“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.
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.
I have a question. Is it possible that the Israeli children, tho grown, would not know how to fight off the wild beasts? God provided manna the whole time they were in the desert didn’t he? I would imagine that they would be very afraid. Just like the parents were who God sent to spy out the land. I also wonder if they ever hunted and killed anything when they were the slaves of pharoah.
Good question. I don’t know the answer.
Scripture mentions David, a man after God’s own heart, to have killed both lions and bears, 1 Samuel 17:34-36, and specifically credits God for the hand of deliverance 1 Samuel 17:37. It is God’s deliverance and enablement that gives him the confidence and courage to face Goliath. I suspect the reason why wild beast are mentioned in the passage above is that the Israelites would have been unable to defend the land from wild beasts because of a lack of, or perhaps immature, faith. This faith was increased through the “little by little” trusting God to deliver them from their enemies.
Prior to Egyptian captivity, there are accounts of Esau hunting wild game, Gen. 25:27; 27:3. Nimrod as a mighty hunter, Gen. 10:9, so I don’t think it was totally absent.
As an aside, wild beasts, specifically their dominance over mankind, and Israel in particular, is often a sign of judgment (see Lev. 26:22/Deut. 32:24; Jeremiah 15:3 and especially Ezekiel 5:17; 14:15). Originally man was given dominance over the animals (Gen. 1:28 and Gen. 9:2), this about-face is ultimately the result of the curse.
Hopefully this helps provoke some additional thoughts. Thanks for the great question!