A Holy People

1 “When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than you, and when the Lord your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them. You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the Lord would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly. But thus shall you deal with them: you shall break down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and chop down their Asherim and burn their carved images with fire.

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.– Deuteronomy 7:1-6 ESV

If you recall, in yesterday’s post, we looked at the verse in Hebrews that states, “it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him. (Hebrews 11:6 NLT). The Israelites were convinced of God’s existence, but now they were facing the challenge of trusting in His ability to reward them for sincerely seeking Him.

They stood on the border of the land of Canaan, the very land that God had promised to give to the descendants of Abraham nearly half a century earlier. The land described as “flowing with milk and honey” lay before them and it was theirs for the taking. All God asked was that they sincerely seek Him. He desired that they display an irresistible craving for Him.  And one of the primary ways in which they could demonstrate their devotion to God was through their obedience to His commands.

Moses reminded the people that God was going to do His part. He had brought them all the way to the border of the land of promise and now He was going to make sure they not only entered the land but that they possessed it as their own. And, for Moses, their occupation of the land was not a matter of if, but when.  It was as good as done.

When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are about to enter and occupy, he will clear away many nations ahead of you… – Deuteronomy 7:1 NLT

Entering the land was not going to be enough. Abraham had done that hundreds of years earlier but had never owned a single acre of the land as his own. The author of Hebrews describes Abraham’s time in the land of promise to that of an alien or stranger.

It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going. And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith—for he was like a foreigner, living in tents. And so did Isaac and Jacob, who inherited the same promise. – Hebrews 11:8-9 NLT

Abraham had entered the land of promise, but lived there by faith, believing in God’s promise that, one day, his descendants would own and occupy all the land of Canaan. The only property Abraham ever owned in Canaan was the plot he purchased for the burial of his wife, Sarah. But he continued to believe the promise of God.

So Abraham bought the plot of land belonging to Ephron at Machpelah, near Mamre. This included the field itself, the cave that was in it, and all the surrounding trees. It was transferred to Abraham as his permanent possession in the presence of the Hittite elders at the city gate. Then Abraham buried his wife, Sarah, there in Canaan, in the cave of Machpelah, near Mamre (also called Hebron). So the field and the cave were transferred from the Hittites to Abraham for use as a permanent burial place. – Genesis 23:17-20 NLT

God’s promise to Abraham still held true. Hundreds of years had passed, but the integrity of God’s word remained unchanged. He would do what He had promised to do. And Moses reminded the people that they were going into the land to possess it as their own. They were not to let the presence of seven powerful nations diminish their hopes or deflate their confidence in God.  He would give those nations into their hands. All they had to do was obey His command to “completely destroy them” (Deuteronomy 7:2 NLT).

God had been very specific. He had commanded that they make “no treaties with them and show them no mercy” (Deuteronomy 7:2 NLT). But why? This seems so extreme. Even the Israelites had to have questioned the over-the-top nature of God’s command. His ban on making treaties with any of the land’s occupants must have seemed illogical and unnecessary. Why not make peace with them and prevent the needless loss of life on both sides?

But this is where faith was going to be required. The people of Israel were going to have to trust God and believe that He knew best. While it made all the sense in the world to negotiate with the occupants of the land, God knew what would happen as a result. Any treaties made with the Canaanites would only delay the bloodshed, but not prevent it. And the consequences of disobeying God and forming alliances with the Canaanites would be far worse than going to war with them. Which is exactly what Moses told them.

You must not intermarry with them. Do not let your daughters and sons marry their sons and daughters, for they will lead your children away from me to worship other gods. Then the anger of the Lord will burn against you, and he will quickly destroy you. – Deuteronomy 7:3-4 NLT

The problem with leaving the Canaanites in the land was that their presence would result in the Israelites abandoning God. And it wasn’t as if there was no precedents for this kind of behavior on the part of the Israelites. Even during their days of wandering through the wilderness, they had displayed their propensity to be led astray.

While the Israelites were camped at Acacia Grove, some of the men defiled themselves by having sexual relations with local Moabite women. These women invited them to attend sacrifices to their gods, so the Israelites feasted with them and worshiped the gods of Moab. In this way, Israel joined in the worship of Baal of Peor, causing the Lord’s anger to blaze against his people. – Numbers 25:1-3 NLT

This was all about holiness. God had set the people of Israel apart from all the nations of the earth. He had made them His chosen possession, and they were to live distinctively different lives that set them apart as belonging to God. That is why He had given them His law. And Moses reminded them of their unique status as God’s people.

“For you are a holy people, who belong to the Lord your God. Of all the people on earth, the Lord your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure.” – Deuteronomy 7:6 NLT

There was no room for compromise. They could not afford to make concessions or to allow status as God’s chosen people to be diminished in any way. And the apostle Paul would pick up on this call to set-apartness in his second letter to the church in Corinth.

Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? What harmony can there be between Christ and the devil? How can a believer be a partner with an unbeliever? And what union can there be between God’s temple and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. – 2 Corinthians 6:15-16 NLT

The core issue facing the Corinthian Christians and the Israelites of Moses’ day was idolatry. Compromise with the culture was going to result in unfaithfulness to God. That’s why Moses told the people, “You must break down their pagan altars and shatter their sacred pillars. Cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols” (Deuteronomy 7:5 NLT). But not only must they remove the idols, but they must also eliminate all those who worshiped them. To remove the false gods while allowing their followers to remain would prove futile.  It would only be a matter of time before the idolaters made more idols. And eventually, the Israelites would find themselves worshiping the gods of the Canaanites, not just making treaties with them.

God wanted to bless His chosen people. But He knew that they were going to find it difficult to obey Him because they would struggle with believing Him. His ways made no sense to them, and His commands seemed far too strict and stringent. But He desired that they would sincerely seek Him – to passionately crave to know Him better and to experience more of His presence and power. But to do so, they would have to trust Him and do as He said. They would have to obey, even when it made no sense.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

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That You Might Know

32 “For ask now of the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether such a great thing as this has ever happened or was ever heard of. 33 Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live? 34 Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? 35 To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord is God; there is no other besides him. 36 Out of heaven he let you hear his voice, that he might discipline you. And on earth he let you see his great fire, and you heard his words out of the midst of the fire. 37 And because he loved your fathers and chose their offspring after them and brought you out of Egypt with his own presence, by his great power, 38 driving out before you nations greater and mightier than you, to bring you in, to give you their land for an inheritance, as it is this day, 39 know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. 40 Therefore you shall keep his statutes and his commandments, which I command you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may prolong your days in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for all time.” – Deuteronomy 4:32-40 ESV

Ever since the day God had appeared to Abraham and called him to leave his ancestral homeland and travel to the land of Canaan, God has been revealing Himself to the descendants of Abraham. Time and time again, the invisible God made Himself known in miraculous ways. It was while Abraham was in Haran, that God spoke audibly to him and said, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (Genesis 12:1-2 ESV).

And while Abraham was never given the privilege of seeing God with his own eyes, he would regularly hear God’s voice and even receive visions from the Almighty. And through it all, Abraham was learning to trust in God’s invisible, yet unmistakable presence and power. His repeated encounters with God ended up solidifying his trust in and reliance upon God. So much so, that when God told Abraham, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.…So shall your offspring be,” that Abraham “believed the Lord, and he [God] counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:5-6 ESV).

Abraham believed God, even though his wife was barren and the two of them were  well-advanced in years. He believed God because he had seen God – not with his eyes, but as he watched God work in and around his life in countless, miraculous ways. And the same would be true for Isaac and Jacob. These men would also have personal encounters with the invisible God. They would never look upon Him with their eyes, but they would experience His presence and power as God manifested Himself in a variety of miraculous and inexplicable ways.

This pattern of God revealing Himself to the descendants of Abraham would continue throughout the years. And God would eventually show up in the land of Midian, in the form of a burning bush, in order to issue His call to Moses to deliver the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. This amazing scene is recorded for us in the book of Exodus.

Moses stared in amazement. Though the bush was engulfed in flames, it didn’t burn up. “This is amazing,” Moses said to himself. “Why isn’t that bush burning up? I must go see it.”

When the Lord saw Moses coming to take a closer look, God called to him from the middle of the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

“Here I am!” Moses replied.

“Do not come any closer,” the Lord warned. “Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground. I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” When Moses heard this, he covered his face because he was afraid to look at God. – Exodus 3:2-6 NLT

This would be the first of many extraordinary encounters between Moses and God. And each of them were intended to prove the reality and reliability of God. Moses was learning the invaluable lesson that, while God could not be seen, He could be known.

And when God informed Moses of His plan to release the Israelites from their captivity in Egypt, He revealed one of the important outcomes:

When I raise my powerful hand and bring out the Israelites, the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.” – Exodus 7:5 NLT

The ten plagues that God would command Moses to bring upon the people of Egypt would eventually leave them fully convinced that the god of the Israelites was not a figment of their corporate imagination. He was real and very powerful. And He was greater than every one of the false gods they worshiped.

But from the day the Israelites had walked out of Egypt and crossed over the Red Sea on dry ground, God had been revealing Himself in countless ways. He had been demonstrating His power and presence, appearing in the form of a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. He had shown up on Mount Sinai, accompanied by smoke, fire, thunder, and lightning. And Moses reminded the people of Israel of their unique status as the only nation privileged to experience God’s presence in such spectacular fashion.

“Has any nation ever heard the voice of God speaking from fire—as you did—and survived? Has any other god dared to take a nation for himself out of another nation by means of trials, miraculous signs, wonders, war, a strong hand, a powerful arm, and terrifying acts? Yet that is what the Lord your God did for you in Egypt, right before your eyes.” – Deuteronomy 4:33-34 NLT

And Moses made it painfully clear why God had chosen to reveal Himself to His chosen people.

“He showed you these things so you would know that the Lord is God and there is no other.” – Deuteronomy 4:35 NLT

These miraculous displays of His power were intended to convince the people of Israel that their God was real and fully reliable. He may have been unseen, but He was far from nonexistent. They didn’t need an idol or some kind of man-made representation of God to prove that He existed. He had proven His reality “by means of trials, miraculous signs, wonders, war, a strong hand, a powerful arm, and terrifying acts.”

By this time in their faith journey, the people of Israel should have had more than enough proof that their God was real and reliable. He had proven Himself so, time and time again. And yet, Moses felt compelled to tell them, “So remember this and keep it firmly in mind: The Lord is God both in heaven and on earth, and there is no other” (Deuteronomy 4:37 NLT).

As they prepared to enter the land of Canaan, they needed to be convinced of God’s pervasive presence and power. The days ahead were going to be filled with countless obstacles. The enemies in the land were real and formidable. The temptations to doubt God’s presence and question His power were going to be constant. So, they were going to have to place their faith in their invisible, but highly powerful God.

The author of Hebrews, discussing the faith of the Hebrew patriarchs like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses, wrote: “it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him” (Hebrews 11:6 NLT).

One of the greatest dangers the Israelites faced as they prepared to enter the land of Canaan was not the enemy forces that occupied the land. It was the temptation to lose faith in God. Moses knew that the first time the Israelites encountered a circumstance where the odds were stacked against them, they would assume that God was not with them. As soon as they found themselves in a situation that appeared hopeless, they would be tempted to see themselves as helpless and their God as powerless.

But they had no reason to doubt God. He had proven Himself to be trustworthy. He had displayed His power in countless ways. And all God asked in return was that they believe He exists and that He rewards those who sincerely seek Him and faithfully serve Him. Which is why Moses challenged them:

“If you obey all the decrees and commands I am giving you today, all will be well with you and your children. I am giving you these instructions so you will enjoy a long life in the land the Lord your God is giving you for all time.” – Deuteronomy 4:40 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

Stay Focused

12 “When we took possession of this land at that time, I gave to the Reubenites and the Gadites the territory beginning at Aroer, which is on the edge of the Valley of the Arnon, and half the hill country of Gilead with its cities. 13 The rest of Gilead, and all Bashan, the kingdom of Og, that is, all the region of Argob, I gave to the half-tribe of Manasseh. (All that portion of Bashan is called the land of Rephaim. 14 Jair the Manassite took all the region of Argob, that is, Bashan, as far as the border of the Geshurites and the Maacathites, and called the villages after his own name, Havvoth-jair, as it is to this day.) 15 To Machir I gave Gilead, 16 and to the Reubenites and the Gadites I gave the territory from Gilead as far as the Valley of the Arnon, with the middle of the valley as a border, as far over as the river Jabbok, the border of the Ammonites; 17 the Arabah also, with the Jordan as the border, from Chinnereth as far as the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, under the slopes of Pisgah on the east.

18 “And I commanded you at that time, saying, ‘The Lord your God has given you this land to possess. All your men of valor shall cross over armed before your brothers, the people of Israel. 19 Only your wives, your little ones, and your livestock (I know that you have much livestock) shall remain in the cities that I have given you, 20 until the Lord gives rest to your brothers, as to you, and they also occupy the land that the Lord your God gives them beyond the Jordan. Then each of you may return to his possession which I have given you.’ 21 And I commanded Joshua at that time, ‘Your eyes have seen all that the Lord your God has done to these two kings. So will the Lord do to all the kingdoms into which you are crossing. 22 You shall not fear them, for it is the Lord your God who fights for you.’ – Deuteronomy 3:12-22 ESV

After God had given Israel a decisive victory over Og and his forces, Moses found himself faced with yet another test of his leadership capabilities. Over the last 40 years, while serving as Israel’s deliverer, guide, and spiritual advisor, Moses had been forced to deal with a variety of unwelcome and unwarranted attacks on his leadership.

There had been countless occasions when the people grumbled and complained to Moses over their circumstances. They had blamed him for their lack of food and water. Then, when God had miraculously provided them with quail and manna to eat, they ended up whining to Moses about the lack of variety in their diet.

At one point, Moses was even forced to deal with an attempted coup led by his own brother and sister. Aaron and Miriam had become jealous of his power and authority, and set themselves up as equally anointed by God to lead the people of Israel, claiming, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” (Numbers 12:2 ESV). But their inflated sense of self-worth proved to be unwarranted because God stepped in and shut down their unjustified rebellion.

But the greatest test of Moses’ leadership had been the refusal of the people of Israel to cross over into the land of Canaan. That had been the primary point behind God’s call of Moses. Not only was he charged with redeeming the people from their captivity in Egypt, but he was to lead them to the land of promise. And when the first generation had refused to take possession of the land, the stock value of Moses’ leadership had taken a precipitous fall. It had to have been extremely demoralizing to walk away from the land he had worked so long and hard to reach. His confidence had to have taken a tremendous blow as he watched the people turn their backs on the very land God had promised to give them. And while he had been successful at getting the people to the land, he had failed at getting them to take possession of it.

All of this background is important if we are going to understand the significance of the scene presented in Deuteronomy 3:12-22. After the victory over Bashan, the tribes of Gad and Reuben approached Moses with a surprising request.

Now the people of Reuben and the people of Gad had a very great number of livestock. And they saw the land of Jazer and the land of Gilead, and behold, the place was a place for livestock. So the people of Gad and the people of Reuben came and said to Moses and to Eleazar the priest and to the chiefs of the congregation, “Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Sebam, Nebo, and Beon, the land that the Lord struck down before the congregation of Israel, is a land for livestock, and your servants have livestock.” And they said, “If we have found favor in your sight, let this land be given to your servants for a possession. Do not take us across the Jordan.” – Numbers 32:1-5 ESV

As Moses listened to the words of the people of Gad and Reuben, he had to have thought to himself, “Here we go again!” Right when they were poised to take possession of the land, he found himself facing yet another rebellion against his leadership. And his shock is evident in his response.

But Moses said to the people of Gad and to the people of Reuben, “Shall your brothers go to the war while you sit here? Why will you discourage the heart of the people of Israel from going over into the land that the Lord has given them? Your fathers did this, when I sent them from Kadesh-barnea to see the land. For when they went up to the Valley of Eshcol and saw the land, they discouraged the heart of the people of Israel from going into the land that the Lord had given them. And the Lord‘s anger was kindled on that day, and he swore, saying, ‘Surely none of the men who came up out of Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, because they have not wholly followed me…’” – Numbers 32:6-11 ESV

As far as Moses was concerned, this was a case of deja vu. He had been here before and he didn’t like what he was hearing or seeing. Their request reeked of mutiny. To Moses, it sounded like these two tribes were balking at the idea of entering the land and had chosen instead to settle on the eastern side of the Jordan.

And Moses told the Gadites and Reubenites just what he thought of them.

“…you have risen in your fathers’ place, a brood of sinful men, to increase still more the fierce anger of the Lord against Israel! For if you turn away from following him, he will again abandon them in the wilderness, and you will destroy all this people.” – Numbers 32:14 ESV

He saw the handwriting on the wall. He knew exactly what would happen if these two tribes decided to renege on their commitment to take possession of the land. It would be an unmitigated disaster. And Moses was unwilling to witness yet another debacle on his watch. He knew these two tribes were going to be essential to any success Israel would have in conquering the land. According to the census recorded in Numbers 26, the tribe of Gad consisted of 40,500 fighting men and the tribe of Reuben could field 43,730. Those are not insignificant numbers. And while Moses knew that God was going to go before Israel and fight on their behalf, he also knew that every single man was going to be needed in their conquest of the land. But more than anything, he knew that God would not tolerate another refusal on the part of the people to take possession of the land.

But a compromise was reached. In exchange for the right to possess the land east of the Jordan, the members of the two tribes agreed to keep their commitment to fight alongside their brothers until the and of Canaan was completely conquered. They would not abandon their solidarity with the other ten tribes until each had received its allotted portion within the land of promise.

Moses agreed to allow the two tribes to occupy the land east of the Jordan, as long as they kept their word to fight alongside their brothers, “until the Lord gives rest to your brothers, as to you, and they also occupy the land that the Lord your God gives them beyond the Jordan. Then each of you may return to his possession which I have given you” (Deuteronomy 3:20 ESV).

And Moses used the God-given victory over the lands east of the Jordan as incentive to Joshua and the people of Israel. It was a sign of what was to come. What God did east of the Jordan, He would do again when they crossed over into the land of Canaan.

“Your eyes have seen all that the Lord your God has done to these two kings. So will the Lord do to all the kingdoms into which you are crossing. You shall not fear them, for it is the Lord your God who fights for you.” – Deuteronomy 3:20-21 ESV

In a display of godly leadership, Moses attempted to focus the attention of the people where it needed to be: On God. He didn’t want the Gadites and Reubenites fixating on the land east of the Jordan. He didn’t want the rest of the tribes to grow jealous and take their eyes off of the prize that God had promised to give them. What God had done to Og and Sihon was just a glimpse of what God had in store for the Israelites. The rich land east of the Jordan was just an appetizer, meant to whet the appetites of the other ten tribes and encourage them to step out in faith. God had given land to the tribes of Gad and Reuben, but he had even more in store for rest of His people.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

High Walls, No Problem

1 Then we turned and went up the way to Bashan. And Og the king of Bashan came out against us, he and all his people, to battle at Edrei. But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not fear him, for I have given him and all his people and his land into your hand. And you shall do to him as you did to Sihon the king of the Amorites, who lived at Heshbon.’ So the Lord our God gave into our hand Og also, the king of Bashan, and all his people, and we struck him down until he had no survivor left. And we took all his cities at that time—there was not a city that we did not take from them—sixty cities, the whole region of Argob, the kingdom of Og in Bashan. All these were cities fortified with high walls, gates, and bars, besides very many unwalled villages. And we devoted them to destruction, as we did to Sihon the king of Heshbon, devoting to destruction every city, men, women, and children. But all the livestock and the spoil of the cities we took as our plunder. So we took the land at that time out of the hand of the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, from the Valley of the Arnon to Mount Hermon (the Sidonians call Hermon Sirion, while the Amorites call it Senir), 10 all the cities of the tableland and all Gilead and all Bashan, as far as Salecah and Edrei, cities of the kingdom of Og in Bashan. 11 (For only Og the king of Bashan was left of the remnant of the Rephaim. Behold, his bed was a bed of iron. Is it not in Rabbah of the Ammonites? Nine cubits was its length, and four cubits its breadth, according to the common cubit).” – Deuteronomy 3:1-11 ESV

This chapter continues Moses’ description of the conquest of the Transjordan region – that are east of the Jordan River that was outside the land of Canaan. While the Israelites had their eyes set on the land west of the Jordan, God was leading them to remove any and all enemies on the other side of the river who might pose a future threat to their safety. This included the people living in Bashan. 

As we saw in yesterday’s post, God’s promise to Abraham had been much more extensive in terms of territorial boundaries.

“To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.” – Genesis 15:18-21 ESV

God had meant for Israel to fill the land from the Brook of Egypt, a small wadi on the easter border of Egypt, all the way to the Euphrates.  He had big plans for His chosen people. And, during the days of King David, Israel saw this promise partially fulfilled

David was able to extend the boundaries of Israel until it included virtually all of the land God had promised to Abraham. But it would not remain theirs for long. Disobedience on the part of Solomon, David’s son and successor, would cause God to split the kingdom in half, and it would never be restored to its former glory.

But there is a line in these opening verses of chapter 3 that speaks volumes regarding God’s power and man’s unwillingness or inability to trust in that power. After God commanded Moses to take the land belonging to Og, the king of Bashan, the people of Israel obeyed and were given a great victory over their enemies. They were able to destroy every city, town, and small village within the land. But notice how Moses describes their victory.

And we took all his cities at that time—there was not a city that we did not take from them—sixty cities, the whole region of Argob, the kingdom of Og in Bashan. All these were cities fortified with high walls, gates, and bars, besides very many unwalled villages. – Deuteronomy 3:4-5 ESV

If you recall, the reason the people of Israel had failed to enter the land 40 years earlier was because the 12 spies had brought back disturbing news. They had reported that the land was rich in produced but it was also defended by powerful armies who were housed in well-fortified cities. In fact, the people  had responded to the news by saying, “Our brothers have made our hearts melt, saying, ‘The people are greater and taller than we. The cities are great and fortified up to heaven’” (Deuteronomy 1:28 ESV).

And even when God assured them of certain victory, they had refused to believe. Moses had pleaded with them to trust God.

“Do not be in dread or afraid of them. The Lord your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.” – Deuteronomy 1:29-31 ESV

But the words of Moses had no impact on the people. He summarized their response to his pleas by saying, “Yet in spite of this word you did not believe the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 1:32 ESV). Their enemies were bigger than their God. The circumstances they faced were greater than the God they claimed to follow. And it didn’t matter to them that He had freed them from slavery in Egypt and had faithfully guided them across the desert. When they had assessed their current situation, they had deemed their God incapable of fulfilling His promises to them.

Now, four decades later, God was proving Himself fully capable of defeating any and all enemies. The spies had been right. The cities were surrounded by high walls, but they proved to be no obstacle for God. He gave His chosen people victory over their enemies, allowing them to defeat what appeared to be more powerful armies and to destroy siege-proof cities. In fact, Moses states that “there was not a city that we did not take from them” (Deuteronomy 3:4 ESV). A total of 60 cities fell that day, and the people of Israel were able to take spoil from each and every one of them. And the resources they gathered would prove essential in supplying their future needs as they prepared their conquest of the land of Canaan.

The victories God gave His people were necessary. Not only did the plunder provide the Israelites with plenty of food for the future, the land would house the future settlements of the tribes of Dan and Reuben, as well as the half-tribe of Manassah. These battles were all part of God’s plan for His people. And while we may find the description of Israel’s complete annihilation of these people groups disturbing, there was a divine strategy taking place. As we saw yesterday, God had a reason for eliminating the nations that occupied the land and Moses made that reason known to the people of Israel.

“…because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you…” – Deuteronomy 9:5 ESV

God knew that these people, if allowed to remain in the land, would prove to be a constant threat to the people of Israel, not just militarily, but also morally. Their false religions and immoral behavior would tempt the Israelites to turn their backs on God. That is why God commanded His people to remove all the Canaanites from the land. But, as we will see, they would fail to do so. They would not fully comply with God’s commands and their failure to do so would play a huge part in their future demise as a nation.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

God’s Will Done God’s Way

26 “So I sent messengers from the wilderness of Kedemoth to Sihon the king of Heshbon, with words of peace, saying, 27 ‘Let me pass through your land. I will go only by the road; I will turn aside neither to the right nor to the left. 28 You shall sell me food for money, that I may eat, and give me water for money, that I may drink. Only let me pass through on foot, 29 as the sons of Esau who live in Seir and the Moabites who live in Ar did for me, until I go over the Jordan into the land that the Lord our God is giving to us.’ 30 But Sihon the king of Heshbon would not let us pass by him, for the Lord your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, that he might give him into your hand, as he is this day. 31 And the Lord said to me, ‘Behold, I have begun to give Sihon and his land over to you. Begin to take possession, that you may occupy his land.’ 32 Then Sihon came out against us, he and all his people, to battle at Jahaz. 33 And the Lord our God gave him over to us, and we defeated him and his sons and all his people. 34 And we captured all his cities at that time and devoted to destruction every city, men, women, and children. We left no survivors. 35 Only the livestock we took as spoil for ourselves, with the plunder of the cities that we captured. 36 From Aroer, which is on the edge of the Valley of the Arnon, and from the city that is in the valley, as far as Gilead, there was not a city too high for us. The Lord our God gave all into our hands. 37 Only to the land of the sons of Ammon you did not draw near, that is, to all the banks of the river Jabbok and the cities of the hill country, whatever the Lord our God had forbidden us. – Deuteronomy 2:16-25 ESV

Forty years earlier, when the people of Israel had been poised to enter the land of Canaan, they had received news from the spies that it was occupied by giants and its cities were “great and fortified up to heaven” (Deuteronomy 1:28 ESV). This news had caused the Israelites to reject God’s command to occupy the land. In their minds, the odds were stacked against them and the enemies they faced were more powerful than the God they served. So, they had walked away from the land flowing with milk and honey and had wandered in the wilderness for the next four decades. 

Now, a new generation had taken their place and stood on the eastern side of the Jordan River, with the land of Canaan lying before them. But before they could possess the promise, they would have to obey the promise-maker. God had a preliminary step they would have to take before they could begin their official conquest of the land.

After having declared the land of the Edomites, Moabites, and Ammonites as off-limits and unvailable for conquest, God told Moses to attack the land belonging to King Sihon of Heshbon.

“Rise up, set out on your journey and go over the Valley of the Arnon. Behold, I have given into your hand Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his land. Begin to take possession, and contend with him in battle.” – Deuteronomy 2:24 ESV

God clearly commanded Moses to lead the Israelites into battle against Sihon and his forces. Yet, we read that Moses sent messengers to Sihon with words of peace, asking Sihon to allow the Israelites to pass through his land unhindered. Moses promised to restrict his people to the main road and even offered to pay Sihon if he would provide the Israelites with food and water. But Sihon refused to grant Moses and the people of Israel access to his land. Instead, he attacked the Israelites.

The parallel passage outlining the details of this story is found in Numbers 21. Neither here in Deuteronomy or in Numbers are we given an explanation as to why Moses decided to make peace overtures to Sihon. It seems quite evident that God expected the Israelites to do battle with the people of Heshbon. God had told Moses to “content with him in battle.” He had not instructed Moses to broker a peace agreement.  Was this a case of disobedience on the part of Moses? Was he guilty of second-guessing God and coming up with an alternative strategy that would circumvent the need for bloodshed? We’re not told. But it would appear that God was unwilling to risk Sihon accepting the peaceful alternative offered by Moses. Moses himself wrote:

But Sihon the king of Heshbon would not let us pass by him, for the Lord your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, that he might give him into your hand, as he is this day. – Deuteronomy 2:30 ESV

Perhaps Moses had been looking back on the ease with which they had passed through the lands of Edom, Moab, and Ammon. It only made sense to do whatever it took to avoid unnecessary risks or the loss of life. After all, the land of Heshbon was on the wrong side of the Jordan and not part of the land of Canaan, so why go to war when you could simply broker a peace agreement?

But regardless of the solid logic behind Moses’ thinking, he didn’t know what God had in mind. He was oblivious to God’s plan regarding the lands belonging to Sihon. He was also unaware that God was going to use Israel’s defeat of Sihon and his troops to send a message to the people occupying the land of Canaan. Once He had given the Israelites victory over Sihon, the news would travel fast and the people living west of the Jordan River would become disheartened.

“This day I will begin to put the dread and fear of you on the peoples who are under the whole heaven, who shall hear the report of you and shall tremble and be in anguish because of you.” – Deuteronomy 2:25 ESV

We don’t always understand God’s ways. To our minds, God’s plans often appear illogical and unnecessarily difficult. So, we attempt to come up with an easier alternative. We choose to help God out by coming up with a plan of our own. Abraham and Sarah did just that when they determined that God’s promise to give them a son was not going to work out. After all, they were both advanced in years and Sarah was barren. So, Sarah came up with a Plan B,  offering her handmaiden to Abraham and demanding that he impregnate her with their future heir. Like any red-blooded male, Abraham eagerly listened to his wife and took her up on her offer. The result was the birth of Ishmael. But Sarah’s Plan B was not God’s will. Ishmael was not to be Abraham’s heir or the son through whom God was going to fulfill His promise to Abraham.

And God wasn’t interested in a peace treaty with Sihon. So, He hardened Sihon’s heart and caused the pagan king to reject the peace overtures of Moses. And the result was a rousing victory by the Israelites.

And the Lord our God gave him over to us, and we defeated him and his sons and all his people. And we captured all his cities at that time and devoted to destruction every city, men, women, and children. We left no survivors. – Deuteronomy 2:33-34 ESV

Yet, even now, we read this story and we immediately sense what appears to be the needless destruction of innocent people. Why did King Sihon and his people have to die if they people of Israel were not even going to settle in their land? Why would God order the senseless and seemingly barbaric slaughter of innocent women and children?

As recorded above, the defeat of Sihon and the people of Hesbon was meant to send a message to the people occupying the land of Canaan. It would let them know that Yahweh, the God of the Israelites was all-powerful and that His people were fully capable of defeating anyone who stood opposed to them. What would appear to us as a senseless, unnecessary slaughter was actually part of a divine strategy for fulfilling God’s covenant promise.

If we fast-forward to the point in the story when Israel made its first foray into the land of promise, we discover the two spies who had entered the city of Jericho to assess its strength and document its defenses. They were given shelter by a prostitute named Rahab. When they prepared to leave her home and return to the camp of Israel, she pleaded with them to spare her life and those of her household. And here is why she was so adamant that they promise to protect her:

For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. – Joshua 2:10-11 ESV

The news about Israel’s victory over Sihon would spread. The annihilation of the people of Heshbon would send shudders of dread and fear among the nations living west of the Jordan. Israel’s victory over Sihon would put the fear of God into the people of Canaan. But there was a second purpose behind God’s command for Israel to destroy Heshbon. The land that once belonged to King Sihon would eventually become part of the land awarded to the tribes of Gad and Reuben, and half of the people of the tribe of Manassah. This land was perfect for raising livestock and these three tribes were predominantly herdsman by trace. So, God allowed the settlement of these three tribes on the eastern side of the Jordan. But why?

Because God had promised to give Abraham far more land than that occupied by the Canaanites. In the book of Genesis, we have recorded the exact words God spoke to Abraham when He detailed the extent of the land to be inherited by Abraham’s offspring.

“Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward,  for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” – Genesis 13:14-17 ESV

And God went on to provide even greater detail.

“To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.” – Genesis 15:18-21 ESV

Notice the vast size of this land grant. It extends from the Brook of Egypt to the Euphrates. It is massive in scale and includes the land of Heshbon. God had originally intended to give Israel far more land than they ever occupied, even under the kingships of David and Solomon. And just so we understand why God would take this land from one nation and award it to another, Moses later explains the method behind God’s seeming madness.

“After the Lord your God has done this for you, don’t say in your hearts, ‘The Lord has given us this land because we are such good people!’ No, it is because of the wickedness of the other nations that he is pushing them out of your way. It is not because you are so good or have such integrity that you are about to occupy their land. The Lord your God will drive these nations out ahead of you only because of their wickedness, and to fulfill the oath he swore to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You must recognize that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land because you are good, for you are not—you are a stubborn people.” – Deuteronomy 9:4-6 NLT

We may not understand or even approve of God’s ways, but it is important that we trust Him. He is the sovereign God of the universe and His ways are always just and right. From our limited perspective, it may not always appear that way, but we must trust that He knows what is best. His plan is perfect and His ways are always right.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

God Has Been With You

1 “Then we turned and journeyed into the wilderness in the direction of the Red Sea, as the Lord told me. And for many days we traveled around Mount Seir. Then the Lord said to me, ‘You have been traveling around this mountain country long enough. Turn northward and command the people, “You are about to pass through the territory of your brothers, the people of Esau, who live in Seir; and they will be afraid of you. So be very careful. Do not contend with them, for I will not give you any of their land, no, not so much as for the sole of the foot to tread on, because I have given Mount Seir to Esau as a possession. You shall purchase food from them with money, that you may eat, and you shall also buy water from them with money, that you may drink. For the Lord your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He knows your going through this great wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you. You have lacked nothing.”’ So we went on, away from our brothers, the people of Esau, who live in Seir, away from the Arabah road from Elath and Ezion-geber.

“And we turned and went in the direction of the wilderness of Moab. And the Lord said to me, ‘Do not harass Moab or contend with them in battle, for I will not give you any of their land for a possession, because I have given Ar to the people of Lot for a possession.’ 10 (The Emim formerly lived there, a people great and many, and tall as the Anakim. 11 Like the Anakim they are also counted as Rephaim, but the Moabites call them Emim. 12 The Horites also lived in Seir formerly, but the people of Esau dispossessed them and destroyed them from before them and settled in their place, as Israel did to the land of their possession, which the Lord gave to them.) 13 ‘Now rise up and go over the brook Zered.’ So we went over the brook Zered. 14 And the time from our leaving Kadesh-barnea until we crossed the brook Zered was thirty-eight years, until the entire generation, that is, the men of war, had perished from the camp, as the Lord had sworn to them. 15 For indeed the hand of the Lord was against them, to destroy them from the camp, until they had perished.” – Deuteronomy 2:1-15 ESV

Moses continues his recounting of the Israelites’ history, in an effort to remind his audience of all that had happened over the last four decades and prior to their arrival at the border of the land of promise.

Moses seems to have at least two objectives in giving this impromptu history lesson. First, he wants to remind his audience of what happens when God’s people prove unfaithful and disobedient. There will be consequences. More than 40 years had passed and the nation of Israel was just now preparing to cross over into the land that God had promised to Abraham. But the delay was Israel’s fault, not God’s. They had been to this very same spot before, but had refused to take God at His word and trust that He would give them victory over their enemies. So, He had sentenced them to 40-years confinement in the wilderness. But, in a sense, it was a life sentence, because that entire generation died in the wilderness, having been forbidden from every stepping foot in the land of promise. And Moses is out to ensure that the offspring of those unfaithful rebels do not repeat the same mistake

But there is a second point that Moses is trying to make and it is of even greater importance. He wants this new generation of Israelites to recognize and appreciate the faithfulness of God. In spite of all that the nation had done to offend God by refusing to trust and obey Him, He was still going through with His promise to give them the land of Canaan as an inheritance. Here they were, 40 years later, and poised to enter the very same land their fathers and mothers had turned their backs on. And it was all because their God was faithful.

So, as Moses tells the story of Israel’s long and somewhat meteoric relationship with God, he comes to another chapter in which God’s faithfulness can be seen. But this time, it is a bit less obvious. In these verses, Moses describes Israel’s journey around Mount Seir and into the regions of Edom and Moab. To us, those two names mean nothing, but to an Israelite, they would have carried a special significance. Edom was the land given by God to Esau, the older brother of Jacob. And Moab was the land occupied by the descendants of Lot, the nephew of Abraham.

The book of Genesis records the story of Jacob and Esau, the two twin boys born to Isaac and Rebekah. While the two boys were still in Rebekah’s womb, God had decreed that Jacob, who would exit the womb after his brother, was to receive the blessing of the firstborn. God, according to His sovereign will and in keeping with His divine plan for mankind, made the decision to choose Jacob over Esau. It made no sense from a human perspective and seemed to go against all accepted protocols concerning the firstborn and the inheritance. But God, who is just and right in all He does, had a good reason for His actions. And the prophet Malachi puts God’s decision in very black and white terms. Addressing the people of Israel, the descendants of Jacob, God said:

“This is how I showed my love for you: I loved your ancestor Jacob, but I rejected his brother, Esau, and devastated his hill country. I turned Esau’s inheritance into a desert for jackals.” – Malachi 1:2-3 NLT

The apostle Paul picks up this story in his letter to the Romans and expands on its significance.

For God had promised, “I will return about this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

This son was our ancestor Isaac. When he married Rebekah, she gave birth to twins. But before they were born, before they had done anything good or bad, she received a message from God. (This message shows that God chooses people according to his own purposes; he calls people, but not according to their good or bad works.) She was told, “Your older son will serve your younger son.” In the words of the Scriptures, “I loved Jacob, but I rejected Esau.”

Are we saying, then, that God was unfair? Of course not! For God said to Moses,

“I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose.” – Romans 9:9-15 NLT

Neither Malachi or Paul are insisting that God literally hated Esau. The point is that, in comparison to His treatment of Jacob and his descendants, God’s actions toward Esau appear hostile. He had chosen to bless one and not the other. And yet, God still gave Esau and his descendants land. And God would not allow the Israelites, the descendants of Jacob, to have any of the land He had given to Esau.

“You will pass through the country belonging to your relatives the Edomites, the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir. The Edomites will feel threatened, so be careful. Do not bother them, for I have given them all the hill country around Mount Seir as their property, and I will not give you even one square foot of their land.” – Deuteronomy 2:4-5 NLT

God was faithful to Esau and his descendants. He had given them land and had obviously blessed them with food and water, because the people of Israel were able to buy provisions from the Edomites. It’s interesting to note that, all these generations later, God was sovereignly using the descendants of Esau to meet the needs of the descendants of Jacob. God had strategically placed the Edomites right where they were so that they could play a role in helping the Israelites reach the inheritance God had promised them.

Moses goes on to record that the Israelites left Edom and headed for the land of Moab. Once again, God warned the Israelites, “Do not bother the Moabites, the descendants of Lot, or start a war with them. I have given them Ar as their property, and I will not give you any of their land” (Deuteronomy 2:9 NLT).

Here we have yet another example of God’s faithfulness and, to understand it, we have to turn back to the book of Genesis. Lot was the nephew of Abraham, the father of the Israelite nation. Lot had accompanied Abraham from Ur and had settled in the land of Canaan. In fact, at one point Abraham had allowed Lot to take his pick of all the land and the book of Genesis records:

Lot chose for himself the whole Jordan Valley to the east of them. He went there with his flocks and servants and parted company with his uncle Abram. So Abram settled in the land of Canaan, and Lot moved his tents to a place near Sodom and settled among the cities of the plain. – Genesis 13:11-12 NLT

Lot picked “the fertile plains of the Jordan Valley in the direction of Zoar” and we’re told that “The whole area was well watered everywhere, like the garden of the Lord or the beautiful land of Egypt” (Genesis 13:10 NLT). 

But Lot didn’t stay in the fertile plains for long. He ended up settling in the city of Sodom, a place of great wickedness. And when God eventually decided to destroy Sodom and its sister city of Gomorrah, He allowed Lot to escape with his two daughters. And after their narrow escape, Lot and his daughters settled in a cave. But fearing that their family line was doomed to die out, Lot’s two daughters, who must have been heavily influenced by their time in Sodom, came up with a plan to get their father drunk and have sex with him, so they could prolong their clan. And the book of Genesis records the outcome of their immoral decision.

When the older daughter gave birth to a son, she named him Moab. He became the ancestor of the nation now known as the Moabites. When the younger daughter gave birth to a son, she named him Ben-ammi. He became the ancestor of the nation now known as the Ammonites. – Genesis 19:37-38 NLT

Now, here were the descendants of Abraham, the uncle of Lot, getting ready to pass through the land occupied by the descendants of Lot. And Moses makes a point to stress that this portion of the land had been occupied by “A race of giants called the Emites.” And Moses goes out his way to stress that these people were “as strong and numerous and tall as the Anakites, another race of giants” (Deuteronomy 2:10 NLT).

Don’t miss the significance of what Moses is saying. Back in chapter one, he pointed out that the first time the Israelites reached the edge of the land of Canaan, they had refused to enter because they said, “The people are greater and taller than we. The cities are great and fortified up to heaven. And besides, we have seen the sons of the Anakim there” (Deuteronomy 1:28 ESV).  God had used the Edomites to rid Anakites from the land east of Canaan, but the Israelites had failed to believe that God could do the same thing for them. In a sense, Moses is pointing out that God had faithfully used the descendants of Esau to help prepare the way for the descendants of Jacob.

This whole portion of Moses’ story is meant to stress the faithfulness of God. Everything that had happened in Israel’s long history had been the work of God – all the way back to the days of Abraham and Lot and Jacob and Esau. God had been sovereignly orchestrating every single incident in order to set up this moment in time. And Moses wanted the next generation to recognize that God was with them and had been with them all along. He was and is faithful.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

I Am Not in Your Midst

34 “And the Lord heard your words and was angered, and he swore, 35 ‘Not one of these men of this evil generation shall see the good land that I swore to give to your fathers, 36 except Caleb the son of Jephunneh. He shall see it, and to him and to his children I will give the land on which he has trodden, because he has wholly followed the Lord!’ 37 Even with me the Lord was angry on your account and said, ‘You also shall not go in there. 38 Joshua the son of Nun, who stands before you, he shall enter. Encourage him, for he shall cause Israel to inherit it. 39 And as for your little ones, who you said would become a prey, and your children, who today have no knowledge of good or evil, they shall go in there. And to them I will give it, and they shall possess it. 40 But as for you, turn, and journey into the wilderness in the direction of the Red Sea.’

41 “Then you answered me, ‘We have sinned against the Lord. We ourselves will go up and fight, just as the Lord our God commanded us.’ And every one of you fastened on his weapons of war and thought it easy to go up into the hill country. 42 And the Lord said to me, ‘Say to them, Do not go up or fight, for I am not in your midst, lest you be defeated before your enemies.’ 43 So I spoke to you, and you would not listen; but you rebelled against the command of the Lord and presumptuously went up into the hill country. 44 Then the Amorites who lived in that hill country came out against you and chased you as bees do and beat you down in Seir as far as Hormah. 45 And you returned and wept before the Lord, but the Lord did not listen to your voice or give ear to you. 46 So you remained at Kadesh many days, the days that you remained there.” – Deuteronomy 1:34-46 ESV

Moses is addressing the people of Israel as they stand on the eastern edge of the land of Canaan, attempting to bolster their confidence in God and refresh their memories concerning what happened to the previous generation who had refused to enter the Promised Land as God had commanded them. Moses is providing his younger audience with a much-needed history lesson, in which he exposes the true reason that more than 40-years had passed since the Israelites had been set free from their captivity in Egypt. This younger generation had to have questioned the cause of the delay and wondered why it had taken so long to reach the land of Canaan. And it is doubtful that their parents had been open and honest about the cause of the delay.

Moses wants this generation, which represented the future of Israel, to know the truth. He didn’t want them questioning the faithfulness of God or doubting the Almighty’s ability to keep His promises. The four-decade-long detour and delay had not been God’s plan. It had come about as the result of the peoples’ refusal to trust Him. And Moses recounts the doubt-filled response of the people when they had heard that there were giants in the land.

The Lord must hate us. That’s why he has brought us here from Egypt—to hand us over to the Amorites to be slaughtered. Where can we go? – Deuteronomy 1:27-28 ESV

The report of the spies, detailing the presence of formidable enemies in the land, had caused the Israelites to doubt God’s love and question His goodness. Suddenly, their view of God changed. The great I Am,  who had graciously freed them from captivity, defeated the armies of Egypt, and had led them across the wilderness, had become a tyrant. He was a hateful, promise-breaking deity who was going to allow them to be slaughtered by the occupants of the land. And how did they arrive at this warped perspective? They had been told that there were enemies in the land.

And the news of enemies in the land carried more weight in their minds than God’s track record of love, care, grace, mercy, and faithfulness. His history as a covenant-keeping God went out the window at the first sign of trouble. The prospect of enemies in the land destroyed any confidence they had in the God in their midst.

God did not take their accusations against Him lightly. They were accusing Him of lying and of being untrustworthy. They were questioning His very character. Rather than recognizing God as holy, righteous, and just, they had accused Him of betrayal and abandonment. And God, who always protects the integrity of His name and defends His own character, would not allow them to drag His reputation through the mud. Their very existence as a nation had been His doing. He had taken Abraham and Sarah, an elderly man and his barren wife, and had given them more descendants than there are stars in the sky (Genesis 15:5). And He had promised to give those descendants “all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God” (Genesis 17:8 ESV). 

But when the time had come to take possession of that land, those very same people had decided that their enemies were greater than their God. In their minds, the potential for trouble overshadowed the proven power of God. When they discovered that their occupation of the land of promise wasn’t going to be easy, they lost all hope. The presence of trials did a number on their ability to trust. And God responded quickly and sternly.

“Not one of you from this wicked generation will live to see the good land I swore to give your ancestors.” – Deuteronomy 1:35 NLT

Their disbelief was going to lead to their discipline by God. That disobedient generation would never enjoy all the blessings the land of promise held in store for them, because they failed to trust the God who had promised it to them. Their unwillingness to do battle for the land robbed them of ever experiencing all that the land had to offer.  But one of the other things they would miss out on would be the faith-stirring reality of watching God defeat the giants in their midst. He had told them He would go before them and fight on behalf of them. He had promised to give them victories over all their enemies – if they would simply obey His command and enter the land – giants and all.

Facing the prospect of God’s anger, the people had declared, “We have sinned against the Lord! We will go into the land and fight for it, as the Lord our God has commanded us” (Deuteronomy 1:41 NLT). But it was too little too late. God knew their hearts. He was fully aware that they had no confidence in Him. They were simply trying to escape His wrath.

As a sign of their change of heart, the men of Israel had strapped on their weapons and prepared to do battle for the hill country of the Amorites. They wanted to prove to God that they were ready to be obedient. But the text tells us that they believed this battle would prove to be a cake walk. “So your men strapped on their weapons, thinking it would be easy to attack the hill country” (Deuteronomy 1:41 NLT). 

But God warned them not to follow through with their plans, because He would not be with them. They would be going into battle against His wishes and without His assistance. And the outcome would be devastating.

If you go ahead on your own, you will be crushed by your enemies.” – Deuteronomy 1:42 NLT

Yet, they refused to believe God and went ahead with their plan. They were going to prove to God that they were faithful, even if it meant being disobedient to do so. Think about the absurdity of their reasoning. They were going to disobey God in a vain attempt to impress Him. And Moses, retelling the details of this past event to his young audience standing on the edge of the land of Canaan, explains what happened next:

“This is what I told you, but you would not listen. Instead, you again rebelled against the Lord’s command and arrogantly went into the hill country to fight.  But the Amorites who lived there came out against you like a swarm of bees. They chased and battered you all the way from Seir to Hormah. Then you returned and wept before the Lord, but he refused to listen. So you stayed there at Kadesh for a long time.” – Deuteronomy 1:43-46 NLT

They had refused to trust God. Instead, they had decided to disobey Him. Then, when He responded in anger to their disobedience, they determined to prove their faithfulness by disobeying Him yet again. But God warned them that any efforts done by them but without His approval or help would be doomed to failure. They had feared the giants in the land, but had fallen to the Amorites outside the land. They had failed to trust God, but then tried to win back His favor through further disobedience.

And yet, all of this could have been avoided if they had only done what God had asked them to do: Enter the land and trust Him with the results.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

You Did Not Believe

19 “Then we set out from Horeb and went through all that great and terrifying wilderness that you saw, on the way to the hill country of the Amorites, as the Lord our God commanded us. And we came to Kadesh-barnea. 20 And I said to you, ‘You have come to the hill country of the Amorites, which the Lord our God is giving us. 21 See, the Lord your God has set the land before you. Go up, take possession, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has told you. Do not fear or be dismayed.’ 22 Then all of you came near me and said, ‘Let us send men before us, that they may explore the land for us and bring us word again of the way by which we must go up and the cities into which we shall come.’ 23 The thing seemed good to me, and I took twelve men from you, one man from each tribe. 24 And they turned and went up into the hill country, and came to the Valley of Eshcol and spied it out. 25 And they took in their hands some of the fruit of the land and brought it down to us, and brought us word again and said, ‘It is a good land that the Lord our God is giving us.’

26 “Yet you would not go up, but rebelled against the command of the Lord your God. 27 And you murmured in your tents and said, ‘Because the Lord hated us he has brought us out of the land of Egypt, to give us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us. 28 Where are we going up? Our brothers have made our hearts melt, saying, “The people are greater and taller than we. The cities are great and fortified up to heaven. And besides, we have seen the sons of the Anakim there.”’ 29 Then I said to you, ‘Do not be in dread or afraid of them. 30 The Lord your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, 31 and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.’ 32 Yet in spite of this word you did not believe the Lord your God, 33 who went before you in the way to seek you out a place to pitch your tents, in fire by night and in the cloud by day, to show you by what way you should go.” – Deuteronomy 1:19-33 ESV

Moses continues his recitation of Israel’s history in an attempt to remind the next generation of their heritage of sin and rebellion against God. He wanted this younger group of Israelites to understand that the reason they were the newly designated conquerors of the land of Canaan was because their mothers and fathers had refused to do what God had commanded them to do. If the previous generation had done what they were supposed to do, these young people would have grown up in the land of Canaan rather than wandering around the wilderness. They would have enjoyed all the blessings and benefits that God had promised. But their parents had disobeyed God. And Moses makes it very clear that their disobedience was a byproduce of their disbelief. They didn’t believe God.

When the 12 men who had been sent to spy out the land had returned, they had good news and bad news. They unanimously agreed that the land was rich and bountiful, just as God had said. They had even brought back samples of the fruit as proof and declared, “It is a good land that the Lord our God is giving us” (Deuteronomy 1:25 ESV). But there was a second part to their report. The land was filled with fruit, but it was also overflowing with enemies, a fact the spies made painfully clear.

“The people of the land are taller and more powerful than we are, and their towns are large, with walls rising high into the sky! We even saw giants there—the descendants of Anak!” – Deuteronomy 1:28 ESV

The spies provided physical proof of the land’s fruitfulness, but they also shared personal testimony as its inherent dangers. There were giants in the land! And the fortified cities had walls that reached to the sky! Now, it’s easy for us to write this off as a case of obvious hyperbole, but that’s not how the Israelites viewed it. They were terrified by what they heard. They believed the words of the spies and it produced a growing sense of panic.

“The Lord must hate us. That’s why he has brought us here from Egypt—to hand us over to the Amorites to be slaughtered. Where can we go?” – Deuteronomy 1:27-28 NLT

God had set them free from their captivity in Egypt, miraculously bringing a series of judgments against the Egyptians in the form of ten devastating plagues. The final plague, the death of the firstborns, had caused Pharaoh to release the Israelites, but he quickly changed his mind and sent his troops to recapture them and bring them back. But God had defeated the army of Pharaoh at the Red Sea. Then God had led the people of Israel through the wilderness, caring for their every need and providing them with His law. But when they had come to the edge of the long-awaited promised land, they too had a change of heart. The news of well-armed giants and skyscraper-like fortifications caused them to disbelieve the promise of God. God had clearly told them that He would assist them in capturing the land. It would be His doing.

“See, I am going to make a covenant before all your people. I will do wonders such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation. All the people among whom you live will see the work of the Lord, for it is a fearful thing that I am doing with you.

“Obey what I am commanding you this day. I am going to drive out before you the Amorite, the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite.” – Exodus 34:10-11 NLT

He had promised to fight for them and alongside them. Notice that God had not promised a lack of enemies in the land. He never said they would just walk into the land without a fight. He promised victory, not a lack of opposition. But rather than take God at His word, they listened to the majority opinion of the spies. Which had caused Moses to plead with them to remember the promise of God and reconsider their decision.

“Don’t be shocked or afraid of them! The Lord your God is going ahead of you. He will fight for you, just as you saw him do in Egypt.” – Deuteronomy 1:29-30 NLT

This scene brings to mind another encounter recorded on the pages of Scripture, where God’s people found themselves dealing with fruit and an enemy. All the way back in the beginning, as described in the book of Genesis, we see Adam and Eve faced with a decision to believe God or to listen to an opposing view that contradicted the command of God. On this occasion, the enemy took the form of a serpent, not an army filled with giants. And rather than a cluster of grapes from the land of Canaan, Adam and Eve were presented with the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And it was obviously tempting, because the Genesis account records that Eve saw and she ate.

When the woman saw that the tree produced fruit that was good for food, was attractive to the eye, and was desirable for making one wise, she took some of its fruit and ate it. She also gave some of it to her husband who was with her, and he ate it. – Genesis 3:6 NLT

But it wasn’t just the tempting nature of the fruit that caused Eve to eat. It was the lies of the enemy. And he began by causing Eve to doubt to doubt the word of God by subtly twisting what God had said.

“Is it really true that God said, ‘You must not eat from any tree of the orchard’?” – Genesis 3:1 NLT

When the woman had attempted to correct the enemy’s words, clearly relating that God had promised death as a punishment for disobedience, Satan essentially called God a liar and a deceiver.

“Surely you will not die, for God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will open and you will be like divine beings who know good and evil.” – Genesis 3:4-5 NLT

He caused Eve to doubt the word of God, which led to disbelief in the promise that God had made. And the disbelief eventually manifested itself in disobedience.

…she took some of its fruit and ate it. She also gave some of it to her husband who was with her, and he ate it. – Genesis 3:6 NLT

The decision of Adam and Eve to doubt God led to their disobedience of God. And their disobedience led to their banishment from the presence of God. They had started life in the garden, but found themselves on the outside looking in. The Israelites had been standing on the outside looking into the promised land, but God had promised that it was theirs for the taking, if they would only take Him at His word and enter in.

But, like Eve, the Israelites refused to believe what God had said. God had not promised a lack of enemies in the land or a conflict-free conquest of the land. He had promised to go before them and to fight for them. He had assured them of victory, not a lack of war.

From the minute they had left Egypt, God had proven Himself faithful and more than capable of caring for them. He had gone before them, fought on behalf of them, and provided food and clothing for them. And yet, Moses points out, that despite all of God’s loving care and concern, they doubted Him, which caused them to disbelieve Him, and eventually to disobey Him.

“But even after all he did, you refused to trust the Lord your God, who goes before you looking for the best places to camp, guiding you with a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day. – Deuteronomy 1:32-33 NLT

They had “rebelled against the command of the Lord your God and refused to go in” (Deuteronomy 1:26 NLT). And now, 40 years later, Moses was watching a new generation facing the very same circumstance and wondering how they would respond. Would they believe and obey?  Or, like their parents, would they allow their circumstances to doubt the word of God, disbelieve the promises of God, and disobey the command of God?

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

A Step of Faith

These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel beyond the Jordan in the wilderness, in the Arabah opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth, and Dizahab. It is eleven days’ journey from Horeb by the way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-barnea. In the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses spoke to the people of Israel according to all that the Lord had given him in commandment to them, after he had defeated Sihon the king of the Amorites, who lived in Heshbon, and Og the king of Bashan, who lived in Ashtaroth and in Edrei. Beyond the Jordan, in the land of Moab, Moses undertook to explain this law, saying, “The Lord our God said to us in Horeb, ‘You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Turn and take your journey, and go to the hill country of the Amorites and to all their neighbors in the Arabah, in the hill country and in the lowland and in the Negeb and by the seacoast, the land of the Canaanites, and Lebanon, as far as the great river, the river Euphrates. See, I have set the land before you. Go in and take possession of the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them and to their offspring after them.’” – Deuteronomy 1:1-8 ESV

A new generation of Israelites was positioned on the plains of Moab, waiting for word from Moses to enter the land of Canaan. The people of Israel had made their way back to the very same spot where, 40 years earlier, their fathers and mothers had disobeyed God’s command to enter the land and subdue it. Instead, they had chosen to listen to the majority opinion of the 12 men who had spied out the land and returned with a less-than-favorable report. While they validated God’s claim that the land was rich and bountiful, filled with fertile farmland, abundant livestock, and some of the most productive vineyards they had ever seen, they also reported that it was also full of fortified cities and armies populated by soldiers who looked like giants. So, the Israelites had voted to take the advice of the terror-stricken spies and ignore the command of God. And their disobedience had resulted in a curse. God sent them wandering in the wilderness for four decades, until each and every one of them had died off and a new generation had taken their place.

Now, the next crop of Israelites were just weeks away from entering the land God had promised to Abraham hundreds of years earlier. They had made their way to Moab, on the eastern border of the land of Canaan, and it was there that Moses delivered his state-of-the-union address. He began by reminding them of God’s original command.

While the Israelites were in the land of Moab east of the Jordan River, Moses carefully explained the Lord’s instructions as follows. – Deuteronomy 1:5 NLT

Moses proceeded to give the Israelites an intensive review of the expectations God had given them at Mount Sinai more than 40 years earlier.

“When we were at Mount Sinai, the Lord our God said to us, ‘You have stayed at this mountain long enough. It is time to break camp and move on. Go to the hill country of the Amorites and to all the neighboring regions—the Jordan Valley, the hill country, the western foothills, the Negev, and the coastal plain. Go to the land of the Canaanites and to Lebanon, and all the way to the great Euphrates River. Look, I am giving all this land to you! Go in and occupy it, for it is the land the Lord swore to give to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to all their descendants.’” – Deuteronomy 1:6-8 NLT

Now, here they were, standing at the edge of the land of promise. But getting to the border was not going to be enough. The land was theirs, but they were going to have to step into it if they were going to occupy it. And that would require a step of faith.

Moses’ little speech was meant to remind the people of Israel of the covenant God had made with them. God had unilaterally committed Himself to Abraham and his offspring, promising to provide them with the land of Canaan, even before Abraham and Sarah had given birth to their first son. In fact, God made His commitment in spite of their advanced years and Sarah’s barrenness.

“Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” – Genesis 17:4-8 ESV

The ball was now in Israel’s court. God had promised them the land. He had freed them from captivity in Egypt and led them to the land. Now, it was up to them to obey God by entering and occupying the land.

Go in and take possession of the land that the Lord swore to your fathers.” – Deuteronomy 6:8 ESV

This is the exact point at which the previous generation had balked. They had arrived at the border but had refused to cross over the Jordan and occupy the land. And Moses was not willing to sit back and watch the next generation repeat the mistakes of their forefathers. God was not interested in getting Israel to the land. He wanted to see them fully entrenched in the land. The covenant would not be complete until the land became their “everlasting possession.”

The promise of the land required possession of the land. This is an essential point in understanding the book of Deuteronomy. God had done His part. He had led the people to the land, but now they were going to have to enter it and trust God for giving them possession of it. When Moses had lived in the land, he had never owned single acre. In fact, the author of Hebrews states:

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. – Hebrews 11:8-9 ESV

And yet, a little later on in this book, Moses will let the people know that their occupation of the land will be accompanied by incredible blessings from God.

“And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” – Deuteronomy 6:10-12 ESV

They would not be living in some kind of temporary tent city. Instead, they would live in houses they didn’t build filled with items they didn’t buy. They would harvest the produce of fields they didn’t plant and the fruit of vineyards they didn’t cultivate. And all they had to do was remember that it was all the work of God.

Forty years earlier, at Mount Horeb (Sinai), God had given Moses His Law. And He had promised to send an angel before the people of Israel when the time came for them to enter and occupy the land.

 “When my angel goes before you and brings you to the Amorites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, and I blot them out,  you shall not bow down to their gods nor serve them, nor do as they do, but you shall utterly overthrow them and break their pillars in pieces. You shall serve the Lord your God, and he will bless your bread and your water, and I will take sickness away from among you.” – Exodus 23:23-25 ESV

God was going to give them the land, but they were going to have to give God their undivided allegiance. No unfaithfulness. No spiritual adultery. And their obedience would bring God’s blessing.

It’s important to note that the land of Canaan was chosen for the people of Israel, and not by them. It was God’s divine will that they occupy this particular parcel of land in this particular part of the world. God had His reasons. There was a method to His madness. And He had great things in store for His people if they would only submit to His will for them. God’s will is always better. His ways are always better than ours. But will we trust Him by obeying Him? The Book of Deuteronomy is going to give us an up-close-and-personal glimpse into Israel’s response to God’s faithfulness. And, as always, there will be vital lessons for us to learn.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

The Valley of Decision

Proclaim this among the nations:
Consecrate for war;
    stir up the mighty men.
Let all the men of war draw near;
    let them come up.
10 Beat your plowshares into swords,
    and your pruning hooks into spears;
    let the weak say, “I am a warrior.”

11 Hasten and come,
    all you surrounding nations,
    and gather yourselves there.
Bring down your warriors, O Lord.
12 Let the nations stir themselves up
    and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat;
for there I will sit to judge
    all the surrounding nations.

13 Put in the sickle,
    for the harvest is ripe.
Go in, tread,
    for the winepress is full.
The vats overflow,
    for their evil is great.

14 Multitudes, multitudes,
    in the valley of decision!
For the day of the Lord is near
    in the valley of decision.
15 The sun and the moon are darkened,
    and the stars withdraw their shining.

16 The Lord roars from Zion,
    and utters his voice from Jerusalem,
    and the heavens and the earth quake.
But the Lord is a refuge to his people,
    a stronghold to the people of Israel. Joel 3:9-16 ESV

This entire section contains a call to the nations of the earth to prepare for war. The day of the Lord is coming and it will include an epic battle of unparalleled size and scope – like nothing the world has ever seen before. It will involve all the nations of the world, but rather than fighting against one another, they will join forces against God and His people.

The scene Joel depicts is set far into the future, but it grows closer with each passing day. This is not a description of some battle from history-past, but a prophecy concerning the coming day of the Lord and, more specifically, the conflict that will take place in the valley of Jehoshaphat. Since there is no valley by that name in the region around Judah, this appellation is likely a reference to the battle God fought on behalf of King Jehoshaphat and the nation of Judah. In that conflict, God miraculously defeated the enemies of Judah, without them having to shoot a single arrow or throw a solitary spear. The victory was completely His doing. He judged the nations who had risen up against Judah and blessed His people in doing so.

In these verses, the Valley of Jehoshaphat becomes the valley of decision. This will be a place where God will pass judgment on the unregenerate nations of the earth by sending His Son to defeat them in battle. And God states that He “will sit to judge all the surrounding nations” (Joel 3:12 ESV). God the Father will watch as His Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords returns to earth in order to complete the redemptive plan of God.

But what Joel is depicting is the moments leading up to this decisive battle. In fact, he calls out to God, “Bring down your warriors, O Lord” (Joel 3:11 ESV). And he issues a call to the nations, challenging them to “stir themselves up and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat” (Joel 3:12 ESV). It is there that God will mete out His judgment on the nations. He will harvest the grapes and tread them in the winepress of His wrath. This is an image of God gathering up the overripe grapes (sinful men) and crushing them (judging them). We see this same imagery used in the book of Revelation, when John is given a vision of God’s pending judgment of the world.

Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand. And another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to him who sat on the cloud, “Put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.” So he who sat on the cloud swung his sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped. – Revelation 14:14-16 ESV

And later on in the same book, John records yet another vision, revealing the second coming of Christ to judge the nations.

From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. – Revelation 19:15 ESV

And the prophet Isaiah gives us a description of Jesus after the battle in the valley of decision is complete.

Why is your apparel red,
    and your garments like his who treads in the winepress?

“I have trodden the winepress alone,
    and from the peoples no one was with me;
I trod them in my anger
    and trampled them in my wrath;
their lifeblood spattered on my garments,
    and stained all my apparel.
For the day of vengeance was in my heart,
    and my year of redemption had come.” – Isaiah 63:2-4 ESV

This future battle is also known as the Battle of Armageddon, which will take place at the end of the seven years of the Tribulation. Jesus Christ will return to earth and do battle with the nations of the earth which will have joined forces against Him, under the leadership of Antichrist. Once again, the apostle John was given a vision of this battle, and he recorded it in the book of Revelation.

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 ESV

Joel describes the winepresses as full and the vats as overflowing, because the sin of the people is great. In Revelation, John puts it this way: “the harvest of the earth is fully ripe” (Revelation 14:15 ESV) and “its grapes are ripe” (Revelation 14:18 ESV). John uses two different words that are both translated as “ripe” in English, but they carry different meanings in Greek. The first is xērainō, and it means “dried up” or “withered.” It describes grain that has been left in the field too long. It is of no value. The second word, used in reference to grapes, is akmazō and it means, “fully ripe.” It actually describes grapes that are overripe or about to burst. Both words are used to illustrate the unredeemable nature of mankind because they are literally bursting with sin.

Joel describes some amazing meteorological events accompanying this battle. He states that the sun and moon will become darkened and the stars will cease to shine. Himself Jesus echoed these words when He told His disciples:

“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. – Matthew 24:29 ESV

The Tribulation will be marked by incredible atmospheric disturbances and never-before-seen cosmic signs as God brings His final judgments upon the earth. The book of Revelation describes seas turning to blood, mountains, and islands disappearing, 100-pound hailstones falling from the sky, and long periods of darkness. And while many find these signs and wonders difficult to believe and write them off as nothing more than literary metaphors and spiritual symbolism, there is no reason for us to reject their authenticity. For God, nothing is impossible. And since we are talking about the final days of the earth, it would only make sense that God is going to reveal His power in unprecedented ways during those days.

Yes, the picture Joel paints is unbelievable.

The Lord roars from Zion,
    and utters his voice from Jerusalem,
    and the heavens and the earth quake. – Joel 3:16 ESV

But faith requires belief in the improbable and impossible. And Joel calls on the people of Judah to trust in the Lord. He challenges them to believe in the One who can do the unbelievable and perform the impossible.

But the Lord is a refuge to his people,
    a stronghold to the people of Israel. – Joel 3:16 ESV

God was on their side. And while their immediate future did not look particularly good, they could trust that God had a plan in place that would include His eventual redemption and restoration of them. As the prophet had told the people of Judah hundreds of years earlier when they were facing a similarly bleak future, the people living in Joel’s day could rest in the faithfulness of the Lord.

You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem. – 2 Chronicles 20:17 ESV

God has a way of seeing His people through the valleys. He shows up in our darkest moments and rescues us when we are helpless and hopeless. And our enemies stand no chance against the God of the universe. They can turn their plowshares into swords, and their pruning hooks into spears. They can declare, “I am a warrior.” But they will prove to be nothing more than withered grain and overripe grapes in the hand of the Lord.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson