I was reading along in my Bible one morning when a phrase jumped out at me.
You will not clear them away all at once.
I stopped, backed up, and tuned in.
I was reading in Deuteronomy and the Israelites were finally getting ready to enter the Promised Land after 40 long years. In part, God said:
“No, do not be afraid of those nations, for the Lord your God is among you, and he is a great and awesome God. The Lord your God will drive those nations out ahead of you little by little. You will not clear them away all at once, otherwise the wild animals would multiply too quickly for you. But the Lord your God will hand them over to you. He will throw them into complete confusion until they are destroyed.” Deuteronomy 7:21-23
Whatever your promised land.
I find these words comforting, confusing, and applicable to my life. Entering the Promised Land is good, isn’t it? The promised land of your life can take on many forms. Maybe you have struggled with anxiety or depression. Maybe there is a trauma in your story that God wants to heal. Maybe your promised land is more exciting and comes in the form of a marriage proposal, new job opportunity, or a baby announcement.
Whatever your promised land is, like the Israelites, we are all on a journey. Where we are now, is not where we will always be. God has several lessons for us in this short passage:
Do not be afraid for the Lord your God is among you.
I’ll be honest that I have mixed feelings when I read this; part of me recoils a bit. Difficult situations are often made worse by throwing clichés like “do not be afraid” at them. But when I can move past my knee jerk reaction, I see the beauty of starting here.
God doesn’t start with the details, instead he starts at the deep heart level: do not be afraid. Why does he say not to fear? Not because what we are facing isn’t scary, it is. It may be very scary! We don’t need to fear because God offers the gift of his presence. We will not be alone. Our God is great and awesome. I am guessing in the Hebrew there are two distinct words used, but in English, “great” and “awesome” are fairly similar, so why the repeat? In part, to put our fear in perspective, fear is mentioned once, but God’s essence is mentioned twice.
The Lord your God will drive those nations out ahead of you.
As we get ready to enter our promised land, God will drive out the nations. At this stage, we don’t have to DO anything. Isn’t that a comfort?! Too often I think I have to go first and then God will come along once he sees that I’m “willing to do my part.” This is backwards.
Little by little.
What? Little by little? What happened to great and awesome? But little by little rings true to my life far more than the Hollywood version of change where there is one big, life changing moment and then the credits roll. Can God free us instantly from anything that has a hold on our lives? Of course. But that is not the normal way change comes about. Some situations seem more clear cut—I now pronounce you husband and wife! It’s a boy! Welcome to your new cubicle! But in fact most change takes place over time, little by little, until deep roots are extended and the change has taken place.
You will not clear them away all at once.
We’re back to the phrase that caught my eye. This is my new favorite Bible verse! The Israelites are standing on the edge of a huge event they had been looking forward to for years: entering the promised land. I picture William Wallace in the movie Braveheart screaming “Freedom!” as he runs across the battlefield. Instead, God says, “This is going to take time. Your promised land will be entered, but you will not clear away all of your enemies at once.” Isn’t this a relief? When we face an old temptation or think we “should” be further along than we are, God holds the long view in mind.
Why? Is God just playing with us?
Otherwise the wild animals would multiply too quickly for you. Who knows what wild animals God is protecting you from as it takes time to clear away the enemies? I admit that I can grow weary of a slow process, but when I think of the wild animals I am clueless about, I can lean into the slow pace with more gratitude
You will enter a promised land.
This passage ends with two sentences using the word will. It will happen. What is not promised is the how or the timing.
As I slow down and let this passage soak into me, it feeds the true gospel and not the false gospel. Have I mis-equated the pace of change with the presence of God? Believing that fast action means God’s there and slow action means I need to figure out what sin is there. Instead, God turns pace on its head, showing me once again why I need to self-talk the gospel—the true gospel—and not what I think is the gospel.
Where is God challenging you to hold the long view these days?