Occupy the Land!
“…you must drive out all the people living there. You must destroy all their carved and molten images and demolish all their pagan shrines. Take possession of the land and settle in it, because I have given it to you to occupy.“ – Numbers 33:52-53 NLT
They’re almost there. The day they’ve been waiting for so long is about to arrive. The people of God stand on the edge of the Promised Land and are just days away from entering it. It has been a long time in coming. There has been a lengthy (40 year) delay, but now it’s time to enjoy what God had promised so long ago, way back in the land of Egypt. But as with most things associated with God, the blessing is tied to a requirement. He has one last instruction to give them before they enter and occupy the land. And it is a pretty significant requirement. They must drive out all the people who are living there. On top of that they have to destroy all their idols and pagan shrines erected to the gods of the land. They’ve got to smash every idol they find. In other words, they’ve got to clean house before they set up house. Sounds simple enough doesn’t it? But if you’re the least bit familiar with the story of the Israelites, they didn’t exactly follow God’s instructions to the letter. They took a few liberties. It’s almost as if the enemy (Satan) was standing there just like he was in the garden of Eden, asking the question, “Surely, God has not said…”
I can just hear Satan whispering in their ears, “You don’t have to get rid of ALL the idols, just most of them.” Or maybe he worded his temptation this way, “You might want to leave one of the pagan shrines intact, just in case Yahweh doesn’t come through for you.” And as far as ridding the land of all its occupants, Satan probably did his best to convince the people of God just how politically incorrect and insensitive this kind of thing could come across to the rest of the people in the region. “You don’t want to get off on the wrong foot with your neighbors, do you?”
And God seemed to know that the people would have second thoughts about His command, so He warned them what would happen if they failed to obey.”But if you fail to drive out the people who live in the land, those who remain will be like splinters in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will harass you in the land where you live. And I will do to you what I had planned to do to them” (Numbers 33:55-56 NLT). Disobey me, God says, and you will live to regret it. This is not a suggestion, but a command. God expects them to do what He says. He has a good reason for what He is asking them to do. He knows exactly what will happen if they choose to disobey Him. And its not good. If they fail to remove the land’s occupants, they will become a constant threat and a thorn in their side. They will not learn to live amicably together. Cleansing was critical for spiritual survival.
In his commentary on the book of Numbers, Dr. Thomas Constable has this to say, “The repetition of ‘all’ (Numbers 33:52) stresses the importance of completely clearing the land of its inhabitants and their religious paraphernalia. God wanted to clean up the land spiritually and to make it a ‘holy land.’ The land was a gift from God to His first-born son, Israel (Numbers 33:53). God warned the Israelites what would happen to them if they were not completely obedient (Numbers 333:55-56). The Canaanites would be a constant source of irritation to them, and God would deal with His people as He planned to deal with the Canaanites.”
God wanted to clean up the land spiritually and make it a holy land. That reminds me of what God wants to do with my life. He wants to clean it up spiritually and make it holy. He is about removing anything and everything in my life that would defile or defeat me. He wants to clean house. But I tend to want to hang on to certain remnants of my past. I want to give the enemy some footholds in my life where he can live at peace. I want to keep some of the idols that were there before God came to occupy the land. I find the idols comforting. They bring me a little bit of peace and assurance. But God wants to purge my life of any vestiges of the past. He wants to make all things new. To receive all the blessings the Promised Land had to offer, the people had to obey God fully. The same thing is true for us today. To enjoy all the blessings out new life in Christ offers, we must obey God fully. God makes this clear in His Word.
“…throw off your old evil nature and your former way of life, which is rotten through and through, full of lust and deception.” – Ephesians 4:22 NLT
“Don’t lie to one another. You’re done with that old life. It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire.” – Colossians 3:9 MSG
“The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So don’t live in darkness. Get rid of your evil deeds. Shed them like dirty clothes. Clothe yourselves with the armor of right living, as those who live in the light. We should be decent and true in everything we do, so that everyone can approve of our behavior. Don’t participate in wild parties and getting drunk, or in adultery and immoral living, or in fighting and jealousy. But let the Lord Jesus Christ take control of you, and don’t think of ways to indulge your evil desires.” – Romans 13:12-14 NLT
God is looking for change. He wants us to purge and purify. To rid the landscape of our lives from any and all vestiges of the past. If we do, we will be blessed. If we don’t, we will always find ourselves doing battle with past enemies and tempted to worship former idols. Cleansing is the key to blessing.
Father, show me the idols in my life that I have left up. Open my eyes and help me see any enemies I have left occupying the landscape of my life. I want to clean house. I want to enter the land of Your promise and enjoy all the blessings You have in store for me. But I know I have some house cleaning to do. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men