Two men once climbed a mountain together. They trudged up the lower slopes and scaled cliff faces to reach the tree line. Past the mid-point, they spent days camping at various points to adjust to the thin, oxygen-poor air. They pulled and pushed each other along, sometimes tied together with a long cord so that if one misstepped, he might be saved by the other. After weeks of enduring howling winds and biting cold with the help of oxygen tanks and state-of-the-art gear, they finally reached the summit.
The first man, barely able to pull in enough air even to speak, turned to his friend and said, “Look…what we did…we saw…we conquered…”
The second man smiled and, looking around at the deadly beautiful mountain range, replied, “Thank God…made all this…gave eyes…and feet…”
Together, they achieved something that only the tiniest fraction of humanity could hope to emulate. They really did something great.
The first man will die and be forgotten within a generation. His experiences and labors will die with him. The second man, however, will never die. He will inherit all that he sees from one of the highest points on earth.
Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Know, therefore, that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people.
Israel was nothing special in the world. We did nothing to deserve God’s favor. He rescued us from Egypt, made us a people, defeated our enemies, and gave us a country, yet we were stiff-necked, rebellious idolaters. And God knew this before he ever spoke to Abraham, our father.
As Moses was preparing the people to cross the Jordan and expel the Canaanites from the land that God had promised to Israel, he reminded them that they deserved nothing good from God. If they were blessed, it wasn’t because they had done anything to earn it. If they had victory in war, it wasn’t because they fought or planned better than their enemies.
Victory was assured because God had promised the Patriarchs, and God always keeps his promises.
The Anakim and the Canaanites had forgotten to whom they owed their existence and had exchanged worship of the Creator for things they themselves had created. They had succumbed to the basest sin of all: pride. And so God determined to destroy them. They are remembered now only as a vile people who sacrificed even their own children to gods of their own making.
Unfortunately, they weren’t the only ones to fall so low.
Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.
Despite having witnessed the utter destruction of the Canaanites before God’s power, the ancient Israelites followed in their corrupted footsteps. They erected sacred pillars and worshipped every false god they could imagine and manufacture with their own hands, as if the glory of a created thing could ever exceed that of the one who created it. They rejected the real glory of being God’s special people for the false glory of dead things that can’t move, hear, or speak.
Over and over again, God called Israel to repentance. We repented and regained his favor only to fall again into “the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world.” We exchanged service to the Most High for slavery to sin. We rejected the source of Living Water for broken cisterns of our own invention.
We don’t appear to have learned anything since then. We cut and splice God’s creatures, claiming to make them better. We kill millions in the name of profit and energy. We slaughter our own children for the sake of convenience. We build machines and send them into space and say, “Look what we did!”
Whether we call our own creations “gods” or “science”, we worship them as if the glory of dead metal and plastic could possibly exceed that of the One who created the particles, the energies, and the physical laws that make it all possible and which we have barely begun to comprehend.
Machines are good. Genetic science is good. I love to see the astonishing accomplishments of today’s space engineers. SpaceX landing rockets on their tails like something from a 1950s science fiction was one of the most exciting things I’ve ever seen!
But all of these things are only possible because God has made them so. We have minds to imagine and invent, because God gave them to think. we have hands to create, because God fashioned them after his own. Yet we still say, “Look what we did!”
Pride is the greatest barrier of all to spiritual health and restoration of people to their Creator.
We’ve done nothing.
But despite all this, God still promises forgiveness and even glory for those who repent, who love him above all earthly things, and determine to keep his Law.
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:9
But there is no true repentance without humility. It is impossible to say honestly, “God, forgive me! Aren’t I great?” Humility requires that we give credit where credit is due, and all credit is due to him who makes all things possible. We must say instead, “God, forgive me! Not my will, but yours be done in the world and in my life.”