“Thanking God for This Good Land” (Deuteronomy 8:1-10)
Today is the Day of National Thanksgiving. This is the day set aside for Americans to go to their churches and give thanks to God for his many blessings on our nation–which is why we are here today. And surely we have much to be thankful for, not least of which is this good land God has given us. So many natural resources, in such abundance! As we reflect on this, we are reminded of what Moses told the Israelites: “And you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.” And so our theme this morning, “Thanking God for This Good Land.”
Yes, today we Americans can identify with the Israelites of old, in their being so deeply blessed, as we heard Moses describe it in our reading from Deuteronomy 8: “For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.”
Moses told the Israelites this as they were poised to cross the Jordan and enter the Promised Land. The Lord had promised that land to the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob centuries earlier, and now, after bringing Israel out of slavery in Egypt, the Lord was about to deliver on his promise. And it would indeed be a good land, as the saying goes, “a land flowing with milk and honey.”
Years earlier Moses had sent a scouting party into the land to check it out. And they came back carrying a big cluster of grapes from the Valley of Eshcol, as an example of the bounty they found there. They told Moses, “We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit.” Well, fine. So far, so good. But then the spies continued: “However, the people who dwell in the land are strong. All the people we saw in it are of great height. And we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers.” In other words, most of these spies gave a bad report, because they were not trusting in the Lord to win their battles for them. This was a lack of faith in God’s promises. And as a consequence, Israel was forced to wander in the wilderness for forty years.
But then, this was nothing unusual for the Israelites, this lack of faith in the Lord. Over and over again, from the time they came out of Egypt, we find the Israelites grumbling and griping and complaining. “Oh, Moses, why have you brought us out here in the wilderness to die? We have nothing to eat or drink here! We liked the food so much better back in Egypt!”–conveniently forgetting the fact that they were slaves back in Egypt. Grousing and grumbling and griping–what an ungrateful lot! And after all the Lord had done for them, bringing them out of bondage, saving them from the pursuing Egyptians, bringing them safely to himself at Sinai, supplying them with manna and quail and water from the rock. But in spite of their constant kvetching, Moses interceded for the people, and the Lord forgave their sins, providing means of atonement and forgiveness for them at the tabernacle.
Which makes it all the more remarkable that the Lord would finally bring them into the good land, as he was about to do. The Lord would have been more than justified to just wipe out this complaining, ungrateful lot in the wilderness. But the Lord is merciful, and he is faithful to his promises. He would bring Israel into the Promised Land, and here in Deuteronomy Moses is reminding the people to give thanks to God for the good land he is giving them.
And in all of this I think there is a parallel for us today. God in his providence has brought us into this good land here in America. This is truly a land flowing with milk and honey. From sea to shining sea, God has shed his grace on thee, America. Amber waves of grain, all across the fruited plain. Rich, black, farming soil right across the river in Illinois. Rich mineral areas right here in Missouri. Orange groves in Florida. Fruits and vegetables in the valleys of California. Cattle and corn in Iowa. Milk and cheese in Wisconsin. You name it, America has it, and has it in abundance. Today our challenge will be, not to find food to eat, but to find the willpower to push ourselves away from the table and stop at 3,000 calories.
We are so blessed. Even after several years of a bad economy, and even if we’re not wealthy by the richest of American standards, most all of us here today are richer than the vast majority of people in the whole history of mankind and better off than most people around the world in other countries. We are so blessed.
God has brought us into this good land. And we are at peace to enjoy it. We don’t have bombs blowing up in Bonne Terre. We don’t have terrorists lopping off our heads in St. Francois County. We’re not in jail for practicing our faith–at least not yet. No, we are incredibly well off by most standards.
And now here is where the parallel to ancient Israel comes in. Do we deserve it? Do we deserve all these abundant blessings we enjoy? I’d have to say, the answer is no. It is in spite of our sins, in spite of our ingratitude, in spite of our complaining, that we enjoy the blessings and the bounty that we have.
Think of it. Think of how our nation has wandered from God’s ways. Think of how our society has gone downhill, the cultural decline we have witnessed just in the last fifty years. The increase in divorce and the breakup of home and family. People living together outside of marriage–something that was rare and shameful fifty years ago is now commonplace. The increase in illegitimate births. The raw immorality on display in popular entertainment. The condoning of the same in the media. Crime and violence in our streets.
Or think of this: In 1973, the United States Supreme Court legalized abortion, the murder of unborn children. Just this year, in 2015, the Supreme Court legalized homosexual “marriage,” another abomination in the sight of God. It’s a wonder God hasn’t just wiped out this nation, for we certainly deserve his judgment for our sins as a nation. You have to wonder if God doesn’t owe an apology to Sodom and Gomorrah, seeing as how he hasn’t wiped us out, as he did them.
And here again, there is a parallel with ancient Israel. In spite of all of our sins, in spite of our disobedience, the good Lord still is blessing us. It’s amazing. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness.” How rich and deep and overwhelming is the grace and mercy of our God! Even greater than the riches of this land is the grace of our God. For putting up with us. For forgiving our sins. For calling us to repentance and to a renewal and strengthening of our faith.
Wherein is this mercy? Wherein is this grace? Friends, it is in God’s sending of his Son, Jesus Christ, to be our Savior. Christ won the forgiveness by which we are able to enjoy God’s blessings. Without Christ, we would be damned and lost forever. But because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, shedding his holy blood for us, winning our forgiveness, wiping out our sins–this is how we are here today, knowing that, no matter what, we stand in God’s favor and are at peace with him. And we have his sure promise of everlasting life, through faith in Jesus Christ. America, God shed his grace on thee, because Christ shed his blood for thee.
Today on this Day of National Thanksgiving, we are thanking God for this good land he has given us. And more than that, we thank God for his great mercy in Christ that he has not taken this blessing from us, which he would have every right to do, and that we Americans are still free and at peace to enjoy the blessings of this good land. Thanks be to God!