Today’s reading: Deuteronomy 1-2.
Our imagined obstacles are the worst ones. What else has such power to immobilize us without lifting a finger? Like the threatening dragons on the edges of the old maps, they strike fear by reputation alone. The Israelites had their giants to kill, and some were not so imaginary, but they were all puny in comparison to God’s power.
As Deuteronomy opens Moses begins to recount the story of Israel’s journey through the wilderness. The entire book is styled after an ancient treaty, and the history of the relationship between the king (God) and his servant (Israel) is always given at the start of such treaties. Moses reminds the people how their needs overwhelmed him and prompted him to recruit elders to help him judge the people. What he told the elders is a fitting battle-cry for the whole nation:
Do not be afraid of any man, for judgment belongs to God. Deuteronomy 1:17
Now the real battle is about to begin, and once again the nation needs a reminder that they should not fear any man or giant since God will determine the outcome. Part of Israel’s history was their failure to invade the Promised Land when they first spied it out 38 years earlier. The fear of giants motivated many of the Israelites then. Now they are at the back door of that same territory, and Moses tells them about some of the giants who have lived there. The ancient word for giant was rapha, or Rephaim, meaning terrible ones.
There were the Emim who lived in Moab. They had been driven out many years before. There were the Horites who were conquered by the descendants of Esau. The Zanzummim were another tribe of giants who had been eliminated by the Ammonites. Then there were the Avvites who were removed by the ancestors of the Phillistines when they came up out of Egypt into the coastal plain of Canaan. All of these tribes are compared to the giant Anakim who would soon be defeated by Joshua. Moses writes that Og, king of Bashan, was among the last of these giants (Rephaim), sleeping on a bed that was thirteen feet long.
The Israelites had already defeated Og and his kingdom. Most of these giants had been eliminated by other nations. Perhaps some Anakim remained, but Moses was telling the people that their days were numbered. He reminded them of recent victories over Sihon, king of Heshbon, saying, “not one town was too strong for us. The LORD our God gave us all of them.”
Each of us face real and imagined giants. Who are the Rephaim in your life? Their reputation is mighty, but God is even stronger. Do you struggle against addictions, or financial problems, or strained relationships? God stands at the ready to battle alongside you. Are you overwhelmed by fear or anxiety? Do you see no way out? Remember these things about your fight:
- God is greater than whatever problem you face
- The giants in your life are already defeated in God’s eyes
- God has been working to defeat your giants before you even knew about them
In the days of Abraham, five hundred years before the time of Deuteronomy, kings came from the east to battle against Sodom and Gomorrah. But along the way God used them to begin removing the giants that would one day stand in the way of the Israelites.
Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him went out and defeated the Rephaim in Ashteroth Karnaim, the Zuzim in Ham, the Emim in Shaveh Kiriathaim and the Horites in the hill country of Seir. Genesis 14:5-6
We struggle in life against big and little problems. “Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upwards.” “In this world you will have tribulation.” But as God will soon tell Joshua, “be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” As God reminds us through Jesus, “fear not, for I have overcome the world.”