“Love Conquers All” – Deuteronomy 2:26-3:11

February 26th, 2017

Dt 2:26-3:11

“Love Conquers All”

Call to Worship: Selected verses from Psa 37

Aux. text: 1 Cor 5:1-13


Service Orientation: Love works to provide that which is best for the beloved.  Love protects the beloved by destroying that which is unloving.  God is love.  Love (God) conquers all.


Bible Memory Verse for the Week:   Avoid every kind of evil. — 1 Thessalonians 5:22


Background Information:

  • God allowed the people of Israel to remain in bondage in Egypt until the lives of the people of the Promised Land deteriorated so much into sin and depravity that they were no longer able to be redeemed.
  • God freed the Israelites from Egypt so they could be a nation of priests to show the rest of the world Who God is and instruct them in His ways. They were to keep themselves pure, holy and righteous to fulfill this mission.  Anyone, from any nation could join them in this mission provided they were willing to forsake their old ways and follow Yahweh.
  • God commanded the Israelites to destroy all the inhabitants of the Promised Land who were irredeemably evil. Any survivors would become a snare to the people of Israel in future generations.  Israel failed to follow God’s commands and destroy everyone and future generations paid a horrible price because of the evil influence those evil survivors had on the Israelites.
  • Anyone who wished to join Israel could do so if they repented from their old ways, culture and customs and followed Yahweh.
  • The reason why God is so urgent, harsh and demanding in His executing judgment against those who refused to conform to the Laws and worship of God is because the consequences are so urgent, harsh and demanding.
  • Moses used the victory over all the walled cities of Sihon as an indication that the spies–and the people who listened to them–were wrong to suppose that the cities of Canaan were too “high” (strong) to be conquered. The victory was an assurance that they would also conquer the high-walled cities of Canaan.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 3, 35)
  • (v. 2:26) Verse 26 introduces a section that leaves the modern reader very puzzled. It says Moses “sent messengers from the wilderness of Kedemoth to Sihon the king of Heshbon, with words of peace.”  How could one send a message of peace to a people who are going to be overthrown and destroyed?  Gordon McConville explains that the “words of peace” here “represent a conventional diplomatic opening, which implies the possibility of war (cf. Dt 20:10).  They are presenting a challenge to Sihon to submit to Israel’s, and Yahweh’s terms–though Moses knows. . . that he will not.”  Dt 20:10-14 says that with such cities, if they respond positively to the peace overture, the people should be made to do forced labor.  If they respond negatively, they are to be destroyed.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 96-7)
  • (v. 2:30) “. . .for the LORD your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, that he might give him into your hand, as he is this day.” Was he then like a mindless puppet who had no say in the decision?  Again we come to the mystery of God’s providence.  This kind of language is used to describe the way God works through people’s sin to achieve his purposes.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 98)
  • (v. 2:30ff) Moses approached Sihon with messengers bearing a request to pass peaceably through his country (vv. 26-27). But Sihon, from a heart made stubborn by the Lord, refused the request and came south to Jahaz to battle against the Israelites (vv. 30, 32).  Sihon, his sons, his army, his people, and his towns were destroyed (vv. 33-34).  So southern Transjordan was subjected to total destruction except that the Israelites kept for themselves the livestock and objects of value (quite properly called “plunder” in the NIV) rather than give them over to the Lord by destruction (vv. 34-35).  Such exceptions were not allowed when the Lord required a strict following of the herem principle (total destruction; cf. The story of Achan in Josh 7 and Saul in 1 Sm 15).  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 3, 34)
  • (v. 2:33) God has “begun to give Sihon and his land,” so they must “begin to take possession” of the land. God acts to prepare the way.  We must obey in order to reap the benefits of his action.  Again both God’s providence and human obedience are needed for victory.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 98-9)
  • (v. 2:34; 3:6-7) One aspect of a holy war was the total destruction of all booty, including towns, people, and flocks (Josh 6:21; 7:20-21). In some cases the destruction was only partial, and certain items were reserved for the use of the people.  But once Israel crossed the Jordan, the law was applied rigidly (Dt 7:24-26; 13:16, 17; Josh 6:17-19).  (John C. Maxwell, The Preacher’s Commentary, Dt, 65)
  • (v. 2:36) The Arnon Gorge empties into the east side of the Dead Sea about midway between the north and south points of the sea. Mt. Hermon stands about 25 miles north of the sea of Galilee, in the anit-Lebanon mountain range, 9,200 feet high, snowcapped year round.  Thus the span of the territory conquered east of the Jordan was about 140 miles south to north.  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 41)
  • (v. 2:36) Their fathers, refusing to go forward and take the land, had said, “The cities are great and fortified up to heaven” (1:28). Now Moses says, “there was not a city too high for us.”  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 100)
  • (v. 2:36) The note that no city was too great for Israel to take recalls their fear at the size of the Canaanite cities when they failed to take the land at first (1:28). In the event, such fears proved groundless, because nothing could withstand Yahweh in his war.  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 88)
  • (v. 3:2) Then the voice of Yahweh broke through to Moses with a word of encouragement and a challenge (v. 2). Yahweh encouraged him and his people not to fear, because he had already delivered Og, all his people, and his land into their hands.  But as elsewhere in the Scripture, for every divine promise there is a call for human response.  Yahweh challenged Moses to deal with Og exactly as he had with Sihon in Heshbon.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 93)
  • (v. 3:4) At Jesus’ time this area was part of Trachonitis and the Decapolis, a thriving, crowded commercial area, one of the most densely populated portions of the Roman empire. Moses’ report of sixty cities, many of them “fortified with high walls and with gates and bars,” together with “a great many unwalled villages,” suggests that this was also a heavily populated predominantly urban area in the fifteenth century B.C.  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 40)
  • (v. 3:4) The text goes into such detail about this victory because it was so incredibly miraculous. There were 60 cities in Og’s kingdom, all massively fortified, and yet the Israelites conquered them all in a very short time.  For it all happened in the month between the death of Aaron and that of Moses, a time when Moses had many other things to do besides this (Gersonides).  (Rubin Jps Miqra’ot, The Commentators’ Bible: Dt, 22)
  • (v. 3:11) What Moses’ account emphasizes is not how big Og was but how great the Lord’s victory was. (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 41)
  • It is characteristic of Deuteronomy and the Hebrew scriptures generally to affirm with equal strength the divine will and purpose and the human responsible choice. History is the mysterious combination of both, neither operating independently of the other.  Other examples of the same dual responsibility for a course of events include the stories of Joseph (Gn 50:20), the division of the kingdoms after Solomon (1 Kgs 11:29-12:24), and the death of Ahab (2 Kgs 22:1-38).  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 38)
  • Since Sihon was a king of an Amorite people this battle really represents Israel’s first victory over the peoples of the land God had promised. It is thus described in language characteristic of the later accounts of the conquest.  There is the same unselfconscious linking together of divine will and human action:  I have begun to deliver. . .[you] begin to conquer (v. 31); the LORD our God delivered him over to us and we struck him down (v. 33); we took all his towns (v. 34). . .The LORD our God gave us all of them (v. 36).  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 38-9)
  • The attribution to the Lord of making Sihon stubborn and obstinate without mentioning mediate or contributing circumstances or persons is not an uncommon procedure in the OT. Sihon by his own conscious will refused Israel passage; yet it was certain that God would give Sihon’s land to Israel.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 3, 34-5)


The question to be answered is . . . Why is God so set on total destruction; leaving no survivors?


Answer:  Because God is love.  When forces seek to destroy the beloved, love demands that it protect the beloved.


“One so often hears people say, “I just can’t handle it,” when they reject a biblical image of God as Father, as Mother, as Lord or Judge; God as lover, as angry or jealous, God on a cross.  I find this choice of words revealing, however real the pain they reflect:  If we seek a God we can “handle,” that will be exactly what we get.  A God we can manipulate, suspiciously like ourselves, the wideness of whose mercy we’ve cut down to size.” —Kathleen Norris  (Phillip Yancey; Reaching for the Invisible God, 112)


The Word for the Day is . . . Protect


Foundational work that needs to be done for a 21st Century American audience to even begin to hear and accept God’s Word today:


A Moral Problem—the slaughter of the Canaanites (Josh 6, 8, 10).

Israel was commanded by God to completely exterminate the Canaanite inhabitants of the land including men, women, and children.  This has been called a primitive and barbaric act of murder perpetrated on innocent lives.

Several factors must be kept in mind in viewing this situation. (1) There is a difference between murder and justifiable killing.  Murder involves intentional and malicious hatred which leads to life-taking.  On the other hand, the Bible speaks of permissible life-taking in capital punishment (Gn 9), in self defense (Ex 22:2), and in a justifiable war (Gn 14).  (2) The Canaanites were by no means innocent.  They were a people cursed of God from their very beginning (Gn 9:25). They were a vile people who practiced the basest forms of immorality.  God described their sin vividly in these words, “I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants” (Lv 18:25).  (3) Further, the innocent people of the land were not slaughtered.  The story of Sodom and Gomorrah clearly demonstrates that God would save a whole city for ten righteous people (Gn 18:22f.).  In that incident, when God could not find ten righteous people, He took the four or five righteous ones out of the place so as not to destroy them with the wicked (Gn 19:15).  On another occasion God saved some thirty-two thousand people who were morally pure (Nm 31:35).  Another notable example is Rahab, whom God saved because she believed (cf. Heb 11:31).  (4) God waited patiently for hundreds of years, giving the wicked inhabitants of Canaan time to repent (cf. 2 Pt 3:9) before He finally decided to destroy them (Gn 15:16).  When their iniquity was “full,” divine judgment fell.  God’s judgment was akin to surgery for cancer or amputation of a leg as the only way to save the rest of a sick body.  Just as cancer or gangrene contaminates the physical body, those elements in a society—if their evil is left to fester—will completely contaminate the rest of society.  (5) Finally, the battle confronting Israel was not simply a religious war; it was a theocratic war.  Israel was directly ruled by God and the extermination was God’s direct command (cf. Ex 23:27-30; Dt 7:3-6; Josh 8:24-26). No other nation either before or after Israel has been a theocracy.  Thus, those commands were unique.  Israel as a theocracy was an instrument of judgment in the hands of God.  (Norman L. Geisler, A Popular Survey of the Old Testament, 99-100)


A-  There are evil people who want nothing more than to destroy that which is good.  (Gn 6:5; 8:21; Isa 26:10; Rom 3:9-18)


We must distinguish the difference between principle and practice.  The principle here is that God was to be Israel’s only sovereign.  Anything that stood in the way of His divine purpose was removed.  Further, the wickedness of the Canaanite nations offended His holiness and opposed His sovereignty.  This practice of complete destruction was not a form of fanaticism; it affirmed not only the lordship of Yahweh over Israel and her history, but also His judgment on wicked nations.  In the holy war, God accomplished purposes of both redemption and judgment.  (John C. Maxwell, The Preacher’s Commentary, Dt, 65)


While the Israelites were forewarned of Sihon’s hostility, and promised victory over him, Sihon too had his rights, and he could have avoided trouble and defeat if he had been reasonable (vv. 26-29).  But just like Pharaoh in Exodus chapters 6-12, Sihon was implacably obstinate (v. 30) and brought trouble on himself.  Verse 30 does not mean to imply that Sihon had no will of his own; rather, it emphasizes that Sihon’s obstinacy served God’s purposes all along.  (David F. Payne, The Daily Study Bible Series: Dt, 20-1)


Man is free and responsible for his own actions, but the actions of all men are set within the sphere of history, and God is the Lord of history.  The OT steadily refuses to see any inconsistency between human freedom and divine sovereignty.  Because the ancient Hebrews ascribed all causality to God, it was both natural and proper for them to see the response of Sihon in the light of the larger activity of God.  (John C. Maxwell, The Preacher’s Commentary, Dt, 64)


The Bible is clear here:  I am to love my neighbor as myself, in the manner needed, in a practical way, in the midst of the fallen world, at my particular point of history.  This is why I am not a pacifist.  Pacifism in this poor world in which we live–this lost world–means that we desert the people who need our greatest help.

Let me illustrate.  I am walking down the street and I come upon a big, burly man beating a tiny tot to death–beating this little girl–beating her–beating her.  I plead with him to stop.  Suppose he refuses?  What does love mean now?  Love means that I stop him in any way I can, including hitting him.  To me this is not only necessary for humanitarian reasons:  it is loyalty to Christ’s commands concerning Christian love in a fallen world.  What about that little girl?  If I desert her to the bully, I have deserted the true meaning of Christian love–responsibility to my neighbor.  She, as well as he, is my neighbor.  ( Francis A. Schaeffer; The Great Evangelical Disaster, 128)


B-  There are times when you must eliminate or isolate those who are evil from the life of the beloved to protect the beloved.  (Lv 18:29; Dt 7:2; 13:5; 17:7, 12; 19:19; 21:21; 22:21-22, 24; 24:7; Ps 101:4; Prv 24:19-20; Isa 13:9; Mt 5:29-30; 2 Cor 6:14-15; 1 Thess 5:22; 1 Tm 1:19-20; Ti 3:10-11; 2 Jn 1:10-11)


*   It was merciful for God to protect the Israelites from idolatry.  In Dt 20:18, God gave Israel an explicit reason why it was necessary to wipe out the Canaanites:  “that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the LORD your God.”

*   It was merciful for God to limit the scope of the herem laws to only those pagan nations within the borders of the promised land, rather than extending to all nations, including Israel.  All mankind is equally guilty in God’s eyes.  We are only alive due to God’s grace, and every breath we take is a merciful gift from him.

*    It was merciful for God to allow the Canaanites to remain in the land as long as they did.  In Gn 15:16, God told Abraham that his descendants would have to remain slaves in Egypt for 400 years before taking possession of Canaan, “for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”  So God was patient in dealing with the Canaanite nations, waiting until they reached the point of no return.

*   It was merciful for God to allow individual Canaanites to repent and join the people of God.  The classic example is Rahab, the prostitute who helped the Israelite spies in Jericho and swore allegiance to the Lord (Josh 2).  Rahab was later held up as an example of faithful obedience in the NT (Heb 11:31; Jam 2:25) and even included in the genealogy of Jesus (Mt 1:5).  (Kyle Dillon https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/gods-justice-in-the-land-of-canaan)


The function of the herem texts is to exhort the Israelites to regard the other nations of the land as beyond the pale, to be kept radically outside their lives.  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 90)


Apart from the Lord’s intention to provide a home and land for God’s people, there are two criteria for the destruction of inhabitants of the land:  (1) those who oppose God’s purpose and promise to Israel–that is, Sihon and Og; and (2) those who seem to pose in a special way the problem of religious contamination and syncretism–that is, the Canaanites and Amorites.  (Patrick D. Miller, Interpretation: Dt, 40)


The statement in this verse that Israel “utterly destroyed” the Amorites of Heshbon implies in Hebrew that they did so not in the blood-lust of the moment, but as a deliberate religious action, a sort of gift to Yahweh.  Such conduct, which today strikes us as barbaric, was by no means unique to Israel in the ancient Near East.  (David F. Payne, The Daily Study Bible Series: Dt, 21)


Just as Yahweh had done to Pharaoh forty years earlier, he hardened the heart of Sihon in order that Yahweh’s goals might be achieved.  But this did not rob Sihon of personal freedom to act, nor did it absolve him of responsibility for his actions.  The divine action does not reduce him to a puppet on a string, nor does it make God into a divine puppeteer.  Deuteronomy and the rest of the Scriptures affirm with equal vigor divine sovereignty over earthly affairs and human freedom and responsibility for one’s own conduct.  How these two factors can both be true at the same time defies human logic.  People of faith can only stand back in awe and wonder.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 97)


“God also delivered into our hands. . . and we attacked” (3:3).  Our spiritual battles are to be a cooperative effort.  Paul encourages us in our battle with temptation by saying, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Cor 10:13).  (John C. Maxwell, The Preacher’s Commentary, Dt, 68)


C-  It is not loving to allow evil to corrupt, pervert and destroy good.  (Ex 34:10-16; Lv 18:29; 20:22-23; Nm 33:51-56; Dt 7:2, 16-26; 18:9-14; Josh 23:6-13; Ps 5:4; 34:16; 37:9, 28, 34, 38; 75:10; Rom 16:17; 1 Cor 5:1-13; 15:33)


According to the biblical picture of the Canaanites, these peoples were extremely wicked, and their annihilation represented God’s judgment for their sin.  The destruction of the Canaanites was neither the first nor the last time God would do this.  The differences between the Canaanites’ fate and the fate of humanity (except for Noah’s family) as described in Genesis 6-9 involve scale and agency.  With the Canaanites, as with many others in history, Yahweh used human beings rather than natural disasters or plagues and sickness (Lv 26; Dt 28).  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 98)


“Compassion flows of His goodness and goodness without justice is not goodness.   God spares us because He is good, but He could not be good if He were not just.   When God punishes the wicked, Anselm concludes, it is just because it is consistent with their deserts; and when He spares the wicked it is just because it is compatible with His goodness; so God does what becomes Him as the supremely good God.  This is reason seeking to understand, not that it may believe but because it already believes.”  (A. W. Tozer; The Knowledge of the Holy, 88)


The Deuteronomistic History in Joshua through Second Kings is a story of constant or recurring apostasy.  The tension between the Israelites and their neighbors was fundamentally a religious conflict, a struggle for the soul of Israel.  Would it belong to the Lord, the God of Israel, or to Baal of Canaan?  The latter often seems to have won out, at least temporarily.  (Patrick D. Miller, Interpretation: Dt, 42)


Let a people know that their cause is righteous in God’s sight and there ensues not merely an affirmative mood, but a sense of his presence with them.  In such a consciousness a people may become invincible.  So the forces of God’s universe are with those who enlist on his side in his implacable hostility to evil.  (George Arthur Buttrick, The Interpreter’s Bible Vol II, 346-7)


D-  God is not concerned about DNA, ethnicity or nationalities.  His concern is righteousness.  (Lv 18:26; 19:33-34; 20:2; 24:16, 22; Nm 15:14-16, 29-31; Ps 5:4; Mk 7:26ff; Lk 2:32; Acts 11:1, 18-20; 13:16, 26, 46-48; 14:1-2, 27; 15:3-23; 17:12; 20:21; 26:20; 28:28; Rom 1:5, 13-14, 16; 3:29; 9:30; 10:12; 15:9-18; 1 Cor 12:13; Gal 2:2-9; 3:8, 14, 28; Col 3:11)


The Lord did not predetermine or precipitate Pharaoh’s or Sihon’s resistance; he leveled his judgment of hardening on both as a consequence of their own obstinate unwillingness to bend to God’s will.  When a person spurns God’s influence on his heart, God in turn hardens him until he becomes thoroughly calloused to the persuasion of the Holy Spirit.  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 37)


God really does not play favorites.  Yes, he chose Abraham and his descendants to be his covenant people, but Deuteronomy warns the Israelites repeatedly that if they ever forget God and behave like Canaanites, they will experience the same fate as the Canaanites (4:25-28; 7:25-26; 8:19-20; 28:15-68).  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 99)


God’s elimination of the Canaanites was a necessary step in the history of salvation.  In order for Israel to achieve the goals that God had established for them–they needed a clean slate and a holy land.  Because they resisted Israel’s migration through their territory, the war of extermination against Canaanites was extended to Sihon and Og.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 99)


The universal interest of Yahweh in the nations at large is less developed in Deuteronomy than in some other parts of the OT (such as Jonah; Isa 2:2-4; 49:5-6; Ps 67; 87).  But it is fundamental to its theology of his choice of Israel, which is thus put in a universal context.  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 90)


Why is God so set on total destruction?:

I-  Love conquers all to enrich the life of the beloved.  (Dt 2:31, 34-35; 3:7 see also: Rom 8:30-39; Acts 14:17; 1 Tm 6:3-6, 17; Jam 1:17)


This is the thrill of obedience.  We launch out in faith while others, and sometimes we ourselves, think we are fools.  But God provides our every need.  There is temporary fear, but that is replaced by permanent joy over God’s deliverance!  If we never got into difficult situations, how could God ever have an opportunity of delivering us?  How boring life would be without a few crises and nail-biting happy endings!  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 100)


To ask that God’s love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God:  because He is what He is, His love must, in the nature of things, be impeded and repelled by certain stains in our present character, and because He already loves us He must labor to make us lovable.  (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 41)


When we want to be something other than the thing God wants us to be, we must be wanting what, in fact, will not make us happy.  Those Divine demands which sound to our natural ears most like those of a despot and least like those of a lover, in fact marshal us where we should want to go if we knew what we wanted.  (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 46)


We are bidden to “put on Christ,” to become like God.  That is, whether we like it or not, God intends to give us what we need, not what we now think we want.  Once more, we are embarrassed by the intolerable compliment, by too much love, not too little.  (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 47)


The important point for the writer of Deuteronomy was that nothing and nobody could or would thwart God’s plans for his people.  This message was as reassuring for Israelites of a later age as its NT counterpart has been for generations of Christians:  what shall separate us from the love of Christ?  (David F. Payne, The Daily Study Bible Series: Dt, 21)


God loves us; not because we are loveable but because He is love, not because he needs to receive but because He delights to give.  (C. S. Lewis; Letters of C. S. Lewis, 231)


Things metallic that could not be destroyed, Israel put in a place under the Lord’s protection.  This destruction kept captured people and things from the people but put them into the hands of God.  The practice, however, was sometimes limited by the Lord’s decree, as here, where the livestock and other valuable plunder were kept by the Israelites.  A variation in application of herem can be seen in the rules for war in 20:10-18.  This was one of the means used to bring destruction on the sinful inhabitants of Canaan and to isolate the Israelites from them and their wicked practices.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 3, 35)


II-  Love conquers all that devitalizes the life of the beloved.  (Dt 2:32-33; see also: Mt 5:29-30; 1 Thes 4:3; 2 Thes 3:6-15; 2 Tm 2:16)


God is love.  God is love in the NT and God is Love in the OT.  Because God never changes.  That means EVERYTHING that God does, is ultimately to be understood as an act of love.

If we look at God’s treatment of Egypt and Pharaoh in the book of Exodus, and we do not see God’s love in those acts, we do not understand God’s motivation.

If we look at the conquest of Joshua and the eradication of the Canaanite people’s and do not see it ultimately as an act of love, it means we do not understand God’s motivation.

If we look at the cross of Christ, and the suffering, anguish, and punishment that He underwent, and do not see it as an act of love, it means we do not understand God’s motivation.

If we cannot understand an act God does and see it as love, then we are either ignorant of the circumstances and God’s motivation or we do not understand what love is.  — Pastor Keith


In Deuteronomy 3, God demonstrates that what he promises, he is able to perform, often giving even more than what was promised.  His largesse is a function of his grace, power, and love, and is designed to encourage his people to an ever-expanding confidence in his faithfulness and goodness.  (Doug McIntosh, Holman OT Commentary: Dt, 38)


3:11.  The defeat of Og was especially significant in that he had been the last remaining Rephaite king east of the Jordan River.  That gigantic race, which had so intimidated the parents of those who were listening to Moses’ words, was now no longer a threat to those who would make their home in the area of Transjordan.  (Doug McIntosh, Holman OT Commentary: Dt, 42)


The “devotion to destruction,” in religious history, means putting to death every living creature (in this case humans only) as a kind of sacrifice to Yahweh, on the grounds that the land belongs to his “holy Sphere,” and is given only to those whom he has designated “holy.”  The underlying concept is that whatever is not “holy” cannot come into Yahweh’s presence.  Conversely, the killing, as in sacrifice, is a kind of assimilation into the holy sphere, a making “holy.”  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 88)


The Canaanites suffered a fate that ultimately all sinners will face:  the judgment of God.  The difference between them and other lost peoples is that they (especially the children) met their doom earlier than most.  But in the last analysis, apart from the grace of God we are all Canaanites, and it is only by divine grace that modern nations are not cut off as they were.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 98)


Worship Point:  Worship the God of the Universe who loves even those who are against Him and yet works to insure that good and not evil is promoted.  (Jn 3:16; Rom 5:8)


“You asked for a loving God:  You have one.  The great spirit you so lightly invoked, the “Lord of terrible aspect,” is present:  not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, not the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate, not the care of a host who feels responsible for the comfort of his guests, but the consuming fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds, persistent as the artist’s love for his work and despotic as a man’s love for a dog, provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between the sexes . . .  It is certainly a burden of glory not only beyond our deserts but also, except in rare moments of grace, beyond our desiring.”  (C. S. Lewis; The Problem of Pain, 46-7)


Gospel Application:  God loved evil people so much that He sent His Son Jesus to die for those who are evil so they might trust in Jesus and be saved from their evilness.   (Jn 3:16; Rom 5:8; 2 Pt 3:9)


God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them.  He creates the universe, already foreseeing–or should we say “seeing”?  there are no tenses in God–the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated incipient suffocation as the body droops, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath’s sake, hitched up.  If I may dare the biological image, God is a “host” who deliberately creates His own parasites; causes us to be that we may exploit and “take advantage of” Him.  Herein is love.  This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.  (C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves, 127)


The way to have victory in your life . .  Is to surrender to the God of the Universe.  Just as Christ did and look at the status He obtained.


Spiritual Challenge:  Ask God to give you the discernment and wisdom needed to know when to exclude, discourage and reject evil and yet, embrace, encourage and accept repentant sinners.  (Nm 33:51-56; Dt 7:2, 16-26; 18:9-14; Josh 23:6-13; Prv 4:23; Isa 55:7; Lk 15:7; 1 Cor 5:1-13; Ti 3:10-11; 2 Jn 1:10-11)


Although the Canaanites as a whole were targets of God’s judgment, they had at least forty years of advance warning (see Rahab’s confession in Josh 2:8-11).  The conquest of Canaan caught few by surprise.  Rahab illustrates the gracious fact that any individual who declared faith in Yahweh would be spared.  Rahab’s incorporation into the community of faith was so complete that she became the ancestor of Jesus! (Mt 1).  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 99)


Spiritual warfare is the blood, sweat, and tears of dying to one’s self and listening to God.  (David Powlison; Power Encounters: Reclaiming Spiritual Warfare, 119)


So What?:  We are engaged in a war in which the stakes are much higher than this world and this life.  Failure to keep from evil is to invite its influence which brings corruption, destruction and loss.  (Prv 4:23; Mt 5:29-30; 18:8-9; Lk 12:4-5)


The reasoning behind our Lord’s commands to destroy the peoples of Canaan is very clear (cf. Dt7:4).  Failure to do so would be  a snare of such terrible proportions that many in Israel would be led into idolatry and away from the Lord (and so would be condemned for all eternity along with those who seduced them).

So that the result of failing to comply with God’s command might have meant a few short years for these corrupted peoples, but it would also have meant condemnation for those otherwise not condemned.  God always in His mercy looks ahead where we cannot see and works things out for our protection and salvation—just as He did in this instance for His people, Israel.  From the purely human point of view, we see people suffering and are moved.  God understands the hearts of all, however, and knows very well who is going to choose for Him and His Son and who is not.  In His great grace and mercy, He is not going to allow the reprobate to drag the elect down with them into condemnation.  God is in the role here of One who intervenes to prevent the destruction of an innocent person’s free will, and that is His ultimate purpose—just as in the example above we would be justified in stopping an attempted murder by equally deadly force.  —Bob L.


Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, And this be our motto, “In God is our trust” (Francis Scott Key, “The Star-Spangled Banner”)


By sending his people into the Rephaite heartland, Yahweh sent an early signal that when his people entered the conflict with faith and courage, no one could stand in their way.  This provided the Israelites with an important precedent as they entered the Promised Land.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 95)


One victory gives us the courage to look hopefully to another. The victories over Heshbon and Bashan are going to be used often in the rest of the OT as evidences of God’s ability to see us through the battles we face.  I found thirteen such places where this victory is used as a ground for encouragement or praise.  There are important lessons for us here.  We must recall God’s acts in history and in our own personal lives so that we will be encouraged to believe that God will see us through present crises (see the discussion on 4:9-14).  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 101)


The divine-human synergy is well expressed in Moses’ description of the battle:  “And the LORD our God gave him over to us, and we defeated him and his sons and all his people” (2:33).  God gives victory, but we must launch out in obedience.  This is the key to fruitfulness.  Often the Israelites refused to launch out, and not only did they lose, they were also punished for their disobedience.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 99)


Moses’ recollections of the conquests of the Transjordanian Amorite kingdoms teach us what people of faith can achieve.  In contrast to the previous generation, which through rebellion and unbelief had disqualified itself from entry into the Promised Land from Kadesh Barnea, this account shows there is no limit to what God is able to do for and through his people if they trust him.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 95)


Thoughts on Herem

The book of Joshua presents most readers with a troubling question:  how can a God of love command his followers to destroy an entire nation of people?  The Canaanites had lived in their land for centuries before Joshua and his people came to claim it for themselves.  While some in Canaan fought against God’s people and were destroyed as a result (cf. the battle of Ai, 8:14ff), others did not attempt armed aggression against Israel.  The people of Jericho, for instance, retreated inside their city walls and mounted no attack against the Jews.  Nonetheless, following divine orders, the Israeli soldiers “destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys” (6:21).

The God of Joshua also required a similar kind of wrathful judgment against his own people when they sinned.  Following the battle of Jericho, a soldier named Achan took in plunder “a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels” (7:21).  He did so in direct disobedience to the divine command that “All the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron are sacred to the Lord and must go into his treasury” (6.19).

For this sin, the Israeli army was defeated in the first battle of Ai.  When Achan admitted his disobedience, he and his family were taken to the Valley of Achor where they were stoned to death and then burned (7:25).

Such vengeance sounds very little like the God who is love (1 Jn 4:8), the One who would send his own Son to die on a cross in place of our disobedient race.  How are we to reconcile the first Joshua with the Second?  Four facts may help us.

Facts to remember:

First, the Promised Land belonged to God before the Canaanites established temporary residency there.  It had always been his plan to give this land to the descendants of Abraham:  “In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here” (Gn 15:16a). The Lord did not take from the Canaanites that which was “theirs”—he reclaimed that which was his according to his foreordained purposes.

Second, the Canaanites lived in wicked rebellion against the will and purposes of God.  The Lord had predicted that Abraham’s descendants would claim the land when “the sin of the Amorites” reached its “full measure” (Gn 15:16b).  This “full measure” of sin was attained by the Canaanites in the generation leading to the Jewish conquest.

Moses warned his people about these sins they would encounter upon entering the Promised Land:  “Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead” (Dt 18:10-11).  He stated that anyone who practices such sins is “detestable to the Lord,” and explained that “because of these detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you” (v. 12).  Those who were conquered by Joshua and his armies were not innocent victims, but wicked sinners who received the judgment their transgressions had warranted.

Third, the blood retribution practiced by ancient tribal culture required the Jewish armies to destroy not only the soldiers of their enemies, but their families as well.  So long as one member of a family remained, that person was bound by cultural law to attempt retribution against the enemies of his people.  Such unrest and hostility would have persisted throughout the nation’s history, with no possibility of peace in the land.  What appears to be genocide was actually the way wars were typically prosecuted.

Fourth, in these formative early years of Israel’s history it was imperative that the people be kept from the influence of sinners without or within their nation.  The holy God who gave them their land would uproot them from it if they rebelled against him (Dt 28:63-68).  This warning came to pass centuries later at the hands of Assyria and then Babylon, and ultimately in the national destruction wrought by Rome in the first century of the Christian era.

And so God had to bring severe judgment against Achan, lest he and his family spread the cancer of their disobedience within the nation.  He ordered his people to destroy all they found within Canaanite civilization, lest it continue to tempt them to disobedience and eventual destruction.  We find similar severity during the formative years of the Christian movement in God’s judgment against Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11).


God does not change.  But his purposes are fulfilled in different ways at different times in redemptive history.  Justice required retribution against the sinful Canaanite civilization.  And his salvation plan required a purified nation through whom he could bring the Messiah of all mankind.  When Christ came, Joshua’s leadership of conflict and conquest was fulfilled.

Now we are taught to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors (Mt 5:44).  Not because God has changed, for such love proves that we are “sons of your Father in heaven” (v. 45).  Rather, because such love expresses his grace toward us and all mankind.

Was it fair that Israel destroyed the residents of Canaan?  If God were fair, none of us could see his perfect heaven.  We are all spiritual Canaanites, saved from eternal wrath only by the love of our Creator.  Think back to your last sin.  Admit that this one transgression warrants the judgment and condemnation of a holy God.  And thank God that he is not fair.  (Jim Denison http://www.godissues.org/why-did-god-tell-the-jews-to-kill-all-the-canaanites/)


One of the difficult problems posed by events recorded in the Book of Joshua in the OT concerns the destruction of the Canaanites.  When the children of Israel entered the Promised Land they destroyed the Canaanites as ordered by the Lord.  The Bible tells what happened when the Israelites conquered Jericho:  “And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, ox and sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword,” (Josh 6:21).

Why did God order everyone destroyed including women, children, and animals?  Does this not show a cruel and warlike attitude?

We Must Understand The Historical Situation

While the loss of innocent life is something that is to be deplored, the situation must be understood with the following background in mind.  The nation Israel was chosen to be a witness to the world of the true and living God.  The Israelites were to live in the Promised Land surrounded by the heathen nations, yet they were not to be influenced by the other nations’ religions.  God instructed His people that they were not to take to themselves any of the elements of the false pagan religions.

The Promised Land in which the Israelites were to settle was populated by the Canaanites who had corrupted and perverted God’s truth.  They had corrupted themselves to the place where they were beyond saving.  Had any been permitted to live, they would have infected Israel with their moral depravity.

Israel Was To Be A Witness

Before Israel could establish itself in the region as a witness to the one true God, all remnants of the pagan culture had to be destroyed.  The failure to totally eliminate all of the pagans in the Promised Land eventually led to the nation’s downfall in the times of the Judges.

“Then the angel of the Lord came to Gilgal to Bochim, and said:  I led you up from Egypt and brought you to the land of which I swore to your fathers; and I said, I will never break my covenant with you.  And you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall tear down their altars.  But you have not obeyed my voice.  Why have you done this?  Therefore I also said, I will not drive them out before you; but they shall be thorns in your side, and their gods shall be a snare to you,” (Jdg 2:1-3).   God ordered the destruction of the Canaanites because of the corrupting influence they would have if their false religious system were allowed to survive.  Unfortunately, Israel disobeyed God and did not utterly destroy these pagan peoples.  This disobedience eventually led to their own captivity.

The Canaanites Were Not Innocent Victims

The people that lived in Canaan were not ignorant of the God of Israel.  Many times the impression is given that God ordered the Israelites to swoop in and destroy innocent people.  But these people were neither innocent nor ignorant.  They had heard about the God of Israel but had rejected Him.

When two spies were sent to spy out the Land of Promise they were told by Rahab the prostitute:  “I know that the Lord has given you the land, that the terror of you has fallen on us and that all the inhabitants of the land are fainthearted because of you.  For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were on the other side of the Jordan, Sihon, and Og, whom you utterly destroyed.  And as soon as we heard these things, our hearts melted; neither did there remain any more courage in anyone because of you, for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath,” (Josh 2:11).

They had heard of the true God but had rejected Him.  Consequently, their entire society acted in a sinful way.  The Apostle Paul spoke of these people:  “Although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man-and birds and four-footed beasts and creeping things.  Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshipped the creature rather than the Creator,” (Rom 1:21-25).


The inhabitants of Canaan were neither ignorant nor innocent victims of an angry God.  They had been committing terrible sin knowing full well of the true and living God.  Because they rejected Him and His forgiveness God harshly judged them.  (Don Stewart https://www.blueletterbible.org/faq/don_stewart/don_stewart_1382.cfm)





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