Saturday, May 15, 2021
Deuteronomy. Day 29, The Command To Destroy The Tribes Of The Promised Land, Part One
The Lord intends to uproot the tribes living in the promised land so He can plant Israel in their place. This means He will command the Israelites to destroy those tribes. Failure to destroy them means Israel will end up mingling with them professionally, socially, and romantically. If they don't obey the Lord's command to wipe the land clean of these idolatrous tribes, "Those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live." (Numbers 33:55) The Lord warned the Israelites in Numbers 33:55 that they will only bring harm on themselves, on their children, and on all their descendants if they are willing to live side by side with the people of Canaan who practice all manner of abominations in their religions.
The Lord knows that in time the Israelites would be drawn into idolatry. We've already seen one such incident when the young and beautiful women of Midian enticed a large number of Israelite men to attend pagan feasts with them and bow down before idols. It's no use for the Israelites to think they can live and work among and intermarry with pagan people and not be drawn away from the Lord; it's no use for anyone to think they could have resisted the amount of temptation the Israelites would have faced if they'd simply moved in and lived with these heathen tribes. Pagan altars dotted the land. Statues and other artwork depicting false gods were everywhere. The lives of the people of the tribes of Canaan revolved around their heinous religious practices. Feasts where drunken fertility orgies went on were commonplace. The names of false gods were lifted up all over the countryside in chants that went on for hours at a time while the name of the one true God was blasphemed. At first these things would have been shocking for the Israelites to see and hear but in time the sights and sounds of heathen worship would have become commonplace. The Israelites would have become comfortable around it. They might have found themselves curious about it. Or, as has already happened once in the Old Testament, they might have been lured into it by physical lust or affection for members of these tribes.
To use a modern example of how commonplace the sights and sounds of sin would have become, think about how jaded we've become in our own society to the sights and sounds of sin. We can't even stand in line at the grocery store checkout without seeing things on the covers of magazines and newspapers that are intended to lead our thoughts away from godliness. We can't flip through TV or radio stations without seeing or hearing things involving drunkenness, drug use, or sex outside of marriage. I'm fifty-one years old and I can recall the days when you wouldn't hear the name of the Lord used as a curse word on your nightly TV programs. You'd have had to watch an R-rated movie to hear something like that, but these days you'll hear people blaspheming Him on regular network TV. We live in a fallen world where we're continually bombarded by things intended by Satan to entice us into sin. But we are not commanded, as ancient Israel was, to uproot unbelievers. Instead, in the age of grace, we are commanded to live among them and be the light of the world. We are to live in the world without being part of the world. We are to be so different from the world that we can shine like a beacon, leading people to Christ. How can we do that while being daily beset with temptation? By staying continually connected to our Lord. We must wash our minds clean by reading and meditating upon the word of God. We must attend church services where we can be strengthened and encouraged by the faith of other believers. We must pray to the Lord daily. We must be sensitive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We must "take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5b), meaning confessing wrong thoughts and wrong attitudes to Him and submitting ourselves to Him for the strength to stand firm.
The command to remove a certain group of unbelievers from the earth was a command unique to a particular time and place in history. It was a command given to Israel regarding the tribes of Canaan and in no way can we claim that this command applies to us in our day. In our day we are commanded to live among unbelievers while at the same time not allowing ourselves to be drawn into their immoral practices. The Israelites had just come out of Egypt, the most idolatrous nation on the earth, and they could not have withstood the idolatry of Canaan if they had not (at least to an extent) obeyed the Lord about destroying the heathen tribes. (We'll see later on that they do not fully obey the Lord's command to destroy everyone.) The Holy Spirit was at work in those times ministering to human beings but He did not constantly indwell believers in the way He does now following the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. I feel it's only because we who believe on the name of Christ have the Holy Spirit living within us at all times that we are able to live and work among unbelievers without falling away from the Lord and falling into idolatry. This is why the Lord can tell us to go into all the world to share the gospel and this is why He can tell us to be the light of the world: He knows the Holy Spirit will enable us to stand firm while surrounded by idolatry and immorality. We are not commanded to uproot unbelievers from the world. We are commanded to lead unbelievers to Christ so they can be "rooted and built up in Him" (Colossians 2:7a) like we are and so they can be "rooted and established" (Ephesians 3:17b) in the love of Christ like we are.
We must keep in mind that the tribes Israel will destroy from the promised land knew about the Lord long ago but chose to reject Him long ago. Abraham lived among them centuries earlier and witnessed to them about the one true God. Other men and women inhabited the land who worshiped and witnessed about the one true God, such as the priest of God known as Melchizedek whom we studied in Genesis 14. We don't know his heritage but it's clear he wasn't an Israelite, yet he knew and served the living God. If there was one priest who served the living God, there were others. For example, Moses' own father-in-law, who was a Midianite, was a priest of the Lord. And if there were priests, there must have been congregants unto whom these priests ministered. Yet before Israel ever went down to Egypt, the people of Canaan had fallen deep into abominable practices such as divination rituals to contact the spirit world/demons, bowing down to false gods, holding sexually immoral festivals in honor of these false gods, and even sacrificing children to these false gods. Long before Israel went down to Egypt---before Abraham even had one descendant--- the Lord said a day was coming in which the sins of the people of the region would reach a tipping point. (Genesis 15:16) The Israelites were in Egypt for 430 years and during those 430 years the tribes of the promised land had numerous opportunities to repent, yet they did not. If anything, they grew worse, and now the time of judgment has come.
The Lord will pull them up by the roots like a gardener pulling weeds out of a flower bed. They have been unprofitable like weeds in a flower bed. The Lord was patient and longsuffering toward them even though He always knew they would never repent and now the time has come to plant something useful (Israel) in their place, just like a gardener plants beautiful flowers in place of the weeds he uprooted. Difficult as it may be for us to understand or accept, the Lord orders Israel to destroy all the people of the promised land. The land is the Lord's and He has the right to give it to whomever He chooses. Likewise, the Lord created human life and has all power and authority over it. As Creator and Sovereign Lord---as the One who created man from the dust of the ground and breathed life into his body---the Lord has the right to decide when a human life ends. He can make such a decision without being unrighteous in the least. This is why He can issue the command to Israel through Moses: "When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations---the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you---and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy." (Deuteronomy 7:1-2)
It was important for us to discuss the background of the tribes of the promised land before we arrived at verses 1 and 2. Tomorrow we will continue moving on through Chapter 7 and continue looking at the Lord's instructions for Israel regarding these tribes.