Tested by Holy War
Our Scripture lesson this morning comes from…
“When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than you, and when the Lord your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them. You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the Lord would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly. But thus shall you deal with them: you shall break down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and chop down their Asherim and burn their carved images with fire. “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face. You shall therefore be careful to do the commandment and the statutes and the rules that I command you today.
May God bless this the reading of His holy and infallible Word.
Today’s text provides us with a wonderful opportunity to see how studying the Old Covenant helps us understand the New Covenant better. The Apostle Paul wrote:
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
Yet for most Christians the Old Testament is a closed book. Few read it and some even think we should not read it! No wonder so many Christians are without hope. The very thing God gave us so that we might have hope, we neglect!
In Ephesians 6, we read that Christians are in a cosmic struggle against the forces of evil and Peter warns us that our “adversary the Devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet 5:8). Although we no longer engage in spiritual warfare against “flesh and blood” opponents as the saints of the Old Testament did, the underlying principles remain the same. The value of studying the Old Testament is that it presents spiritual truths to us from a different angle. Have you ever noticed how a jeweler examines a fine gemstone? They turn it around in their hands as they examine it with a magnifying glass. This is what we are going to do today. We are going to examine spiritual warfare, or Holy War, from the angle of the Old Testament. Putting it under a magnifying glass to see what we can learn.
Deuteronomy 7 is a part of a larger context. Deuteronomy 6-8 is about the testing of our faith: Deuteronomy 6 introduces the idea of testing faith, obedience and love, Deuteronomy 7 focuses on the external test of our faith, and Deuteronomy 8 focus on the internal test of our faith. Consequently, the first “take home” application from our text today is that how we engage in spiritual warfare is a test of our faith. We see three things that Holy War tests: 1) It tests our faith in God and His promises; 2) It tests our obedience to God’s commands; 3) It tests our love for God.
We begin with the first:
Holy War is a Test of Faith
Holy War is a Test of Faith
According to Moses, Israel was totally outclassed by the Seven Nations of the Promise Land. They were “more numerous and mightier” than Israel, their cities were fortified, their armies better equipped and trained, they were physically taller and stronger, they even had giants among them! Forty years prior to this, their forefathers rebelled against God and refused to obey God and take the Land.
Here’s the thing about spiritual warfare, our enemies always outclass us. In Ephesians 6, Paul writes these sobering words:
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
If only we could wrestle against flesh and blood enemies under the New Covenant! Earlier in our service we sang these words:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.
Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing.
Now wonder the opening words of Paul’s teaching of spiritual warfare begin with these words, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might”! Holy War is fought by faith, not by sight. The battle is the Lord’s not ours.
So, what is the take home lesson from this? Faith is the Victory that overcomes the world, the flesh and the Devil!
The second lesson we learn from this text is that...
Holy War is a Test of Obedience
Holy War is a Test of Obedience
One of the Devil’s favorite tactics is to twist the Word of God.
God’s sovereign power is what defeated Israel’s enemies and it is what defeats our enemies. The battle is the Lord’s! However, God’s sovereign power is not to lead us into fatalism and presumptions. Satan wants us to think that because God has ordained all things, we are to do nothing and that there are no consequences to disobedience.
What Satan is leaving out is that God ordained both the end and the means to get to that end—namely faith and obedience! We see this balance of God’s sovereignty and our responsibility in the opening two verses of our text:
“When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than you, and when the Lord your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them.
On one hand, it is God who brings Israel into the land, clears away the nations and gives these nations over to Israel. On the other hand, it is Israel defeats them and devotes them to complete destruction. We see a New Covenant example of this balance in Paul’s letter to the Philippians:
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
You see, we are to obey; but it is God who works in us to obey!
In the context of Holy War, what we are to obey is God’s command to devote our enemies to complete destruction. In the context of the New Covenant our enemies are three:
The World, that is the world system of evil that has set itself in opposition to God.
The Flesh, that is our fallen sinful nature and the sin that it produces.
The Devil, that is Satan and all the spiritual forces under his command.
Let me give you examples of “devoting to destruction” each of these from the New Testament.
First, an example of “devoting to destruction” the evil world system:
For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,
Our calling is to destroy every thought system that stands opposed to Christ, not only in ourselves, but in other people.
Now, an example of “devoting to destruction” our sin and our sin nature:
For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
This is an interesting verse, because it so closely parallels what we find in Deut 7. There God warns Israel that if they fail to totally destroy their enemies, but instead makes treaties with them and intermarry with them, their hearts will be led astray and they will become like them; with the result that they will become “devoted to destruction”. Sin is far more deadly than any physical pathogen; without the intervention of God is 100% transmittable and 100% fatal! Brothers and sisters, we must daily take up the Sword of the Spirit and fight to destroy sin our it will destroy us!
Finally, an example of “devoting to destruction” the Devil:
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Unlike Old Covenant Holy War, New Covenant Holy War is cosmic in nature. We will not see our final victory until the Last Judgement; however, in this short verse we have the promise that in every skirmish we have with Satan and his followers, if we are obedience to the Lord’s command, Satan will flee!
So, what is the take home lesson from all this? Your obedience is the means God uses to bring all things under subjection to Christ.
Now, for our third and final lesson...
Holy War is a Test of Love
Holy War is a Test of Love
In the closing verses of our Scripture reading this morning, Moses links our obedience to our love of God. This is not unique to the Old Testament, Jesus Himself said:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
Our sinful flesh does not like to hear this. We like to think that we can still love God and disobey Him, but that is impossible. Here is the reason why this is so—true love is not half-hearted. The foundational passage of the book of Deuteronomy is the Shema:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
This Jesus said is the Great Commandment.
It is possible to disobey God with half-hearted love, but it is impossible with full-hearted love. The great promise of the New Covenant is that God promises to give those who trust in Him new hearts. This is one of the things that makes the New Covenant so much better and greater than the Old. However, this promise must be claimed by faith and used by faith. Dear believer, dare to love God with all your heart, mind and strength by obeying His commandments, including this commandment to engage in Holy War. The world, the flesh and the Devil have never seemed stronger, but we have “divine power to destroy strongholds”. Just as the walls of Jericho could not stand before Israel, Jesus says the “gates of Hell will not stand” before those who profess Christ by faith.
Winston Groom, the author of Forrest Gump, wrote a lesser-known novel entitled 1942: The Year That Tried Men’s Souls. In this novel, Winston Groom chronicles how that year began with the Allies facing one defeat after another at the hands of the Axis, yet by strength of will the Allies were able to turn the tide by years end. War has always been a test of character, we see it being played out in Ukraine right now; and it is being played out in your life as well. Have you risen to the call to do battle against the World, the Flesh and the Devil, or have your gone AWOL? Let us not be numbered among those who refused to fight.