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Sermon for Wednesday in Pentecost 19

Deuteronomy 3:1-29

Note:  The center section of this sermon was heavily influenced by the section in The Lutheran Study Bible on “Divine Warfare,” p. 376.  As usual, the audio can be heard by clicking on the triangle in the embedded player below.

 

 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

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Today’s OT reading is an historical account of the Israel’s victory over the Amorite king, Og.  Over and over again in the Book of Deuteronomy, the Lord reminds His people Israel how they matter to Him, how He has cared for them and protected them and delivered them against their enemies.  We often get lost in the funny names or the apportionment of lands with foreign geographies and arcane OT laws but the throughout the book is this testimony of the Lord’s heart toward His people.  And this is how we link the New Testament to the Old covenant, through God’s merciful love and the divine election of His people Israel, a love and a protection which extends to the people of Israel, the Church, even today.

Instead of getting lost in the details of passages like this, we should rejoice that all this did not happen in some far off, fairytale land, or a galaxy far, far away.  It happened in a real if but foreign sounding place; and it happened among real people if not people with some rather strange sounding names.  The Amorite kings are conquered as a precursor to what will happen in the land of Canaan when Israel goes into take possession of the Land the Lord is giving to them.  Archaeologists have found in this region some ancient city sites with the remnants of stone doors secured by iron bars and cities with foundation walls over four feet thick from rocks stacked dry before cement was invented some 1400 years later by the Romans.  Real places, real people, real deliverance into the real Promised Land by the providence of God.

This is really the unique character of the Old Testament.  What is recorded here are not just some limited historical data to be recalled on America’s Bible Challenge.  What we have in the OT are not just an arbitrary series of unpredictable experiences but a narrative, a story of the people of God that He Himself was writing for them and writing them into.  Og of Bashan was cast down as was Sihon, king of Heshbon.  The lands of Gilead and Bashan are now owned and occupied and ruled by God’s own people.  God has begun to make good on His promises of delivering them into the Land.  Each detail of each Israelite’s life matters to God, it becomes part of the larger structure of the story of God’s redeeming His people Israel.  This translates into our lives in a powerful way.  There are no anonymous Israelites in the people of God.  Each person matters to God; He knows each and every one and so it is the same with each of us today.  The Lord knows us and wants each of us to lie with Him in that relationship of His covenant, as expressed in the OT, in Christ Himself, as it is expressed in the new testament of His body and blood given and shed for us.  Jesus shed His blood for you on the cross; you matter to God.

There is then a big obstacle to make sense of in this narrative.  Why does the Lord use war and destruction and even what we would call today “genocide” to bring about the redemption of His people?  Is war good?  Or does God use war, which is evil, to work for good?

It should be noted from the outset that war is a result of rebellion against God, first by Satan and then by Adam and Eve.  So even when peoples war against one another, the conflict among them which appears merely horizontal is first a conflict with a just and holy God.  Sadly, war will remain a feature of humanity so long as we live in this fallen world and Satan is at work.  Only when Christ Himself returns in glory to being the world to its end will there be a true end to war.  A second point to make is that God uses a divine war to save His own.  As we see here, God Himself engages in temporal and national warfare for the salvation of believers.  While it’s easier to see here in the OT, it’s true for the NT as well.  God won the spiritual war against His people through the physical death of Jesus and His bodily resurrection.  Without this divine warfare all of humanity would still be doomed to the punishment for sin, death and eternal separation from God in hell.  A truth of Christian faith is that God justly punishes evildoers even now.  A purely pacifist religion or society actually encourages violence and iniquity by failing to curtain evildoers.  A society that cannot maintain the peace is a society where the Gospel cannot flourish.    To understand the military conquest of Canaan by Israel, we need to remember that the Lord is a God of Law and Gospel, judgment and salvation. Both of these actions are expressions of his character as the one holy and righteous God.

The long history of divine warfare culminates at the cross in the suffering and death of Jesus Christ.  Among the great paradoxes of faith, the instrument of Christ’s death was His instrument of conquest.  Paul has it this way in Colossians 2, “Having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Col 2:15).  In the coming of the kingdom of God lost sinners are brought the kingdoms of this world into the kingdom of God. Remember the story of the Canaanite prostitute Rahab who became a believer.  It cannot be that Canaanites don’t matter to God because Rahab matters.  Later a whole people, the Gibeonites (Joshua 9), were spared and incorporated into God’s Israel, and justified before God.  The Gibeonites even became sanctuary servants, cutting wood and drawing water for “the house of my [Joshua’s] God” and “for the altar of the Lord” (Josh 9:23, 27).  So the story of the OT is not one of genocide so much as it is about sin and judgment and salvation by the strong arm of the Lord.

If God’s action to save the people who matter to Him is clear, it should also be clear that what we do matters to Him.  Nothing is random or inconsequential or meaningless.  The world of the everday—people, place, weather, language—is overwhelmingly important in the story of God’s rescue of His people Israel.  God acts to save His people.  God’s people are to fit into His action to save.  The first two sentences of the Lord’s revelation at Mt. Sinai bring this reality into sharp focus: “I am the Lord you God who brought you up out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.  You shall have no other gods before me.”  The first sentence emphasizes God’s action to save; the second; our action within His.  Our actions matter.  It makes a difference whether or not we have other gods, murder, steal, etc.

And so the story today is the same.  As the Church proclaims the Gospel in Word and Sacrament, God rescues the Rahabs and Gibeonites of this age from eternal destruction and brings them over to His side.  Remembering always that it was not Israel’s warmongering but God’s acting to fulfill His promises that brought about salvation.

It is also clear that one day, the Lord will return, and will deliver His own into the promise land of eternal life in His kingdom which has no end.  He has promised it.  So dear Christians, remember, you matter and so it matters what we do, how we live, each moment, every day.  You may not feel like the chronicle of last Tuesday night at you house means much in the overall story of God.  God does.  We may feel left out or inconsequential but even the least among us matters to our God acted to save us through His Son Jesus Christ.  You matter that much to Him.  And so we live like what we do truly matters.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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