Sermon on Exodus 23:20-33 – “Little by Little”

Sermon for Sunday, November 14th, 2021 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

Old Testament reading:

[Exo 23:1-9 ESV] 1 “You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. 2 You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice, 3 nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit. 4 “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him. 5 If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him. 6 “You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in his lawsuit. 7 Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent and righteous, for I will not acquit the wicked. 8 And you shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of those who are in the right. 9 “You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.

New Testament reading:

[Act 9:1-9 ESV] 1 But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. 4 And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8 Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

Gospel reading:

[Mar 10:32-34 ESV] 32 And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

Sermon text:
[Exo 23:20-33 ESV] 20 “Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. 21 Pay careful attention to him and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression, for my name is in him. 22 “But if you carefully obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries. 23 “When my angel goes before you and brings you to the Amorites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, and I blot them out, 24 you shall not bow down to their gods nor serve them, nor do as they do, but you shall utterly overthrow them and break their pillars in pieces. 25 You shall serve the LORD your God, and he will bless your bread and your water, and I will take sickness away from among you. 26 None shall miscarry or be barren in your land; I will fulfill the number of your days. 27 I will send my terror before you and will throw into confusion all the people against whom you shall come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you. 28 And I will send hornets before you, which shall drive out the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites from before you. 29 I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply against you. 30 Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased and possess the land. 31 And I will set your border from the Red Sea to the Sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the Euphrates, for I will give the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you shall drive them out before you. 32 You shall make no covenant with them and their gods. 33 They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against me; for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you.”

 

Introduction

Christian, how much work do you have in front of you? Mounds and piles? Perhaps you have mounds of mulch in your yard or piles of papers on your desk. How are you to finish it all? Should you stay up for three days and work yourself to exhaustion? Or rather, perhaps great work is done — great things are done — little by little.

The Great Pyramid of Pharaoh Khufu at Giza is estimated to contain 2.3 Million stone blocks. It is estimated that it took 27 years to build, piece by piece, little by little.

The first trans-continental railroad took six years to build as workers laid the railroad ties one by one. Little by little the track began to stretch from the East Coast to the West, and from the West Coast to the East until the final golden spike was hammered in place in Utah.

And, as they say, Rome was not built in a day. Little by little did that city grow from a wilderness camp to a great metropolis.

And of truly great things, we should note that the Bible —unlike the false writings of charlatans — came together over many years from many inspired writers as God completed his revelation to man little by little.

Little by little is often the way of the Lord.

While bad things tend to happen swiftly and abruptly – like a car crash or a stock market crash – good things usually come about little by little.

I. The Land from God

So it was that God chose to push the Canaanites out of the land little by little.

God rescued his people from slavery in Egypt. He brought them out with great miracles. And He gave them the laws needed for them to be a great nation. But at this point in the Exodus the Israelites are still wandering in the desert and are not yet in possession of the Promised Land.

This Promised Land only comes to them little by little.

And we read in our text of God’s purpose in doing it this way:

[Exo 23:29 ESV] 29 I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply against you.

By having the Israelites replace the Canaanites only little by little, the wild animals were unable to invade those empty places that would have been left by lack of human habitation.

And by having the Israelites replace the Canaanites only little by little, God made it so that the Israelites wouldn’t have to replant the grape vines or the olive trees or to rebuild crumbling houses.

God’s plan for Israel was gradual also so that the Israelites would have time to “increase and possess the land.” They needed time to become a mighty nation so that they could defend the land they were conquering. Other stronger nations around them may consider them ripe for the conquering themselves if the Israelites do not thoroughly control the land.

So it was God’s plan to have the Israelites conquer Canaan little by little.

No doubt He could have had them conquer the land in one fell sweep, for nothing is impossible for God. He could have used miracles as He had done before. Fire or hail or locusts or some other method could have wiped out the Canaanites immediately.

But there is a danger in too much success coming too quickly. The people might forget that they depend on God. They might begin to think too much of their own greatness. They might fall into the worship of foreign gods.

So God gives the victory little by little. The land from God comes about little by little.

II. The Faith from God

In this method we see something of God’s ways. We are not to expect always a sudden victory over our enemies, over sin, or over our struggles in life. But we see that God often works little by little. [REPEAT: God often works little by little.]

When I came as a pastoral intern to Dillingham Church in North Carolina, Pastor Hicks had pastored there for 15 years. And it took that time, little by little, for the church to reach where it was. It was a church – with problems no doubt – but many successes. Hard working people, dedicated parents, multi-generational farmers and business people in the one little valley. The children were learning the Catechism and the adults were studying the Confession. Little by little, starting through the work of a previous pastor in the 1980s and 1990s it had become a church more committed to Biblical Presbyterian principles. And while many liberal churches in area declined in numbers and even closed their doors, Dillingham church, like many Bible-believing ones, continued strong and growing in the faith.

Reflecting on that church it has struck me how our growth in the Christian faith is accomplished little by little. We read the Bible some each day, we sing hymns, we memorize the catechism. Little by little we grow in the faith. We fight against sin. The Christian life is hard work. While the spiritual awakening of the Holy Spirit is often immediate, there is no sudden ability to know everything of God’s revelation. We must study and make God’s word our passion.

And there is encouragement in working steadfast little by little. In living the Christian life, little by little we give testimony of our faith to our children and to our neighbors as we come each Sunday to Church and as we come each Wednesday to prayer. One week there may be no visitors. But the next perhaps two or three. Little by little God gathers in his flock. And little by little He does BIG things.

Little by little the faith from God grows in us. We should not be discouraged that either ourselves or our actions are small, for God often works through such ways. And though we may be little people, He is strong and we can depend on the Lord.

III. The Promises from God

The people of Israel were to depend on the Lord on and His promises.

In our text we find that the conquest of Canaan is not a wish, but a promise. It will happen, because God has spoken.

He says:

30 Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased and possess the land. 31 And I will set your border from the Red Sea to the Sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the Euphrates, for I will give the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you shall drive them out before you.

Who will do this? God will.

Again and again he says “I will.”

I will send my terror before.

And I will send hornets before you.

I will drive them out from before you.

I will set your border from the Red Sea to the Sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the Euphrates, for I will give the inhabitants of the land into your hand.

This promise of the Promised Land goes back all the way to Genesis 15:18-21 when God made a covenant with Abram saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, 19 the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.”

And this promise, though now many years later, God did not forget. God remembered His promise, rescued his people from Egypt and brought them to the promised land.

And in Jesus Christ, God remembered his promise. In Christ, God said “I will.” Just as Israel was given success because of the work of God alone, so our salvation is because of the work of God alone. God has done it. His promise is fulfilled.

And as God promises Israel victory of the Canaanites, so he promises us victory over our sins little by little. The Holy Spirit sanctifies us little by little.

Whatever issue you are struggling with

in your life

in your home

in your family

in your mind

keep working as the Lord promises victory little by little.

But God, we cry, take away my pain now! Take away my sin completely and immediately!

But it is the Lord’s will that is done, not our own.

And He has reasons in His plan for the suffering we endure, that little by little we may be drawn towards Him, finding our comfort in Him, depending on Him in all things, and not depending on ourselves.

We are to obey his voice as he calls us to battle sin.

While justification is a one time act of God in the death of Jesus Christ, sanctification occurs over time. Sanctification is a putting off of the old habits and a putting on of the new. Replacing anger with patience. Replacing self-conceit with a spirit of listening. Replacing our former daily habits with times of prayer and reading of the word. Little by little God sanctifies us through the work of the Holy Spirit in us.

Let this sermon then be a call to stay faithful in the little things and in all things.

It is a call to be faithful in

-church attendance

-giving

-Bible reading

-prayer

-evangelism

-training up children

-in work

-and in trust in God

It is call to be stalwarts for the faith. A call to patiently work for the Lord.

Little by little does the discipline of a child bring about maturity. And we can expect no less as we, in comparison to God, are like mere children absolutely needing His discipline.

Little by little, He promises that we will grow closer to Him, to be holy as He is holy, to one day be in the promised land of His eternal kingdom in heaven.

Little by little a person may hear the word of God in this place or in some other place. And perhaps they may not believe. But little by little God is working on them so that one day they suddenly are changed and they see the light and hear the word and come to Faith in Jesus Christ.

Let us therefore be encouraged to wait on the Lord.

[Psa 37:7 ESV] 7 Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!

[Psa 27:14 ESV] 14 Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!

Indeed, wait on the Lord and you will not be disappointed, for His promises will be fulfilled, little by little until a little become a lot. Let us pray.