49. Desert & Promised Land

Part 6: The Road to Sinai

Meditations in Exodus: 49. Desert & Promised Land

Ex 15:22   Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water.

And so we move into a new phase in the life of Israel. They have been delivered from Egypt and Pharaoh has been dealt with so he will not come after them again. Now, as we have already seen, Israel are being led by the presence of God in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. When the cloud moves they move, when the cloud stands still, they stand still. It is, if you like, a picture of the life of the Christian being led by the Spirit.

Now the moment we say that, we need to introduce the subject of ‘types’ in the Old Testament. Types in the Old Testament mean pictures from the Old Testament history that reveal something of the truths and reality of New Testament experience. Rom 15:4 tells us that the Old Testament writing were written for our instruction and encouragement. In the New Testament, we find it constantly refers to the Old Testament and often indicates that the Old Testament showed pictures that speak of things to come in the New. Wherever possible we should look for Types where the Bible expressly indicates one, but sometimes we may assume a Type where it is so clear that one can be considered. So, before we rush on to observe Israel’s journey through the wilderness, it might be helpful to see these ‘types’ or analogies in the bigger picture.

Egypt is seen as a picture of the world and of our life before Christ.  “World” in Scripture has three different meanings:   i) the planet on which we live,  ii) the people on the earth, iii) the system of godless attitudes held by the majority of people. It is this last meaning that we consider here. Egypt or our unsaved lives is where the people are in slavery, ruled by a tyrant (1:8,9 / 1 Jn5:19 ) where the people want to be free but are unable to deliver themselves.

The Desert or the Wilderness is seen as the start of the redeemed life. It is entered through the Passover, a picture of Jesus dying for us. It is a place of learning to trust God and that is what all the immediate studies will be about. It is a place where God guides but we have to learn to trust Him to overcome every difficulty.  It was supposed to be a limited experience and they were supposed to pass through it and enter the land. We too are called to go on to maturity (see Heb 6:11-14/ Eph 4:13-15).

The Promised Land is, if you like, the second phase of the Christian life where we now trust God and see that it is a place of receiving our inheritance from Him.  It was God’s promised inheritance for Israel (see Gal 4:7 / 2 Pet I :4 / Mt 25:34) and it was to be a place of natural abundant provision (see Eph 1:7,18).  It was also a place of battles to take the inheritance from the unbelieving, godless, occupiers of the land (see Eph 6:12 ) but the victory was assured for them in accordance with God’s promise Josh 1:3-5 (see 1 Cor 15:57 / Rom 8:37 / Rom 16:20 / 1 Cor 15:25 ) and that was obtained as they obeyed his instructions (see Jn 15:5/ Jn 14:12.15)

Before we leave these particular ‘analogies’ can we emphasise the difference between the Wilderness and the Promised Land, for they often confuse Christians. They are both places of learning and obedience and they are both places of God’s provision. The Wilderness experience, we will see, takes God’s people through a number of trials or testings all to do with daily provision and the key lesson to be learnt is to TRUST this loving God that He is for us and WILL provide for us everything we need. There are no exams for this and there is no set time for this; it is simply a learning process that we have to go through, and sadly many Christians never seem to leave the wilderness and get to the place of simply RECEIVING all the goodness of God that He has for us that just has to be taken.

So, we have been delivered out of the ‘world’ (Egypt) and are transiting to the Promised Land through a world that is not always comfortable. This phase begins, Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur.” (v.22a) The fact that Moses is mentioned as the leader doesn’t detract from the fact that it is God leading them as we noted above, but Moses is still simply His figurehead at the head of this people. At first sight this might seem bad news that God (and Moses) is leading this people into the desert on the Sinai Peninsular, a distinctly inhospitable part of the world but there are two reasons for this.

First, as we saw in Study no,45, God did not want them to go due north because that would have meant war with the belligerent Philistines and Israel were not yet ready for war. Second, the desert affords Israel the opportunity to learn many thing about their deliverer. So far they have only seen God as the bringer of judgments; now they need to learn that He is also the provider of their daily needs. He is not just a warrior but a loving father who looks after His children.

So they are led into the desert. What does that remind you of? Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert” (Mt 4:1) God’s training and, yes, God’s victories, are often won in the desert, the dry and arid place, the place where you feel all alone. There is nothing romantic about the desert: “For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water.” (v.22b) It is a place of shortages, a place of limitations, a hostile place – but God is still there with us and in that dry, arid, hostile place, He will reveal Himself as our provider, our carer, the One who not only delivered us out of Egypt but the One who will walk every step of this life with us, being there for us all the time.

So if you feel like you are in a desert – you probably are, but it is a place of learning and a place of trusting and a place of God providing. It is also a place where our limitations are revealed, our imperfections shown up and we realize afresh that we are here by God’s grace and mercy, not because of our endeavors, our cleverness, our brightness, but because a lamb was slain for us. Do you feel excited by all the lessons that are about to come? If not, let me reassure you that God IS love and everything He allows in this desert experience is for your good and for your maturing and for the blessing of His world. Are we ready? Then let us begin.

7. The Promise of the Land

Meditations on “The Big Picture” 7. The Promise of the Land

Gen 12:6,7    At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.”

In trying to plot the big steps along the path of human history recorded in the Bible or, to put it another way, to identify the most important features that stand out in the history recorded in the Bible,  following the Exodus (including the giving of the Law to Moses) we must pause and gaze with awe at the whole phenomena of the ‘Promised Land’, a subject that has caused contention from the days of Abram right through to the present days.  Let’s consider first of all how God revealed His intentions in respect of Canaan and then in the next study how Israel eventually took it, for both are steps in themselves that should be observed when we are trying to understand the broad scope of Biblical history.

First of all how God revealed His intentions. Prior to our verse above we find, 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) That had been the start but now Abram is in the land the Lord says this will be the land of his descendants. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and his family lived in it but eventually left it, as we noted previously, because of a massive famine and for the following centuries lived in Egypt. But then God revealed His plan to deal with Pharaoh and Egypt and within part of that plan showed it was His intent that Canaan should become the home of Israel.

Again, as we previously noted, He revealed this to Abram a number of times  The next time after the initial verses in 12:1-3 we see, “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) He reiterated this in 15:7 and  then at the evening covenant ceremony he explained about the exodus in some four hundred years’ time (Gen 15:13-16) and reiterated it in 17:8 – “The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.”  Note the words in these various verses that speak of the length or duration of their occupation of this land: “to your offspring forever (13:15) and “as an everlasting possession,” (17:8)

Later the Lord reiterated this to Isaac (26:1-4) and then later to Jacob: “There above it stood the LORD, and he said: “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying… I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Gen 28:13,15)  See also 35:12. Jacob later conveyed this to Joseph in Egypt – see 48:3,4.

To ‘fulfil’ this Jacob later instructs his sons, Then he gave them these instructions: “I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre in Canaan, which Abraham bought as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite, along with the field.” (Gen 49:29,30) This subsequently happened – see Gen 50:12. Later on Joseph would do the same thing instructing his brothers to take his bones to Canaan (Gen 50:24,25) which Moses later did (see Ex 13:19) and then later Joshua made happen (Josh 24:34).

Thus we see very clearly, it was declared to each of the Patriarchs that God’s intent was for Israel to have this land when they returned after the Exodus and to have it for ever. Before we  move on to the next study and consider just how Israel went about taking Canaan, a major event with serious consequences, it might be well to consider the big picture and see long-term what happened to Israel, the land.

Israel eventually took it, as we will see in the next study,  and the date is likely to have been somewhere around 1200BC.  For roughly the next two hundred years they lived in it under the rule of judges, followed in roughly the next hundred years by the rules of Saul, David and Solomon. After Solomon’s reign the land was divided into two kingdoms, so-called Israel in the north comprising ten of the tribes and so-called Judah in the south comprising the Judah and Benjamin. The division was about 930BC and Israel continued until the fall of Samaria and deportation of the occupants of the northern kingdom in 722BC.  Judah continued on until the fall of Jerusalem in 587BC when most of the occupants of the land were taken to Babylon where there remained for the next 40 years. The ‘Exile’ was the first time they completely lost the land. Throughout the period of Jesus’ ministry and that of the early church in Jerusalem, Rome ruled over the land but Israel, the nation, still occupied it.

In AD70 there was a Jewish rebellion and the might of Rome crushing it, completely destroyed Jerusalem. Since then, until the middle of the twentieth century, Israel were scattered across the face of the globe. The vision in Rev 12 appears to show a woman, Israel, bearing a son, Jesus, but being chased into the desert by a dragon (Satan) for a period of three and a half years. In prophecy seven is the number of completion and the suggestion is that for the first part of God’s plan, Israel would be scattered into the world to be preserved and thus the returning to the land in the middle of the twentieth century would seem to suggest that we are now in the second part of God’s long-term plans for this land and this nation. Watch this space!

Without doubt, therefore, the ‘Promised Land’ is a key part in God’s plan to reveal Himself to the world and every time there has been a threat to it, He has been there  on behalf of His people and on behalf of His long-term plan for the land. It is amazing that such a small piece of land should have such strategic importance in God’s plans. When we get to the Exile we shall see the detailed activity of the Lord to preserve the land and the nation, even to the point of guiding and directing major pagan kings. Incredible!

10. Is this it?

Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 10.  Is this it?

Heb 11:9   By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.

This is the second of four ‘faith’ things in respect of Abraham that the writer to the Hebrews covers. It is easy to miss it but the fact that Abraham “made his home in the promised land” is quite amazing; we’ll explain as we go along. To get to his new home he has had to leave his old home. It’s rather obvious but important. Home had been Ur. He had grown up there and it was familiar. The thought of going somewhere else is challenging. Will it be similar to here? Will I like it? What will it be like?

Going and being “a stranger in a foreign country” for the first time raises questions in the mind. It is easier today with the Internet able to show you images of that country and there is always plenty of information about whatever country it is you want to find out about. I remember the first time I flew out to Malaysia to teach, part of a team. I really had no idea what to expect. A friend of mine went on a similar ministry trip to Nepal and suffered with culture shock for the first week; it is a very real thing.

So God has told him to go and he set off, stopped at Haran but eventually carried on and he arrives in Canaan. Is this the place God meant for us or have we got to travel some more?

When we talk about God leading us by faith, what are we expecting Him to lead us into? What do we think we are going to find ‘when we arrive’? Do we have expectations, good or not so good? Some things are very simple and so we simply hear and do and that it is and we move on to the next thing, but suppose it is something bigger. Suppose it is moving on to a new job or a new career or, like Abram, a new place that we feel the Lord is leading us to? What were you expecting?  Suppose you find something different from what you were expecting? Consider what happened to Abram. There were three things that would make him wonder.

First he encountered different people: Abram travelled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land.” (v.6) Faith so often has to do with people and the question that arises is how will these people respond to me? These are Canaanites and they have different gods, in fact they have gods and I have the One true God? Faith for us so often means interaction with people and the same sort of questions will arise in us. How will these people respond to me? What are they like? Who or what are their gods? How will they respond to my God?

Whatever the questions they ultimately boil down to the same fundamental question – am I in the right place, but somewhere along the line the Lord will bring reassurance: “The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him. “ (v.7) Ah, that’s not quite what I expected – my offspring? Well yes, the Lord works on a long-term plan and our part is only a part, there is more to follow always. This step of faith may seem big for us but I have to tell you it is only A step and there are more to follow, but you’re in The Plan and God is with you!

So he’s apparently in the right place and has built an altar to worship the Lord, a sign of permanence, but am I to stay here or move on? Is there more to take in this experience: “From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD. Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev.” (v.8,9) i.e. he kept going. The second thing about faith here is that we don’t settle! This may have been an amazing experience and I am truly blessed having come through it, but this is not a placer to settle. Faith can grow, our experiences can multiply, our lives can mature, we move on!

So far so good, but, “Now there was a famine in the land.” (v.10)  What? It has suddenly gone pear-shaped. This placed that seemed so good initially suddenly seems to be putting pressure on us. We have a problem. What do we do with it? How do we cope with it? Yes, that is precisely the problem and it is a learning situation we have been presented with. The third thing about faith is that so often the Lord leads us into a learning situation and that may be in the very act of faith or in the circumstances resulting from your act of faith.  The sensible thing at this point would be to ask God for wisdom but Abram is only in the very earliest stages of his relationship with the Lord. He has yet to learn that, and its absence is going to get him into trouble which you’ll see if you read on in Genesis.

For Abram this is only the first part of the fulfilment of God’s words to him. He’s stepped out and followed the leading and left his home land and journeyed to the new land. In the new land he has been exploring what is there but in the course of that he finds himself in trying circumstances. The good news is that although he doesn’t do very well in those trying circumstances the Lord doesn’t give up on him and He doesn’t give up on us as we sometimes stumble around in the waters of faith.

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.

25. God will do it

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 25 :  God will do it

(Focus: Deut 9:1-3)

Deut 9:1-3 Hear, O Israel. You are now about to cross the Jordan to go in and dispossess nations greater and stronger than you, with large cities that have walls up to the sky. The people are strong and tall–Anakites! You know about them and have heard it said: “Who can stand up against the Anakites?” But be assured today that the LORD your God is the one who goes across ahead of you like a devouring fire. He will destroy them; he will subdue them before you. And you will drive them out and annihilate them quickly, as the LORD has promised you.

Moses, we have been saying, has been encouraging Israel to stick close to God and obey all His laws as they prepare to go in and take the Promised Land. He has used a variety of methods of encouraging them. He has looked back and reminded them of the wonderful things the Lord has done for them, taking them out of Egypt, meeting with them at Sinai, providing for them in the desert for forty years and recently defeating two opposing kings. That was all looking back. But he has also looked forward and spoken of the wonder of this land that they have been promised which, in comparison to the desert they have been wandering in for forty years, is going to be truly wonderful. The future looks good. Now that is all very well but there is a problem: before they can enjoy the land they have to get rid of its inhabitants, so Moses is going to eyeball this problem and, by confronting it, focus Israel well and truly on the Lord again.

Chapter 9 starts with another of these “Hear O Israel passages. These aren’t just words, they are a strong call for Israel to pay attention – this is particularly important. Sometimes a preacher may ask a congregation to pay particular attention as he comes to a particular part of his sermon; he wants everyone to focus on a key point. What Moses is about to say is vital to Israel’s understanding.

He faces the problem full on: You are now about to cross the Jordan to go in and dispossess nations greater and stronger than you, with large cities that have walls up to the sky. The people are strong and tall–Anakites!!” Yes, let’s face it, the nations in this land are bigger and stronger than you – and you know it! They have got some big cities with thick, high walls and there are people in the land known to be strong and tall. Yes, all of this is true and (implied) I wouldn’t try to mislead you over this. Yes, I know some of these people have a reputation – that is the truth.

Right, having got over that, let’s also face the bigger truth – and THIS is THE important bit! be assured today that the LORD your God is the one who goes across ahead of you like a devouring fire. He will destroy them; he will subdue them before you.” When you go into the Land you will only be following the Lord. He is going ahead of you and He is going to deal with the occupants before you. Please understand that – God will have gone ahead of you to prepare the way so all that will be left for you to do is drive them out and annihilate them quickly, Note there is a third reference to driving out the occupants. The role of Israel is to push the people out ahead of them.

When we see what happens in the book of Joshua, we see that it is the fear of the Lord that goes ahead of them, it is the fear of the Lord that takes all their strength away and subdues them. Some will have run and left the land before this terrible force that is coming (as they see it) and some come over to them (Rahab, her family [Josh 2 & 6] and the Gibeonites [Josh 9]). Others who opposed Israel, died in battle. Others remained in the Land despite the Lord’s original instructions.

The big issue here is who it is who is going to be responsible for dealing with the occupants of the Land: it is first the Lord and then the people of Israel. Remember David’s words to Saul before going out to confront Goliath: “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” (1 Sam 17:37). David knew that it was going to be the Lord who was going to cause Goliath’s downfall, yet it was going to be David himself who threw the stone that killed him. When Jesus came to deal with and ‘destroy’ death in the case of Lazarus, he instructed the people to play a part: “Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said.” (Jn 11:38,39)

Again and again we find in Scripture this order: we do something at the Lord’s bidding and then He causes the change.  He does what we cannot do but we have to do what He calls us to do.  Paul referred to himself as God’s fellow worker, or co-worker (1 Cor 3:9). He knew his part; he worked alongside God. Jesus indicated the same thing: “Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working….. I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (Jn 5:17,19). THAT is how it works. The Father has the power and the wisdom; we are simply His instruments through which He wants His Holy Spirit to flow. Got the picture?

 

19. Hold to God

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 19 :  Hold to God

(Focus: Deut 7:1-6)

Deut 7:1,2 When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations — the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you– and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally

Because we so often have the tendency to miss the main point, I think it is worth reiterating what I said in the previous meditation, that this book is all about Israel’s relationship with the Lord.  Indeed EVERYTHING in this book flows out of that. Perhaps we need to spell it out even more simply, for many of the questions that I receive about Israel’s activities, especially about their taking the Promised Land, would never need be asked if we only understood something of the significance of this and the incredible importance that is attached to it.

Let’s look at the ‘big picture’ – which post-moderns don’t like doing – for therein is actually the truth about life. God created this whole world, the whole universe and indeed everything that is, as an expression of His love and His desire to express His love to sentient beings. He made us in His own image and He gave us free will, the ability to choose. His design was perfect. His assessment of what He had made was “very good”. Yet, nevertheless, the first true man and woman fell from innocence and sinned – they acted godlessly and in a self-centred way. Their experience of this Sin was the experience of every single human being since.

Yet, we said, God had made us to be people who lived in relationship with Him and in accordance with His design for mankind. Thus eventually He chooses Israel to demonstrate the possibility of living in relationship with God, revealing God for who He truly is. To do that, they have been given God’s ‘design-rules’ for them as a nation (the Law), through which they will reveal His wisdom. In addition, when they live in close relationship with Him, He will be able to guide them and help them and generally bless them. If they fail to live in close relationship with Him, none of these things will be possible. That is how crucial these things are.

Thus now Moses comes to speak about the time immediately ahead of them when they enter the Promised Land. Note, first of all, the reference to the Lord ‘driving out’ the inhabitants of the Land. People so often focus on Israel destroying the inhabitants, but God’s first intention, which is repeated MANY times, is to drive the inhabitants out of the land. They do NOT have to die! It is their choice if they do. If they do resist and oppose Israel, THEN, and only then, Israel are to utterly destroy them.

Now consider this for a moment. The present occupants of the Land are pagan, occultic, idol worshippers who even sacrifice their children to their idols. If these people, hearing about God (because the word DID spread ahead of Israel) and knowing Israel’s intent (which became very clear) then go on to resist and refuse to leave the land, what you then have is a people utterly committed to occultic, idol worship living in the midst of Israel and being a constant temptation to them to forsake the Lord. Everything about The Plan for Israel will be threatened if this is allowed to happen. It is for this reason that the command to utterly destroy them is here. Their entire future hangs on this. (In retrospect, we see that they failed to do this and that idolatry was the downfall of Israel, revealing that even a people drawn into relationship with God cannot simply keep the rules; sin is too strong!)

To reinforce this command to destroy, Moses then covers a variety of other possibilities which might have come into the minds of the people:

Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the LORD’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you. (7:2-4). There is to be no alternative. No treaties, no marrying their girls. There is a very clear reason why you are not to do this: they will lead you astray from the Lord! It is as simple as that. The Lord knows the weakness of human beings and so seeks to keep us from that which will harm and destroy us.

Even more than this, when Israel go in to the Land, they are to clear out of it all remnants of the occultic idol worship that has continued there for so long: This is what you are to do to them: Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols in the fire. For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.” (7:5,6)  Nothing of this terrible and superstitious and occult-based religion that is there at the present is to remain, for Israel are to be holy – unique among the peoples of the earth. Remember, they are supposed to be showing the rest of the earth a viable and good alternative. THAT is the objective behind these commands and Israel fail to heed them at their cost.

 

 

13. Summary

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 13 :  Summary

(Focus: Deut 4:41-5:5)

Deut 4:44-46 This is the law Moses set before the Israelites. These are the stipulations, decrees and laws Moses gave them when they came out of Egypt and were in the valley near Beth Peor east of the Jordan, in the land of Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon and was defeated by Moses and the Israelites as they came out of Egypt.

After four chapters of coming and going, Moses is about to restate the Law that God had given Israel, but we’re not quite there yet. First of all we find that he did set up the three cities of refuge (see Num 35:9-28 for more description): Then Moses set aside three cities east of the Jordan, to which anyone who had killed a person could flee if he had unintentionally killed his neighbor without malice aforethought. He could flee into one of these cities and save his life. The cities were these: Bezer in the desert plateau, for the Reubenites; Ramoth in Gilead, for the Gadites; and Golan in Bashan, for the Manassites.” (v.41-43). While Moses is still with them, he does what is required by the Lord and as this had been spoken of previously, he sets up these three cities while the people are still on the eastern side of the River Jordan. It is part of the general administration of the nation, something to help them in the centuries ahead, and he does it while they are there on that side of the land, before he leaves them.

Then we are given again a reiteration of the fact of King Og having been defeated so that Israel could take all the land to the east of the Jordan: “They took possession of his land and the land of Og king of Bashan, the two Amorite kings east of the Jordan. This land extended from Aroer on the rim of the Arnon Gorge to Mount Siyon (that is, Hermon), and included all the Arabah east of the Jordan, as far as the Sea of the Arabah, below the slopes of Pisgah.” (v.47-49). The land to the east of the Jordan has been settled and Israel are in full possession of it. They are ready to enter the Promised Land by crossing the Jordan but before they do, and before Moses dies, Moses has to remind them about the Law.

So it is that we come to the start of his pronouncement about the Lord, beginning yet again with a reminder about the historical background to it: “Moses summoned all Israel and said: Hear, O Israel, the decrees and laws I declare in your hearing today. Learn them and be sure to follow them. The LORD our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. It was not with our fathers that the LORD made this covenant, but with us, with all of us who are alive here today. The LORD spoke to you face to face out of the fire on the mountain. (At that time I stood between the LORD and you to declare to you the word of the LORD, because you were afraid of the fire and did not go up the mountain.) (Deut 5:1-5)

Note the order. First of all, “Moses summoned all Israel and said….” (v.1a). This is a special unique occasion. He calls all the people together to hear the Law. One would assume that it is simply a continuation of all that has gone before so far in this book, but the emphasis is made that he called the whole nation together to hear.

He is quite simple and straight forward in his intent: “Hear, O Israel, the decrees and laws I declare in your hearing today. Learn them and be sure to follow them.” (v.1b) It’s just as we said: these are the laws that God gave us, so take them in, understand them, hold on to them and, above all, obey them! And why? It is because “The LORD our God made a covenant with us at Horeb.” (v.2) We are the covenant people of God, the only people in all the earth who have been called into relationship with Him! That’s why!  Look, “It was not with our fathers that the LORD made this covenant, but with us, with all of us who are alive here today.” (v.3) We are the ones He has called to enter the Promised Land, we are the ones who are at the good end of this covenant, receiving all of God’s goodness, planned for those who enter into covenant relationship with Him. Do you remember when it happened? “The LORD spoke to you face to face out of the fire on the mountain.” (v.4)

Yes, it was at Sinai that it came about. Never forget that, never forget that God drew us into covenant relationship with Him at Mount Sinai and we gladly accepted! Do you remember it, do you remember it was scary stuff? “At that time I stood between the LORD and you to declare to you the word of the LORD, because you were afraid of the fire and did not go up the mountain.” (v.5). Yes, that’s how it happened; that’s how we came to be receivers of God’s goodness. We didn’t realise it at the time, but that is what it is all about and that is why we have to uphold our side of the bargain which is to keep God’s design rules for us, the Law.

For us who are Christians today, there is a similar challenge, and a similar encouragement. We are what we are today because of what happened on a different mount, at Calvary, where a new covenant was inaugurated, where the Son of God did all that was necessary for us to enter in and receive the goodness of God today. Our side is to love him, to hold fast to him, to follow him. And for that we receive all the goodness that God has stored up for us. How wonderful! Hallelujah!