Yesterday I started dealing with an important idea regarding how God gave the Hebrews the “promised land” (read here). Moses makes an interesting statement on behalf of God:
The Lord your God will clear away these nations before you little by little. You may not make an end of them at once, lest the wild beasts grow too numerous for you.
Yesterday the idea implicit in this statement by God was that fighting is beneficial for us not because of the territory that we acquire in front of us, but because of the inventory that we assess within ourselves. Today I want to look at the second half of the verse.
God’s explicit reason for not driving out all of the foreign people before Israel got to them was about a different kind of fighting. God says that danger is found not only in warfare, but in the beasts that grow from idleness. This is the bizarre danger of living in too much peace (I know how that must sound, but read on a little further).
As I said yesterday, when we come to the realization that there is something worth fighting for it changes us. We grow in that process. The danger then of having nothing to give our lives for is that we begin to shrink. Now, I’m not saying that there is a fatalistic nature to Christianity, that without a war it can’t survive – that is absolutely untrue. However, in this life, in the sin-fractured world that we currently inhabit, I do believe this is true. I don’t believe that we will find the cures for every disease, nor will we see the day when every hungry mouth is filled or every thirsty throat watered. I am not being fatalistic, I am being realistic. The world is broken, anyone who says otherwise is either lying or selling Datsuns. Sin has created a mess that will only be fully resolved when Jesus returns and physically rules this planet. This obviously doesn’t mean that we can’t do things to give people a taste of the beauty that He brings, we should and we must, but social justice will always be an active pursuit not a finished one.
Similarly, we will always find room to improve internally. Show me the Christian who believes he/she is “perfected” and I’ll show you bad theology, pride, and shortsightedness. I do believe that we will be victorious over sin, I have no doubt. I have seen victories in my own life and in the lives of those I have walked with in community, but with each victory there is always another battle on the horizon. Hear me here and be encouraged: THIS IS BY DESIGN. God allows us to peel back layer after layer of ourselves, working from the inside-out, to find the impostors and lesser loves and idols that we once served and that call for our attention again. We do what the Old Testament refers to a “devoting to destruction” as we come to those old problems, we destroy them with extreme prejudice.
It’s important to remember, through the process of growth and sanctification (which is really all this verse describes), that God is NOT displeased with us as we recognize and engage the carnal desires and enemies of our flesh. We have a tendency to think that we must be secretive about the things that we deal with, as if any of it is a surprise to God. Just like the Hittites and Philistines were known enemies to everyone, there is no secrecy with God regarding the things that we will have to deal with as Christians. What God does, through His initial declaration of freedom to us, is give us the ability to confidently deal with the things that are no longer a part of us. We walk onto battlefields with the knowledge that each skirmish is ordained, sanctioned, and ultimately determined by God. In this verse God promises Israel not only that they will have battles but also that they will win them all. God isn’t leaving enemies in the promised land to actually defeat His people, He was simply using their enemies to make sure the land didn’t get over-run by bears and other dangerous animals while the Hebrews were trying to colonize it.
God is not waiting on us to become “who we will be one day” so that He can love us, care for us, and bless us. He has actually placed the very things that we often interpret as “punishments” in our paths BECAUSE He loves us. Idleness can far too easily lead to numbness. The beasts of empty territory are far more dangerous than the enemies that God has already promised to drive out – that’s what He is saying to us. America should know this all too well as we have taken comfort, blessing, peace, and prosperity and twisted them into previously unknown perversions. Case in point: lust has always been an enemy of mankind everywhere, but here, with more time, money, and boredom than we know what to do with we have mass marketed lust and created a billion dollar per year industry out of it. In an article by Russel Moore, he deals with this issue of how we are wired and how we have, in our culture, counterfeited the real with the fake:
The porn addict becomes a lecherous loser…The video game addict becomes a pugilistic coward, with other-protecting courage supplanted by aggression with no chance of losing one’s life. In both cases, one seeks the sensation of being a real lover or a real fighter, but venting one’s reproductive or adrenal glands over pixilated images, not flesh and blood for which one is responsible.
A man who learns to be a lover through porn will simultaneously love everyone and no one. A man obsessed with violent gaming can learn to fight everyone and no one.
The answer to both addictions is to fight arousal with arousal. Set forth the gospel vision of a Christ who loves his bride and who fights to save her… Let’s teach our men to make love, and to make war . . . for real.
– Russel Moore, “Fake Love, Fake War: Why So Many Men are Addicted to Internet Porn and Video Games”
The underlying truth here is that we have so insulated ourselves from real battles that we have found ways to simulate some of the excitement but without any of the life-or-death risk. We do it with video games, sports, television, movies, books, etc… In their place all of those things are fine, but out of place, with no true battle being waged for our heart-holiness and soul-passion, they are nothing more than beasts that have grown strong and numerous in the wilderness of our being. God, through Moses, tells His people, His children, that He will not allow them to settle for a life that means nothing, a story without greatness. God has built us for adventure and depth, not idleness and numbness.
We fight in God’s strength, not ours. We move with His direction, not our own. And in this strength and this direction the battles are not curses, they are blessings. As Samwise so beautifully tells us:
Sam: It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end it’s only a passing thing this shadow, even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines it’ll shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something even if you were too small to understand why. But I think Mr. Frodo, I do understand, I know now folk in those stories had lots of chances ofturning back, only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something.
Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?
Sam: That there’s some good in the world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.