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The Warrior God

Series: God Reigns

Sermon by David Strain on Sep 11, 2016

Exodus 23:20-33

If you would now please take a copy of the Holy Scriptures in your hands and turn with me to the book of Exodus, chapter 23. If you’re using one of our church Bibles, you’ll find that on page 64. We have been working our way through the book of Exodus now together for almost a year and we’ve come to the end today, the end of a section of the book, that has been applying the principles taught in the Ten Commandments to the specific, historical circumstances in which Israel finds itself as a nation. We’ve noticed the ways that the big ideas of the moral laws of God are worked out and implemented in the details of Israel’s case laws and civil codes ensuring justice and compassion, fairness and human dignity; making sure those are cherished values and making sure that the central place in the life, the corporate life of God’s people is God Himself, His glory, and the praise of His name. You will remember at this point in the story Israel has escaped from slavery and bondage in Egypt and is making its way through the wilderness toward the Promised Land. And they’re currently camped at the foot of Mount Sinai as God delivers His Law to them through His servant, Moses.

And in our passage this morning, Israel is being invited to look ahead to a time when they will cease to be nomads wandering in the desert and will take possession of the land of Canaan promised to them long before, to their father Abraham. And in that context, God makes three promises we’re going to consider together. First, He promises them a guide to lead them to the land of promise. Secondly, He promises them a home in the land of promise. And thirdly, He promises them victory over their enemies who are already living in the land of promise. And as I hope we’re going to see, those three promises remain in admiral summary of the commitments that God makes to His people to this very day as we, like Israel before us, seek to make our pilgrimage towards our eternal inheritance. Before we turn our attention to the text, would you first of all bow your heads with me as we ask for God’s help and blessing? Let’s pray together!

O Lord, now Your Word is spread before us. Would You give to us the help of the Holy Spirit by whom these words were inspired, to understand the truth and being led by the truth to Christ to believe, to receive and rest on Him as He is offered to us in it? For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.

In the city of Glasgow, my hometown, there’s a park to the east of the center of the city called Glasgow Green. It was gifted by King James II to the people of the city in the year 1450. Today, it is a beautiful, modern, landscaped park filled with historic monuments, a wonderful old museum called, The People’s Palace. There’s a Victorian glass house called, The Winter Gardens. But the people of the city actually still retain some of the ancient rights given to them by King James. If the dirt-poor Glaswegians living in the high rise apartment blocks nearby had a cow, for example, they might, I’m told, still graze it freely on Glasgow Green. Or, if on the other hand, you wished to hang out your laundry to dry in a public place, you would still be welcomed to do so on Glasgow Green. These are laws that make us smile because of their quaintness. They are, frankly, no longer really fitting our modern context. They don’t really make sense for the way that they live; they once did, but no longer. And yet there they are, still on the statute books – strange laws that seem out of place.

And I rather imagine that up to this point the laws that we’ve been considering together, these case laws and groups of civil law for Israel’s national life in chapters 21 through the first part of 23, could well have been viewed by the people of Israel a bit like that. They spoke if you will remember, about farmers leaving their fields to lie fallow on every seventh year. They spoke about what to do with that resident alien who’s come to dwell in their land from another country. They spoke about cities of refuge to which you might flee for protection against false accusations. “But take a look around, Moses!” they might have said. “We don’t have any fields or any land or any cities for that matter. We are nomads wandering in the desert. These lovely laws you’re giving us are about much use as the continuing right to graze cattle on Glasgow Green.” They are interesting in their own way, I suppose, but they’re not really all that relevant, are they?

But as we come to this final part of this section of the book of Exodus, the Lord shows them their final destination – a land of their own in which to live out obedience to His Law and to implement these civil regulations He’s given to them. And in particular, as I said earlier, He makes a series of three promises to them about that land. First, He promises them a guide to lead them there. Secondly, He promises them a home that would suit them when they get there. And thirdly, He promises them victory over their enemies who currently dwell there. A guide, a home, and victory.

A Promise of a Guide

Think with me about the promise of a guide first of all. You can see it clearly, can’t you, in verse 20? Look at verses 20 and following; “Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. Pay 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.” God promises them a guide who will lead them on the way and who will bring them safely to the land prepared for them. He is, we are told, “an angel.” But of course he’s no ordinary angel, is he? They are to “pay careful attention to him and to obey his voice.” The verb that’s used there is the same verb used in verse 13 that we considered last Lord’s Day Morning where God tells Israel, “Pay attention to all that I have said to you.” They’re to give to the voice of this angel the same attentive obedience they are to render to God and along the same lines, look down at verse 22 for a moment, they are to “carefully obey his voice,” God tells them, “and do all that I say.” The angelic voice is itself the speech of God! And like God, verse 21, he is in a position to pardon sins or not. “Do not rebel for “he will not pardon your transgressions. For,” God says, “my name is in him.” The name of God is really shorthand for the being and glory of God revealed to the world. “My name is in him,” is a way of saying, “I am in him. My nature is his. My character is. I am revealed to you in him.”

A Mysterious Angel

Well, who is this angel who speaks with God’s voice, who commands the same obedience that God requires, who holds the position to forgive or to punish sin? Who is He in whom the name of God dwells? I really don’t think it’s illegitimate speculation, much of a stretch at all really, to conclude that He is the Lord Jesus Christ revealed to the world before the days of His incarnation, the glorious Second Person of the ever-blessed Trinity. A similar confluence of divine rights and powers, you may remember, attended His earthly ministry. So clearly in fact, that even His enemies understood His claim to deity when He pronounced the forgiveness of sins. You remember that in Mark chapter 2 at verse 7 and following? They said to one another, “’Why does this man speak like this? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sin but God alone?’ And immediately Jesus, perceiving that they reasoned this way within themselves said to them, ‘Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or, ‘Rise, take up your bed, and walk?’ But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’ – he said to the paralytic – ‘Rise, take up your bed, and go home.’ And immediately he rose and picked up his bed and went out before them all.”

Who is this? No one can forgive sins but God! No one can make the lame walk but God! He is the Lord Jesus Christ, “who being the eternal Son of God, became man and so was and continues to be both God and man in two distinct natures and one person forever.” He will guide them, we are told, along the way and bring them to the place that God has prepared for them. I wonder if you hear there the echo of the words of Christ to His disciples in John 14? Listen to Jesus again; “’Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I’m going.’ And Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going so how can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me!’” Israel, making its way through the wilderness, is a type of our Christian pilgrimage, a picture of the Christian life. And Jesus is the one who goes ahead of us and prepares a place for us. And He Himself is the way to that place. The way and the truth and the life. We come to the Father only by Him.

There’s a great fashion these days in preaching to quote lots of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. It’s a trend that I have studiously resisted, until today! There’s a scene in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings where the two hobbits are being led through the dead marshes by the creature, Gollum. And the marshes were the site of an ancient battle and in all the pools of water there are bodies of slain warriors. And here and there all over the landscape, there are small flames flickering, burning in the thick, stultifying fog. And Gollum warns the travelers not to follow the lights because they don’t really mark safe passage. It’s tempting to follow them, but don’t follow them. They’re deceptive! They will lead you to join the dead yourself. I think that’s how we are. We need a safe guide through treacherous territory but there are deceptive lights flickering all around us, aren’t there? Diverting us, tempting us to turn from the path. They seem too attractive, so plausible. Offering us a shortcut, an easier route. But they are deadly in the end! They are deadly in the end! The world offers us the pursuit of pleasure or the promise perhaps of political solutions. It suggests the best route to the best life is to join the rat race, to make more money, to build your portfolio, to make a name for yourself – flickering lights in the fog that will destroy you in the end if you follow them. That’s what they are. Don’t follow them! Jesus is the way! Jesus, the only safe guide. Jesus, who will go ahead of you and keep you on your journey and bring you safely home at last. Follow Him! Fix your eyes on Him. There’s a promise of a guide here.

A Promise of Home

And then secondly, there’s also a promise of home here. Look at verses 25 and 26. “You shall serve the Lord your God, and he will bless your bread and your water, and I will take sickness away from among you. None shall miscarry or be barren in your land; I will fulfill the number of your days.” Not only will the Lord bring them into the land of Canaan, He will richly bless them as they live there. There’s all the difference in the world, isn’t there, between a place of residence and a home, a place where you merely reside and a place where you feel you truly belong. That is what is being promised to God’s people here – not just a place to stay, but a home that will suit them and bless them. As they live in obedience to His commandments and refuse to bow to idols, the Lord promises to bless their food, to remove sickness, to prevent miscarriage, and to give them long and full lives.

Not an Absolute Promise

Now there are a number of things to say about that promise by way of help so that we can understand and apply it effectively. First of all, it’s useful to remember this is not an absolute promise. God is not saying that if they will simply do what they are told then the land of Canaan will be a kind of utopia where nothing bad will ever happen. No, no! Sickness and death, suffering and sadness would still interrupt their lives from time to time as it must for all of us between Adam’s fall and Christ’s return. But it is, nevertheless, I think, a promise that in general, the good life, the blessed life, is also an obedient life. I think that’s worth insisting on in these days. For the most part, those who set themselves to live life on God’s terms discover that His order tends not only for His glory and our holiness but also for our happiness.

It’s Deeper Theological Significance

But more importantly than all of that, we need to notice the deeper theological significance of what Israel is being told here. You will remember the misery into which our first father plunged the human race on the day he ate the forbidden fruit in the garden. Genesis 3:14-19, lays it out for us in summary. It tells us that in consequence of Adam’s sin we now live with ruptured relationships, with pain in childbirth, and with toilsome labor. Even the ground itself is cursed! Nature fell along with Adam as death interrupted God’s world. And so now as we read this particular promise and we see what God promises life will look like for them in Canaan, we discover that it will be for Israel a sort of paradise regained. There’s a mitigation of the worst effects of the fall promised here. Now, why does God promise them a home like that? He promises it because just as Israel’s pilgrimage is a type, a picture of the Christian pilgrimage, so likewise the land of Canaan would be a type, a picture of the new creation where the curse would finally and perfectly be removed forever. The land itself will serve as a kind of physical reminder that one day, I’m on a Tolkien roll now, “one day everything sad will come untrue.” Everything sad will come untrue one day. That’s what they’re being taught here. One day!

The New Jerusalem

It’s Revelation 21:1. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth, had passed away and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man and he will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes and death shall be no more. Neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” That’s what’s set before them, set before us. Home. This is home! This world is not our home. “Take a look around,” Moses is saying to the Israelites. “Look at the dust. The aridity of the desert. And look at what you are promised. This is home. This is where we are going. Let’s go! Let’s press on toward that destination. Let’s go!” Laying aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, let’s run our race with endurance, forgetting what is behind and straining forward to what lies ahead. Let us press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God. This world is not our home brothers and sisters. Our home still lies ahead. It’s where we’re going. We’re supposed to be looking for the city with foundations whose builder is God because we know that here we have no continuing city. We’re supposed to be pressing on, heading heavenward, longing with Paul to be with Christ which is far better.

Where is Your Hope?

But if as you think about heaven, and you can be really honest with yourself for a moment, if as you think about heaven you find that, “Nay, I can take it or leave it right now, thank you.” If you think that way about heaven, it suggests to me that you may also have begun to think that whatever Jesus said to the contrary that actually a person’s life really does consist in the abundance of things after all. That actually, it may, in fact, profit a man to lose his soul if along the way he might gain the whole world. If the hope of glory does not excite you but the allure of reputation does, if heaven doesn’t really appeal but the expansion of your portfolio does, if the nearer presence of Christ face to face with your Redeemer does not hold your attention and capture your heart but all the extra-curricular activities that will pad your résumé and get you into the best schools do, if that’s what you’re living for then dear friend, would you hear me clearly? If that’s what you’re living for, there’s a good possibility you won’t make it to the Promised Land at all. Be warned! Be warned! “If we have hope only for this life, we are to be pitied above all men.” “Fleeting is the worldling's pleasure; all is boasted pomp and show. Solid joys and lasting treasure none but Zion’s children know.” There’s a promise of a guide and there’s a promise of home, not here, but hereafter. Let’s fix our eyes there and press on.

A Promise of Victory

And then thirdly, there’s a promise of victory. Do you see that in verses 22 to 24, and again down in 27 to 33? The land is occupied and Israel must take it by force. The Amorites and Hittites, the Perizzites and Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jebusites all live there. But verse 22, if they obey God’s voice, He promises to be an enemy to their enemies and an adversary to their adversaries. He will, verse 27, send His terror ahead of Israel and throw their enemies into confusion. He’ll send hornets before the Israelite army to make life in Canaan unbearable and in His great wisdom He will drive them out little by little so that the land will not lie desolate and Israel may grow into possession of it over time. But do notice carefully God Himself will do it. That’s where the emphasis lies in the text. Verse 22, “I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.” Verse 27, “I will send my terror…I will make your enemies turn their backs.” Verse 28, “I will send hornets before you.” Twenty-nine, “I will;” 30, “I will.” To whom will they owe final possession of the land? They must fight for it but who gives them the victory? The battle belongs to the Lord. The battle belongs to the Lord.

The Christian’s War

Jesus once said in Matthew 11:12 that “The kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force.” There is a kind of sacred warfare in which the people of God must engage if we are to take possession of God’s promised inheritance. There’s no coasting into Zion! No, we take the inheritance promised by force. We are to wrestle, of course, not against flesh and blood as Israel were to do in the conquest of Canaan. No, we wrestle against rulers, against the authorities, against cosmic powers over this present darkness, against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places – Ephesians 6 at verse 12. There is a war on and there are no non-combatants in the church of Jesus Christ. We fight against powers of supernatural evil. We fight against festering sin remaining in our own hearts. We fight for holiness. We fight for Gospel progress to bring the good news about Jesus to the ends of the earth and the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh. They have divine power to destroy strongholds. We fight to take every thought captive to obey Christ – 2 Corinthians 10 at the fourth verse. We fight by prayer and we wield the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God – Ephesians 6 at verse 17.

Not Unto Us O’ Lord

All of that is true and we need to hear, don’t we? Very clearly the call to arms that we might press on in the fight. In verses 32 and 33, notice God warns His people not to sign a treaty with the nations of the land. There can be no truce with them! They will be a snare to you and they will lead you into idolatry. And likewise, there can be no truce and no ceasefire with sin in our daily warfare as Christians. No, we are being called to arms! But when at last the battle is won and sin and Satan are utterly overthrown, when at last the mission of the church is finished and people from every tribe and language and nation are assembled around the throne of God and the victory ours at last, who gets the credit? Shall we puff out our chests and strut and preen and slap one another on the back and say with self-congratulatory tones, “Look what we did!” What will our song be? “Not unto us, not unto us but to Your name be all the glory and all the praise.” That will be our song on that day, won’t it?

We saw last Lord’s Day Evening in Revelation chapter 5, that we will cast our crowns before the throne of God and we will say, “Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David! He has conquered, the Lamb who was slain.” The battle belongs to the Lord. “I will do it,” God says. “Do not fear. I have overcome the world,” Jesus says. And the chief joy of our lives together on that great day in the home of righteousness, around the throne, the chief joy of our lives down the long ages of eternity together will be to ascribe to the Lamb who has triumphed all the praise and all the glory forever and ever.

And so God promises us a guide that will go ahead of us to bring us safely into the place prepared – the angel of the Lord, the Lord Jesus Christ, the way and the truth and the life. We will come to the Father by no other road but by Him. And He promises us home – a place where the curse is gone, where everything sad will come untrue, where sorrow and suffering, sickness and death, grief and mourning and every tear will be wiped from our eyes. That’s where we’re heading. Let’s press on there and run our races with perseverance. And He promises us victory. He promises victory so stay in the fight. You cannot lose. He will do it. He has conquered and all the glory is His. Let’s pray together!

God our Father, we bless You for Your holy Word, for Your great and precious promises by which we have everything we need for life and godliness. Help us as we hear them not to sign a truce nor to call a ceasefire in our daily combat with sin, but to press ever onward and homeward til, at last, we assemble in that great congregation around the throne, face to face with the Lamb, in joyous celebration. Thank You for Jesus our forerunner who goes ahead of us, preparing a place for us, who will protect us on the way and bring us home at last. We cling to Him and we give You praise, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

©2016 First Presbyterian Church.

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