Exodus 23:29-30 – I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply against you. Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased and possess the land.
What is this text saying?
After freeing Israel from slavery God gave them laws, commands, and instructions by which He would govern them and fulfill His promises. In the midst of these was this interesting piece of information about the conquest of the Promised Land: That Israel would find the land pledged to them already inhabited by other nations, but that God would gradually drive these people out before Israel so they could occupy it.
Why is it important?
The Promised Land was one of the central promises made to the children of Israel going all the way back to Abraham (Genesis 15:7). At various times God had promised him, Isaac and Jacob that the land of Canaan would be a heritage to the great nation their children would become. But for a period of over 400 years, from Jacob and his sons’ journey to Egypt to escape famine, through the children of Israel’s enslavement there, and up their deliverance by God through Moses, the people of promise had been separated from the land of promise. And during that time other people who neither knew nor served God had moved into Canaan and made it their own. God was letting Israel know this was a situation that would have to be dealt with, and that God Himself would deal with it.
How can I apply this?
For Israel to find the land promised to them already occupied may have seemed to be confusing, discouraging, or even a cause for anger and resentment. But this text explains God’s logic. An unoccupied promised land is an uncared for promised land, and an uncared for promised land becomes much harder to possess and inhabit. The same principle can apply to our lives.
Have you ever felt God was leading you to something that already appeared to belong to someone else? A job? A position in ministry? A home? Even a potential romantic partner? Did you feel confusion and discouragement, possibly even guilt wondering if you were coveting something that rightly belonged to someone else? Did you feel anger, thinking if this thing was meant for you why wasn’t it ‘free’ for you to take possession of?
But if you think about it a job that has been unfilled for some time is a job with a disorganized backlog of work waiting for the next person who gets it. An unoccupied ministry is one that has to take time trying to attract a following rather than focusing on delivering the message God is trying to convey through it. A house that has been unoccupied is one that has been neglected and fallen into disrepair. A potential romantic partner that hasn’t had a date or relationship for a long time is someone who might lack social graces, may have become comfortable in their solitude, or even have become embittered by their loneliness. In every case, having that place or role occupied makes it much easier for the next person to take on that place or role.
Four things to remember:
- If God leads you to a place that is already occupied don’t become confused, discouraged, or angry. God has set a precedent here, and His logic is sound.
- Learn all you can from God’s instruction. God gave Israel instruction to ensure they could take the right actions. If you submit to God’s leading He will do the same for you.
- Remember that Israel didn’t take the Promised Land; God liberated it for them. If you feel God is leading you to something (or especially someone) that is already occupied, do obey His instructions in moving towards what you feel has been promised to you, but don’t try to take possession of it yourself. If God truly intends it for you, He will ‘drive out’ the current occupant before you by Himself. This will be the surest indication that you’re not being guided by your own jealousy or covetousness, but by God’s will.
- If God does not drive out the current occupant, clearly that thing was not promised to you. But if this is the outcome don’t lose heart. And don’t miss the lessons God has taught you through the situation, both about yourself and about His guidance.