Sunday, August 18, 2019

Taking Canaan by Degrees

“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.”

For the believer, victory often comes in increments.

That goes against our natural instinct about how things should be, doesn’t it? After all, occupying enemy territory in the Christian life is not just desirable, it is morally imperative.

Less Than 100%

If God is really on our side, anything less than 100% ongoing deliverance from sin starting right this minute leaves us looking for some kind of explanation.

If God is really on our side, anything less than total unity between brothers and sisters makes us wonder if we are doing something wrong.

If God is really on our side, then why is it that there are always more compelling cases to be made for the truth than the one I am currently able to expound?

To the extent that success in the Christian life is incremental, it is a daily reminder that we are never quite there yet.

Wild Beasts Multiplying

With Israel on the brink of finally occupying the Promised Land after a forty year delay in God’s original program, Moses cautioned them not to expect too much too fast. Those Hittites, Girgashites and Amorites were ultimately going to be defeated, but not all at the same time, and not all in the first week of the campaign. Too much success too fast would put Israel in danger from wild beasts, which tend to multiply in the absence of a sufficient number of apex predators.

What sort of beasts can become a problem for the Christian attempting to take new spiritual territory? Well, there’s the wild beast of pride. Too much success too fast can make me think I’m better at living the Christian life than I really am. Then there’s the wild beast of ingratitude. When success comes too easily, I appreciate neither the cost nor the importance of the victory, and I cannot truly rejoice in it the way I should. There is also the wild beast of independence. Trying and failing repeatedly casts me on the Lord in a way that instant victory does not. Why seek his counsel and his power when I have plenty of my own resources to call on?

Succeeding by Increments

Incremental conquest is hard. You cannot help but be reminded that those Canaanites would have sacrificed dozens fewer babies on the altar of Molech if only you had gotten to them a little sooner. And you can’t enjoy your new territory the way you would like to. You have to keep your eyes on the hills and the forests all the time in case a band of renegade Perizzites or Hivites decide to sweep down on your village. Sometimes you take casualties, and have to leave behind fallen comrades-in-arms.

But the alternative to incremental success is even harder. What do you call a proud, ungrateful, independent conqueror of Canaan?

You call him a Canaanite.

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