When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are about to enter and occupy, and he clears away many nations before you—the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations mightier and more numerous than you— and when the Lord your God gives them over to you and you defeat them, then you must utterly destroy them. Make no covenant with them and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for that would turn away your children from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the Lord would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly. But this is how you must deal with them: break down their altars, smash their pillars, hew down their sacred poles, and burn their idols with fire. For you are a people holy to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession.
It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you—for you were the fewest of all peoples. It was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath that he swore to your ancestors, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who maintains covenant loyalty with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and who repays in their own person those who reject him. He does not delay but repays in their own person those who reject him. Therefore, observe diligently the commandment—the statutes and the ordinances—that I am commanding you today.
If you heed these ordinances, by diligently observing them, the Lord your God will maintain with you the covenant loyalty that he swore to your ancestors; he will love you, bless you, and multiply you; he will bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your wine and your oil, the increase of your cattle and the issue of your flock, in the land that he swore to your ancestors to give you. You shall be the most blessed of peoples, with neither sterility nor barrenness among you or your livestock. The Lord will turn away from you every illness; all the dread diseases of Egypt that you experienced, he will not inflict on you, but he will lay them on all who hate you. You shall devour all the peoples that the Lord your God is giving over to you, showing them no pity; you shall not serve their gods, for that would be a snare to you.
This is hard for us to understand. Utterly destroy – really, Lord? Show them no mercy – none?
In my 21st century American, modernized mind, I have a hard time with this passage. It’s harsh. It’s brutal. It seems to be the kind of desolation that God punished Simeon and Levi for, right?
But what I do know:
-The Canaanites were evil [Leviticus says quite graphically that the land vomited out its inhabitants]
-God is just [Revelation 16.7]
-There was enough light for the Gentiles who had a desire to repent [Rahab, for example]
I could probably come up with more objections. But the fact that my heart even finds objections with this passage shows the man-centeredness and the self-centeredness of my soul.
What should offend me about Deuteronomy 7 is not that God commanded the destruction of the Canaanites, but that He allowed the preservation 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 earth to be his people, his treasured possession. It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you—for you were the fewest of all peoples. It was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath that he swore to your ancestors, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
One of the neatest things this year has been teaching through the Old Testament and leading my 6th graders through territory they think they knew but really don’t. We’ve been in Exodus and almost daily I heard gasps in my room as I explained that the Israelites, once again, did not trust God [the good Creator King]. “But why not? He’s done everything for them!” “The Israelites are so foolish!” “Why don’t they just trust God?” “Haven’t they learned their lesson?”‘
The Israelites weren’t better than the Canaanites. In fact, their sins are almost worse because of the amount of knowledge they have*! If I were reading the Bible for the first time, I would want them to be destroyed. Pick a better nation, God!
But here God gives the clear reason as to why He chose the Israelites and not the Hittites; why He chose this small and puny nation with unfaithful hearts and unbelieving spirits.
Just because He did.
Right there in verse 8 it says it; shockingly and clearly. He loves them…because He loves them! It is not Israel’s loveliness, power, strength, numbers, goodness, morality, or talent that makes her attractive to God. He “was smitten with love” with Israel simply because of His character to love and freely lavish grace. And He chose Israel in order to display His glory and goodness and grace!
Oh the depths of the riches of the wisdom and the knowledge of God.
And yet here I am, thousands of years later, tempted to forget that all is of grace.
I may not say that I think God chose me because I’m something special, but I act like it. I hear the praise of man and I look at God and say “of course you’d save me.” I look to t he applause of the masses to determine my value, thinking that if I just get enough acclaim that will validate me as a person and in particular God’s choice to save me. I feel as if I always must prove myself, prove that I was somehow worth saving.
But the utterly offensive truth is that I am just like Israel.
I am just as foolish and forgetful. If my students were wise enough to understand the subtleties of unbelief [it does creep up on us so], they would say “Haven’t you learned your lesson? You’re so foolish! Why don’t you just trust God.”
I am just as unworthy and unfaithful. I think I can accomplish things on my own and I can’t. I think I have a lot to offer others and I don’t. I am prideful and self-serving and ignorant. I deserve punishment and death. Ephesians says it well, “You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived… All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.”
But I am just as loved for all the same reasons – His character, not mine.
“But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—”
He loves me because He loves. Not because of my goodness, but because of His. Not because of my loveliness, but His.
I am so unworthy. But He loves that He loves that He loves. May I soak that in today. Every day. Every moment. May I remember His utter worthiness and loveliness.
*My friend Nik had a mentor at Oxford who was convinced that Romans 1 is about Israel for that reason, not the Gentiles.