“Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”
Some mornings I don’t read the Bible; I listen to it. Call it cheating if you want, but sometimes what my tired eyes miss from the page, my ears catch. I tapped play on my phone’s Bible app and stepped into the shower to Deuteronomy 9 today.
Israel is poised on the brink of Canaan, the Promised Land, their new home. They are to go in and take the land for themselves. The only problem: the land isn’t empty! Israel is being sent into a land already populated by many and massive (numerically and physically) peoples. Nevertheless, they are to cross the Jordan and take the land. Why? Because God said to do it. How? Because God was going before them to subdue and destroy those peoples.
Now, were I an Israelite on that day waking up, stretching, eyeing the fair and pleasant land across the river, I’d be feeling pretty good. For one, I didn’t die in the wilderness like all those disobedient older-generation Israelites. Two, God has promised to give me and my countrymen the victory.
Let me ask you something: Do you feel God’s favor upon you as a born-again follower of Jesus? As we go along the narrow way of faith and see the effects of progressive sanctification, it can be easy to switch the order of things. It can be easy, that is, to presume God’s favor is somehow a result of our having been born again, a result of our trusting in Jesus for forgiveness, of our seeking to grow as His disciple, of our sanctification, of our service to others in the church, etc., rather than the true reality, namely that God’s favor results IN all of those blessings…and many more.
When you don’t feel God’s favor, to what do you attribute it—disobedience? failure? insufficiency of some sort? We certainly are disobedient; we fail and are insufficient in countless ways all the time—yes, even as Christians. However, God’s favor or lack of favor is a separate issue from our behavior, as Deuteronomy 9 indicates. It’s not a separate issue from all behavior; it’s just a separate issue from OUR behavior. God favored Israel, but not because they were good and the Canaanites were bad. He favored Israel because…well…He just favored them, He picked them; He loved them; He wanted them for Himself. And the victory, the assurance, the fulfillment, the protection and provision promised to Israel all flowed out of God’s choice, not Israel’s conduct, out of God’s heart, not as a result of Israel’s merit.
What possible relevance can this Old Testament message have for New Testament people? Tons! Though we have the Holy Spirit writing God’s laws on our hearts rather than upon external stone tablets, our flesh still has all the capacity for disobedience that Israel’s did. God would’ve been justified in wiping Israel out entirely and starting all over with Moses. From earth’s perspective it looks like Moses changed God’s mind and stayed God’s hand of destruction toward the wayward sons of Jacob. But, in reality, while God was certainly displeased by their folly and idolatry, rather than reversing God’s heart towards His people, Moses’ pleading reveals God’s deeper heart for His people—it reveals His underlying favor.
God didn’t have to provide a Moses who would plead for mercy, much less a Jesus who would bleed for it. But He did! Why? Because He loves us. And because He loves the testimony about Him and the glory that accrues to Him among the nations for being a loving, merciful God towards rebels. He will not settle only for the glory of being just in the face of rebellion but claims for Himself the greater glory of being the Justifier of sinners by means of a mediator whom He Himself supplies, a mediation foreshadowed by Moses and fulfilled in Christ.
It’s Friday. Many of you are in some phase of sermon preparation for the coming Lord’s Day gathering of His people. Your church members are wrapping up busy work weeks, stressful weeks, sick, tired, happy weeks, and so are you. Using your voice to deliver God’s words this Sunday to His people is an unspeakably great privilege. It’s a privilege Satan (and your flesh) will work to convince you is either something you deserve because of faithfulness or don’t deserve because of failures. I’m not suggesting that faithfulness and failures don’t matter. What I’m suggesting is that they don’t matter most. What matters most is you and I joining and helping lead God’s people toward and into His promised land with a humble apprehension of His favor demonstrated to us by and on the basis of His means, and not ours.
Write that sermon. Pray for those saints. Pour yourself out before this God. Gird up your faithful yet failing, failing yet faithful self to move upon Canaan because God the infinitely faithful and unfailing One has chosen you in Christ, promised it to you in Christ, and will give you and the rest of His people all good things in and by Christ. March on Canaan, brothers! Preach the word, shepherd the saints, reach out to the lost; slay the “Canaanites” of greater Cleveland as you once were slain: with the sword of the gospel. Join Him in plundering hell and populating heaven. God has favored you; He goes before you. How do you know? He bestows the very faith Satan wants you to think you mustered up on your own, and He forgives the very failures Satan says will be your ruin, and God does both by His means: His Spirit and His Son.
“No unbelief made [Abraham] waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was ‘counted to him as righteousness.’ But the words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”