Do not be terrified by them, for the LORD your God, who is among you, is a great and awesome God.
I. A NATURAL FEAR. (Ver. 17.) Like disheartening feelings may assail ourselves in presence of the strong spiritual opposition to be encountered in seeking to win the world for Christ. Our enemies are neither weak nor few; we will do well not to underrate them. The larger part of the globe is yet unoccupied by Christianity. Heathen systems are in possession, supported by the combined influences of tradition, custom, prejudice, and superstition, and presenting an apparently impregnable front to the thin ranks of their assailants. At home, how much of the Christianity is merely nominal! and how much of it is corrupted! We live in days of intense worldliness. The skeptical spirit, likewise, is pronounced and active. Brain and pen power of the highest order is enlisted in its service. Unbelieving science, infidel philosophy, rationalism in the Church. The press is a tower of strength to anti-Christian views of life and duty. While, at the other end of the social scale, the multitudes are sunk in indifference and vice. How are all these enemies to be overcome? May we not fear that, work as we will, we cannot succeed? The fears are groundless; but they are not without their use, if they make us feel that the conquest of the world is not to be achieved without much hard fighting.
II. A GROUND OF ENCOURAGEMENT. (Vers. 18-22.) This encouragement resolves itself into the simple truth that God is for us. He is mightier than our enemies, and will work on our behalf to secure their overthrow.
1. With supernatural power. In the past he had shown "signs and wonders," and had brought forth his people with a mighty hand (vers. 18, 19). The same power would help them still. It is encouraging to recall the supernatural strength for conquest which the gospel has already displayed. Think of our own land penetrated by a faith which sprang up 1800 years ago in remote, despised Judaea, with churches for Christ's worship dotting almost every street of every city, town, village, hamlet, throughout its length and breadth! How Utopian would such a work of conquest have seemed at the beginning - a dream of insanity! And this Divine energy for conquest inheres in the gospel today as truly as it did of old.
2. With providential aids (ver. 20). "Hornets - types of secret, providential allies working under God's direction. The forces of providence are on the side of those who are working for the advancement of his kingdom. There are such secret allies in men's own hearts. We may compare to the hornets the secret thoughts and feelings - the stings of conscience, guilty fears, feelings of dissatisfaction, etc. - which, operating within, drive men out to join issue with the Spirit in his truth. God has his hornets" also for arousing his own children out of their sloth and self-indulgence and forgetfulness of duty - sharp trials, vexations, griefs, etc.
III. A METHOD OF CONQUEST. "Little by little" (ver. 22). A law of providence and grace. Little by little God gives a man conquest over the evil in self, and his nature is sanctified. Little by little the world is conquered for Christ. The reason of the law is obvious. There is no advantage in having more than can be rightly used; e.g. a man who has more money than he can turn to good account, who has a larger estate than he can manage, who reads more books than he can mentally digest. The best method is "little by little" - mastering, consolidating, using what we have, before hasting to get more. - J.O.
I. THE ENEMIES OF GOD'S PEOPLE. We know that the inhabitants of Canaan were emphatically idolaters. This was their special characteristic. Now it is idolatry, in some shape or other, that draws men away from the service of God. Some make pleasure their idol; some make wealth their idol. But their enemies are many in number. There is a special danger in the present day arising from those false doctrines which have arisen in the household of faith and caused hostile parties in the Church. In connection with this I may mention a contrary error — latitudinarianism. Again, the world is very dangerous; the example of those who live in it is most seductive. Again, we meet with those who are men of learning and great talent, and we are exposed to danger even from them. We hear them maintaining opinions which are not scriptural, but we think it is scarcely possible for those who are so learned to be wrong; we are thus left to ask in perplexity, "Who is in the right?" We forget that men must "become fools that they may be wise" as respects spiritual knowledge. But there are enemies within. And here I must not omit to place in the forefront self, in all its varied forms (2 Timothy 3:1-5). Then, again, we have to contend against the whole army of lusts — "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life." All these are of the world, and all these lust against the Spirit, so that we cannot do the things that we would.
Thou shalt not be affrighted at them: for the Lord thy God is among you, a mighty God and terrible.I. The complaint has been made often THAT THE QUALITIES WHICH CHRISTIANS ARE ESPECIALLY ENCOURAGED TO CULTIVATE ARE NOT MANLINESS AND COURAGE; that, so far as the Christian ideal is set continually before the mind of a nation or a man, that mind is likely to become submissive, not energetic. I believe that the courage, which is only another way of expressing the heart, of a nation is liable to a continual weakening and decay; that left to itself it will certainly wither; that some religions may hasten its death; but that by doing so such religion will prove that it does not come from God, that it is not His religion, not His instrument for reforming and regenerating the world.
II. A RETURN TO THE OLD FAITH THAT COURAGE AND HUMANITY ARE NOT ENEMIES, BUT INSEPARABLE COMPANIONS, HAS CERTAINLY COMMENCED AMONG US. The misfortune is that Christianity is supposed to be not identical with humanity, but a substitution for it. And this opinion is closely connected with another: that courage is a heathen, or perhaps the heathen, virtue, and that we have cherished it by giving our children a semi-heathen education. Consider this opinion under different aspects.
III. By a heathen we mean one who is not a Jew. That is the simplest, most accurate use of the name. Taking it in this sense, our text is decisive THAT A HIGH ESTIMATE OF COURAGE WAS NOT CONFINED TO HEATHENS; that if to form such an estimate is ungodly, the chosen people were as ungodly as any. The Bible tells us that idolatry is the great destroyer of courage, reverence for the true God and an abiding sense of His presence and protection the upholder of it. Now is this doctrine compatible with the fact that the most illustrious of the heathen nations were singularly brave nations, and that our forefathers sought to kindle English courage at their fires? It is incompatible if we regard a heathen merely as an idolater. It is perfectly compatible if we trace through the history of the great nations that worshipped idols a continual witness against it. Their belief in courage, as a quality which raised them above the animals, was the greatest of all the protests which the conscience of heathens was bearing against idolatry, against the worship of visible things, which is directly connected with our animal instincts, which is always lowering the human being to the level of that which he should rule.
IV. THE COURAGE OF THE HEBREW WAS DERIVED FROM HIS TRUST IN THE BEING WHO HAD CHOSEN HIM TO DO HIS WORK IN THE WORLD, WHO WOULD ACCOMPLISH THAT WORK, LET WHAT POWERS WOULD UNITE TO DEFEAT IT. Christianity is not a denial of Judaism or a denial of heathenism, a tertium quid which excludes all that is strongest and most vital in both, but the harmony and concentration of both, the discovery of Him in whom the meaning of both is realised and raised to its highest power; but out of the union and reconciliation of apparent opposites in the faith of a Father and a Son, of a Spirit proceeding from both, to quicken men and make them the voluntary, cheerful servants, because the sons, of God, there must come forth a courage diviner than the Hebrew, more human than the Greek, more pledged to a continual battle with disorder than the Roman.
(F. D. Maurice, M. A.)
I. THE FEARS WHICH THEY WERE IN DANGER OF INDULGING.
1. The superior strength of their enemies.
2. The consequent difficulty of dispossessing them. A few, comparatively, against many; the weak against the strong. How can I dispossess them? Is not the case very similar now? The Christian cannot be blind to the fact that his enemies are greater and mightier than he; the hosts of hell are marshalled against him. Legion is their name, implying unity, order, zeal, and perseverance. The enemies are mighty, and have overcome their thousands. There are few who have not been tempted to consider the contest hopeless, and to say, "Surely I shall one day perish." Now if there be one here saying this in his heart, let him attend —
II. TO THE ENCOURAGEMENTS PROVIDED AGAINST THOSE FEARS.
1. A recollection of God's past dealings. Thou shalt remember well what the Lord thy God did unto Pharaoh, and unto all Egypt. The difficulties there were as great as they could be; — Pharaoh had chariots and horsemen; the Israelites were despised slaves; he had power, and was determined to use it in retaining them; yet the Lord brought them out, and therefore they need not fear now.
2. They were instructed as to the Lord's future methods. So shall the Lord do unto all the people of whom thou art afraid: He had ten thousand ways of weakening the power of the enemy; the whole kingdom of nature was at His command; He could send the hornet among them; even the insect tribe shall be made subservient to the accomplishment of God's design towards them. Joshua records the fulfilment of this promise (Deuteronomy 24:12). But this conquest was to be gradual. The Lord thy God will put out those nations by little and little. Immediate and entire victory would have been attended with undesirable consequences; God therefore gave them as much as in their circumstances was good for them.
3. Assurance was given of final victory. And are there not equal encouragements now, to everyone anxious to attain the heavenly Canaan? There is, however, this happy difference in the two cases: that when once the Christian has passed over the Jordan of death, every difficulty will be over, every enemy conquered, he will have the land in possession.In conclusion, I would say —
1. Let no one expect the victor, who fights in his own strength.
2. Let no one despair of victory who fights in the Lord's strength.
(George Breay, B. A.)
II. Now let us inquire what are the WEAPONS with which we must fight? Scripture teaches us (2 Corinthians 10:4) that "the weapons of our warfare are not carnal." Amongst our defensive weapons I may mention, as the first and chiefest, prayer. With this we must join faith in the promises. And, also, we must remember that throughout our whole life we shall have need of active watchfulness. There are also offensive weapons which we are bound to use. The first of these which I will mention is consistency. Outward consistency of character deters many from attempting their proposed assaults. Nor must we forget the Word of God. Here, indeed, is our great weapon; and so powerful is it, that it is the great desire of Satan to keep it out of our reach.
III. But I own there are great DIFFICULTIES in the way. The first to which I will allude is that which arises from our peculiar position in the world. We must be in the world, and the difficulty at the same time is to take care that we are not of the world. To have a wise discerning judgment; to distinguish between the fulfilment of our duty in that station of life in which God has placed us, and the yielding to the secret subtle snares of Satan, is often a work of great difficulty for the Christian. Again, the Christian's difficulties and afflictions are not all at once removed. Like the enemies of the Jews they are put down, as it were, "little by little." It is a gradual and a progressive work. But assuredly it does progress towards final victory. But numerous as are our enemies, great as are our difficulties, blessed be God, we have —
IV. OUR ENCOURAGEMENTS also. And first among these we know we shall have the victory. The promise of victory has been given, and it is as sure as if it were accomplished. We know that we are on the conquering side. The numbers of our enemies, then, need not terrify us. "Greater is He that is for us than all they that are against us." The past mercies we have received are all pledges of future mercies. If we had but received that one pledge of God's love which He afforded us in the gift of His Son for us, this would of itself be sufficient to encourage the assurance of hope. For (Romans 8:32) we have nothing to fear from present weakness. The Lord has laid help upon One that is mighty to save. Though our gracious Saviour is not Himself personally present He has told us the reason (John 16:7). Still He is spiritually present with us. His Spirit still abides with His Church — and therefore with us, if we be indeed members of that Church — comforting us, assisting us, strengthening us, and ensuring us victory at the last. Furthermore, the Lord is on our side. "The Lord thy God will do this"
(H. M. Villiers, M. A.)
1. Unmerited. The aid we get from earthly friends is often a reciprocity of kindness — a discharge of obligation. But our goodness extends not to God. We have done nothing to deserve help.
2. Unexpected. In most extreme danger and when most unlikely, comes deliverance. "Man's extremity is God's opportunity." The Mace of fear and sorrow becomes one of joy and triumph.
3. Singular. "God's methods are peculiar to Himself. Events Which appear to combine to work our ruin bring our salvation. In the deliverance from Egypt and the conquest of Canaan God was terrible to His enemies.
4. Timely. We think He has forgotten or forsaken us if He appears not when we wish; but He knows better than we do when it is time for Him to work. "Too late" can never he said of His mercy. "A very present help in trouble."
5. All-sufficient. Earthly friends fail. God is always among us, "a mighty God and terrible." He conquers most formidable foes, rescues from the greatest dangers.
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