Then we turned back and set out toward the wilderness along the route to the Red Sea,[a] as the Lord had directed me. For a long time we made our way around the hill country of Seir. Then the Lord said to me, “You have made your way around this hill country long enough; now turn north. Give the people these orders: ‘You are about to pass through the territory of your relatives the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir. They will be afraid of you, but be very careful. Do not provoke them to war, for I will not give you any of their land, not even enough to put your foot on. I have given Esau the hill country of Seir as his own. You are to pay them in silver for the food you eat and the water you drink.’” The Lord your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He has watched over your journey through this vast wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you, and you have not lacked anything. So we went on past our relatives the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir. We turned from the Arabah road, which comes up from Elath and Ezion Geber, and traveled along the desert road of Moab. – Deuteronomy 2:1-8
This passage begins a long description of interactions between the Israelites and various people who are occupying the land through which they are travelling. The descendants of Esau are just the first of a long list of people groups who they will encounter. God instructs them to pay them for the food and water and not provoke war. God will not give them this land.
This verse seems timely as the entire world seems to be on the brink of war at the moment. God clearly had no interest in the Israelites going to war over land that was not intended for them. The history of the Christian church is unfortunately punctuated by some epic wars which I am not sure were wars over land that God had promised to Christians. One example which I think still reverberates to this day is the crusades. Medieval knights, with the best of intentions, guarded the Holy land and pilgrims travelling there from Muslim warriors. I am not convinced that this was land that God asked us to go to war over. Determining what God wants us to be willing to fight for is very hard.
How often do we as Christians “go to war” over land that is not intended for us? Unfortunately I think it happens more often than we think. What sort of land do we fight over as Christians? Often it is spiritual or theological ground we are unwilling to yield, but sometimes it can be things that seem downright silly. I remember a time when I was serving as an elder in a church and there was an issue that was dividing people. It seems ridiculous as I reflect on it, but the issue was over whether our church should re-install a steeple that had been removed in the past. We spent way more time than I thought was warranted and in the end people’s feelings were still hurt and people were divided. Looking back now I think this was “land” that we should not have “gone to war” over. It was not worth it for anyone.
How do we discern what spiritual and theological “land” is worth going to war over? Perhaps it would help if we were willing to openly discuss this when this type of issue comes up. Perhaps before we even discuss an issue we should have the discussion about whether the issue is “land” worth “going to war” over. Maybe in the process of this discussion God will intervene and make it more clear which issues are worth, as my dad used to say, a “knock down drag out”. My dad had lots of interesting sayings for which I would love to know the origin. The take home message seems to be to talk it out before duking it out over some issue that may not be land God intends for us.
Prayer: God help us to discern which spiritual battles to fight and when to make peace.