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August 16, 2007 / Daniel

Is God Unjust? 2

Last week I started to post some stuff that I wrote awhile back on God’s command for Israel to destroy the Canaanites.  Here’s some more on this difficult subject. 

The Command

What exactly did God command the Israelites to do in the book of Deuteronomy? The term “Deuteronomy” comes from two different Greek words that literally mean “second law.” Deuteronomy is the second giving of the Mosiac Law for a new generation. In the book of Exodus, God miraculously delivers Israel from the bondage of slavery in Egypt. Then Moses guides this new infant nation through the wilderness to the foothills of Mt. Sinai. There God gives them the Law, a revelation of God’s character. From there, Moses led the people to the very edge of the Promised Land, Canaan. And here, they fail. They get the report from the spies. They hear that there are giants in the land. They decided that they cannot do it. They turn around and they wander in the desert for forty years. And God says that no one from that generation could enter the Promised Land. Forty years takes place. Everyone from that generation dies. Here is where the book of Deuteronomy comes in. Moses delivers the Law to a new generation that will be faithful to God’s Word.

Moses says:

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 has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally (Deut. 7:1-2a NIV).

These nations were made-up of smaller city-states which were located all throughout modern day Palestine. Each of one of them was polytheistic. Most of them worshiped a god named Baal, who had a wife, the goddess Asherah. Since Baal and Asherah were fertility gods, worship of Baal was very sexual and very immoral. From Leviticus 18, we learn that the Canaanite religion involved homosexuality, incest, bestiality, and even child sacrifice. What we have here is a pagan, wicked, corrupt culture that had taken complete control of the area.

For this reason, in v. 2 God commands Israel to bring complete destruction upon these Canaanite nations, “When the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally.” See the phrase “you must destroy them totally.” The Hebrew word “herem” which is used here is very difficult to translate. It literally means to exclude, to set apart for a specific purpose. It is often used in the book of Leviticus to refer to a whole burnt offering. There it refers to a sacrifice that has been completely devoted to God. Here in Deuteronomy, God tells Israel to completely set aside these nations for the purpose of God’s judgment—to utterly destroy them.

More to come…


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