November 21, 2016
Deuteronomy 7:1, 2, 4-6
(All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated.)
In Deuteronomy, the last book of the Pentateuch, Moses gives three discourses to the Israelites just before he dies and Joshua takes the new nation into the Promised land. He reviews all their history since God brought them “…out of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand.” (Exodus 32:11). It is good to recount the stories of the LORD’s dealings with His people – in our personal lives! But in the midst of recalling Israel’s recent history, Moses reminds the people of what they should do once they enter Canaan! Here is a shortened version of Deuteronomy 7:1 & 2, and 4 through 6:
When the LORD your God brings you into the land [of Canaan] which
you go to possess, and has cast out many nations before you…you shall
conquer them and utterly destroy them…show no mercy to them…for they
shall turn you…away from following Me, to serve other gods….But thus
you shall deal with them; you shall destroy their altars, and break down
their wooden images, and burn their carved images….For you are a holy
people to the LORD your God….
The criticism has often been raised that Jehovah of the Old Testament is a cruel and vindictive God! He told His people to totally wipe out the Canaanites because of their sins, sparing no one! (See Deuteronomy 7:23, 24; 20:16, 17). But if we closely examine our featured Scripture, the reason the command of the LORD was so harsh is because – if the Canaanites were allowed to live – they would so corrupt the Israelites, God’s people would soon be as sinful as the heathen! And this is exactly what happened to Israel as time went on! (See for examples Deuteronomy 32:5; Judges 2:19; II Chronicles 33:1-9). If Israel had truly obeyed God, wiping out the heathen tribes of Canaan, they would not have been so corrupted!
But did God even give the Canaanites any chance to repent? In Genesis 15:13 and 16, the LORD, in making a covenant with Abram (Abraham), gave the patriarch this prophecy of his progeny:
Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is
not theirs, and will serve them four hundred years [referring to Israel’s
slavery in Egypt]….But in the fourth generation they shall return here
[to the land of Canaan], for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.
In other words, God was giving the Canaanites – here called the Amorites – another four hundred years to repent from their idolatry and related sins, and turn to Him! But they didn’t, and so judgment came upon these heathen tribes!
Notice in the last part of our featured Scripture, God is telling the Israelites that “…you are a holy people to the LORD your God….” This means separated unto Him, and Him alone! This is exactly what God calls us to be when we accept Jesus as our Savior! In John 17 (Jesus’ High Priestly prayer before He went to the cross) He reveals several things concerning His followers:
• John 17:6 – “…You have given Me [them] out of the world.”
• John 17:14-16 – “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that you should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.”
• John 17:18, 19 – “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified [set apart unto God] by the truth [God’s Word – see John 17:17].”
• John 17:25 – “O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me.”
The world’s society is under the control of Satan! (See Luke 4:5, 6; II Corinthians 4:4 – King James Version). That means the world is opposed to the things of God! (See James 4:4; I John 2:15-17). The world – sinful people in the world – will corrupt God’s sons and daughters, if they are allowed to overly influence them! (See II Corinthians 6:14-18).
Back to the “cruel and vindictive God of the Old Testament” – is God any less concerned today about the purity of His people than He was back then? What has changed is the emphasis of the accomplished sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ for our sins, and our proclamation of that fact to the lost world! (See Matthew 28:19, 20; Acts 1:8).
One final thought: Is wiping out entirely the sinful influence surrounding God’s Old Testament people any less radical than what Jesus told His followers in Mark 9:43 through 48?
…if your hand makes you sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life
maimed, than having two hands to go to hell, into the fire that shall never
be quenched….And if your foot makes you sin, cut it off. It is better for you
to enter life lame, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that
shall never be quenched….And if your eye makes you sin, pluck it out. It is
better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having
two eyes, to be cast into hell fire — where their worm does not die and the
fire is not quenched.
It is not that we are to cut off hands or feet, or pluck out eyes! But just as radically, we are to get sin – and the cause of sin – out of our lives! The cause of sin is our stony heart (see Jeremiah 17:9; Ezekiel 36:26; Matthew 15:18-20). And only accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior can change that! (See II Corinthians 5:17).