Reading in Deuteronomy this month, I feel like light bulbs keep going off. Yeah, I read all this stuff last year, so it shouldn't be anything new, right? Wrong. Every time I read this Book, something else jumps out at me - maybe that's why it's called the living Word of God. Funny, too, how - whether I've read ahead for a couple of days or I'm "behind" in my daily reading schedule - I find myself exactly where I need to be, reading words that speak with surgical precision to the struggles of the day at hand.
This week, I find Moses exhorting the children of Israel as they prepare to move into to the Promised Land. A recap of their recent history, military instructions, property details, reminders of who they are and of Whom they serve - a broad, deep, fascinating book. On the brink of receiving all the goodness that God has promised, the people are reminded: "The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might..." Then, they are told to go in....and destroy.
I have to be honest - When Scripture talks of cities being devoted to complete destruction, it kind of turns my stomach. Kill all of the men, women, and children. Do not take their sons and daughters to be married to your own children. Kill the livestock. Completely roll over and obliterate their cultural and religious customs. Don't even spare their religious artifacts: "...break down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and chop down their Asherim and burn their carved images." People, this is no "politically correct" God we serve!
I've often wondered, How would I feel if I were an Israelite fighting man on the front lines, marching into Canaan? I just don't know if I'd have the stomach for the grisly task God had assigned me. What if I were in the company of women coming in behind? How would I handle being part of the clean-up crew, faced with so much carnage and destruction? Folks, these people were called to do some very nasty business. And it wasn't nasty business that would be executed suddenly, all at once: grit you teeth, do your job, and then deal with it. BAM!, like some kind of natural catastrophe - no time to really think about what's happening until the storm has passed. No, God said He would clear away the Canaanite people "...little by little. You may not make an end of them at once, lest the wild beasts grow too numerous for you." (Deut. 7:22)
Another thing that I love about the Word of God - besides the fact that it really is living, new every time I read it - is that it doesn't paint a fairy cream-puff picture of life. It is honest, often gruesomely honest, "piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, or joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12). Even piercing to the secret places of my own cowardly, timid, squeamish heart!
Although Scripture exposes things that make me uncomfortable, things that may even make me recoil, although it makes demands that cause me to quail, it also gives me tremendous comfort. I am comforted because the nasty business that I find before me in my own life is not something that has caught God by surprise. It's not a situation that He somehow overlooked or neglected to write about in His book.
As Christians, we are called from darkness to light. From death to life. From bondage in Egypt to liberty and abundance in the Promised Land. Like Israel camping on the banks of the Jordan, God reminds us: "You are mine. You belong to me. You are ultimately and completely secure in my hand." Then, He points us to Glory and tells us to get marching, reminding us that He will be with us and fighting for us every step of the way.
Fighting? Yes, fighting. God doesn't save us and then zap us straight to heaven. This Christian journey, with all that is good and sweet about it, isn't going to be a holiday in the park. No, a whole lot of this journey is nasty business. It's devoting to complete destruction those things which entice me away from loving God with all my heart and soul and strength. It's chopping down idols and smashing altars and burning to ashes the beautiful artifacts of my former paganism.
No, God hasn't called me today to put men, women, and children to the sword. For me, it's the false images I have of myself, who I think I should be, what I think I deserve in this life. It's covetousness and discontentment, a tendency to seek self-promotion and my own glory. It's hoarding grace for myself and sharing none with others. It's a thousand and one details of daily, humdrum life in my pre-Christ Canaan, habits and routines and taken-for-granted things that I haven't yet given a thought.
I should not be surprised at the struggles in this life. God has told me what to expect: these struggles will be messy, and it will take time...maybe a lot of time...before there is any sign of victory or pause to rest. God has already told me that He will not make an end of these battles all at once.
But, He has also promised that He is standing with me, fighting for me, and that none of them - none of the pagan kings or gods of sin and self and stuff and insecurity - none of them shall be able to stand.
3 weeks ago