a traveling on a highway.

The land of Israel is very hilly and thus difficult to traverse efficiently. Without a highway the pilgrims travelling to the three required feasts yearly would either have to travel over the hills and valleys in a straight line to Jerusalem or, conversely, follow the meanders of valleys on a relatively level area. Neither option was ideal especially when traveling with the elderly or very young along with their flocks and herds, the pack animals and wagons.

Two main highways existed in Israel from ancient times: the Via Maris that was near the coast of the Mediterranean and the Kings Highway in the TransJordan region. A feature of the ancient highways was a built up roadway with a ditch in either side for drainage of the winter rains. The Bible draws upon this imagery to teach lessons about the spiritual life: Go not to the right or the left, turn your foot from evil (Pr. 4.27).

Don Carson at the Gospel Coalition Blog has posted a devotional on Dt. 9 that shows two opposite extremes to avoid: paralyzing fear and haughty self-reliance. In this case the highway of walking with God would be humble obedience:

IF DEUTERONOMY 8 REMINDS THE Israelites that God is the One who gave them all their material blessings, not least the ability to work and produce wealth, Deuteronomy 9 insists he is also the One who will enable them to take over the Promised Land and vanquish their opponents. Before the struggle, the Israelites are still fighting their fears. God is the one who goes across ahead of you like a devouring fire. He will destroy them; he will subdue them before you” (Deut. 9:3). But after the struggle, the temptation of the Israelites will be quite different. Then they will be tempted to think that, whatever their fears before the event, it was their own intrinsic superiority that enabled them to accomplish the feat. So Moses warns them:

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 righteous-
ness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but
on account of the wickedness of these nations . . . 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 
(Deut. 9:4-6).

And the evidence for this last point? Moses reminds them of their sorry rebellions during the wilderness years, starting from the wretched incident of the golden calf (Deut. 9:4-29).

What shall we learn? (1) Although the annihilation of the Canaanites fills us with embarrassed horror, there is a sense in which (dare I say it?) we had better get used to it. It is of a piece with the Flood, with the destruction of several empires, with hell itself. The proper response is Luke 13:1-5: unless we repent, we shall all likewise perish. (2) It may be true to say that the Israelites won because the Canaanites were so evil. It does not follow that the Canaanites lost because the Israelites were so good. God was working to improve the Israelites out of his own covenantal faithfulness. But they were extremely foolish if they thought, after the event, that they had earned their triumph. (3) Our temptations, like Israel’s vary with our circumstances: faithless fear in one circumstance, arrogant pride in another. Only the closest walk with God affords us the self-criticism that abominates both.