Deuteronomy 7:17-26 (NRSV)
If you say to yourself, “These nations are more numerous than I; how can I dispossess them?” do not be afraid of them. Just remember what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs and wonders, the mighty hand and the outstretched arm by which the LORD your God brought you out. The LORD your God will do the same to all the peoples of whom you are afraid. Moreover, the LORD your God will send the pestilence against them, until even the survivors and the fugitives are destroyed. Have no dread of them, for the LORD your God, who is present with you, is a great and awesome God. The LORD your God will clear away these nations before you little by little; you will not be able to make a quick end of them, otherwise the wild animals would become too numerous for you. But the LORD your God will give them over to you, and throw them into great panic, until they are destroyed. He will hand their kings over to you and you shall blot out their name from under heaven; no one will be able to stand against you, until you have destroyed them. The images of their gods you shall burn with fire. Do not covet the silver or the gold that is on them and take it for yourself, because you could be ensnared by it; for it is abhorrent to the LORD your God. Do not bring an abhorrent thing into your house, or you will be set apart for destruction like it. You must utterly detest and abhor it, for it is set apart for destruction.
The language used in this Deuteronomy passage is scary. Moses speaks these words to the Israelites after God delivers them out of Egypt and as they prepare to enter and take the land that God has promised them. The image of God “clearing away” entire nations and not stopping until “even the survivors and fugitives are destroyed” is worrisome, violent, and quite frankly, not the type of God in whose kingdom I’d like to live, even if I’m on the winning side.
Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann assures us that these verses make us feel a “deep awkwardness,” so I’m not alone in my discomfort. If I’ve learned anything at all about how the Old Testament relates to our lives today, it’s that context is key. The land that the Israelites take is the obstacle that stands in their way to God’s kingdom. In their world, at that time, conquering by force was the way to get things done. Countless things could (and have) been said about the justification of violence as a means to arrive at God’s kingdom, but the important part here is that God has the power to bring them there. All they have to do is trust in that.
We each have obstacles that get in our way of living into the kingdom of God. For the Israelites, it was several nations, their peoples, and probably a wall that came tumbling down. For me, it is at times trying to keep control over my life, and at other times, doubt and fear when I lose that control. The wonderful thing is, the kingdom that lies on the other side of our obstacles is better and more wonderful than we can even imagine, and that thought is not scary at all.
God, we have many obstacles that we let get in our way of living into your kingdom. Help us to turn these obstacles over to your power. We give thanks for your kingdom and that you have made a place for each of us in it. Amen.