“Behold, I am going to send an angel before you to guard you along the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared.” (Exodus 23:20)
Back in our study of Genesis in the 16th chapter, I wrote a post titled, “Who Is The Angel Of The Lord?” In that post I presented my reasons for believing that the Angel of the Lord mentioned in the Old Testament is the pre-incarnate Christ. The Angel of the Lord is the Lord Jesus Christ. Although He is not called the Angel of the Lord here in Exodus 23, it is apparent, I believe, that this is One and the Same “Angel.”
God the Father tells Moses:
“Be on your guard before him and obey his voice; do not be rebellious toward him, for he will not pardon your transgression, since My name is in him.” (Exodus 23:21)
Being that this “Angel” possesses the prerogative of forgiving transgressions, an attribute unique to God alone (cf. Mark 2:5-10), and the fact that the Lord states that His name is in Him, we are left with no other conclusion as to His identity. Additionally, the manifestation of this Angel is recorded over in Joshua 5:13-15 where He identified Himself as the “Captain of the host of the Lord.” He presents Himself as the One Who will now lead the armies of the Lord against the Canaanites, just as God first declared in the passage before us now (Exodus 23:20). This Captain of the host instructs Joshua to remove his shoes, for he is standing on holy ground, just as the voice coming from the burning bush told Moses years before (Exodus 3:2-5). There can be no doubt that the voice which came from the burning bush and that which came from the Captain of the host were the same voice.
The Presence of the Lord Went With Them
With that in mind, I would like to take a moment to consider a few of the implications of what we read in the latter portion of Exodus 23. First, we see that the very Presence of God was promised to go with the Children of Israel when they marched into battle. “Be on your guard before him…do not be rebellious toward him” (v. 21) they are told. The Lord was going to be right there in their midst when they entered the land. Secondly, the Presence of God went ahead of them. Although the same Hebrew term is used in verses 20, 27, and 28 and is rendered in some Bible versions (e.g., ESV and KJV) as before in all three places, there are really two distinct nuances to the word (just as in the English word before). In one sense, it means in the presence of. This is the sense of verse 20 where the Angel is described as going with them. But when it is used in verses 27 and 28, it is better translated ahead of (as versions such as the NASB and NIV do). The meaning there is that it will precede or go out in advance of (as the word before can also mean in English).
“I will send my terror ahead of you…I will send hornets ahead of you…” (Exodus 23:27a, 28a, emphasis added)
Not only would the Lord go with them, He would go out ahead of them. Wherever the feet of the Israelites would step in the land where God was bringing them, they could be certain that it was a place where He had already gone. In fact, we see that God was already fighting and winning the battles before the Hebrews would even arrive! The terror of the Lord would fall upon the Canaanites driving them out and causing sheer panic to ensue. It is interesting to note that God does not give instructions to the Children of Israel to fight or struggle against their enemies, no, the Lord says that He will destroy their adversaries (v. 23). The only real responsibility of the Israelites is to obey God and not rebel against Him.
The time would come for the Hebrews to raise weapons against the Canaanites whom God was driving out of the land, but that was not where the battle was to be won or lost. The battle at that point had already been pre-determined, the victory had already been won by the Lord. The Israelites were called to walk in the victory that had already been secured by the pre-incarnate Christ.
The Reason For Delay
“I will not drive them out before you in a single year, that the land may not become desolate and the beasts of the field become too numerous for you. I will drive them out before you little by little, until you become fruitful and take possession of the land.” (Exodus 23:29-30)
The second factor that I would like to point out is that God had very specific reasons for not allowing the Hebrews to conquer the land too quickly. Could God have simply struck every Canaanite dead instantly before the Children of Israel even arrived on the scene? Of course. Or could the Lord have led them to conquer every stronghold in Canaan in a matter of a few weeks or even days? Sure. But such a quick conquest would have produced a lot of other problems as a consequence. A drastic, rapid dwindling of the population would have eventually allowed the proliferation of too many wild animals roaming the countryside, threatening human life and wreaking havoc on the Hebrews’ livestock and farmlands once they were settled in. Additionally, without sufficient numbers of the current populace remaining during the transition, the entire infrastructure of the land would collapse, leaving the land essentially desolate, before the Israelites even had a chance to set up their own civilization. God graciously chose to reveal His reasons for delaying the Hebrews’ immediate total conquest, even though they themselves certainly would have preferred a speedy victory over waiting longer to fully inhabit the land.
In conclusion, we are reminded in this passage from Exodus of some very important lessons for our own walk with the Angel of the Lord, Jesus Christ. First of all, the Lord never calls us to fight the enemy in our own strength, but to obey Him, not rebel against Him, and to walk in the victory that He has already won. His “terror” has already gone out before us and we can be certain that, wherever we ourselves set foot, He has already been there and has already secured the victory for us. It is not our responsibility to go out and fight, but rather to obey Him and walk in His victory over the enemy.
Second, we must realize that, though the fruits of the victory might be seemingly delayed, it will come in God’s perfect timing. Whatever difficulties we find ourselves in, we must realize that God has His reasons for not immediately delivering us out of them. Perhaps the greater grace and kindness is to allow us to remain in those circumstances a little longer, lest we be delivered and find ourselves in a worse situation! Sometimes even the most faithful of Christians remain in times of trial for a duration that can leave them wondering if God has forgotten them altogether. Sometimes, deliverance never comes at all. But it is never because God does not care or desire what is best for us. We do not always know the ramifications of God delivering us too quickly, but He does. God, in His infinite wisdom, knows the consequences of every action He might possibly take and loves us too much to ever rush His own perfect timing.
To God goes all glory. In service to Him,
**Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission.