Meditations in Exodus: 64. The Strategy Laid Out
Ex 23:23 My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out.
We jump over the chapters of law that constitute the covenant, at the end of which we now find the Lord lays out His explanations and instructions as to what will follow this time at the mountain. First we see the divine provision of a guide: “See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in him.” (v.20,21) We may think this ‘angel’ would better be described as a messenger and even wonder if it might apply to Moses.
The same word is used in verse 23 and I would suggest that nothing that follows denies that possibility. The Lord Himself, we will see, retains the power to deal with enemies. This one is simply a guide: “If you listen carefully to what he says and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you. My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out.” (v.22,23) Note three things about this provision of a guide. First, this messenger-guide will speak to them and they are to obey him. This is exactly what happened with Moses. Second, the intent of this guide will be to take them into Canaan which will be occupied by a number of people groups and, third, it will be the Lord who will deal with them.
Next He gives strict warnings about worship in the Land. Those again come with three elements. First, a prohibition: “Do not bow down before their gods or worship them or follow their practices. You must demolish them and break their sacred stones to pieces.” (v.24) Not only were they to NOT worship those gods, they were also to clear away all signs of that worship. Second, there is a call to worship: “Worship the LORD your God.” (v.25a) Worship is a recognition and acceptance of the greatness of God. When you stop worshipping you stop recognising His greatness. Their side of their relationship with the Lord is to be characterized by worship. Third, a promise of blessing on obedience: “his blessing will be on your food and water. I will take away sickness from among you, and none will miscarry or be barren in your land. I will give you a full life span.” (v.25b,26) When they had this relationship of worship, they were promised a life of health and well-being and long-life.
In the third section of these instructions we find His strategy for clearing the Land of its present occupants. There are two parts to this. First there is His intention to scare the occupants out: “I will send my terror ahead of you and throw into confusion every nation you encounter. I will make all your enemies turn their backs and run. I will send the hornet ahead of you to drive the Hivites, Canaanites and Hittites out of your way.” (v.27,28) Please make careful note of this very significant strategy because it is contrary to popular opinion that God’s intent was to wipe out the occupants – that was only secondary. Yes, He has used that word in v.23 but it is clear His desire was for the present occupants to flee the Land. In my book, ‘The Judgments of a Loving God’, I note that there are 31 references to the Canaanites being DRIVEN OUT, 4 references to them being DESTROYED, and 4 to them being WIPED OUT. From the Biblical record it is very clear that God’s preference was that the Canaanites flee the Land and yet He recognized that their Sin fueled by occultic practices would make them resist and so they would fight.
But it is not that straight forward because there is a second part: “But 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.” (v.29,30) The process of clearing the Land will take a while so that as they clear a part, they can get established in it and civilize it. If they moved straight through the land they would leave large parts empty and animals would take up occupation.
In the fourth short section of these instructions the Lord delineates the extent of the Land He has for them: “I will establish your borders from the Red Sea to the Sea of the Philistines, and from the desert to the River.” (v.31a) i.e. from the borders of Egypt in the south, the Mediterranean on the west and the Euphrates on the north and east.
The fifth and final short section simply reiterates His instructions about taking the Land: “I will hand over to you the people who live in the land and you will drive them out before you. Do not make a covenant with them or with their gods. Do not let them live in your land, or they will cause you to sin against me, because the worship of their gods will certainly be a snare to you.” (v.31b – 33)
Now what practical lessons come to mind in these verses? Well we have already put a main focus on worship. We live in an age where in some quarters there is disillusionment with the church (and there are grounds for disquiet) but nevertheless the community of God’s people is still the best place to participate in Spirit-led worship. As we said earlier, worship is an expression of recognising God’s greatness and if we stop doing that we will find a whole raft of negatives emerging in our lives.
The Canaanites were the classic example of people who were not living according to the design of God for His world. Perhaps we might say that they represented wrong behaviour and practices and wrong attitudes, beliefs and outlooks. When we take ‘the Land’ the ongoing battle is to drive out all those wrong things and bring our lives in line with God’s design for us. Wrong behaviour and practices can exist because of ignorance of God’s design as found in the New Testament, and so teaching is a key element of the life of the new (and older) Christian. That will also challenge the wrong attitudes, beliefs and outlooks we may have. To fully inherit God’s plans for us, a key aspect is about getting rid of those things that are contrary to His will for us. It is that simple. May we see it clearly and allow His Holy Spirit to work in us to bring that change about.