Category Archives: Theology

Little By Little

 

“Little by little…” Exodus 23:30

In the 23rd chapter of Exodus we find ourselves in the midst of Sinai and God’s communication of the law to Moses.  Among the prohibitions and remembrances of Sabbaths and festivals in this chapter is also the promise of the conquest of Canaan.  The full passage is below

27 I 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. 28 And I will send hornets before you, which shall drive out the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites from before you. 29 I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply against you. 30 Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased and possess the land. 31 And 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. 32 You shall make no covenant with them and their gods. 33 They 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.”

Historically, this promise was fulfilled to the children of the Wilderness Generation, who we may be reminded were afforded the blessing of entrance into Canaan because their parents fell under the wrath of God, due to their rebellion, and were thereby forbidden from entering the land themselves.  Their children, however, were allowed entrance into the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua.

Using the Old Testament

As is the case with much of the Old Testament, whether we view it typologically as it points from itself (type) to events, persons, or places in the New Testament (antitype) or whether we see it as an example for our lives (see Hebrews 3 & 4), this passage is relevant and practical for us today.  Along these lines, there are seemingly many parallels between the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and the Christian life, that extends beyond the concept of redemption, that from Egyptian slavery in the former and Sin slavery in the latter.  Here, in Exodus 23, we have painted for us, through the very real, historical working of God on behalf of the Israelites, a picture of sanctification in the Christian life.

To reiterate, historically God promised to drive out the pagan nations as He went ahead of the Israelites into Canaan.  However we must note a significant observation in this passage on God’s promise, namely that He promised to do so “little by little”.  Here we are given 2 negative reasons for the progressive nature of this pagan eradication, “lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply against you” and two positive reasons, “until you have increased and possess the land”.  God had promised to eliminate Israel’s enemies slowly, one by one, in order to avoid desolation of the land and the multiplication of beasts against them.  In our historical context, had God simply eradicated all of the pagan countries at once, allowing the Israelites full, unencumbered, and peaceful access to the land, there were two great dangers. 

Two Great Dangers

The first was desolation of the land.  In other  words, there was the danger of complacency on the part of the Israelites and failure to properly “tend” the land.  This points, at least conceptually, back to Adam in the garden.  There, remember, Adam was afforded the luxury of a land that produced effortlessly, yet he was unsatisfied and became complacent, ultimately failing to guard his wife and the garden.  Which brings us to the second great danger Israel would’ve faced should God have granted immediate eradication of their enemies, a failure to protect the land from being overrun by wild beasts.  With enemies eradicated for them, there was a great danger of complacency leading to a dry and desolate land and an influx of wild beasts.

As the Scriptures tell us, this promise was fulfilled and that by leaving the enemies to be eradicated one by one, the land was bountiful as it was promised in Deuteronomy 6:11 and then fulfilled in Joshua 24:11-13.

11 And you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho, and the leaders of Jericho fought against you, and also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And I gave them into your hand. 12 And I sent the hornet before you, which drove them out before you, the two kings of the Amorites; it was not by your sword or by your bow. 13 I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant.’

However, despite being given land, cities, vineyards, orchards, etc., opportunities afforded by the little by little eradication, Israel still rebelled and failed in their own garden experience, as did their father Adam.

Believer’s Sanctification

As little by little relates to our sanctification, consider the parallels of the pagan nations with our own enemy of indwelling sin.  This progress against the enemies that wage war within us is called sanctification and it too is little by little, or progressive.  Contrary to ideas of Wesleyan perfection, sanctification is not completed in this life.  If it were, consider the dangers of complacency that we would face should our enemies be eradicated all at once.  We would forget the necessity and power of grace working in our lives.  We would become more independent and less dependent upon the provision of God.  What need would we have for prayer, for the Scriptures, for fellowship with the brethren?  This complacency would expose us to the influx of greater enemies, predators for our very soul.

Similarly God has chosen not to expose us to all of our internal enemies at once, lest we collapse under the weight of them.  Instead, we may battle the Amorites of lust or the Hittites of pride.  Occasionally, by His grace, He may allow several enemies to coalesce against us for the purpose of greater dependency on His provisions of grace and greater efforts in the duty of warfare.

God in His wisdom and providence allows sanctification to be a process, little by little.  As such, we are in need of our daily bread and in need of daily deliverance from temptations.  He who began this good work in us will bring it to completion.  Total and utter dependence upon God is the substance of the Christian life, from beginning to the end.

 

God’s Rest

 

The Creation account in the opening chapters of Genesis is probably familiar to most people who have at any point come into contact with the Scriptures.  Genesis, or origins, is foundational for understanding how and why we were created and gives purpose to life these thousands of years later.  While Adam and Eve often garner the majority of the focus in these opening chapters, it’s clear that Scripture places the primary attention upon God from the very opening words, “In the beginning God”.  From there, it’s not man who is the main actor, but God.  We are introduced to the God who sovereignly creates, orders, and sustains, not merely an accumulation of particles that randomly formed the universe, but a purposeful creation by a detail oriented God intent on creating man in His image for His own glory.

After the introduction of creation in chapter 1, and before providing a more detailed focus upon the creation of man in chapter 2, we are given the following description of this all-powerful, creating God

“Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.”

At the outset, this might generate a few questions concerning the nature of the God who was just introduced to us in chapter 1 of Genesis, namely, if He is all-powerful and certainly the Creator, why is it that He needs to rest?  Did the 6-day creative process tire Him out?  Or perhaps is He a father-time figure that wound creation up and now must minimize energy by simply observing His work from a high or distant perch?

These questions, while they may seem simplistic and perhaps even juvenile, are nonetheless legitimate given the sentence, And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.”

In answering these, we must first start with God as Creator and more specifically how God created, namely by divine fiat or decree.  God literally spoke creation into existence, from nothing, i.e. ex nihilo.  In Genesis 1, we encounter the statement, “God said”  ten times.  Seven of these were declarations bringing various creations into existence while the 8th was an intra-Trinitarian statement and the last two uses were commands to man.  Would God need to rest on the seventh day after “simply” speaking creation into existence?

Hardly.

We may conclude that God did not need to rest, as though He were exhausted from His creative work.  As God has progressively revealed Himself throughout the Scriptures, we are informed elsewhere that rest is not a necessity for God.  For example, Isaiah 40:28

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
    his understanding is unsearchable.

And Psalm 121:4

“Behold, he who keeps Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.”

The Second observation is that while man was created on Day 6 and rest occurred on Day 7, we are informed that it was God’s rest.  Similarly, we have no indication of which calendar day this rest may have occurred, because, well, calendars had not yet been developed.  We simply know at this point that it was the Seventh Day of creation.  This is a crucial point because frequently this passage concerning God’s rest in Genesis has been used as a proof text to argue for the existence of 1. A perpetual day of Sabbath rest (Saturday) or 2. The transference of the Sabbath day to the Lord’s Day (Sunday).  Despite these interpretive efforts, there is simply no indication nor command for man to observe a particular Sabbath day in this passage.  All we have thus far in God’s revelation is that He rested from His work on the seventh day.  While this occurrence in Genesis 2 certainly informs and provides a framework for the later institution of a Sabbath Day commandment given at Sinai, there is not one single passage that prescribes or describes any person from Adam to Exodus 16 commanded to set aside a particular day for rest.

Third, this rest came at the conclusion of creation.  In other words, God’s rest was the consummation of creation.  It’s at this point that the action of God as Creator becomes the action of God as Sustainer.  The preparation for this role is particularly evident in the creation accounts and in the passages that immediately follow Genesis 2:2.  For further biblical evidence, we may draw upon Colossians 1:16-17, John 1:3, and Hebrews 1:3.

Fourth, God blesses or sanctifies this Sabbath Day to make it holy, literally He sets it apart from the other days.  This function of sanctifying a particular day speaks to God’s authority and also towards a priestly role. Related, some have concluded that this rest of God speaks less of actual rest or ceasing from effort, as we concluded earlier, and more of a Sabbath-Enthronement.¹  Several passages throughout Scripture speak to God’s enthronement over His creation and the earth as His footstool, Isaiah 66:1; 2 Chronicles 6:18, 41; Acts 7:49.

Similarly, there is compelling evidence that the creation of the earth in general and the garden in particular as God’s place of habitation or dwelling, i.e. His temple.  In Genesis 3:8 we read, “And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day….”  Some commentators have pointed out that this same Hebrew verbal root stem occurs elsewhere in relation to God’s presence in the tabernacle, see Lev. 26:12, Deut. 23:14, 2 Samuel 7:6-7.² Further we may consider the geographic layout of this early scene from Genesis with the earth, Eden, and the garden as a parallel to the tabernacle layout of the Outer Court, Holy Place, and Holy of Holies.  This theme will be further drawn out when we consider Adam’s rest in a future post.

Fifth, while the other six days have the concluding statement, “and the evening and the morning were the ______ day”, the seventh day deviates from this pattern suggesting that it is open ended.  In other words, that it was, or perhaps even still is, on going.

The pinnacle of the creation narrative is not the creation of Adam and Eve, rather it is the rest of God.  Simply observing the structure of Genesis 1 and 2 and this becomes evident.  As we’ve seen, God did not require rest, rather it was pointing towards greater significance.  From our passage in Genesis 2, we may summarize the 3 specific actions words that serve as links in a chain.  God finished.  God rested.  God blessed.  As we will see in future posts, God’s rest is both anticipatory and archetypal of future fulfillment.

 

 

Notes:

  1. Kline, Meredith G. Kingdom Prologue.
  2. Alexander, Desmond T., From Paradise to the Promised Land. G.K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission.

To Let Go and Let God or Strive to Enter

 

Several years ago, I was introduced to the popular phrase, “Let go and Let God.”  It’s popularity with the influence of social media has only increased in the last decade because it fits easily into posts, tweets, memes, or whatever the latest medium pithy quotes might fit best (t-shirts, coffee mugs, bumper stickers, etc.).  In these uses, and in a wide variety of others, you’ll often find this saying used in reference to struggling through daily life issues independent of whether or not they are spiritual.  For instance, it could be work/employment, financial, family/relationships all which might require the individual to simply, “Let go and Let God.”

Summarizing the origins of this phrase in his helpful overview, No Quick Fix, Andy Naselli, notes its roots may be found in the theology of Hannah Whitall Smith’s The  Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, in which she provides the basis for this phrase as “entire surrender”, i.e. letting go, and “absolute faith”, i.e. letting God.  Since then, circa 1885, the concept has evolved through the teachings of the Higher Life movement and Keswick theology proponents, including more recently by dispensationalism, which was heavily influenced by these aforementioned teachings.  While this phrase, Let go and Let God, may sound like good advice or even a proper exercise of spiritual maturity, it is in fact wrong, misleading, and potentially dangerous.

In Hebrews chapters 3 and 4 we are introduced to the wilderness generation, i.e. those who were delivered out of Egyptian captivity by God through the leadership of Moses up to the doorstep of the Promised Land.  This group is held up as an example of unfaithfulness and disobedience in their rebellion against God and His subsequent punishment of prohibition from entering the Promised Land.  For more, see this post on Hebrews 3 The Builder of the House.

This is the context upon which the Author draws support for his exhortation for believers not to be like the Wilderness Generation, which fell at the hand of God’s wrath, but instead we are to strive to enter His rest

“Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” Hebrews 4:11

The word translated in the ESV as strive, spoudazo, carries the idea of exertion or diligent effort.  It’s root is also used in Hebrews 6:11, “And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end “

The word of exhortation in Hebrews 4:11 is for believers to exert themselves by faith and obedience, with a constant, diligent effort until they reach the finish line and enter God’s rest.  It is an effort that is led by the Spirit, fueled by grace looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, who has secured our victory and will bring us to the completion of our race.  Nevertheless, it is an active Christian life, not a passive one.  It is a Spirit-led life in which we are clothed with the armor of God and equipped to wield the sword of the Spirit with the expectation of battle.

Letting go and Letting God tells us to, “lie quietly before [God].  Open all the avenues of our being, and let Him come in and take possession of every chamber.  Especially give Him your heart – the very seat of your desires, the throne of your affections. ” (Naselli, pg. 39-40)  However the book of Hebrews presents a drastically different, less passive approach to our pursuit of holiness, which culminates in the finality of reaching God’s eschatological* rest.

It calls us to strive.  To earnestly pursue.  To diligently make it our business.  There is not a letting go, there is a holding on, yet in our Christian duty to pursue Christ with a passion and mortify the deeds of the flesh we may become faint and weary, as did the Wilderness Generation.  We may encounter opposition from within and persecution from without.  Yet it is especially in these moments that we are exhorted to keep on believing and keep on obeying, persevering to the end.  It is here that we may realize that the holding on was through no efforts of our own, but by the preserving hand of Almighty God who has held on to us every step of the way.

 

 

*eschatological – final; ultimate end.