We live in the participation trophy era, where everyone is a winner simply for showing up. Everyone is good, and nobody is really bad. Youth sports get hit pretty hard with this criticism, though I understand the desire to encourage children to enjoy an activity before they face the pressures of performance. Yet I’ve seen this extreme grace extend pretty far into adolescence, and not just with sports. I’ve also observed it with such events as music competitions – where everyone gets a score of very good, excellent, or superlative. So the people who finished last weren’t losers, they were just the least of the very goods! It feels so much better that way!
Instead of picking on my runners I coached for this illustration, I’ll pick on myself. I was a good runner in high school, but I was on a very mediocre cross country team in a very small school. For some reason, our coach thought it would be a great and expansive experience for us to run against one of the better New Jersey public schools. And for some other reason I cannot imagine, this school invited us to run against them at their homecoming football game. When we got there, I have to say that I had never seen a school so large in my life – with an enrollment of about 3,000 students. We lined up to start the race at the beginning of halftime in this gigantic football stadium with thousands of people in attendance. I had never seen such big guys on a cross country team before. There were 39 of them, and 7 of us! I was a freshman on varsity – the last of our top 7 guys who were the only ones taken on this trip. I thought I was pretty good. However, I placed 46th that day in front of thousands of people. The race finished with a final sprint down the middle of the field from one goalpost to the other. I didn’t hold up the game or anything, and I actually ran a decent time; I was just out of my league completely. Everything about the other team and school had the appearance of giants!
In our passage today, Moses gives this new generation the facts about the situation they are facing. They are going into a land where the people are indeed as big as their reputations, and their cities surrounded by walls were such as to appear to reach the sky. Everything about the human circumstances spelled certain doom for Israel – the Canaanites were too big, strong, and well-fortified to be defeated. BUT, the Israelites had the Lord to go before them, and that would render their victory as swift and certain.
Moses also warns the people against the natural sense of pride and arrogance that might follow these victories. In no way should the people think that it was because of their righteousness that God was doing this. No, not at all; they deserved the opposite. Rather it was because of the wickedness of the Canaanite peoples, the covenant promises of the Lord to Abraham and the patriarchs, and simply because of God’s grace.
I speak often in these devotionals and in my sermons about timeless truths and principles. Another of these is the tendency that we may believe, even in our generation, regarding our salvation in Christ – the inclination to think that we are in some fashion worthy of the gift of eternal life. It is certainly not likely to be so bold as to believe we are really not that bad, but perhaps rather it is a notion that we were so smart as to receive Jesus Christ. No, no… that’s not how it works. As it says in Titus 3:5, “he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” It is always a gift of grace. Don’t be fooled. Revive your view of God’s grace.
9:1 Hear, Israel: You are now about to cross the Jordan to go in and dispossess nations greater and stronger than you, with large cities that have walls up to the sky. 2 The people are strong and tall—Anakites! You know about them and have heard it said: “Who can stand up against the Anakites?” 3 But be assured today that the Lord your God is the one who goes across ahead of you like a devouring fire. He will destroy them; he will subdue them before you. And you will drive them out and annihilate them quickly, as the Lord has promised you.
4 After the Lord your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, “The Lord has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.” No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is going to drive them out before you. 5 It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the Lord your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 6 Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.