The book of Deuteronomy tells us how Moses gathered the people of Israel together in the desert near the River Jordan and across from Jericho in the fortieth year after they left Mount Sinai. And Moses is preparing the people for life in the Promised Land which they’re about to enter. He’s speaking, of course, to the new generation of Israelites, because the previous generation — the ones who had been rescued from Egypt — had died in the wilderness, because they did not believe the Lord when he promised to give them the land to live in. Instead of trusting the Lord and his promise, and going in to take the land, the previous generation refused to go in; and they talked about returning to Egypt.
And because of their unbelief, the Lord was angry with that generation and announced that none of them — with the exception of Caleb and Joshua who believed — would enter the land. All the rest — including Moses and Aaron — would die in the desert. And so, they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years until that generation had died. And now, in the book of Deuteronomy, we have Moses, addressing the new generation, preparing them for life in the Promised Land.
Chapter 1 recalls the rebellion of the previous generation. Chapters 2 and 3 recall their wilderness wanderings and how the Lord enabled that new generation to take possession of the lands of Heshbon and Bashan as a kind of foretaste of what the Lord would give to them whenever they crossed the River Jordan. In chapters 4 and 5 Moses began to remind the people of the law of the Lord which they were required to keep. And in chapter 6 Moses warned them not to forget the Lord, but to love the Lord with all their heart and soul and mind and strength. They were to love the Lord and serve him only. And they were to teach their children to do the same.
And no doubt you’ll remember how I’ve tried to emphasise again and again the priority of grace. In this book there are lots of laws and commands for the people to obey. However, this is a book which speaks to us first and foremost about God’s grace, his kindness to his sinful people. Life in the Promised Land was God’s gracious gift to the people of Israel, which they did not deserve or merit in any way. He graciously and freely chose them to be his people; he graciously and freely rescued them from their bondage in Egypt; he graciously and freely sustained them in the wilderness; and he graciously and freely gave them the Promised Land to live in and to enjoy. They didn’t earn the right to the Promised Land by keeping the law or by their good deeds. He gave it to them as a gracious gift.
However, now that God had brought them through the wilderness to bring them into the Promised Land, he now wanted them to obey him and to do his will. The law was not the means to life in the Promised Land, but it was to be the rule for their life in the Promised Land. The law showed them how to live as God’s people and how to live a life pleasing to the Lord, who loved them and who had rescued them.
And the law of God is not the means to life for us either. Keeping the law of the Lord is not the means to life in the Promised Land of Eternal Life. No, eternal life is God’s gracious gift to his people, which we receive, not by keeping the law, but by trusting in Christ the Saviour. But having believed, and having received the forgiveness of our sins and the hope of everlasting life through faith in Christ alone, we turn to the law of the Lord as the rule for our life here on earth. The law of the Lord shows us — just as it showed the Israelites — how to live a life that is pleasing to the Lord, who loved us and who has rescued us from condemnation.
And so, we need to remember the priority of grace. Yes, there are lots of laws and commands in this book. But ultimately it’s a book about God’s grace. And therefore it’s a book about the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, who loved us and who gave up his life to deliver us from our sin and misery and to give us everlasting life in the new heavens and earth.
Today we come to chapter 7 which can be divided into four parts. Verses 1 to 5 are about what their attitude should be to the nations who were living in the land of Canaan at that time. Verses 6 to 11 are about God’s electing love. Verses 12 to 15 are about blessings for obedience. And verses 16 to 26 are about how they’re to trust in the Lord. So, let’s study this chapter now.
Verses 1 to 5
And it begins with verses 1 to 5 which are about what their attitude should be to the nations who were living in the land of Canaan at that time.
‘When the Lord brings you into the land….’ That’s how verse 1 begins. We should note Moses’s assurance. There’s no doubt in his mind. There are no ifs or buts. There’s no hesitation in what he says; and there’s not a hint of a doubt. He is completely confident that the Lord will indeed bring them into the land and give it to them. He’s completely confident that they will take possession of the land. He’s completely confident, because he has seen what the Lord did in the past in Egypt and how the Lord overcame the Egyptians. He saw how the Lord divided the Red Sea to allow his people to cross over on dry ground. He saw how the Lord protected them in the wilderness and provided them with all they needed. He saw how the Lord recently enabled them to defeat the kings of Heshbon and Bashan. He has seen what the Lord has done; and he trusts that the Lord will continue to help them. So, he has no doubts in his mind and he trusts the Lord to do for them all that he promised and to give them the land.
And we too must trust in the Lord and not doubt that he will do all that he has promised and will bring us to our Promised Land, which is the new heavens and earth. He sent his Son to live and die for us. He sent his Spirit to enable us to repent and believe. He provides us with one spiritual blessing after another while we go on living in this world. And so, since he has done so much for us already, we can trust in him to bring us at last to heaven.
Furthermore, verse 1 makes clear that Moses trusts the Lord to drive out the nations on their behalf. He mentions seven nations by name. Seven in the Bible signifies completion and therefore it’s possible that these seven nations represent all the nations who were living in the land of Canaan at that time. Though they were larger and stronger than the Israelites, Moses trusts that the Lord will drive them out.
How was the Lord going to drive them out? Well, he was going to drive them out by helping the Israelites defeat them in battle. Think of what happened to Jericho, that city surrounded by a high, strong wall. And yet, the Lord caused the wall to tumble to the ground; and he helped his people defeat their enemies and take the city. Just as he would help the Israelites to defeat the people of Jericho, so he would help them to defeat the rest of the nations in Canaan.
And when the Israelites have defeated them, they must destroy the nations completely. That’s in verse 2. The Israelites are to show them no mercy. So, don’t make a treaty with them. And don’t intermarry with them. Furthermore, break down their altars; smash their sacred stones; cut down their Asherah poles; burn their idols in the fire. The nations living in Canaan were pagans who worshipped false gods and idols, instead of the true and living God. Therefore remove from the land every trace of their idolatrous worship.
So, destroy the people and destroy their places of worship. It seems a bit harsh, doesn’t it? And ‘show them no mercy’ sounds odd to us, when we’re so used to speaking about and giving thanks to God for his mercy to us. But, as I’ve said before, when God commanded his people to destroy the people of Canaan, it was not an act of terrorism or genocide, but it was an act of justice. The Lord was punishing those nations for their sin and rebellion. They were a pagan people, who did not love the Lord or walk in his ways. Instead of worshipping the Lord, they worshipped other gods. Instead of doing his will, they broke his commandments; and the history books can tell us of the wicked things they used to do. They were a pagan people and a wicked people. And for years and years and years, the Lord was patient with them, giving them time to repent. But they continued in their wicked ways; and now the Lord was going to punish them for their sins. And the Lord was going to punish them by sending the Israelites into the land to destroy them.
When Israel invaded the land to destroy these nations, it was not an act of terrorism or genocide, but of justice. God was punishing them for their sin and guilt. And every time we read about this kind of thing — when the Lord punished people and nations for their sin — it’s a foretaste of that great and terrible day of judgment when Christ will come to judge the nations and to separate the righteous and the unrighteous. And whereas those who are righteous by faith will be brought into God’s presence to be with him forever in glory, the unrighteous will be sent away from the presence of the Lord to be punished forever for their sins. On that day, the Lord will show them no mercy, but will condemn them justly for all their sins.
And yet, to all who now repent and who trust in Christ for forgiveness, the Lord is merciful and he is gracious. He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquity. If you trust in his Son, he is merciful to you and he pardons you and he gives you the hope of everlasting life, so that you need not fear the coming judgment.
Furthermore, while the Lord in those days used the Israelites to punish the nations, he has a different task for his church today. He does not call on his church today to punish the nations, but to evangelise the nations. When the Lord brought the Israelites to Canaan, he commanded them to destroy the nations. But after the Lord’s death and resurrection, he commanded his New Testament church to go and make disciples of all the nations, teaching and baptising them. As another preacher puts it, we’re not to kill the nations, but we’re to convert the nations. We’re not to kill them with the sword, but we’re to convert them with the Spirit’s sword, which is the word of God. That’s what the Lord calls his church to do today; and he’s sending preachers into all the world to tell people everywhere the good news that they can find mercy and forgiveness if only they will repent and believe in Christ the Saviour.
But, of course, there’s another reason why the Israelites had to destroy the Canaanites. Look at verse 4: if they intermarried with the Canaanites, the Canaanites would turn their sons away from following the Lord to serve other gods. So, if you let them live and if you marry them, they’ll only lead you astray. Isn’t that what happened to Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived? He may have been the wisest man who ever lived, but he foolishly married foreign wives who led him astray so that he worshipped their false gods. And when we studied Ezra and Nehemiah we saw how the Israelites disregarded the Lord’s command and they allowed their children to marry foreigners who did not worship the Lord. And so, here’s the Lord, warning his people, not to marry those who do not love the Lord, because their unbelieving spouses will only lead them astray.
And, of course, in the New Testament, Paul instructed widows — who wanted to remarry — to marry only those who belong to the Lord. And he warned believers not to be yoked together with unbelievers. And Christians have always interpreted Paul’s words to mean that Christians should only marry Christians. And Christians should only marry Christians — which means that Christians should only go out with Christians — because an unbelieving spouse can lead us astray so easily, so that our heart is no longer devoted to the Lord as it should be.
And in Romans 12 Paul commands every believer not to conform to the wicked ways of this fallen world. Instead of following the ways of the world, and going astray from the Lord, we’re to be careful to walk in the ways of the Lord and to do his will. And John in his New Testament letters warns Christians away from loving the world and the things of this world which can lead us from Christ. We’re not to love this fallen world, but we’re to be careful to love the Lord and to obey him.
Verses 6 to 11
But let’s move on to verses 6 to 11 which are about God’s electing love. The reason the Israelites were to be careful not to go astray — and the reason why we must not go astray — is because we are a people holy to the Lord our God. Do you see that in verse 6? That means the Lord has separated us from the rest of the world to belong to him. He has set us apart as his special people.
Moses was able to say to the Israelites that the Lord chose them out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. And we too in the church can say the same thing: the Lord chose us out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.
But why did the Lord choose Israel? Was it because they were a numerous nation? Was it because they were a strong and mighty nation? Was there something about them which made them stand out from the rest of humanity? Why did he choose them? Well, Moses makes clear in the following verses that the Lord did not choose them because there were more numerous. In fact, there were very few of them when God chose them. And they weren’t a mighty nation, because in Egypt they were slaves who were unable to stand up to the Egyptians themselves. And it wasn’t because they were good, because the story of the Israelites up to now has been a story of sin and rebellion.
So, why did the Lord choose them? Moses tells us in verse 8 that it was because the Lord loved them. The reason the Lord chose them to be his treasured possession was because he loved them. And why did he love them? Well, there’s really no answer to that question, except to say it’s because of God’s grace, his kindness to his sinful people. Though they did nothing to deserve it, though there was nothing about them that made them stand out, the Lord set his love and affection on them and he chose them for himself. And on the basis of that love, God swore an oath to their forefathers — men like Abraham and Isaac and Jacob — to be their God and the God of their offspring and to give them the Promised Land to live in.
The Lord chose them to be his special people. And if you’re a believer, you can say the same thing: the Lord chose me. He set you apart from the rest of the world to belong to him. You can say that, because that’s what God teaches us in the New Testament, where the Lord Jesus said to his disciples in John 15:
You did not choose me, but I chose you….
And then, in Ephesians 1, the Apostle Paul wrote how God chose his people in Christ Jesus before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. Before the creation of the world, before you existed, before you had done anything — whether good or bad — God chose you. And then, in Ephesians 2, Paul said that by nature, by birth, we were objects of wrath. We deserve God’s wrath, because we’re sinners by nature, who sin continually. But, because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ, even when we were dead in transgressions. It is by grace you have been saved, says Paul.
So, before we existed, God chose his people. And he set his love upon them. And he saved them, not because they deserved it, but because he’s merciful. Why did God choose us? Why did he chose you, if you’re a believer? Why did he set his love on you? It wasn’t because of anything in you. It wasn’t because you were better than others. You did nothing to earn or merit it. It was entirely due to God’s grace, his kindness to sinners, who deserve nothing from him, but condemnation. You have done nothing to deserve his salvation. It’s his gracious gift to you, which you receive by faith in Christ alone.
Verses 12 to 15
Let me hurry on to verses 12 to 15 where the Lord promised blessing to his people if they were obedient to him in the Promised Land. According to verse 13, he promised to increase their numbers and to multiply the fruit of their land, so that they would have grain and wine and oil. He also promised to multiply their herds and flocks. Furthermore he will keep them free from disease and will not inflict on them any of the diseases they knew in Egypt.
So, the Lord promised to bless them if they remained obedient to him. Later on, in chapter 28, we’ll see that there will be curses for disobedience. So, if they’re careful to obey the Lord, he will fill their lives with good things. But if they’re disobedient to him, he will send disaster on them.
I mentioned the last time that the threats and warnings in God’s law show us what our sins deserve and what afflictions we may expect in this life when we disobey God’s law. He will never eternally condemn those who trust in his Son, but he may still send afflictions on us in this life when we disobey him. And he does so in order to discipline and train his children to be more obedient. He’s not punishing his children, but he’s disciplining them for their good.
Furthermore, the promises in God’s law show us what blessings we can expect to receive from the Lord in this life. Now, we can never deserve or merit these blessings, but we receive them from our loving heavenly Father as a gracious reward. And, of course, he is free to give them to us or to withhold them from us, whichever seems best to him, because we can never do anything to deserve them.
And so, the purpose of the warnings and the promises in God’s law is to encourage God’s people to remain obedient to the Lord and to walk in his ways. And furthermore, verses 12 to 15 remind us that whatever good we receive in this life comes from the Lord. And so, whatever we need, we should seek it from him, because he’s the one who is able to fill our lives with good things and to supply with us with what we need.
Verses 16 to 26
And in the final part of today’s chapter — verses 16 to 26 — Moses reassures the people that they can trust in the Lord.
In verse 16, Moses repeats the command to destroy the nations. But then he imagines the people saying:
These nations are stronger than us. How can we drive them out?
Well, don’t be afraid of them, says Moses. Just remember what the Lord has already done for you and how he performed all kinds of miraculous signs and wonders in order to bring you out of your captivity in Egypt. What the Lord did to the Egyptians, he will do to the nations in Canaan. In fact, if he needs to, the Lord can send a hornet among them to destroy them. Some commentators think Moses is speaking metaphorically and he means that God can send a great army against them. Other commentators think he’s speaking literally. And, of course, just as he sent frogs and gnats and locusts to Egypt, he can sent hornets to Canaan to drive out the people. So, don’t be afraid of them.
And Moses explains that the Lord will drive the nations out, not all at once, but bit by bit. If they were driven out all at once, wild animals might take over the land. So, he’ll remove them bit by bit. But he will definitely remove them: he’ll give their kings into your hands and he’ll wipe out their names from under heaven. No one will be able to stand up to you or to destroy you, said Moses. Only remain faithful to the Lord and destroy their false gods and images.
Moses taught the Israelites to remember the Lord and what he had done for them in the past. Whenever they were anxious about the future, they were to remember what God had done for them in the past. And isn’t that what we’re to do? Isn’t that one of the reasons we come to church on Sundays?
We’re on our way to our Promised Land, because God has graciously promised us everlasting life in the new heavens and earth. But there are many dangers on the way: there’s the Devil who comes at us continually with his wicked schemes to try to get us to stumble away from Christ; there’s the unbelieving world which despises us and ridicules us and which even persecutes us for our faith in Christ. And at the same time, there are things in the world which appeal to our sinful nature in order to lead us astray. And then there are all the normal troubles of life: the trials we must endure, the disappointments we will meet, and all the things which break our hearts. There are many dangers on the way. How can we keep going? How can we persevere? What will keep us from falling short of the Promised Land to come?
When we come to church, we’re reminded again and again and again of all that God has done for us in the past and how, in the past, God the Father raised his Son from the dead and exalted him to the highest place, triumphant over the grave and over all his enemies. Christ was raised by the power of God; and that same power is at work in you to keep you from falling and to sustain you through every trial and trouble as you make your way to our Promised Land.
And so, we come to church on Sundays and we’re reminded of what God has done for us in the past. But not only on Sundays, but throughout the week, whenever you’re afraid or anxious or facing some trouble, you should remember the past and Christ’s victory over death and how he triumphed over his enemies and how his power is available to you. So, remember these things, because this is the way to face the present and the future.