Let me set the stage. Moses is continuing his instructions to the Hebrews as they prepare to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land of Canaan. He is reviewing their history and in the first six verses he reminds them of what happened after the twelve spies had returned from their scouting expedition into Canaan some forty years earlier. Those men had come back with glowing reports of the abundance to be found but ten of them also reported that the cities were heavily fortified and the people were “giants.” They spread fear among the Hebrews, a fear that lead the Israelites to rebel against God. Their rebellion was the cause of forty years of wandering in the desert until, now, at last, they have returned to the gateway into the land that God has promised their forefather, Abraham.
As Moses begins his statement he says, “Hear, O 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. The people are strong and tall—Anakites. You know about them and have heard it said: ‘Who can stand up against the Anakites?’ But be assured today that the Lord your God is the one who goes across ahead of you like a devouring fire” (Deuteronomy 9:1-3a).
By mid-afternoon yesterday, I had identified some “Anakites.” I had struggled with the thought that the enemy was too great for me to do anything about—too big, too powerful, to “dug-in” to remove. The passage reminded me once again that no matter who or what these “Anakites” are in my life, they are standing in the way of God Who is a consuming fire, and against Whom no one can stand, no matter how big, powerful or “dug-in.” I wiped the tears of defeat and frustration from my eyes and, instead of looking at the “Anakites,” I looked at God.
The temptation is to look at the “Anakites.” They loom large and it is all too easy to be overwhelmed by their size and number and to give ground before them. Like Israel we let fear lead us to question God’s ability to give us victory over those things and people who seek to intimidate, manipulate and subjugate us and destroy His church.
God is no armchair general who sits in safety in a posh office in headquarters giving orders to the poor slobs slugging it out on the front lines. “He is the one who goes across ahead of you like a devouring fire; he will subdue them before you. And you will drive them out and annihilate them quickly, as the Lord has promised you” (9:3). We walk BEHIND Him. We might do the “mopping up” operation but He does the real work—if we are willing to put aside our fear and faithfully follow Him.
Moses had to include a little warning to the Israelites about their attitude. In verses 4-6 he reminds them that once the enemy has been defeated they are not to be arrogant about their victory as though they are somehow deserving of it. “It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going to take possession of their land….” God had business to conduct with the Anakites. The Israelites were His instruments to do that business and the result would be the fulfilling of the promise He had made to Abraham. There is no reason to “lord it over” the defeated enemy for we are perhaps only one sin away from becoming him.
I am grateful for “the One who goes ahead” of me. Funny how remembering Who He is, makes those “Anakites” shrink in size.
We used to sing this little chorus, which we had adapted slightly from its original:
"Got any rivers you think are uncrossable,
Got any mountains you can't tunnel through.
God specializes in things thought impossible,
He'll do the things others cannot do."
Remembering that is a great cure for "Anakite-itis."