I will drive them out before you little by little…
Context: Soon after God delivered the Hebrew people from the Egyptians by opening the waters of the Red Sea, He promised them that He would be “an enemy to [their] enemies and an adversary to [their] adversaries” (v. 22). God told them He would send His Presence to guard them along their journey (v. 20), but He also told them to “be on your guard” (v. 21) because God never planned to deliver Israel into an enemy-free land (v. 24), but rather to deliver their enemies into their hands (v. 31). He told the people concerning the new land to where they were headed, “I will not drive them out (enemies) before you in a single year, that the land may not become desolate and the beasts of the field become too numerous for you. I will drive them out before you little by little, until you become fruitful and take possession of the land” (Ex. 23:29, 30). However, there was a qualification –they must remain faithful to His covenant.
Note all the instructions God gave Moses in chapters 20-23 of Exodus. The sundry laws He gave Moses described the way Kingdom living in the new land would look. They would not be a people that resembled the other nations; they were to be a “set apart” people, “You shall make no covenant with them or with their gods” (23:32). In other words, God first described what living in His Kingdom entailed (20-23) and then told them that the land was filled with people who do not live according to Kingdom principles. He warned them not to enter into covenant with them and live by their principles because He was calling them to enter into covenant with Him.
Primary Message: God left work for the people to accomplish in order to prove His faithfulness to them and their faithfulness to God. In was in this way that they learned to live as Kingdom people.
In chapter 24, Moses asked the people if they were willing to follow God in obedience; they agreed and “came near” to consecrate themselves at His altar. God left work for the people to do in the Promised Land because it was there that they would learn to live in the confidence of His promises and there that they would learn to live out what they promised God. It was in the context of destroying their enemies that the people would display their confidence in God and their faithfulness to Him. We see this again later as the Israelites were entering Canaan some forty years later (Deut 7:22). Moses specifically told the Israelites why God did not instantaneously destroy their enemies before them - “that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His Word or not” (8:2). God’s instructions to the Israelites in these verses gave them opportunities to prove God’s faithfulness and their faithfulness to God and His covenant.
Application: Our task as followers of Christ in the process of sanctification, the creating newness according to the principles of the Kingdom of God, is to remain faithful. We can, understandably, grow impatient with the process. Especially in this day and time when so much is instantaneous, we want God to change things/us immediately. God, however, asks us to submit to His authority and work alongside Him in the process. God can deliver in an instant, we should never doubt that, but often God works to free us “little by little.” It is in these times that we prove our faithfulness or lack thereof.
There’s an important idea to remember here: God has made promises and those promises are contingent upon His people following through on their promises. God’s love is unconditional; all His promises are not. Many of His promises are “if/then” promises (Ex. 19:5, Deut. 7:12, 1 Sam. 7:3, etc.). If the Israelites were faithful, then God would be faithful to bless them as He promised. On the other hand, God also promised, if they were not faithful to Him, then He would allow their enemies to overtake them. God offered the Israelites His freedom or the “freedom to fall.”
God invites His people into covenant; He promises deliverance from our enemy, but He calls us to walk through a land not fully free from our enemy’s temptations. He wants us to join Him in His covenantal promises and in this, He (and we) come to know what is in our hearts. God desires that when we enter into covenant with Him, we are willing to grow, even little by little, into the representation of Christ for which He placed us in this land. It is a process, but it is a process (sanctification), guided by His Presence. When we walk alongside Him in the process, we prove again and again that He is faithful and that we are committed to Him.
Father, help us to remember the covenant that you have entered into with us. Help us to remember who we are and what we have promised. But help us to remember who You are and what You have promised. Help us to remember that we will never live in fullness here on this earth unless we learn to be sustained, challenged, and matured through the ever-living Word of the Lord. Help us to understand the expediency of growing in maturity that we might be a more complete reflection of your glory. Help us not to choose the easy “lean” way of Christianity, but to choose to grow “fat” in you. Amen.
“All the commandments that I am commanding you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the Lord swore to give to your forefathers. You shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.” Deut 8:1-3
What’s next: We need not worry that God will send lightning bolts from Heaven to destroy us when we disregard Him. Nonetheless, if we continue to disregard His Presence that He sends to guide us on our journeys, something in us will die. Because whenever we are not being guided by His Spirit and growing in maturity (sanctification), we are not stagnant; we are wasting away. If we are not growing “spiritually fat,” we are developing leanness in our souls.