7. People Groups

Struggles of Israel Meditations: 7. People Groups

Ex 3:8    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.

Review:  To understand the struggles of Israel it is necessary to understand the peoples who opposed them. These are names that appear frequently but which we probably usually pass over without much thought.

The Canaanites: The occupants of the Land (perhaps the wider area as far as Mesopotamia) originally described as part of ten people groups: “the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.” (Gen 15:19-21) but later seven groups: “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)

The Individual People Groups:

  • Canaanites – originally from the cursed grandson of Noah, possibly from Phoenicia, the area in the north later known as around Tyre and Sidon, often used to generally describe the occupants of Canaan
  • Hittites – immigrants from old Hitttite empire of the north
  • Amorites – a desert people from the west of Mesopotamia, who now occupied the hill country either side of the Jordan including Jerusalem & Hebron and Ai
  • Perizzites – a scattered hill people
  • Hivites – possibly Horites from the south
  • Jebusites – inhabitants of Jebus or Jerusalem also known as Amorities (Josh 10:5)]

In the Conquest Context: We see these various names occurring:

“When all the Amorite kings west of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings who lived along the Mediterranean coast heard how the Lord had dried up the Jordan River so the people of Israel could cross, they lost heart and were paralyzed with fear because of them.” (Josh 5:1)

“Now all the kings west of the Jordan River heard about what had happened. These were the kings of the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, who lived in the hill country, in the western foothills, and along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea as far north as the Lebanon mountains. These kings combined their armies to fight as one against Joshua and the Israelites.” (Josh 9:1)

“So King Adoni-zedek of Jerusalem sent messengers to several other kings: Hoham of Hebron, Piram of Jarmuth, Japhia of Lachish, and Debir of Eglon.” (Josh 10:3) “Joshua travelled all night from Gilgal and took the Amorite armies by surprise.” (Josh 10:9)

Characteristics: What becomes obvious from some of these verses is that very often a so-called ‘king’ ruled over a single town and its immediate vicinity and were thus not particularly powerful. However, it was the practice of idolatrous religion that caused God to move and clear the Land. The most common idol names found in scripture tend to be:

  • Asherah—early Semitic Mother goddess, also called Athirat,the mother of 70 gods
  • Ba’al—meaning “Lord,” god of rain, thunder, and fertility
  • Chemosh—the national god of Moab
  • Dagon—god of crop fertility,
  • Moloch—title for the god who is “king,” probably identical with Milcom and known mainly as the deity to whom child sacrifices were offered

This latter point is highlighted by Moses and later verified by Jeremiah as still continuing when Israel fell into apostasy and reverted to following Canaanite practices:

“…they do for their gods every detestable thing that Jehovah hates, even burning their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.” (Deut 12:31)

They built the high places of Baal in order to burn their sons in the fire as whole burnt offerings to Baal, something that I had not commanded or spoken of and that had never even come into my heart.” (Jer 19:5)

Ongoing Nature: What is remarkable about the conquest of Canaan is that despite all the negative noises made about annihilation by the critics, the reality is that all these people groups actually survived and we find them occurring  as late as Solomon and even still around and mentioned by Ezra after the Exile, for example, “There were still people left from the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites (these peoples were not Israelites). 21 Solomon conscripted the descendants of all these peoples remaining in the land—whom the Israelites could not exterminate—to serve as slave labour, as it is to this day.” (1 Kings 9:20-

Philistines? What is almost strange is that the name of the Philistines, who often crop up in Israel’s history, don’t seem to appear here. The first mention of them is, Egypt was the father of the … Kasluhites (from whom the Philistines came),” (Gen 10:13,14) Abraham later made a treaty with them and lived in their land (Gen 21:22-34) Isaac also later stayed in their land (see Gen 26) and made a treaty with them. They are not mentioned again until after the conquest, as one of the areas not yet taken (see Josh 13:2,3 & Jud 3:3), then some who were struck down (Jud 3:31), then who both caused Israel to fall and then were used to discipline them (Judg 10:6,7 & 13:1) and then appear in contention with Samson (Jud 13:5, 14:3,4, ch.15 & 16). In 1 Sam their name occurs over 80 times, indicating that they had really become a thorn in Israel’s side. To see this in more detail we will go to the next study.

And So: We have highlighted the people groups in Canaan who resisted Israel’s advance, so much so that even centuries later their descendants are still there being a nuisance. The lesson is clearly there: unless you are obedient to the Lord and fully do what He says, you are in danger of letting enemies of the kingdom remain there in the background where they may fester silently for a while but will eventually rear up again and cause our downfall.

I find this one of the most painful lessons I have learnt over the years. It is especially true of leaders who are fearful to take action and speak against unrighteousness, fearful of what they think the consequences might be. It has been true of me in the past and I have watched it being true of other leaders in the past and right up to the present. When this happens, we fail to realize two things: first, the grace (wisdom and authority) and support of the Lord will be there as we determine to do His will with grace and humility and, second, failure to deal with the issue only means we are tolerating unrighteousness and it will eventually blow up under us with even greater impact. Israel provide a lesson we must heed.

3. Approaching the Land

Struggles of Israel Meditations: 3. Approaching the Land

Deut 1:7,8 “Break camp and advance into the hill country of the Amorites; go to all the neighboring 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.”

Wars on the Way: We have seen Abraham getting drawn into a battle, and we saw the Amalekites attack Israel on their way to the Promised Land, but thereafter there appears no fighting for forty years – apart from the Amalekites driving Israel away from the Promised Land as discipline from God for disobedience (see Num 14:45). But as Israel eventually, after forty years, make their way north, they encounter various ‘nations’ and it is instructive to note how they were guided by God through them.

Israel a Threat? I wonder how you might have felt as a king over a small nation or big tribe, and you find this massive group of somewhere between one and two million people turning up on your border? However, perhaps a more important issue is how Israel felt, what their intentions were, and the instructions that come from the Lord.

See Moses’ words recounting what had happened: “the Lord said to me, “You have made your way around this hill country long enough; now turn north. Give the people these orders: ‘You are about to pass through the territory of your relatives the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir. They will be afraid of you, but be very careful. Do not provoke them to war, for I will not give you any of their land, not even enough to put your foot on. I have given Esau the hill country of Seir as his own. You are to pay them in silver for the food you eat and the water you drink.’” (Deut 2:2-6)` Mount Seir is to the south east of the Dead Sea. It is important to understand the geography here up the east side of the Dead Sea: to the south is Edom, (the area referred to above), north of them is Moab and north of them Ammon, west of which dwelt the Amorites at the city of Heshbon, and then further north still, Bashan.

Peaceful Approaches:  The instructions given above to Israel in respect of Edom indicated they were clearly not to be provocative and indeed they were to pay for resources taken. First in respect of Edom: in Numbers 20 we see Israel seeking to pass Edom in a very peaceable manner and when Edom reject them, they carefully skirt the land (see Num 20:14-21). However a little way along the way we find (Num 21) the Canaanite king of Arad, who lived in the south, saw them coming, attacked them and took some of them prisoner (v.1) and so Israel retaliated and destroyed them. After this they appear to have turned east to skirt round the south end of the Dead Sea and then make their way north, avoiding Edom.  Second, as they near Moab, the Lord instructs them, “Do not harass the Moabites or provoke them to war, for I will not give you any part of their land.” (Deut 2:9) Third, as they continue and approach Ammon, “When you come to the Ammonites, do not harass them or provoke them to war, for I will not give you possession of any land belonging to the Ammonites.” (v.19)

Two Battles: On the west side of Ammon is the city of Heshbon and there they ran into trouble. First came instructions from the Lord preempting what was about to happen: “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. 25 This very day I will begin to put the terror and fear of you on all the nations under heaven. They will hear reports of you and will tremble and be in anguish because of you.” (Deut 2:24,25) The reality of it working out is seen in Numbers: “Israel sent messengers to say to Sihon king of the Amorites: 22 “Let us pass through your country. We will not turn aside into any field or vineyard, or drink water from any well. We will travel along the King’s Highway until we have passed through your territory.” 23 But Sihon would not let Israel pass through his territory. He mustered his entire army and marched out into the wilderness against Israel. When he reached Jahaz, he fought with Israel.” (Num 21:21-23) Israel simply defeat him! See v.24-26

But they still have to go north to find a crossing point on the Jordan to go into the Land: “Then they turned and went up along the road toward Bashan, and Og king of Bashan and his whole army marched out to meet them in battle at Edrei.” (Num 21:33) The Lord encourages them (v.34) and they defeat Og (v.35) We are also told that Bashan and his people were also (like Sihon) Amorites (Deut 3:8).

A Seduction: While Israel are on the Plains of Moab, at Shittim to the east of the Jordon getting ready to cross and enter the Land, women turn up who are both Moabites and Midianites: “While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods.” (Num 25:1,2 – see also v.6) The Midianites were mostly nomadic but settled in areas of Moab and were closely allied with Moab (see Num 22:4-7), so it is not surprising that God’s condemnation for this act of seduction is largely on the Midianites (see Num 31) which eventually involved the death of Balaam (see v.8) who had advised the enemy, after he had not been able to curse Israel, to seduce them in this way (see Num 31:16).  Some of the men of Israel (we aren’t told how many) went with these women (as Balaam suggested they would) and as a result the anger of the Lord was poured out with a decree that the Midianites be destroyed in battle – see Num 31. Although there does seem to be victory over them, they do appear again later in Israel’s history as a thorn in their side (see Judg 6 & 7) and were obviously not utterly destroyed.

Consequences: We would do well to understand something that arises again and again in the life of Israel.  Every now and then, after an episode of blatant sin, there is a strong and violent judgment following. The naïve wonder why this is so. Consider God’s purposes for Israel. He has created them as a unique nation which, elsewhere, I have suggested is for three purposes. First to reveal Him to the rest of the world, second to reveal the sinfulness of mankind even in such a nation as this, and third, to create a nation that will eventually create a ‘God-environment’ into which His Son can eventually come. Again and again, the very existence of Israel, as this holy nation, comes under threat as the enemy, as we said earlier, sought to bring them down by deception, temptation or outright attack. Such threats to the life of Israel are threats to the very plan of God instigated from before the foundation of the world to use Israel in this way and bring His salvation to the Fallen World. That is how serious it is!

Recap: So what have we seen in this study?

  • Israel making their way peaceably up the east side of the Dead Sea in preparation for entering the Land near Jericho,
  • the Lord telling them NOT to harm Edom, Moab or Ammon
  • attacks on Israel by the king of Arad and then two kings of the Amorites, who Israel then defeat,
  • finally having the war against the Midianites who, on Balaam’s advice had sought to completely undermine Israel and lead them into idolatry.

Thus we have seen three protected peoples and then three peoples who opposed them. The battles against them were not instigated by them but in each case were entirely defensive actions to preserve themselves from their enemies. We should not naively wonder about the extent of such fighting – which includes wiping out whole peoples,  because it was a case of destroy or be destroyed, as we have observed more than once in World War Two in our own time. Now we have dealt with the advance up the east of the Dead Sea, we are ready to consider the actual taking of the Land.

And Us? Lessons to be learned? We need to read our Bibles carefully, to enable us to understand the realities of just what happened in these times, to avoid making inaccurate assessments. Living in this fallen World, it is sometimes necessary to choose the lesser of two evils. War is never good but unfortunately in the face of sinful activities of others, is necessary to protect our loved ones. God does not encourage physical war but when it is necessary He calls us to act as civilly as possible. Spiritual warfare is an ongoing necessity.

Snapshots: Day 50

Snapshots: Day 50

The Snapshot: “I will bring you to the land…”  (Ex 6:8) When God says He will do things we so often jump to the conclusion that He means now, this minute, but His reiteration to Moses that He will take His people into the Promised Land first came to Abram, then Isaac and then Jacob. It first came over four hundred years back! He had warned Abram that it would take that time. Our problem is that we only read parts of scripture and rarely get the big picture which means we jump to wrong conclusions – God is not here, He’s changed His mind, He doesn’t love me anymore, He’s given up on me. All lies from the enemy. He is using the time to change you in the circumstances, so look again and rejoice.

Further Consideration: From the moment the Lord called Abram and the die was set for establishing a relationship with this family and then later with this nation, ‘the land’ was always a feature of His promises to the Patriarchs: “Go from your country….to the land I will show you,” (Gen 12:1) and then, “To your offspring I will give this land,.” (Gen 12:7) then, “All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever…. walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you,” (Gen 13:15,17) and, “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) then, “your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there…. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here,” (Gen 15:13,16) etc. until eventually, to Moses, “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.” (Ex 3:8)

‘The land’ was to be the place, the environment, in which the Lord would have dealings with Israel, revealing Himself to the world through them until eventually it would be the ‘God-zone’, prepared over the centuries, into which His Son would come and be revealed and become the Redeemer of the world.

Did the enemy realise the significance of all this? Probably not, and yet the fact that God was declaring this was His will for the Hebrews made the enemy stir up against them through Pharaoh. The battle isn’t merely to deliver them out of Egypt, as wonderful as that was, but was to deliver them into the new land, the land He has decreed will be theirs forever. Yet, as He warned, it would be ‘future generations’ who would receive it – the present generation. The time has arrived. It’s time to get them out to get them in, and however much Pharaoh might object, it WILL happen! Two lands, one to be left, one to be taken.

18. Redeeming Israel – The Divided Land

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 18. Redeeming Israel – The Divided Land

1 Kings 11:11-13 So the Lord said to Solomon, “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son. Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him, but will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.”

 Redemption despite failing people: I did originally consider making this a study about Solomon, but the truth is that this is about a significant event in the life of Israel and involves a number of people, none of whom come out of this very well.  And that is the point that comes through again and again in these studies – and which we need to see for our own lives – that these are stories of people who fail, people who get it wrong and yet are also people who do not put God off from His goals. I suspect the truth must be that all these things the Lord sees, right there before the foundation of the world, when the Godhead decides on the plan of salvation for the world that will involve the coming to earth of the glorious Son of God.

Yes, the truth is that God knows all these things will happen, but that does not stop Him intervening and speaking into our affairs. This is both the one and the same God who sees it all from above and outside of time, so He knows what will come, but also involves Himself in the individual affairs of mankind in time-space history. This redemption involves Him not only acting into history to save individuals and a nation but perseveres with them to get them through to a good end, an end He is always working towards – and that applies as much to your life and mine as individuals, as it does to Israel as a nation and the world at large.

The Players (1): So, let’s note each of the players in this particular episode in the life of Israel, first of all the main players and then the secondary but significant others. First we must mention the Lord who presides over all that takes place and speaks to the various individuals. Second, there is Solomon, a man who started out with wisdom, was given more wisdom and became the richest and most powerful man on the earth. Tragically he gradually drifted away from the Lord as he took on new foreign wife after new foreign wife, each one who came with their own pagan religion, which eventually permeated the royal household and Solomon himself so that, eventually, the Lord speaks the words of the verse above which decrees what will follow. Now it is always important to understand that the Lord does not MAKE people do sinful acts, but He does a) step back and lift off His hand of protection and b) allow Satan to provoke the hearts of sin that are always there.

The Players (2): The third ‘player’ in this drama is Hadad the Edomite, a child refugee from an earlier time (see 1 Kings 11:14-18) who entered the Egyptian royal family (v.19,20) and who, when he hears David has died, returns to Israel and is counted as “an adversary” to Solomon, an instrument of disciplinary correction. The fourth player, another “adversary” is Rezin, another thorn in Solomon’s side (v.23-25). These two are not major players but they help create an atmosphere of uncertainty and upheaval in the final years of Solomon. Fifth, a more significant player is Jeroboam (v.25 on) who receives a word from Ahijah the prophet, who spells out Israel’s failure in becoming idol worshippers, and very clearly declares what will happen in line with our starter verses (see v.31-39).  After Solomon’s death, Jeroboam comes back from exile and challenges the heir to the throne, the sixth player, Rehoboam who is very unwise in his initial dealing with the challenge and causes the division (see 12:1-24) so that Jeroboam becomes king over the ten northern tribes.

But why?  The obvious assessment of what took place in the dividing of the kingdom is simply judgment on Solomon and Israel at large, but why divide the kingdom in this way? There are two preliminary answers, but they are only preliminary. The first one is to remove the control of the land from the family of Solomon, Solomon having shown such disregard for the Lord, despite his earlier wisdom, because so often bad example is projected into the next generation. The second one is an act of grace – to leave Jerusalem and two tribes in the hands of the ongoing family of David. David had shown such an example that perhaps that would impact future kings. The truth is that of the kings of the north, none of them put right the matter of idolatry which Jeroboam instigated (see 1 Kings 12:25-33) and none of them could be considered a ‘good’ king. On the other hand, the kings of the south turned out to be a mixed bunch. Both kingdoms were eventually overrun by invaders, so the kingdom ceased, Israel in the north in 722BC to the Assyrians, and Judah in the south in 586/7 to Nebuchadnezzar. Thus followed the Exile which we will consider in more detail in the next study.

Again, but why? Although the above two reasons are obvious, having been described in the words of the Lord in the earlier prophecies to Solomon (1 Kings 11:11-13) and to Jeroboam (1 Kings 11:29-39), they nevertheless still do not explain the Lord’s reasoning. We can but speculate. First, what follows is the breaking up of what had been a great, prosperous and powerful kingdom. It is first of all a humbling experience and second, a bringing to an end of that experience. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away!  Third, it separates off Jerusalem from the larger part of the ungodly and idol-worshipping nation, perhaps in an endeavour to keep it holy with its Temple. Fourth, the cutting down to size of this once great and powerful nation will be seen by the surrounding nations and they will hear that this is a disciplinary act of Almighty God. God is not to be trifled with. A light to the nations? Well in that they convey truth about holiness, righteousness and accountability, yes. Fifth, it is a way to ensure that the nation has a double chance of surviving and remaining in God’s purposes for the earth. Sixth, it will be a lesson, conveyed down through the years to God’s people that they are accountable to Him and that He will act against them if that becomes necessary.  Seventh, it is a sign of God’s grace that He does not completely disown them and start again with some other nation!

In the big picture: Looking at the whole history of Israel, we will see that despite all this, first the northern kingdom and then the southern kingdom simply fail to live up to being God’s people and revert to idol worship. As we’ve already noted, both kingdoms will eventually be brought to an end because of their ongoing folly and intransigence. Yet, nevertheless, despite all this, there will still remain an identifiable people, descended from Abraham who will still be recognized on the earth as “God’s people” and who will create a right environment into which the Son of God will eventually come. It is all part of the ongoing picture of redemption of Israel, a picture that reveals the ongoing sin of Israel and the ongoing grace of God. There are certain unwise crusading atheists who rant about what a terrible God we have. These accounts show how foolish that assessment is.

24. Don’t Forget

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 24 :  Don’t Forget

(Focus: Deut 8:6-20)

Deut 8:6,7 Observe the commands of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and revering him. For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land–a land with streams and pools of water, with springs flowing in the valleys and hills

Let’s quickly catch the context again:  at the beginning of the chapter the command had been, Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land that the LORD promised on oath to your forefathers,” (8:1) and we commented that this was a command and conditional promise, obedience and success in taking the land were linked.

So it now is that Moses reiterates that command and spells out the blessing of the promise: “Observe the commands of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and revering him. For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land–a land with streams and pools of water, with springs flowing in the valleys and hills;” (8:6,7) The previous expression in verse 1 had simply referred to entering in and possessing the Land, but now Moses elaborates on that, for it is a “good land” with plenty of water. How different it will be from the desert they have known for forty years!

But he doesn’t leave it there; the water he has just referred to will enable them to grow crops and fruit in abundance, and where the ground will yield many minerals: “a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.” (8:8,9)  Remember, this is Moses encouraging the people and the encouragement is two-sided. Here the emphasis has been on the goodness of the land that they are about to take, but that was the outworking of their obedience to the Law. Keep all the laws and God will bless you in taking this wonderful land. The Law is still there in the background.

But the very thought of the goodness and fruitfulness of this land raises a concern about the future which Moses needs to present to them: “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day.” (8:10,11) There is a grave danger when they enter the land, settle it and enjoy the fruits of the land, that they will settle into apathy and neglect their relationship with the Lord. In countries that are prosperous this is always one of the greatest dangers for the church. Who needs the Lord when you have everything? How foolish!

Moses expands on this danger: “Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” (8:12-14) There it is!  When you are doing well and living in abundance, the danger is that you start thinking how well you have done and forget that it is the Lord’s blessing that has brought all this, and thus you turn from Him and start on a downhill slope!  Seven times in Deuteronomy Moses warns Israel not to forget where they have come from and who it is who is the source of all their blessings!  He, has prior to this chapter warned them not to forget in 4:9,23 and 6:12. In this chapter he warns in 8:11,14 and 19, and then later in the book in 25:19.

They need these warnings! They need to be reminded of their past experiences of the Lord: “He led you through the vast and dreadful desert, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. He gave you manna to eat in the desert, something your fathers had never known, to humble and to test you so that in the end it might go well with you.” (8:15,16) Yes, these are just some of the things the Lord did, examples of His goodness to them.  There are, of course, many more things that they could remember. Don’t forget!

In their affluence in the future there is a very real danger: “You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” (8:17)  How foolish we are to so easily forget and attribute our blessings to our activities. It is all because of the Lord’s goodness! So, “remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today.” (8:18). This is vital. Keep a right perspective. The Lord is our provider!  There is a terrible danger lurking behind all this: “If you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. Like the nations the LORD destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the LORD your God.” (8:19,20)

If you abandon your relationship with the Lord, if you cease to rely upon Him, you will shortly become like all the other nations in their sin, and will incur the judgment of God. He seeks to deliver you from that but if you go the way of the rest of the world, why should you not be judged for your wrong doing?  It is a sober warning!

21. Obedience

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 21 :  Blessings of Obedience

(Focus: Deut 7:12-16)

Deut 7:12,13 If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the LORD your God will keep his covenant of love with you, as he swore to your forefathers. He will love you and bless you and increase your numbers.

Remember the context. Drive out the inhabitants of the Land and their religion (7:1-6) for you are a holy, unique people. God chose you to be this because He loves you (7:7-11) so hold on to His laws. Note the inter-linking of Moses’ argument: you are a specially chosen, holy people, so have nothing to do with the people in the Land, but instead live the lives that God lays out for you in the Law. Remember we also said that everything Moses says here is to encourage Israel to follow that Law in the centuries to come. Now he gives them an additional motivation – the good that will come if they do follow the Law that God has given them.

He starts with this general call that we have noticed before: If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them.” (v.12a) Paying attention means making sure they hold a central place in your life as a nation, and that means more than merely paying lip service to them; it means carefully following them. Now that is the condition for what follows and we need to remind ourselves that it IS a condition and without it the following will NOT happen!

The blessing of obedience is first simply stated generally: “then the LORD your God will keep his covenant of love with you, as he swore to your forefathers.” (v.12b) i.e. you do your side of the covenant and the Lord will do His. Note again it is described as a covenant of love. It is God’s way of being able to express His heart of love to this people. Now when God speaks about His love these aren’t just words, for God will DO specific things to bless Israel. This is so obvious when we read it, that we need to slow down and take it in.

First, “He will love you and bless you and increase your numbers.” (v.13a) Humanly speaking there is no reason why they should flourish but God is going to decree blessing for this people and its outworking is going to be clearly visible. It is NOT merely a natural thing for it could so easily be the opposite. But this ‘increasing in numbers’ is going to happen in specific ways: “He will bless the fruit of your womb, the crops of your land–your grain, new wine and oil–the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks in the land that he swore to your forefathers to give you. You will be blessed more than any other people; none of your men or women will be childless, nor any of your livestock without young.” (v.13b,14) God’s blessing, His decree of good, is going to affect the way women conceive, the harvest, and their herds and flocks, i.e. all life is going to be blessed.

Now we need to realise that this is God’s enabling, it won’t happen without Him. It doesn’t take a very clever person to look at the way our world works to realise that infertility, cattle disease and poor crops are not unusual. In a Fallen World, as we so often say, things go wrong, but for Israel, if they hold fast to the Lord, things will not go wrong. To the contrary, things will go very right because God has decreed that it will be like that and when He speaks, it is done. Now we have just said that all Israel need to do is hold fast to the Lord, and the way that they do this is by holding on to and keeping all the laws and instructions that God has given them.

These laws will enable to them to live in peace and harmony within the nation and in so doing, they will be demonstrating their love for God. Keeping close to Him means that His life can be imparted to them and that is then seen in the ways we have just read. The laws in themselves will not bring about those things, but the blessing of God will come when they do live like that, demonstrating His wisdom to the rest of the world, and then revealing His blessing on them to the rest of the world. Possibly the best example of this working out is the Queen of Sheba coming to view the blessing that God has bestowed on Solomon and Israel, and we read when she saw it, “she was overwhelmed.” (1 Kings 10:5) and went on to declare, “Praise be to the LORD your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of the LORD’s eternal love for Israel, he has made you king, to maintain justice and righteousness.” (1 Kings 10:9) She understood the source of Solomon’s blessing!

Those are the positive sides of God’s blessing, but it also comes in another way: “The LORD will keep you free from every disease. He will not inflict on you the horrible diseases you knew in Egypt, but he will inflict them on all who hate you.” (v.15) Not only will they be fruitful but the Lord will also keep them healthy and they will not suffer the diseases that come in this Fallen World that others suffer. Those who hate and oppose them will suffer those things, but not Israel!

So, Moses returns to his original theme of obedience and especially in respect of dealing with the inhabitants of the Land: “You must destroy all the peoples the LORD your God gives over to you. Do not look on them with pity and do not serve their gods, for that will be a snare to you.” (v.16).  This is the command and failure to keep it will mean loss of the blessing that we have just considered.

It maybe that we who are Christians today need to realise afresh the blessings that are promised us in the word of God in return for our obedience. As you read the New Testament, look for it.

 

2. To Abram

“God turned up” Meditations: 2 :  To Abram

Gen 12:1,2 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. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.

I wonder how many people God speaks to but they don’t realise they are being spoken to. Adam and Eve, we saw in the previous meditation, were very much aware of the Lord’s presence and of Him speaking to them. No longer do we see the Lord and thus we only ‘hear’ him in our spirit unless, on very rare occasions, He should speak out loud into our world. But Abram heard him.

Abram’s family lived in Ur which is believed to be in the south east of Mesopotamia, where modern Iraq is. Now all the Biblical account tells is that, “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.” (Gen 11:31.32) Haran is in the far north west of Mesopotamia.  So what we are told is that Terah, Abram’s father, had led them from their home in Ur up the trade route towards Canaan but when they had got to Haran they settled there and there they remained until Terah died, after which Abram and his family set off again for Canaan.

Yet in Acts we read, “The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran.” (Acts 7:2) In other words it was before they left Ur that this word we find at the beginning of chapter 12 came to Abram and when we later read, “So Abram left, as the LORD had told him,” (Gen 12:4) that actually refers to leaving Ur. What is intriguing about all this is that the chapter 11 account has Terah leading the way although it was Abram who receive the prodding from the Lord.

Now culture experts will tell us that in that culture the father was the one who led the family and they did what he said, but it still means that Abram must have gone to his father and convinced him that he had heard from God. Now that in itself is intriguing when you think about it, because one wonders what Abram knew of God because the revelation of God, apart from the early accounts at the beginning, was very spasmodic to say the least. Moreover just how did the Lord speak to Abram?  This is a key question because we are not told he had an angelic visitation or that he heard a voice out loud, which rather supposes that it was simply in his mind he was getting this ‘message’.

Did the message come once, or twice, or was it an ongoing nagging thought that just wouldn’t go away. Whatever it was, it was sufficient to go to his father and convince him. Had his father been hearing from the Lord as well? It is a grey area and we just don’t know. What it does tell us, however, was that from the outset Abram was someone who believed in the divine and also that he could be ‘spoken to’. Centuries had passed since Enoch or Noah had lived, the most recent men who appeared to have some relationship with the Lord, and so although information had no doubt been passed down the family line, it would have been very sketchy.

So there is Abram, living with his family, married but childless, in Ur, and he starts hearing God. God turns up on his radar. We really don’t know if he had had any prior contact or knowledge of the Lord but now suddenly God starts speaking in such a way that Abram hears it. Bit it isn’t a quiet general word – leave your land – it is much more comprehensive than that.

There are really six bits to it. First, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household.” The only problem about that is that it included leaving his father which culturally was not on. So he shares it with his father, who concludes they all need to go and it is not until they settle in Haran and his father eventually dies, that he is able to fulfil this command. Second, and go to the land I will show you.” Although the chapter 11 account speaks of Canaan it is not clear that they knew that this was the destination when they set out. Third, I will make you into a great nation.” Now that was amazing for he was childless. That flew directly opposite to his experience. Fourth, and I will bless you.” That was very reassuring, “I will do good to you.” Fifth, I will make your name great.” He’s going to become famous! Sixth, and you will be a blessing.” In other words you will do good to other people.

This is an amazingly comprehensive message for this dweller in Ur to receive. He heard it, understood it and took it in and conveyed it. It is pure prophecy. Abram appears from no where; he is a nowhere man, a nobody, just the son of another nobody – and then God turns up and nothing is ever the same again.

There is something important to consider before we finish. All this might have been wonderful but it would just have remained a series of thoughts in the mind of a nobody, if he hadn’t then gone and done something about it. He tells his father in such a manner his father is moved into action. The working out of the “go to the land I will show you” took time and included delays, yet eventually we find, they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.” (Gen 12:5) and the rest, as they say, is history – but it needed him to respond to the voice of God – as it does us.