I was a short kid growing up. I hated that. When I finally hit 5' tall my grandmother made me a sign that said, "Beware low flying aircraft," with a blinking light on top. Seriously...is it any wonder I grew up warped? On a positive note, I got a good Mexican meal out of it, so there was that. Anyhow, when you're the odd one out, all you want to do is be like everyone else. It takes a special type of courage to be comfortable standing alone.
Israel was being challenged to find that courage. As they stood prepared to enter into Canaan, Moses repeats one piece of advice more than just about any other: don't practice Canaanite religion. If Israel stayed true to who God made them, they would be monotheistic. They wouldn't equate an object with a god or goddess (idolatry). They wouldn't practice fertility rites in order to bring about fruitful harvests. In other words, they would be the odd one out, unique among the peoples of the fertile crescent.
God was asking no small thing of the Jews, which is why he had given them forty years of practice. As I've hinted at before in earlier posts, simply referring to the wilderness wanderings as punishment slightly misses the point. The point of the wilderness wandering was formation. Forty years is a lot of time to develop character and virtue. So God wasn't just throwing down the gauntlet and threatening infant Israel with, "Do what I say or die." He had, in fact, been preparing them for this moment for an entire generation.
However, skipping ahead, we know Israel failed in this endeavor. They failed miserably, even going so far as to burn their infants alive, just as the Canaanites had done before them. You'd think that they'd at least be able to resist that peer pressure. But to keep us from the temptation of saying, "Those foolish Israelites," and moving on, it is still rare to find a Christian who truly has the courage to stand alone.
Christians, for the most part, run the same rat race as everyone else. We all want that proverbial cheese, only to be surprised when our little chunk is not fulfilling. The "Canaans" of our modern world may not have the same cultural hang-ups as ancient Mesopotamia, but our cultural hang-ups are many and diverse none-the-less. Do we have any more courage than (and this is a comparison, so "than" is the proper spelling. I'm learning, dad!) ancient Israel?
God intends his people to be a people of courage, otherwise we cannot be a people to stand alone in our own Canaans. And if we can't do that the world will never see God, because just as with ancient Israel, he has chosen to make himself known through his people. I hope that more and more Christians find the courage to stand alone, to be different, to be the small ones in a world of seeming giants. What might happen if we did that, and the impact we would have on our world, is truly an exciting idea.
Stopping point: Deuteronomy 13