16. Redeeming Israel – the Promised Land

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 16. Redeeming Israel – the Promised Land

Ex 6:6-8 ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians….  And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord.’”

 Redemption and the Covenant: In the previous study we considered the fact of the Exodus as an act of redemption. Now we focus more tightly on the wider act of the Exodus for, in the verses above, we see the Lord revealing a two-part plan: a) to deliver Israel out of the slavery of Egypt, and b) delivering them into the freedom of the Promised Land.  He also reveals that this will come about by ‘mighty acts of judgment’ – which we come to know as the ten plagues, and then the destruction of Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea – and then He will enter into a new relationship with them as a people: “I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God.” (6:7) At mount Sinai He speaks about that as a “covenant”, a legal binding agreement.

Awareness and Cooperation: Now the question arises, why does this word ‘covenant’ arise so many times in the Bible? For instance, it is first used with Noah (Gen 6:18 – basically you build an ark, I’ll flood the world but will save you) then Gen 9:9-17 not to flood the world again. Next came the covenant with Abram (Gen 15:18 on) and with Isaac (Gen 17:21) and at various times God referred back to His promise to Abram. Now we have ‘covenant’ arising again but this time it is with the newly constituted nation, Israel, at Mount Sinai, to be a ‘treasured possession’. Now here is my question. We know from seven New Testament references that God’s plan of salvation through Jesus was formulated by the Godhead, before the foundation of the world. Now that plan was going to be operated, if I may put it like this, through the ‘environment’ that was the nation of Israel. So if this plan was in the mind of God from the outset and all the things we are observing are a part of that big over-arching plan, why did the Lord bother to announce it; He was going to do it anyway? The answer has to be because He wanted them and us to be aware of it and in being aware, be an active part of it, cooperating with Him in it all the way along.

Land and People: It is clear from the Lord’s original declaration in Ex 6:6-8 that His plan involves a) them as a people (Ex 6:6,7) and b) Canaan as the land He had promised to the Patriarchs (Ex 6:7,8). For us today that is expressed as a) the Church, the redeemed community of God’s people, and b) the kingdom of God, wherever and whenever and however His will is expressed on the earth through us today. People and purpose. The Promised Land was to be the environment in which Israel existed and revealed their relationship with God. Today we do not have a physical land because the ‘kingdom of God’ is revealed anywhere in the world where the people of God express the reign of God.

God’s Purpose for the Taking of the Land: It is clear from the Lord’s declarations that His intent in respect of the Promised Land also included bringing judgment on the inhabitants, the Canaanites. As the other aspect of it was to give Israel a home of their own, it meant that He wanted to use Israel to bring that judgment on the Canaanites.

Understanding the Judgment on Canaan: Now there is often so much mis-information, ignorance or even confusion about this, that we need to deal with it here. First of all, when we consider God’s instructions to Israel and His statements about His own involvement, we find there are 31 references to the Canaanites being DRIVEN OUT, and only 4 references to them being DESTROYED and only 4 to them being WIPED OUT. God’s overall purpose was that the Land be cleared of the Canaanites and their pagan practices, and that achieved by driving out those pagan inhabitants, so only if they resisted in battle would they need to be overcome and destroyed.

Possibilities: Now those pagan practices could be removed (and that is the objective of the judgment that is Israel on them) by a) the people leaving the Land (hence ‘driven out’) or b) they submit to Israel and become part of Israel – and that we see happening in respect of Rahab (see Josh 2) and the Gibeonites (see Josh 9). When God said He would drive them out, it is clear He means a) using fear (e.g. Deut 2:25, 11:25, Josh 2:9,11, 5:1) and b) using Israel themselves.

Failure & Discipline! Now when you study what actually happened, you realise a) Israel failed to do what they were commanded to do, AND b) the Lord accommodated their failure into His overall plan! This becomes clear when we move on into the book of Judges. Their failure is first recorded in Jud 1:27-36 and He holds them to account over this (see 2:3 which echoes Num 33:55 and is seen in Josh 23:13.) The warning had been clearly given that if they failed to clear the land of its people then, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live,” (Num 33:55) God had fulfilled His covenant with Abram etc. (see Ex 33:1, Numb 14:23, 32:11, Deut 1:35, 10:11, 31:20,21,23. 34:4, Josh 1:6) and Israel should have trusted Him but didn’t. That was their failure which was now seen in their failure to completely clear the Land. Now He declares, “I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died. I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the Lord and walk in it as their ancestors did.”  (Jud 2:21.22)

God’s Persistence: We will see the outworking of this in the next study but what is amazing is that, as can be seen in the way the people grumble leaving Egypt, the way they grumble in the desert on the way to Sinai, the way they turn away so quickly at Sinai, the way they grumble on the way from Sinai to the Land, and their refusal to enter the Land, CONSTANTLY they fail to apprehend the wonder of the Lord’s presence with them and trust Him, and CONSTANTLY they fail to be obedient to Him. Now in Ex 19:5, one of our starter verses above, “if you obey me fully,” is the crucial condition required of Israel but, as we’ve just seen, they fail to do that again and again.  So what is amazing is God’s determination in working this through with Israel. One way or another His is going to redeem them and bring them through to the place where they will indeed be a light to the nations.

Lessons for Us? We must, as we’ve said before, never be casual about sin and never settle for a path that leads us away from receiving all that the Lord has on His heart for us. It is important that we do not live our lives based on our emotions that will go up and down. Growing ‘in Christ’ means we come to rely on the truths of the Gospel, the things we are considering here. However, there are in all this, two things that are really encouraging.

Redeemed from godlessness: The first is that the Lord will not give up on us just because we make a mess of life. In fact the truth is that many of us came to Christ because we realized what a mess we were making of life on our own, and we recognized our godlessness – yet on our own we were incapable of changing that. It was when we called out to Him that we found He was there for us and all of our mess didn’t matter. He died to redeem us from our mess.

Redeemed from the failures: The second thing is that although we may continue to get it wrong, and we continue to ‘trip over our feet’, the Lord is there constantly working to get us through to the end where we can come confidently face to face with Him in eternity. Yes, this account of Israel entering the Promised Land and yet not fully taking it, so often epitomizes our lives. We’ve entered the new life in the kingdom of the Son (Col 1:13) and yet how imperfectly we live it sometimes. But not only does the Lord not give up on us, He perseveres in His project which is to change us and see us through to the end, and that is where discipline comes. He will, like Israel in the imperfectly taken land, use the things we tolerate – against us – to help change us! Those things we think are OK, so we don’t get to sort them out, He will use to discipline us until we see what is going on and take steps to completely remove them from our lives. This process is life-long, and it is what theologians call sanctification.

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3. Exodus (1)

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 3.  Exodus (1)

Ex 3:7-10  The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them ….So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

On into Exodus the episode at the burning bush has to be a highlight that surpasses most but the danger will be that we focus on Moses, for chapters 3 and 4 are all about him arguing with God, but it is the bigger context that is all-important in respect of our verses above. As we noted in the previous meditation Israel, the family, had ended up in Egypt and we suggested the handiwork of God behind this, preparing for the Exodus, but it is even bigger than this. Was it a coincidence or an accident that Israel were in Egypt? Definitely not; not either of those two things.  All of this had been spoken about by the Lord to Abram over four hundred years before (Gen 15:13,14), as we saw before, but that previous warning had been as much about the land they would find themselves in, as the Exodus itself.

The fact was that Egypt had become a blot on the world’s landscape, the world God had created as perfect, a world where people would be at peace, relating to one another in peace and harmony, and similarly with God. What do we find in Egypt? A land full of idols, a people who see ‘gods’ at every turn, a people who turn to occult powers and who even sacrifice children to their gods and the powers, a people utterly self-absorbed and a people who are utterly godless. One of the problems of such a nation is that so often they become dominant and start invading and overtaking other nations and taking their pagan worship further and further afield. In other words, they are like a contagious disease that keeps on spreading. God, in His wisdom, knows that such things can only be tolerated for so long.

So, that is the basis of the Exodus, the land where Israel find themselves, and here is the terrible thing: they could have left at any time but they didn’t. When they entered the land originally, they came with the prestige of being the family of the Prime Minister of the land, Joseph. As shepherds, they were despised (Gen 46:34) but Joseph had given them the area of Goshen, (Gen 45:10) which was considered the best of the land (Gen 45:18) and ideal for raising sheep. There they had prospered and grown and over the next four hundred years, some suggest they had grown in excess of two million people. As such they had become a threat to the current Pharaoh (Ex 1:9,10) who made them slaves. However, during that four hundred years, it would appear they settled and became like the Egyptians and there are historic and prophetic indications they even took on board some of the idols of Egypt, or at least took some of them with them when they left Egypt (see Josh 24:14 & Ezek 20:7-9).

The exodus was to become a threefold strategy. First it was to deliver Israel out of this land to go to a new land, Canaan. Second, it was to judge Egypt for the things we’ve noted above and, third, it was to judge Canaan for these same things. That is the background and that is the bigger strategy for all we find here.

Now let’s step down and look away from the big picture to what takes place here. The Lord catches Moses’ attention by the burning bush and then speaks to him. Observe the number of things the Lord says:

Part 1: The things He has done and the end result:

  • “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt.
  • I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers,
  • and I am concerned about their suffering. (v.7) The end result

Part 2: What HE intends to do and what He wants MOSES to do:

  • So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians
  • and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land (v.8)
  • So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” (v.10)

What are we seeing here? First, yet again, we see God with a plan. Second, we see that He has a plan because He watches over the earth and, in particular, over the people He has chosen, He understands their need, and He is moved by it. Third and, from our point of view, the most significant thing, He wants to use Moses to achieve their deliverance.

Now why is that so significant? Because He could so easily have brought a devastating plague judgment (or simply wiped them out with a word – He IS God!) that would have dealt with the sins of Egypt and then the sins of Canaan, but He decides against doing that. Instead we have the long record (chapters 5 to 12) in Exodus of how He dealt with Egypt and an even longer record (Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua and Judges) in dealing with Canaan. So why adopt this method? Pure suggestions.

First that the record will be there, in detail, that lays out the sins, the warnings, and the methods involved that enabled those on the receiving end to repent at any point along the way. Second, through this record, it will reveal the goodness, grace and mercy of God as against the sinfulness, pride and arrogance and stupidity of fallen mankind. Third, in using people, they will be changed and their relationship with the Lord deepened. Moses was a transformed man. Israel were a transformed people. Summarizing these three things, it is all about revelation and transformation.

And that’s where it comes to us. In all His dealings with us, the Lord wishes to reveal more and more of Himself to us. He wants us to know who it is that we are related to in the heavenly realms. That is the revelation side. On the other side, He wants to deliver us from being the self-centred godless people we were before we encountered Him, that produced wrong thoughts, wrong words and wrong actions that were harmful to ourselves and harmful to others. We were a damaged people, and so the work of salvation is about transforming us, healing us up, changing us so we are something completely different, a people characterized by love and goodness, peace and harmony, and who reveal Him to others around us. That, I believe, is what we find in these verses.

2. Only the One God

Meditating on the Wonders of the Ten Commandments:   2. Only the One God

Ex 20:3   You shall have no other gods before (or besides) me.

In the first of these meditations we emphasised the need to observe the historical context when approaching these laws. That is as important with this verse as it was with the previous two verses. The law is simple and straight forward: God says, “I am God, there is only one of me, so don’t worship anyone or anything else.”

Bear in mind Israel had only recently left that fear-driven, superstitious nation, Egypt, which we are told had over 2.000 gods. Many had similar characteristics and appeared all over the country but with different names.  Birds, crocodiles, snakes, turtles, frogs, cattle, dogs, cats and other domesticated animals were considered to be the living images of a particular god or goddess. One historian declares, ‘All parts of life were covered and there were gods for beer, plants, digestion, the high seas, female sexuality, gardens, partying etc.’

The best known gods of Egypt we may have heard of – Ra, the god of the Sun, the most important god, lord of all the gods. He was usually shown in human form with a falcon head, crowned with the sun disc encircled by the a sacred cobra – judge of the dead, and father of Horus, god of the sky (the Egyptians believed that the pharaoh was the ‘living Horus’) – Tefnut, goddess of  the rain – Anubis, who guided the dead to the next life via the court of Osiris in the Underworld – Sobek, god of Nile who had the head of a crocodile, and many others (followers of ‘The Mummy’ films will know some of these names)

In Canaan, gods we come across in the Bible were Asherah, the walker of the sea, a mother goddess,  Baal, god of fertility, Dagon, god of crop fertility, Molech, god of fire, and there were also many, many others. A simple Google search reveals that virtually every nation had ‘gods’.

Later in history we may be more familiar with the Greek gods – Zeus,. god of the Sky – Hera  goddess of marriage, mothers and families – Poseidon, god of the Sea – and  so on.  Following them, the Romans with their gods, mostly the same but with changed names, for example, Zeus, the king of the gods, the ruler of Mount Olympus, and god of the sky and thunder, Pallas Athena, is the goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration, civilization, law and justice, Mars was the god of war, Aphrodite is the Greek goddess of love, beauty, pleasure, and procreation, and so on.

A study of such gods shows us four things:

  • First there were lots of them! In fact there were gods for any and every situation or feature of the world.
  • Second, they created or maybe were the result of superstitious fear, the insecurity of living in a changing, uncertain world.
  • Third, they were never benign, it seems; they all required some form of appeasement.
  • Fourth, when these gods took human form or were thought of as being in human form, they also took on human foibles and struggled and fought with one another and did not have humanities best interests at heart!

And then God reveals Himself, first to the Patriarchs of what became Israel, and then to Moses and then to all of Israel. There are suggestions that He had already revealed himself to others. Studies of ancient Chinese suggest that they knew of this creator God who had the same characteristics as revealed to Israel.  In Genesis, when Abram had just rescued Lot, we find the king of Jerusalem came to him: Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” (Gen 14:18-20) Note that he was a “priest of God Most High” who also describes God as “Creator of heaven and earth”.  There is clearly prior revelation here about the Lord.

Now, perhaps, we can see why the first of these ten commands is so important. They bring us a requirement, that is supported by all the knowledge of Him that we pick up in the Bible, that He is one, He is the Creator of all of existence, He is thus all-powerful, all-knowing and all-wise and He is eternal  These are some of the minimums that come through in the Bible about Him. It also declares that He is love, He is good, He is holy, and He is perfect. In other words He is utterly different from any of these other ‘gods’ we have been considering.

The call to follow Him alone is, surprisingly and contrary to the crusading atheists claims, a claim to be free of superstition and a call to come to one who will bring, love and goodness and security. For Moses and his people they already knew something of Him as revealed through His dealings with the Patriarchs and now His deliverance of them from Egypt. He was a God who appeared to want to be friendly, a God who had the power to deal with enemies on one hand, and bless His friends on the other.

Everything we know of these other ‘gods’ makes us want to shy away from them and their demands and the superstitious fear-filled life, and everything we come to know of Him says here is one who we would be foolish to reject. It is only that self-centred and godless propensity that we all have which the Bible calls Sin, that makes us suspicious and fearful.

It also makes us want to stand on our own two feet and foolishly think we can cope in life without Him, hence the popular ‘Don’t you tell me what to do!’ attitude that is the popular expression of the rebellious aspect of Sin. In the folly of Sin we cannot believe that this God who claims to be the one and only God is loving and good and desires the best for us, but that, as we say, is the folly of Sin. The call to “have no other gods beside me,” is in one way a common sense call in accord with reality because there is NO other God, merely the imaginations of superstitious fear. Away with it!

6.1 Origins

Part 6: The Struggle for Canaan

Meditating on the Judgements of God:  

6.1 Origins

Gen 15:16   In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.

Of all the questions I have been asked about God, the one that comes most is why did God instruct Israel to wipe out the inhabitants of Canaan? Not only is that perception inaccurate but the understanding of all that went on is complex because it is covered over quite a wide area of the early books of the Bible. Nevertheless, dealing with the Canaanites, one way or another, was clearly on God’s agenda and if it did involve their destruction – or even some other act – then it could constitute a judgement and we need to consider it here.

Our starting point must be to consider ‘the Promised Land’ in a wider context. Our starting place must be with Abram’s family: Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there.” (Gen 11:31) Although the patriarch, Terah, seems to have led the family to leave their home in the area of Mesopotamia, we find that the motivator to do it came from Abram for, “The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” (Gen 12:1) So Abram and his family (less his father who had died in Haran) end up in the land of Canaan.

Later on in his story we find, “The LORD said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever.” (Gen 13:14,15) Hence we refer to it as ‘the Promised Land’. God promised Abram that this would be his land and the land of his descendants. Later the Lord reiterates this: “He also said to him, “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.” (Gen 15:7) It is as they act out a covenant procedure that our verses above appear.

The name Amorites appears to have been used to cover all the inhabitants. As one dictionary says of the state of Canaan 400 years later, “Just how sinful many Canaanite religious practices were is now known from archaeological artefacts and from their own epic literature, discovered at Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit) on the north Syrian coast beginning in 1929. Their “worship” was polytheistic and included child sacrifice, idolatry, religious prostitution and divination.” They had seriously strayed from God’s design for human beings!

So to summarise so far: God took Abram and his family to this land where he lived alongside the other people groups there. Isaac was born there, as was Jacob and although Jacob left there, fleeing from Esau’s wrath, he did finally come back and settle there, only to leave and settle for his final years in Egypt when a famine struck forcing them to go to Egypt for food provided by Joseph. (We considered the Lord using famines in an earlier study). There they stayed until some four hundred years had passed and Israel developed into probably well over a million people who were forced into slavery by the Egyptians.  In the mean time the state of Canaan was getting progressively worse. In fact it would seem that God waited for that people grouping to get so bad that His judgement was essential, and Israel to get so desperate that they would do anything to escape from Egypt.

The entry into Canaan had been postponed for forty years when Israel refused to enter the land initially in a crisis of confidence when the twelve spies returned with their reports of what they found there. Now the forty years has passed and the previous generation (all those over the age of twenty except Caleb and Joshua) had died off. The next generation are now ready to enter the land and so before we see them doing that we will (1) consider the instructions the Lord gave them, (which many people are confused about), and then (2) see how they progressed from their desert wanderings to arrive at the border of the land, before (3) we will finally see how they got on with the task of clearing the land that the Lord had given them. These will make up the next meditations.

There are two issues to be considered in what follows: judgment on the pagan practices in Canaan, and then providing a home for the nation of Israel. Before we finish this one let us note God’s purpose declared again and again. At the burning bush, the Lord said to Moses, “So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey–the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. (Ex 3:8) 

 Later he instructs him to tell the elders of this:  Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, `The LORD, the God of your fathers–the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob– appeared to me and said: I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt. And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites–a land flowing with milk and honey.’” (Ex 3:16,17).

Finally before the plagues start He reiterates this: “God also said to Moses, “I am the LORD. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them. I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they lived as aliens,” (Ex 6:2-4)before saying what He will do with the Egyptians but ending yet again with the promise: “And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the LORD.’ ” (v.8)

The scene is well and truly set. God’s intentions are clearly stated. In the next meditation we will see how He intended to do that.

2. Wrong Settling

Meditations in the life of Abraham : 2. Settling in the wrong place

Gen 11:31,32  Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there. Terah lived 205 years, and he died in Haran.

There are mysteries in life, things we’ll never know this side of heaven. It’s like that in the Bible as well. There are times when the Bible seems frustratingly sketchy and we want to ask lots of questions. Why did Terah leave Ur? Why did he settle in Haran? We simply aren’t told, so this tends to be a little speculative. All we can do is look at what we are told and speculate in the light of what we know about life.

There are two areas where the Bible gives us information about Terah. The first is about his family. As we noted yesterday, when his first son came along, he seems to have high hopes of the family name being carried on through this son for he names him ‘exalted father’. Yet as the years pass that doesn’t happen. Obviously it would be a number of years before Abram grew up and took a wife, and then some more years before they concluded she was barren. In the meantime Haran is married and has a son, Lot, but then some unspecified time later, dies.

Now it may just be possible that Terah takes the family and leaves Ur because he wants to escape the unhappy memory of losing Haran. That is one possibility. It may also be possible that, being a superstitious man, he wonders if Ur is an ‘unlucky’ place and further wonders that if they go somewhere else, Sarai may be able to conceive and have a child to carry the family name through the eldest son. There is a faint possibility that Terah heard from God because their departure was with the express intent of ending up in Canaan, which is where, we find, the Lord told Abram to go. The truth is we just don’t know, but life decisions are so often made through a combination of such things. There is a further probability that we’ll consider later.

Now there is a second area of information about Terah that we only get later in the Bible. Presumably the story of Terah was handed down by word of mouth and that in more detail than we find recorded in Genesis 11. We have to wait to some way through Joshua that we find this prophetic word coming from the Lord through Joshua:Joshua said to all the people, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: `Long ago your forefathers, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the River (Euphrates) and worshipped other gods. But I took your father Abraham from the land beyond the River and led him throughout Canaan and gave him many descendants (Josh 24:2,3). Ah, Terah worshipped idols!  It is said that the moon-god was worshiped at both Ur and Haran so it is likely that Terah worshipped the moon at least. Now there is an interesting thing about people who worship the elements or idols; they indicate a need to reverence some other Being or force.

They recognize a spiritual existence but may be completely misled in their understanding of it, for understanding of reality can only come from God. But their hearts are inclined more in His direction than in no direction, such as the atheist would claim.  So Terah sets out from Ur and intends to go to Canaan. As we’ve said previously, we are not told why he left and even more we’re not told (here) why he was aiming for Canaan. As we wondered previously, is it coincidence that Abram ends up in Canaan? (Yes, as we read on we’ll get answers but in these early verses these are legitimate questions). However he’s got his leading, and we said it may be through a variety of feelings or circumstances, he’s had this sense that he wants to take his family to Canaan. When we consider all that subsequently took place in Abram’s life, we can only conclude that that initial sense was a good one. So he sets out from the place of hurt towards a place of hope. (We will come to more definite conclusions later in the series).

On the way he passes through Haran, which in the Hebrew, I’m told, is spelt differently from his son’s name, but was it sufficient to trigger the memories all over again of the son he has lost?  We read,when they came to Haran, they settled there.” To settle means to stop moving on. If Canaan was Terah’s destiny, he stopped short of it, he stopped moving towards it and never arrived. We read that he died there in Haran.

Terah is the picture of a man who caught a sense of something new but stopped along the way and settled, so that he never reached it.  How many of us mirror in our lives what happened to Terah? We started off well, clear about where we were going with our lives, but somehow, somewhere along the way, we settled. Is it too late to get under way again? No, but we’ll probably need the Lord’s help to get out of our rut. When you settle, it’s difficult to get under way again, but not impossible.

Did you give up going to church some way along the path? Did you stop reading your Bible, stop praying, stop attending the mid-week meeting, stop giving, stop whatever it was that became your ‘stopping off point’?  If you stay in Haran you’ll die there. It’s not the place of your destiny. There’s a land out there for you to reach, a land filled with milk and honey, a place of plenty of goodness, a place of God’s calling. Please don’t settle, don’t remain at Haran, don’t accept second best. A lot of people are. There are a lot of people who are Christians who stopped along the way and settled. Your calling is to be a man or woman of God, a person of faith. The first step is to get under way again. If you remain in Haran it will kill you. Move on!

26. Why this history

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 26 :  Why this History

(Focus: Deut 9:4-6)

Deut 9:4 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.

When God calls us or blesses us, there is a temptation to think we have some merit that has caused Him to do it. I have concluded after many years of thinking about this, that the only reason the Lord saves us (apart, obviously, from His love) is because He sees what He can do for us and with us; He sees that we are people who will surrender to Him and in our place of surrender, He can take us and lead us and use us and bless us and change us more in to the likeness of His Son, Jesus Christ. Your only merit is your ability to surrender! The apostle Paul wrote, He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things–and the things that are not–to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him,” (1 Cor 1:28,29)  and then, For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Cor 4:7) i.e. God chose you because you were weak and you are what you are because of all that He has given you. We have absolutely no grounds for boasting!

Previously Moses had said to Israel, “The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery.” (Deut 7:7,8)  No Israel, you are what you are, and chosen by God, NOT because you were big and powerful because in fact you are a small nation. It was God’s love and His desire to express good-will towards a nation that He chose you and, perhaps in the light of what we have read in the New Testament, because they had been weak and desperate as slaves.

Thus now Moses seeks to put their call into perspective again. Don’t say the Lord is doing this because we are a righteous people because, in fact, he will conclude this paragraph with “for you are a stiff-necked people.” Oh no, it will be despite you that you will go in and triumph!  No, the primary reason that is now given for what is taking place is because God is going to deal with a bunch of very wicked nations and bring judgment on them and end their national status by either driving them out of the land or utterly destroying them – and He’s going to use Israel to achieve that. In fact, as we’ve noted before, it goes right back to Abraham etc., (the oath he swore to your forefathers), to promises that the Lord made to bring blessing to them, their families and their future people, and part of that included dealing with a very ungodly, unrighteous, occult-driven, pagan, idol-worshipping part of the world! (see Gen 15:12-16)

Moses presses the point: “It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the LORD your God will drive them out before you.” (9:5). One commentary declares, “Just how sinful many Canaanite religious practices were is now known from archaeological artifacts and from their own epic literature, discovered at Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit) on the north Syrian coast beginning in 1929. Their “worship” was polytheistic and included child sacrifice, idolatry, religious prostitution and divination.” That was the ‘wickedness’ of the inhabitants of Canaan. It had got to such a point that it was in danger of polluting the earth and so the time had come for the Lord to deal with it. That was part of the package that involved Israel! They were to be the instrument that dealt with this people.

If we hadn’t been sure about the reference just now to “the oath that he swore to your forefathers”, Moses explains it further: “to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” (9:5) As we noted just now, this was a promise that their families would inherit this land and at the same time bring judgment on a people who were sinking deeper and deeper into sin which was reaching its peak at this time. It is now time for them to be dealt with.

So, he concludes, “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.” This is not all about you and about how good you are, for indeed, history has shown how you are a rebellious and stubborn people who have a knack of getting it wrong!  The history of the people of Israel, in a nutshell, simply reveals that sinful mankind can’t get it right even when God talks to them and gives them guidance – it needs something much more to deliver the human race from its Sin; it needs the work of Jesus on the Cross and the Holy Spirit’s empowering and changing power today. Nothing less than this means we keep on in our foolish and sinful ways!

 

6. Victories

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 6:  Victories

(Focus: Deut 2:24-3:13)

Deut 2:24,25 “Set out now and cross the Arnon Gorge. See, I have given into your hand Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his country. Begin to take possession of it and engage him in battle. This very day I will begin to put the terror and fear of you on all the nations under heaven.

Moses now moves on with his historical reminders, from the three countries through which they passed peacefully, to the two nations who they had to fight. The Lord had warned that their first fight as the new nation (the older generation having passed away) was about to happen. It was a general warning and it came with a consequence: other nations will hear reports of you and will tremble and be in anguish because of you.” This will become a means by which the Lord will eventually seek to drive out the inhabitants of Canaan, as we’ll see later. Now let’s see how that worked out.

From the desert of Kedemoth I sent messengers to Sihon king of Heshbon offering peace and saying, “Let us pass through your country. We will stay on the main road; we will not turn aside to the right or to the left. Sell us food to eat and water to drink for their price in silver. Only let us pass through on foot- as the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir, and the Moabites, who live in Ar, did for us–until we cross the Jordan into the land the LORD our God is giving us.” (v.26-29) Moses had made a very reasonable approach to king Sihon – they would restrict themselves to the main road, and they would pay for food and drink and pass through without causing any trouble, just like they had done with the previous nations. But that was of no avail: “But Sihon king of Heshbon refused to let us pass through. For the LORD your God had made his spirit stubborn and his heart obstinate in order to give him into your hands, as he has now done.” (v.30)  Now we don’t know the history of Sihon and the Lord, but when we compare this with the story of Pharaoh in Exodus 1-12, it was actually that the king already had a hard heart and the Lord simply hardened it further by confronting him. So Sihon refuses to let Moses through and even more, “Sihon and all his army came out to meet us in battle at Jahaz.” (v.32) The result was as the Lord had declared: “the LORD our God delivered him over to us and we struck him down, together with his sons and his whole army.” (v.33)

Now when we follow this through, it seems somewhat brutal and barbaric on today’s standards: “At that time we took all his towns and completely destroyed them–men, women and children. We left no survivors. But the livestock and the plunder from the towns we had captured we carried off for ourselves.” (v.34,35)   Although today we, here in the West at least, try to avoid killing civilians, that hasn’t always been so, as the bombing of cities in the last World War shows, and the eventual bombing of Japan. Such action we see as evil but sometimes the lesser of two evils. On this occasion it does not seem that the Lord instructed Israel to do this but they simply carried out what was a common practice of those days in wars.

What followed was a simple repeat: Next we turned and went up along the road toward Bashan, and Og king of Bashan with his whole army marched out to meet us in battle at Edrei. The LORD said to me, “Do not be afraid of him, for I have handed him over to you with his whole army and his land. Do to him what you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon.” (3:1.2)      This time we aren’t given any details of any approach Moses might have made to them, but the outcome was the same: “So the LORD our God also gave into our hands Og king of Bashan and all his army. We struck them down, leaving no survivors. At that time we took all his cities. There was not one of the sixty cities that we did not take from them–the whole region of Argob, Og’s kingdom in Bashan. All these cities were fortified with high walls and with gates and bars, and there were also a great many unwalled villages. We completely destroyed them, as we had done with Sihon king of Heshbon, destroying every city–men, women and children. But all the livestock and the plunder from their cities we carried off for ourselves.” (v.3-7)

Subsequently “Of the land that we took over at that time, I gave the Reubenites and the Gadites the territory north of Aroer by the Arnon Gorge, including half the hill country of Gilead, together with its towns. The rest of Gilead and also all of Bashan, the kingdom of Og, I gave to the half tribe of Manasseh.” (v.12,13)

Thus they had settled the land to the east of the Jordan. In accordance with the ways of war in those days, they had completely cleared the land of its occupants and had settled some of their own people there. This must have built their self confidence immensely. Again, the lesson was simple: obey the Lord and He will give you victory.