He reminded the people how they had provoked the Lord in the desert, and had shown themselves rebellious against God, from the day of their departure from Egypt till their arrival in the steppes of Moab. אֶת־אֲשֶׁר, for אֲשֶׁר, is the object to תִּשְׁכַּח (Ewald, §333, a.): “how thou hast provoked.” הִמְרָה, generally with אֶת־פִּי (cf. Deu 1:26), to be rebellious against the commandment of the Lord: here with עִם, construed with a person, to deal rebelliously with God, to act rebelliously in relation to Him (cf. Deu 31:27). The words “from the day that thou camest out,” etc., are not to be pressed. It is to be observed, however, that the rebellion against the guidance of God commenced before they passed through the Red Sea (Exo 14:11). This general statement Moses then followed up with facts, first of all describing the worship of the calf at Horeb, according to its leading features (Deu 9:8-21), and then briefly pointing to the other rebellions of the people in the desert (Deu 9:22, Deu 9:23).
“And indeed even in Horeb ye provoked Jehovah to wrath.” By the vav explic. this sin is brought into prominence, as having been a specially grievous one. It was so because of the circumstances under which it was committed.
When Moses went up the mountain, and stayed there forty days, entirely occupied with the holiest things, so that he neither ate nor drank, having gone up to receive the tables of the law, upon which the words were written with the finger of God, just as the Lord had spoken them directly to the people out of the midst of the fire, - at a time, therefore, when the Israelites should also have been meditating deeply upon the words of the Lord which they had but just heard, - they acted so corruptly, as to depart at once from the way that had been pointed out, and make themselves a molten image (comp. Ex 31:18-32:6, with chs. Deut 24:12-31:17). “The day of the assembly,” i.e., the day on which Moses gathered the people together before God (Deu 4:10), calling them out of the camp, and bringing them to the Lord to the foot of Sinai (Exo 19:17). The construction of the sentence is this: the apodosis to “when I was gone up” commences with “the Lord delivered unto me,” in Deu 9:10; and the clause, “then I abode,” etc., in Deu 9:9, is a parenthesis. - The words of God in Deu 9:12-14 are taken almost word for word from Exo 32:7-10. הֶרֶף (Deu 9:14), the imperative Hiphil of רָפָה, desist from me, that I may destroy them, for לִּי הַנִּיחָה, in Exo 32:10. But notwithstanding the apostasy of the people, the Lord gave Moses the tables of the covenant, not only that they might be a testimony of His holiness before the faithless nation, but still more as a testimony that, in spite of His resolution to destroy the rebellious nation, without leaving a trace behind, He would still uphold His covenant, and make of Moses a greater people. There is nothing at all to favour the opinion, that handing over the tables (Deu 9:11) was the first beginning of the manifestations of divine wrath (Schultz); and this is also at variance with the preterite, נָתַן, in Deu 9:11, from which it is very evident that the Lord had already given the tables to Moses, when He commanded him to go down quickly, not only to declare to the people the holiness of God, but to stop the apostasy, and by his mediatorial intervention to avert from the people the execution of the divine purpose. It is true, that when Moses came down and saw the idolatrous conduct of the people, he threw the two tables from his hands, and broke them in pieces before the eyes of the people (Deu 9:15-17; comp. with Exo 32:15-19), as a practical declaration that the covenant of the Lord was broken by their apostasy. But this act of Moses furnishes no proof that the Lord had given him the tables to declare His holy wrath in the sight of the people. And even if the tables of the covenant were “in a certain sense the indictments in Moses' hands, accusing them of a capital crime” (Schultz), this was not the purpose for which God had given them to him. For if it had been, Moses would not have broken them in pieces, destroying, as it were, the indictments themselves, before the people had been tried. Moses passed over the fact, that even before coming down from the mountain he endeavoured to mitigate the wrath of the Lord by his intercession (Exo 32:11-14), and simply mentioned (in Deu 9:15-17) how, as soon as he came down, he charged the people with their great sin; and then, in Deu 9:18, Deu 9:19, how he spent another forty days upon the mountain fasting before God, on account of this sin, until he had averted the destructive wrath of the Lord from Israel, through his earnest intercession. The forty days that Moses spent upon the mountain, “as at the first,” in prayer before the Lord, are the days mentioned in Exo 34:28 as having been passed upon Sinai for the perfect restoration of the covenant, and for the purpose of procuring the second tables (cf. Deu 10:1.).
It was not from the people only, but from Aaron also, that Moses averted the wrath of God through his intercession, when it was about to destroy him. In the historical account in Ex 32, there is no special reference to this intercession, as it is included in the intercession for the whole nation. On the present occasion, however, Moses gave especial prominence to this particular feature, not only that he might make the people thoroughly aware that at that time Israel could not even boast of the righteousness of its eminent men (cf. Isa 43:27), but also to bring out the fact, which is described still more fully in Deu 10:6., that Aaron's investiture with the priesthood, and the maintenance of this institution, was purely a work of divine grace. It is true that at that time Aaron was not yet high priest; but he had been placed at the head of the nation in connection with Hur, as the representative of Moses (Exo 24:14), and was already designated by God for the high-priesthood (Exo 28:1). The fact, however, that Aaron had drawn upon himself the wrath of God in a very high degree, was intimated plainly enough in what Moses told him in Exo 32:21. - In Deu 9:21, Moses mentions again how he destroyed that manifested sin of the nation, namely, the molten calf (see at Exo 32:20).
And it was not on this occasion only, viz., at Horeb, that Israel aroused the anger of the Lord its God by its sin, but it did so again and again at other places: at Tabeerah, by discontent at the guidance of God (Num 11:1-3); at Massah, by murmuring on account of the want of water (Exo 17:1.); at the graves of lust, by longing for flesh (Num 11:4.); and at Kadesh-barnea by unbelief, of which they had already been reminded at Deu 1:26. The list is not arranged chronologically, but advances gradually from the smaller to the more serious forms of guilt. For Moses was seeking to sharpen the consciences of the people, and to impress upon them the fact that they had been rebellious against the Lord (see at Deu 9:7) from the very beginning, “from the day that I knew you.”