Following God Alone

Exodus 23:20-33 
20“Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. 21Pay careful attention to him and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression, for my name is in him. 22“But if you carefully obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries. 23“When my angel goes before you and brings you to the Amorites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, and I blot them out, 24you shall not bow down to their gods nor serve them, nor do as they do, but you shall utterly overthrow them and break their pillars in pieces. 25You shall serve the Lord your God, and he will bless your bread and your water, and I will take sickness away from among you. 26None shall miscarry or be barren in your land; I will fulfill the number of your days. 27I will send my terror before you and will throw into confusion all the people against whom you shall come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you. 28And I will send hornets before you, which shall drive out the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites from before you. 29I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply against you. 30Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased and possess the land. 31And I will set your border from the Red Sea to the Sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the Euphrates, for I will give the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you shall drive them out before you. 32You shall make no covenant with them and their gods. 33They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against me; for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you.”

After giving Moses the 10 Commandments and subsequent expansion on those Commandments, God now lays out His plan for moving His people in the Promised Land. As this group of people stand on the brink of seeing God’s promise to Abraham fulfilled, they have to admit that they are in no way prepared to “take” the land; but they are prepared to “receive” it and that is all God expects them to do. He will do all of the heavy lifting. He even promises that He will lead them, instruct them, and stay always with them as the Angel of the Lord. Two demands were made upon the Israelites. The first was a prohibition of worship of the gods the Israelites would encounter once they reached the Promised Land, gods worshiped by the local Canaanites. The second was a demand for action: the people must destroy idols and sacred stones, the means and reminders of worship. Seems fairly simple, doesn’t it?

I admire the elegance of God’s plan to drive the Canaanites from the land. He plans to allow natural occurrences to drive them from the land. The text says “hornets” but that can be expanded to include all types of predators that make the land unattractive to the people so that they would naturally leave. God even plans to have them leave slowly, thus keeping the fields and crops healthy. It isn’t even particularly violent. The Children of Israel have only one thing to do; they must destroy every pagan temple and worship element they can find. God will not tolerate the worship of anything other than Himself. Again – it seems fairly simple and had the Children of Israel followed these instructions the gaining of the Promised Land would have been an easy and non-violent event; would that this had been the case. The rest of the history found in the Old Testament tells the story of rampant disobedience and ever-present idolatry.

Again we are reminded of the consequences of placing anything before the Lord in our lives. It happens so subtly most of the time. The Children of Israel didn’t start out to become idol worshipers. They just didn’t exercise the type of utter obedience to God’s demand for the removal of every scrap of idol worship. They become complacent. And there it is. Complacency is not new to our generation. It’s been a part of the human condition for millennia. How can a little stone idol be a problem? How can a little fixation on a sports team or movie star be a problem? Who cares if I read my horoscope once in a while? Surely that won’t harm my faith or anger God. Allowing those seemingly harmless things into our lives eats away at our relationship with God. It doesn’t generally happen with great drama or even so that you would notice. It happens slowly and steadily. Then one day you have replaced God as the number one priority in your life and idolatry has a hold of you. This is exactly what God was setting His people up to avoid. He wants and deserves the number one spot in our lives and He’s even willing to help us give Him that position. But quite often we stand in our own way.

It is never my goal to leave you in a place of despair or sadness over the condition of your heart. We take God too lightly and tend to give Him far less than He deserves of our attention and adoration. But even the sin of idolatry is forgiven in the blood of Jesus. In that forgiveness we have the opportunity to ask God for a clearer vision of Him and a deeper focus upon His face. Satan will always attempt to place idols in our path and we may certainly fall for it with far greater frequency than we want to admit. But God is ever present just as He was with the Children of Israel and He does not leave us alone to figure it out for ourselves. In Jesus’ blood we are returned to His side and it is there that we shall remain!