Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Mar 25 2019 - Deuteronomy 7:1-26 – God's promise to drive out the nations

The Israelites were about to enter the land God had promised to give them. But this was not an empty land; it was inhabited by a range of peoples, seven of which, "seven nations larger and stronger than you", are mentioned by name. The Israelites are commanded to drive them out of the land and to destroy every evidence of its previous inhabitants.

This sounds all too much like genocide – the types of violent warfare against those not of one's own culture, tribe or religion that we have witnessed in our own lifetime and which have stained recent history. It is also a chapter which seems to find uncomfortable echoes in the history of the relationship between the Israelis and Palestinians over the last sixty years. If we fail to feel troubled when reading this chapter we have surely isolated the Bible's message from the realities of the world in which we live.

What are we to make of this chapter? It is with some hesitancy that I offer the following comments.

Firstly, it is clear that the nations currently in possession of the land were marked by sinful and idolatrous practices which were offensive to God. Many centuries earlier God had told Abraham that his descendants would be slaves in a country not their own but that he would come and rescue them and bring them back to this land God had promised Abraham. God would do this only when the "sin of the Amorites" had "reached its full strength" (Genesis 15:17). In other words, God would use the invading Israelites as agents of his judgment upon a sinful and rebellious people. As God had come down in judgment upon Egypt to free his people from captivity, so now he would act in judgment upon the Canaanites in order to give his people the land he had promised them.

God is concerned that his people will not be led into adopting any of the idolatrous practices of the nations they are about to dispossess. As the Old Testament story unfolds we shall see just how real this temptation was to the Israelites. So they are not to make alliances with the people of the land, nor to enter into marriages with them. They are to destroy their altars and sacred places and to burn their idols. This is not about racism or the maintenance of racial purity. Rahab from Jericho and Ruth the Moabite were later to marry into the family of Israel and to become ancestors of King David and of the Lord Jesus Christ. Foreigners were to be treated with kindness within Israel and those who wanted to number themselves with the people of God welcomed into his family. The concern was to maintain the distinctive character of the Israelites, "For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession" (v.6).

Nor should we think that God favours the Israelites over all the other nations and turns a blind eye to their sins. He chose Abraham and his descendants that through them all nations might be blessed. But if they rebel against him and become like the nations whom they are about to dispossess, God will come against them in judgment and will send them into exile from the land that he is now giving them – they will suffer the same fate as the Canaanites. God's concern is to create for himself a people who will honour him.

There is much more that could be said in the light of the unease we feel when reading of the conquest of Canaan, but above all we need to apply these lessons to ourselves. God calls us also to be a holy people, a people devoted to Christ and his service; a people who do not allow ourselves to become conformed to the patterns of behaviour of the world around us (Romans 12:1-2). We need to be careful how we live.

Father God we thank you for the Lord Jesus who came to save us from our sins and rescue us from the wrath to come. By your Spirit, help us to follow him faithfully and joyfully. As you have blessed us beyond measure, help us to be a blessing to others that they too may be rescued from the dominion of darkness and brought into the kingdom of your beloved Son.

Peter Misselbrook