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Most of this chapter is one of those sections that you wish you could delete from the Bible. We don’t want to hear about devoting entire nations to destruction, burning and smashing the symbols of their cultures, and abhorring others. We certainly don’t want to hear the instruction to have have no pity or mercy. It just hurts. We want a God who is loving to all, generous, and merciful. That is not the God that we meet in this chapter.
Instead, we meet a God who wants to get rid of all the evil in the land, and anyone who hates him. He does not want there to be even a small chance that his people might be corrupted, via intermarriage, into worshipping other gods. God is not concerned about cross-cultural marriage per se, but the possibility that it might lead people astray from him.
On the other hand, we also meet a God who is passionately in love with his people, has set them apart from all other peoples of the world, and wants to protect them at all costs. He has chosen them not because of anything in themselves, but simply because he loves them and made a promise to their fathers. He is a faithful God, who once he has committed to a covenant, will not break it. His steadfast covenant love extends a thousand generations. His blessing pours out in fruitfulness and good health, not only for humans but even for livestock and the land itself.
This is a God who fights for his people, who fought for them to bring them out of Egypt, and who will fight for them in driving out the nations from the promised land. The beloved people can trust in his mighty hand and outstretched arm. They need not be terrified of the great nations they stand against, for it is by God’s strength that they will be victorious.
Note that the heart of the chapter again calls for the people to listen to God’s commandments and keep them. If the people fulfill their side of the covenant, God will fulfill his side. They are holy, set apart by the law, and they therefore must live according to it. This involved keeping themselves, as a nation, pure from corrupting influence. That is what is behind the awful commands to completely destroy the nations and their gods.
So what for us, followers of Yahweh three millennia later? God doesn’t want us burning down other religions’ altars, right? Yet he is the same God, a passionate and demonstrative lover, who fights for the purity of his beloved. As Paul said, “though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. … We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor 10:3-5). In other words, our enemies are not living, breathing people, and we have no mandate to conquer the land of other nations. In fact, God so passionately loves the world that Jesus came to himself be devoted to destruction, on behalf of both the loved and the unloved.
Prayer: Lord God, there are many things I don’t understand, but this I know: you love me and you fight for me. Thank you that I can trust you even in my confusion.