In Deuteronomy 7, Moses gives the Israelites instructions for entering the Promised Land. Since the original promise made to Abraham in Genesis, through their 400+ year enslavement in Egypt, and 40-year wilderness jaunt, the Israelites have long anticipated this climactic moment. This is what God had promised, and what he’d been preparing them for.
However, there’s one major problem. The Promised Land isn’t vacant. It’s filled with other people groups. Israel can’t just stroll in and unpack their suitcases.
There’s also a minor problem. Israel is a very small people group. In comparison to the other big, scary, imposing nations, Israel is definitely the underdog.
And, they’re freaking out.
In Deuteronomy 7.17, Moses verbalizes the very question the Israelites are thinking as they peer into their land—“If you say to yourself, ‘These nations are more numerous than I; how can I dispossess them?”—and quickly follows in verse 18 with the answer—“Do not be afraid of them. Just remember…”
In the midst of their fear, Moses calls the Israelites to remember everything God has already done for them. Moses sees Israel’s panic in light of this new trial, and exhorts them to remember God’s faithfulness, the signs and wonders in his dealings with Pharaoh, and his miraculous deliverance from Egypt. For Moses, “the antidote to fear” is to remember what God has done.* God’s ability to annihilate past enemies, is an indicator of his ability to defeat present ones.
God brought me to this passage during my devotional several weeks ago. Like the Israelites, I’d run up against a massive roadblock. And, like the Israelites, I was freaking out.
My struggle wasn’t (and isn’t) against other nations or people groups, but against my own mind gremlins (those annoying self-deprecating, self-destructive, and self-doubting thoughts) which are occupying my Promised Land. My question to God wasn’t “These nations are more numerous than I; how can I dispossess them?” but rather, “These gremlins are more numerous than I; how can I dispossess them?"
God then said, “I will clear your gremlins away little by little.” This was God’s promise to me.
He then invited me to insert the word gremlins where the words “people/s,” “nation/s,” “survivors,” “fugitives,” and “them” occurred, and to reread the passage.
In doing so, God’s message to me, was the same as Moses’ message to the Israelites—the antidote to fear, is remembering what God has already done.
While rereading the passage in the gremlin translation, God invited me to remember what he’s done the past five months of my life, and that his past behavior is indicative of both his present and future action.
However, when we're in the midst of serious struggles, remembering is often hard to do. Like the Israelites, I think we all too often expect an easy, uncomplicated entry into our Promised Land, with limited obstacles and no fear. I guarantee that if I were among the Israelites 3,000+ years ago, I would be wondering, “Really Lord? You brought us all this way, and the land that is ours is filled with other terrifying peoples. Yeah, we remember that you laid the smack down on Pharaoh, split the Red Sea, and provided manna in the desert, but considering all of these miracles, it seems like you could've forced the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites to check out before we got here.”
But, in light of my recent experience, I’ve learned that God often works counter to our human expectations.
God always acts in accordance with his character though. His actions are always a display of his glory, power, and love, even if this looks foreign to us from our human vantage point.
While I don’t pretend to know God’s intentions, or why he didn’t vacate the Promised Land, my guess is that he wanted to show his people that he was present with them (7.21); that he would fight on their behalf; that he was powerful enough to allay their fears; that he wanted to reveal his might to the surrounding nations; and that he indeed was “great” and “awesome” (7.21).
Similarly, I believe this is why my Promised Land is filled with gremlins.
While I don’t pretend to know God’s intentions, my guess is that by knocking them off one-by-one, God’s power, ability, and love, will be revealed, not just to me, but to those around me. In alleviating my gremlins little by little, his glory will be manifest.
I think all of us struggle with gremlins which seemingly interfere with God’s promises to us. Unlike the Israelites, they’re most likely not other nations or people groups, but they’re just as scary, daunting, and overwhelming, and cause us to ask, “How can we dispossess them?”
God’s answer: do not fear. Instead, remember.
Like Moses’ challenge to the Israelites, God encourages us to trust in his past action, recognizing that this translates into present action.
As we trust him, he'll annihilate our gremlins little by little.
* ESV Study Bible, English Standard Version. Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. 2008.
**Please note, this post doesn’t comment on holy war, God’s role as a warrior, or whether or not annihilation of people groups is something consistent with God’s character.