Exodus 23:30


1. The avoidance of their idolatries. God cautions us against those dangers which we are most likely to overlook. When once the Israelites entered the promised land and were fairly settled there, they would show no lack of energy and discrimination in doing their best to guard their temporal possessions. But the most serious dangers are those against which walled cities and great armies are no defence. God could easily cut off the idolaters and put Israel in their place; but what about the idolatries? Whether these should also be expelled would depend upon the guard which God's people kept over their own hearts. It is very noticeable that as God takes the thoughts of his people forward to their future habitation, he begins with a solemn caution against idolatry and closes with the same. There is thus a kind of correspondence with the order occupied in the Ten Commandments by those against polytheism and image-worship. It was not possible to make mention too often of the subtle perils which lay in the Canaanitish gods.

2. Jehovah's complete defeat and expulsion of the former inhabitants. This is indicated in a variety of impressive ways. Only let his people be faithful to him, and Jehovah will go before them as a dread to all who come in contact with them. Evidently God would have his people understand that nothing was to be feared from the very greatest external resources available against them. Let enemies threaten and unite and seek allies far and wide. The greater their efforts, the more signal will be their defeat. We must ever believe that our true strength is in God. It was never intended that Israel should be looked on as a mighty military power. Rather it should be a cause of astonishment among the nations that it was able to stand against all the resources gathered against it. Whenever the Israelites began to trust in themselves and think they were able to awe their enemies, then they were lost. God only can terrify with the terror that lasts. We may confidently leave him to scatter confusion among those whom we, with all our demonstrations, are unable to impress.

3. The injunction to enter into no covenant with the former inhabitants. He who had been expelled by nothing less than an awful Divine force was not to be allowed to return under pretence of a peaceful submission. Peace, concord, mutual help - we may say God would ever have these between man and man, nation and nation - but at the same time we constantly get the warning against crying, peace! peace! when there is no peace. If a foreigner came forsaking his idolatries, there was an appointed way for him into Israel, and a welcome to be cordially given. But by no stretching of charity could it be made attainable for the idolater to settle down side by side with the worshipper and servant of Jehovah.

II. THE LARGE POSITIVE BLESSINGS TO COME UPON ISRAEL. Tile expulsion and permanent exclusion of the former inhabitants, much as they are insisted on, were but the negative condition, the clearing of the ground, so as to bless Israel with something positive. Very fittingly does God blend together the mention of these positive blessings with cautions and warnings as to the treatment of the former occupants. As the blessings were considered, the wisdom of the cautions would appear; and as the cautions were considered, so earnest and express, the greatness of the blessings would appear. God presents himself here as one very solicitous to make the land not only a good land for his people, but one cherished so as to make the best of its advantages. For this purpose he begins with a kind of graduated expulsion of the former inhabitants. Instead of expelling them by a sudden overwhelming blow, he rather does it little by little. The enemies of Israel were not to be multiplied needlessly by exposing their land to wild beasts; and the human enemies, contrary to their own designs and desires, were to leave for Israel the fruit of their own industries. If the Israelites had been asked which would be better, - to cast out their enemies at once or by a gradual process, they would probably have replied, "at once." God will ever adopt the right plan to secure the most of blessing for his people. Thus we may learn a lesson with regard to the expulsion of evil still. God is still driving out evil little by little, and in so doing he is building up good little by little. Thus the Israelites were to get a gradual and secure settlement in the land; and then that settlement was to prove eminently profitable. Four great elements of prosperity are mentioned.

1. The blessing of the bread and the water. All that was connected with the obtaining of food and drink would be under God's watchful providence. What are the bread and the water unless he blesses them? God can turn the most fertile of lands into a very proverb of barrenness. Why, this very Canaan had been afflicted with famine. It was because for some reason the blessing of God had been withheld from the bread and the water that the fathers of Israel had found their way into Egypt.

2. The maintenance of health. This is put in the most expressive way by indicating it in the aspect of banished sickness. Disease is such a common sight to us, and presents itself in such varied forms, that in no way can God's blessing of health be more emphatically revealed than by describing him as the one who healeth all our diseases. To a large extent this health was to be the consequence of blessing the bread and the water, giving by them, thus blessed, abundant and nutritious food.

3. The productiveness of animal life. In a perfectly obedient Israel there were to be no abortions, no barren wombs. It was just because there was disobedience in Israel that such cries as those of Hannah were heard (1 Samuel 1:11). Evidently all this normal generative efficacy largely depended on the blessing of the bread and water and the blessing of health. That any animal whatever, either human, or lower than human, should cast its young or be barren, was in itself a sort of disease.

4. The fulfilling of the days. The hoary head, with its crown of glory is the appointed possession of God's people. That so few obtained it only showed how much there was of imperfection in Israelite national life. These purposed blessings did not find their way into reality. The people were disobedient, unbelieving, self-regarding; and hence the seeds of blessing which assuredly God sowed among them either remained dead or struggled forth into a very imperfect life. - Y.

By little and little I will drive them out before thee.
It is important, not only to see, but to love, the gradual processes of God. There is more love in doing the little thing than in doing the great thing. A great mind is never so great as when it is throwing itself into something exceedingly minute. The special subject to which the text spiritually and allegorically refers is the conquest of sin. For such as the old inhabitants of the land of Canaan were to Israel, such the old inhabitants of our hearts are to us. But now here let me draw what appears to me to be a very important distinction before I proceed. If the processes of sanctification are exceedingly small, the work of justification is template — perfectly complete — in its one defined isolated act. Never confound this — the advancement of your holiness with the perfection of your pardon. There are no degrees of pardon. Nevertheless, though, the Lord Jesus Christ being set up in his heart, sin has gone down, and grace is in the ascendancy — the sin is there — and there it is in tremendous rebellion and awful conflict. Make the distinction of the sin dominant, and the sin subservient, but rebellious against the grace dominant. Yet still, though the sin be thus so far subdued, it lives. Only "little by little," after it is put down from its throne, is it expelled. It goes on to that expulsion — till at last, as the condemnation of sin was exchanged for the rebellion of sin, the rebellion of sin is exchanged for the removal of the presence of sin, and sin is no longer there. Now I want to lead you to see the benefits of this "little by little." It is in infinite mercy. It is the discipline of life. And not only in the external event, but in the internal experiences, to a believer, it is all discipline. And that very gradual overcoming of sin is a great part of the discipline of life — to exercise many graces, patience, faith, waiting upon God, prayer, humiliation. And not only so, but remember in this discipline of life, God has His punishments. And do you know what God's heaviest punishment is? Sin. He makes sins scourge sins! — often a sin we hate to scourge a sin we love — often a sin of action to chasten a sin of feeling — often a sin of conscience to humble us in the dust and make us discover a sin of emotion. Sins punish sins. Therefore, as the old Canaanites were kept in the land of Canaan for this very end — that they might be thorns in the side of the Israelites, and whenever the Israelites fell into idolatry — for their grievous sin some were allowed to rise up and overcome them for awhile, till God raised up some judge to overcome that nation, so it is in your heart. And not only is it thus discipline and punishment — but remember it is for the manifestation of the glory of the Holy Ghost who exhibits His power and grace in the process of converting sinners into saints. Or look at it again thus. I do not believe that we could bear now to be perfectly holy. That inward light, if so unclouded, would be of such a brightness as would wither us and scorch us. The body would not be capable of it — the mind would not be capable of it. But when we have the disembodied spirit, or when we have the "spirit clothed upon with the new body," then, and then only, we shall be capable of perfect saintliness. And till that, it must be "little by little," — a gradual approaching to that state which we could not bear if introduced to at once. Now, just in conclusion, observe the expression "I will drive them out." It is one of God's high works; it requires the power of Omnipotence to eradicate sin from the human soul.

(J. Vaughan M. A.)

I. IT IS THROUGH LITTLE THINGS THAT A MAN DESTROYS HIS SOUL; he fails to take note of little things, and they accumulate into great; he relaxes in little things, and thus in time loosens every bond.

II. IT IS BY LITTLE AND LITTLE THAT MEN BECOME GREAT IN PIETY. We become great in holiness through avoiding little faults, and being exact in little duties.

III. THERE IS GREAT DIFFICULTY IN LITTLE THINGS. In daily dangers and duties, in the petty anxieties of common life, in the exercise of righteous principles, in trifles — in these we must seek and find the opportunity of ejecting "by little and little" the foes we have sworn to expel from our hearts.

(H. Melvill, B. D.)

I. GREAT THINGS ARE MADE UP OF LITTLE THINGS. Highest mountain of grains of dust. Atlantic of drops of water. Year of 31,536,000 seconds. Deepest snow-fall came down one flake at a time.

II. GREAT THINGS DEPEND ON LITTLE ONES. Falling of apple from tree insignificant enough; yet led to discovery of law of gravitation.

III. GREAT THINGS SPRING FROM LITTLE ONES. Oak once an acorn. Greatest hero once an infant. Explosion in coal-pit which destroyed life and property was caused by spark from match. Tract sent by child to India fell into hands of a chief, who was brought to Christ through reading it; missionary was sent out and hundreds converted.

IV. GREAT WORKS ARE ACCOMPLISHED BY LITTLE AND LITTLE. Pyramids raised one stone at a time. Greatest paintings done stroke by stroke. Michael Angelo, when pointing out what progress he had made in a piece of sculpture on which he was engaged, was met with the remark, "But these are trifles." He replied, "Trifles make perfection; but perfection is no trifle."

V. CHARACTER IS FORMED BY LITTLE AND LITTLE. Good characters are built up of little acts of kindness, industry, generosity, obedience, and integrity. One mean or dishonest act may destroy a reputation which it has taken years to acquire.

(W. H. Booth.)







(W. Burrows, B. A.)

The upward road to success must always be over difficulties, and these are only overcome "little by little." The man who would conquer must not expect to do so at once, by one headlong charge. Yes, a man to succeed must be self-reliant, he must trust to God and his own right arm. When Stephen Colonna was taken prisoner by his enemies, and they sneeringly asked him, "Where is now your stronghold?" he laid his hand upon his heart, and answered, "Here." A man must dare to stand alone. If Clive had leaned upon others instead of himself, he would not have matched his few European and native troops against the overwhelming masses of Bengal, and have won the Battle of Plassey. If Columbus had been discouraged by delays, and obstacles and disappointments, he would never have found America. We have seen, then, that success means the overcoming of difficulties, by determination, by self-reliance, by patience, "little by little." This is equally true of the noblest of all pursuits, the pursuit of holiness, of the grandest and purest work, work for God; of the hardest and most splendid of victories, victory over self. The victories which have been gained over ourselves will be remembered when the triumphs of Caesar and Hannibal are uncared for. "He conquered himself" is a better epitaph than "He conquered the world." Well, then, in this daily life of ours we all have a Canaan to conquer; and God promises that if we do our part, He will drive out our foes "little by little." No one becomes bad all at once, nor good all at once. Our life, if it be the true life, will be a gradual growth in grace, a daily dying to sin, and rising again unto righteousness, a daily mortifying of our evil and corrupt affections, and a daily proceeding in all virtue and godliness of living.

(H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, M. A.)

How does it commonly come to pass, that a man who had been thoroughly alive to his moral responsibility, and who had acted under a manifest consciousness of the account which must one day be rendered at the judgment seat of Christ, falls away from the striving for salvation, and mingles with the multitude that walks the broad road? Is it ordinarily through one powerful and undisguised assault, that he is turned from the path — the enemies of his soul combining their strength in one united attack, and coming down on him with every weapon which their malice could suggest and their power obtain? Nay, not so; it is invariably through "little" things, that such a man destroys his soul. Like the heavenly bodies, the man of piety moves in a resisting medium, as he revolves about the Sun of righteousness, which is, and must be, the centre of our system. It may be only a very minute fraction of velocity, that this resisting medium is able at any one time to destroy; but its operation is constant, and therefore if the destroyed fraction remain unobserved and unrepaired, the waste will go on, till the whole motion is lost, and the star recedes from its pathway of light. As Christians we profess ourselves strangers and pilgrims upon earth; we are not at home, and the atmosphere of the earth is one which tends to retard our movements, and diminish the speed with which we might otherwise run the race set before us; and although, beyond doubt, the world may occasionally put huge impediments in the way, which may tend to block up the path, and force us, on a sudden either to stand still or turn aside, yet our chief danger lies in the almost imperceptible influence exerted by the world, like that of the resisting medium on the planets — a hindrance which offers no violent opposition to our principles, but which, confining itself to trifles, is perhaps allowed to act undisturbed, as though either there could be trifles when the soul's good is in debate, or as though, if there were, trifles upon trifles would not make up large amounts. There is a sort of continued attraction, resulting from our necessary intercourse with the world, which of itself deadens the attainments of the soul. There is, moreover, a continued temptation to yield in little points under the impression of conciliating, to indulge in little things, to forego little strictnesses, to omit little duties, and all owing to the idea, that what looks so slight cannot be of real moment.

(H. Melvill, B. D.)

We here have —



III. A WARNING THAT THE WORK OF SANCTIFICATION MUST BE GRADUAL. God does not give us a rapid victory over our sins.

1. In order to keep us humble;

2. To incite us to prayer, watchfulness and exertion;

3. To increase our desires after that land where peace and purity reign for ever.


(P. Maitland, B. A.)

"By little and little." My brethren, think often of the mode in which God thus declares that He will drive out before Israel the Hivite, the Perizzite, and the Jebusite: it is the very mode by which His grace will enable you to drive out from your hearts those principles of evil which oppose the complete setting up of the kingdom of His Son. The difficulty in religion is the taking up the cross daily, rather than the taking it up on some set occasion, and under extraordinary circumstances. The serving God in little things, the carrying religious principle into all the minutiae of life, the discipline of our tempers, the regulation of our speech, the domestic Christianity, the momentary sacrifices, the secret and unobserved self-denials — who that knows anything of the difficulties of piety does not know that there is greater danger of his falling in these, than in trials which apparently call for higher and sterner endurance? If on no other account than from the very absence of what looks important, are trifles likely to throw him off his guard, make him careless or confident, and thereby almost ensure defeat. It is not comparatively hard to put the armour on, when the trumpet sounds, but it is to keep the armour on when there is no alarm of battle; and our warfare with our spiritual enemies is not warfare in a series of pitched battles, with intervals for rest and recruiting — it is rather daily, hourly, momentary fighting. This is the "driving out by little and little," to which the Almighty promises "the reward of the inheritance." Understand, therefore, and remember, that there is great difficulty in little things. Be assured that daily dangers and duties, the little unevennesses which may ruffle the temper, the petty anxieties of common life, the exercise of righteous principle in trifles — in these must you seek, and in these will you find the opportunity of ejecting "by little and little" the foes which you have sworn to expel from the heart, but which still, like the Canaanites against Israel, dispute the territory with the Lord God of hosts. And if the warfare be tedious, forget not that you fight for an incorruptible crown.

(H. Melvill, B. D.)

Giotto, a distinguished Roman painter, was desired by one of the Popes to paint a panel in the Vatican. Some doubt of his ability, however, being entertained, the Pope's messenger first asked him for an example of his art. Giotto's study was adorned with his paintings, but instead of offering any of these, he took a sheet of white paper, and with a single stroke of his pencil drew a perfect circle, and handed it to his visitor. The latter, in surprise, reminded him that he had asked for a design. "Go," said Giotto; "I tell you, his Holiness asks nothing else of me." He was right, for the evidence of his command of the pencil was accepted as conclusive, and his eccentric though reasonable reply gave rise to the proverb, "Round as Giotto's O." To do a small thing well is the best proof of ability to do what is great.

Those persons must have a very inadequate knowledge of the scheme of salvation, who suppose that the work of sanctification is sudden and rapid in its effects. And why? Because we find a consistency maintained between God's natural government of the world, and the plan of salvation as displayed in the gospel. And hence we are led to argue, that both must proceed from the same Divine hand. Now, when persons first resign this world as their portion, and give themselves up to the service of God, they frequently set out with highly raised expectations and, not fully conscious of the difficulties which lie in their path, suppose that the victory over sin will be easily accomplished, and a rapid progress made in the ways of godliness. It is with the inexperienced Christian, as it is with the young in the spring-tide of their existence. Then all is bright and glittering; and, exulting in the present, and buoyed up with joyous hopes for the future, they know not of the cloud gathering in the horizon. And this expectation is, in a measure, aided by the fact, that in the earlier stages of a Christian course, a much more rapid advance is frequently made than is found to be the case in after years. Moreover, the Christian, in the earlier stages of his course, is not fully aware of the extent of obedience which the law of God demands, and is not sufficiently conscious of the deep depravity of his own heart. Hence the terms of the gospel, which demand an irreconcileable war with every lust and passion, and call for a continued and persevering struggle with every known sin, cannot be fully appreciated, because these are not discovered. But it is the office of the Holy Spirit, gradually to make this discovery to the mind of the Christian. But has God ever undertaken that Satan and the world and the flesh shall at once be beaten down beneath your feet? No! What says my text? "By little and little." But, whilst it is only right, Christians, that I should thus set before you the difficulties which beset your path, at the same time that you take warning from the text not to expect a more rapid victory over sin than God has prescribed, take also to yourselves the encouragement which it affords. Here is the promise of Him who cannot lie, that He will eventually make us more than conquerers, though it will be by little and little, and not so rapidly as we could desire. "Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you, will perform it unto the day of Jesus Christ." It will be gradual, but effectual — it will be progressive, but abiding; if left to yourselves, indeed, your strength must fail; and vain would be the attempt to contend successfully with your sins and infirmities. "The Lord is my strength and my song, and is become my salvation," says the Psalmist; and what he here speaks of — God's loving-kindness — is only that which is the portion of every true believer. "He giveth power to the faint," says the prophet, "and to them that have no might He increaseth strength." How cheering are such assurances to those who feel the burden of their sin, and how calculated to set at rest all doubts and misgivings with respect to our future perseverance! But, for this, let it ever be remembered that continued and fervent supplication must be made. "For all these things" are the words of God, "will I be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them." And never let us complain that our enemies are mighty, and that we make so slow a progress against them, whilst we neglect to plead in prayer with the Almighty for the fulfilment of His own promises. And here let me turn to the well-tried Christian — to such as are firmly established and grounded in the faith; and I would ask, whether you cannot bear testimony to the faithfulness with which the promise of the text is verified? You, as well as others, need the encouragement which it affords, because, the more you grow in holiness, the more you will perceive how infinitely short you come of the standard at which you aim. But have you not reason from the past, to trust God for the future? With St. Paul, thank God, and take courage; and, whenever it shall happen (as it sometimes will with the holiest and best of men) that you entertain doubts and misgivings with respect to your ultimate safety, owing to your unworthiness, recall to your minds the promise of my text, and others of a similar character. Let these reassure and animate you: God is still the same unfailing Protector of those who trust in Him as He ever was, and will never forsake the true sheep of His pasture, but gradually drive out their enemies from before them, until they are established in their promised possession.

(P. Maitland, B. A.)

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