Meditating on the Judgements of God:
6.4 Take Possession Gradually
Ex 23:27-30 “I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you. Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land.”
Having seen the Lord’s declaration that HE will drive out the occupants of the land, we now need to see the other side of this coin, their instruction to go in and take possession of it. Theoretically we might suppose that the land would be empty because the people had fled before the fear of the Lord but the Lord has already declared that He will only do it slowly as our verses above show. Moses reiterates this when he speaks to the nation before they go to enter the land: “The LORD your God will drive out those nations before you, little by little. You will not be allowed to eliminate them all at once, or the wild animals will multiply around you.” (Deut 7:22) However, we should also note the slow progress of Israel up the eastern side of the Dead Sea area which sets the scene for the nature of their progress in advancing towards the Promised Land.
At the beginning of Deuteronomy he gives them the following instructions: “Break camp and advance into the hill country of the Amorites; go to all the neighbouring peoples in the Arabah, in the mountains, in the western foothills, in the Negev and along the coast, to the land of the Canaanites and to Lebanon, as far as the great river, the Euphrates. See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land that the LORD swore he would give to your fathers–to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob–and to their descendants after them.” (Deut 1:7,8) It is time to bring about that which God has promised and the instruction is quite clear – “Go in and take possession of the land.” Nothing is said for the moment about how but as we follow through Deuteronomy that becomes clear. Deuteronomy is not only a source of teaching and instruction but it is also a useful historical summary of what happened before entering the land itself.
In chapter 1 Moses reminds them of the debacle of failing to enter the land the first time and the judgment that fell on them for that whole generation to die in the wilderness over forty years. That time has passed and it is time for the next generation to move in. But he then reminds them of the early stages of their progress towards the land, how the Lord had warned them not to provoke the descendants of Esau who live in Seir (2 :4-6) nor the Moabites (2:9), nor the Ammonites (2:19) They were not like subsequent conquering hordes who cleared all before them. They were to pass these nation by peaceably. This was a very controlled progress.
However, when they crossed the River Arnon (2:24 – this flows from east to west into the east side of the Dead Sea) they were entering the territory of Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and were warned they would have to fight him (2:24). Yet Moses sought to pass through peacefully (2:26-29) but Sihon refused (2:30) and led his army against Israel (2:32) and were destroyed by Israel. The first sign of intransigence of a pagan king.
When they approach Bashan, the Amorite king, Og, also came to fight them (3:1) and was completely destroyed. These things, Moses said to Joshua, were meant to encourage him as he took the people in: “At that time I commanded Joshua: “You have seen with your own eyes all that the LORD your God has done to these two kings. The LORD will do the same to all the kingdoms over there where you are going. Do not be afraid of them; the LORD your God himself will fight for you.” (3:21,22)
It seems he uses the first three chapters to encourage Israel by what has already happened to a) go in and take the land and b) be obedient to all the Lord’s commands in their future, e.g., (1) “Hear now, O Israel, the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you.” (4:1) and then (2) “Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you.” (4:2)
Passing through the land to the east of the Dead Sea is instructive. First, it tells us that they were under clear directions from the Lord, and then second, that their advance did not automatically mean destruction for that only came when they were attacked by the Amorite kings. In all that takes place, there is one primary lesson to be remembered, and it comes as Moses speaks to them about what the Lord has done in history: “You were shown these things so that you might know that the LORD is God; besides him there is no other.” (Deut 4:35) This nation are not just doing their own thing, they are acting as the instrument of justice in the hands of the Lord, and the end outcome should be that they will be a testimony to Him.