Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
"IN HIS CARE FOR HIS PEOPLE, GOD COMMANDS ISRAEL TO DESTROY UTTERLY THE UNGODLY OF CANAAN."
II Corinthians 6:14-7:1
I Peter 2:9-12
Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise"
Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ!
Moses, we learned last week, spoke to a people on the banks of the Jordan River – in circumstances radically different from our circumstances today. Yet Moses’ words were significant for us simply because the God who spoke through Moses is today our God. Also, the people to whom God spoke 3000 years ago had the same nature as we have today. So we could receive encouragement from chap 6, and receive instruction too.
The same God-of-the-covenant speaks the words we could read from chap 7, and lays these words before sinful people. The thrust of chap 7 is contained in the verse I have chosen as text; Israel must utterly destroy the peoples of the land they are entering. Then it’s true that vss 6-8 speak of Israel’s identity as a holy people and how the Lord came to chose them as His. But that status of Israel is not the central point of the chapter; that status instead serves to support the main thrust: utterly destroy those Canaanites! That’s also why the instruction to destroy the peoples of the land is repeated in vs 16, and the Lord repeats in vss 17ff what He has done before and will continue to do – so that Israel in turn might not loose heart in the face of the command to wipe out the peoples of Canaan.
The Lord’s command to His covenant people of long ago to destroy the inhabitants of the Promised Land does not pertain to us today in the sense that we need to destroy the unbelieving of our land. Yet there certainly is instruction for us as we seek to find our way in today’s Australian culture. For God’s love for His people that prompted the command of our text remains valid for us today too. So I preach to you the word of God using this theme:
IN HIS CARE FOR HIS PEOPLE, GOD COMMANDS ISRAEL TO DESTROY UTTERLY THE UNGODLY OF CANAAN.
1. The nature of Israel’s task
2. The reason for Israel’s task
1. The nature of Israel’s task
In the eye of our mind we can picture the people of Israel gathered together near the Jordan to listen to Moses speak as God renews the covenant with the second generation of those delivered from Egypt. As Moses talks, he reminds the people of what lies ahead; the God who has brought Israel out of Egypt and through the desert is determined to give His people the land promised to the fathers – "a land flowing with milk and honey" (6:3). We can imagine that the people lift up their eyes to look with longing across the Jordan River to the land on the other side…. And their thoughts move on to comforts and luxuries awaiting them there….
But listen, Moses continues to speak. He speaks about children, about parents teaching their children diligently all the commands of the Lord "when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down and when you rise up." In fact –ch 6:20- "when your son ask you in time to come, saying, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies, the statutes, and the judgments which the Lord our God has commanded you?’, then you shall say to your son" this and this. Sons, daughters…. Yes, what’s to become of them in the new land? Will they find friends for themselves in the new land? Will they find spouses for themselves among the Canaanites? How shall they live among the Canaanites?
Listen, O Israelite, concentrate, for Moses speaks on – chap 7. He speaks of "the Lord your God" delivering the inhabitants of the land to the Israelites! He speaks of "seven nations greater and mightier than you" – and didn’t Israel know that these nations were greater and mightier! The Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, the Jebusites: how the fathers had feared these peoples when the 12 spies came back 38 years ago! But Moses is emphatic: "when the Lord your God delivers them over to you, you shall conquer them…."
What opportunity, beloved, this would give to Israel! The people Moses was speaking to had spent the last 40 years in the desert; the vast majority of them knew nothing about farming. Now to receive a land of their own, grow grapes, raise livestock…, they didn’t know. Conquer the Canaanites, make them their slaves so that these Canaanites could teach them the ropes of agriculture, even do the dirty work for them…. Sounds attractive! The Israelites had lived in tents all their lives; what would they know about maintaining stone buildings, let alone building new houses? Conquer the locals, compel them to quarry stones and lay bricks for them…; how appealing! These Canaanites might even come to know the Lord and join Israel in serving Him! Maybe there’s even a young man for that leftover daughter of mine, a lovely girl for my son….
But listen, Moses speaks on. Not only, he says, shall you conquer them; he adds the command that Israel must "utterly destroy them!" Utterly destroy," he says. So: no half measures; God insists on a radical, total destruction of the inhabitants of the land. The word translated as ‘destroy’ is translated elsewhere with the English word "abominable"; it captures then the notion that God hates these Canaanites with an intense hatred. The word ‘abominable’ describes God’s feelings about an item that has been devoted to God’s ‘competition’ (if I may just use that word for a moment), devoted to other gods. The Lord is a jealous God, and will give His glory to no other. Yet the people of Canaan are serving idols, gods of human imagination, and doing so with a passion. Because the Creator of heaven and earth, the only true God, is not getting from these Canaanites the praise and devotion that is His due, He in righteous jealousy hates these Canaanites and so determines to wipe them out. And Israel, His people-by-covenant must work along with God, must act in step with His actions, and so "utterly destroy them," must "let nothing that breathes remain alive" (Dt 20:16f).
It’s a radical, very radical command. Leave some alive to help with the farming, to help with the rebuilding? Leave some alive as friends for your children, a spouse for your unmarried son or daughter? How tempting…. And what shall one say about the sheer emotions of putting to death a lovely young damsel or young children? Make no mistake, brothers and sisters, obedience to this command brought its struggles to Israel.
Yet the Lord was emphatic. Vs 2: "you shall make no covenant with them nor show mercy to them." Vs 3: "nor shall you make marriages with them. You shall not give your daughter to their son, nor take their daughter for your son." Beauty, love, sympathy, need for skilled labor: none of it was to make any difference; Israel may have no relation at all with the locals, but must instead "utterly destroy them", leave none living.
And why no covenant, why permit no marriages amongst their sons and daughters? Because "their sins are full," as God said to Abraham. No doubt. But that reason is not mentioned in our chapter. The reason mentioned here is vs 4: "for they will turn your sons away from following Me, to serve other gods." What an intriguing reason, congregation! No covenant, no friendship, no marriages –why not?- because your children are not strong enough to withstand the temptation to join them in serving their gods. You see God’s argument, beloved? God knows how sinful His people are, how inclined to evil! There’s no reason to think that Israel thought differently than we do – and we think in terms of being able to handle a bit, being able to say No to certain temptations. But God knows His people better than His people themselves do; He concludes that sin lies too close at hand to dabble with temptation of any sort! And that is especially so in relation to worship of gods and the world view that comes with questions of religion; the human heart is so ready to give to other gods the praise belonging to Him alone. Hence the explicit instruction of vs 5: "thus you shall deal with them: you shall destroy their altars, and break down their sacred pillars, and cut down their wooden images, and burn their carved images with fire." The Lord God remains a jealous God! And vs 16: "you shall destroy all the peoples whom the Lord your God delivers over to you; your eye shall have no pity; nor shall you serve their gods, for that will be a snare to you."
Difficult, yes. But could Israel do it? We need to notice, congregation, how God’s actions are so tightly interwoven in this chapter with the commands He gives to Israel. Our text illustrates that interwoven-ness so vividly. Our text shows us a God who is acting. Specifically: the Lord your God delivers [the nations] over to you." That echoes a theme throughout the chapter. Vs 1 speaks of the Lord "bringing" Israel into the new land, speaks of God "casting out" many nations. Vs 20 speaks of the Lord your God "sending the hornet among them." Vs 22: "the Lord your God will drive out those nations." Vs 23: "the Lord your God will deliver them over to you." Vs 24: "He will deliver their kings into your hand." And lest Israel doubt whether "the Lord your God" is able to do this, the Holy Spirit moves Moses to remind Israel of God’s track record. Vs 17 recalls "what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt: the great trials which your eyes saw, the signs and the wonders, the mighty hand and the outstretched arm, by which the Lord your God brought you out. So shall the Lord your God do to all the peoples of whom you are afraid." In a word: Israel should know that the battle against the seven greater and mightier nations is not Israel’s battle, but God’s.
And this God is none other than "your God." This is covenant language; there is an intimate bond between this God and Israel. This is the God who reached out to Israel, claimed Israel as His own, and so delivered them from bondage in Egypt. This God-of-Israel’s is Lord, and Moses had just explained in chap 6 that "the Lord our God, the Lord is one," and that was to say that this God was not divided within Himself, did not flip-flop, did not change His mind. He’d once said He’d give this land to His people, so He’ll do it.
Well, the text says that this God acts, this God "delivers" the seven mightier nations to Israel. Then Israel has the obligation to fight along with God, to co-operate in His battles. Vs 2: "when the Lord your God delivers them over to you, you shall conquer them…." That is: Israel must follow through with what God is doing, Israel must work along with God and not against God. And if God is laboring to subdue the Canaanites and the Girgashites and the Jebusites and the Hivites, then Israel must do that too. Equally, if God hates these Canaanites and the Girgashites and the Jebusites and the Hivites because they are devoted to other gods, than Israel must hate them too – and show that by obeying God’s command to destroy them utterly, wipe them out – no matter how attractive the temptation to keep some slaves for their fields or their beds, or even a convert for their sons or daughters.
Truth be said, congregation, we find the command of our text harsh. Certainly in our multicultural society, this sort of command is unacceptable. We’re told instead that we need to respect other’s religious choices, need to tolerate each other….
Did Israel think the same way? The book of Judges tells us expressly –chap 1- that Israel chose not to "utterly destroy them" (vss 27ff). O yes, they conquered the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Girgashites and the rest of them, for God delivered them into their hand. But annihilate them, wipe them out…. No, Israel did not complete the work that God had begun; they chose not to work in tandem with their covenant God…. The result was that God’s judgment fell upon Israel. In the course of their history, the people of Israel learned to their hurt what the bitter fruits of marriage with the Canaanites were. For they learned how to serve the Baals, learned to commit harlotry, to break their marriage vows to the Lord their God…, and so ended up in exile…. Our sensitivities, honed as they are by our pluralistic culture, cringe at the stark black-and-white-ness of our text; something rebels in us that this sort of attitude might still have to characterize the Christian.
It’s true, beloved of the Lord, that it’s not for us to destroy the ungodly around us in the sense that we leave none alive. What then? Is the lesson of the text for us this that we are to put ourselves on an island away from the sinful influences of this world? Not that either, congregation, for the Lord has given His people the command to shine as lights in this world. So withdrawal from this world is not acceptable. But our text gives the New Testament church explicit instruction about how to live in this ungodly world! You see, through the work of our Lord Jesus Christ we have been delivered from the powers of sin and Satan so that we are no longer "of the world." More, through His labors on the cross of Calvary, our Lord Jesus Christ has conquered Satan himself and utterly destroyed him. True, the Lord has not yet swept the evil one and his forces off this earth; He is pleased for now to permit the devil to do his thing in our society. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that the Lord has defeated the devil, fully. Well now, as Israel of long ago had to work together with God, had to co-operate with Him, so we today need to work together with Christ, need to co-operate with Him. If Christ has defeated the devil so that this enemy lies trussed up at His feet, is it for God’s people to give any sort of worship to this enemy? The answer is so obvious! Yet the world around us does not reckon with the victory of Christ on the cross, and so continues to acknowledge the devil’s lordship. May the child of God, now, join the world in its kowtowing to the devil? Says John: "do not love the world or the things in the world" (I Jn 2:15). James puts it like this: "pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: … to keep oneself unspotted from the world" (1:27). Here the picture is of walking through muddy water; the only way to keep splashes off your clothes is to stay clear of the muddy water. That, says James, is the only way to "keep oneself unspotted from the world"; keep your distance! In Paul’s words:
"Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols?" (II Cor 6:14f).
Whether the reference be to bonds of friendship or bonds of marriage or whatever other bonds there may be, Paul’s command is that there may be no bond. Paul speaks of a ‘yoke’, that apparatus that ties two animals together in front of the plough. You, says Paul, may not permit yourself to be bound with the unbeliever to one plough, as if you and the unbeliever could pull the plough of marriage or the plough of business in the same direction. After all, you are righteous in Christ’s blood and the unbeliever lawless still. You acknowledge Christ’s triumph and Satan’s defeat, while your partner does not. So how can you work together? You are light in Jesus Christ, and he in darkness still; what have you got in common?!
John’s point, James’ point, Paul’s point? This: there is no room for synthesis between the world and the church, no room for co-operation between the children of Satan and the children of God. For the devil hates God with a passion, and God hates the devil with perfection, and never shall the two co-operate, never shall God and the devil work together to a common goal. Let none be lulled by Satan’s cunning, congregation, into a false sense of peace and friendship with today’s world. No, we’re not to destroy as the Israelites were, but keep our distance from the world and the things of the world we must! We are no stronger than Israel of long ago, and bonds of friendship, bonds of marriage would, said God, result in the Canaanites turning the Israelites away from serving the Lord – and history proved God correct.
Yet what, congregation, do we see in our midst? The word ‘worldliness’ has become a bit of a dirty word in our midst. At least, I don’t hear it with the frequency it used to be mentioned. In its place has come habits we didn’t see before. Not all that long ago it was simply unacceptable to go to the cinema. Not any more. It wasn’t that long ago that the fashions of the world were followed ‘at a distance’, so that wearing the latest and the trendiest wasn’t considered acceptable; it was ‘worldly’. Not any more. Not all that long ago those who had a television set felt more comfortable hiding it away from public eye. Not any more; in fact, the TV has a prominent place in the majority of our homes, and even in some children’s bedrooms. Not so long ago it was commonly understood that Christians have no place in the pubs and bars of our town. But today young people find it acceptable to visit the pubs – and they find older church members there too!
Why this is? Because, congregation, we’re not working with the significance of Christ’s triumph on the cross. His actions determine the actions of His people; it’s for us to work along with Him – and so keep ourselves unstained from the world Christ defeated. But it’s not only that. We’re forgetting too the reality of our own –and our children’s!- sinfulness, our natural inclination to appreciate and follow after evil. The Lord tells Israel to "utterly destroy" the Canaanites, to make no bonds with them in any way, "for they will turn your sons away from following Me, to serve other gods." But we permit worldliness in our lives and in the lives of our children, and that’s to say that we don’t take the Biblical doctrine of our depravity so seriously. And the inevitable consequence happens: young people, and not so young people, get lured into the world. It happens today as it happened in Israel long ago; they did not destroy the Canaanites, they instead befriended the Canaanites, and so learned to serve the Baals even while they brought their sacrifices to the Lord. But the Lord is a jealous God, and so had the land spew His people out into exile. We spend time at the cinema, spend time in the pub, join the world in the sports stadium…, and on Sunday come faithfully to church. Do you really think, beloved, that the Lord will tolerate that limping between the world and Himself? Surely, God’s penalty will not stay away from us, our families, our children.
I move on to our second point:
2. The reason for Israel’s task
Why, brothers and sisters, were the people of Israel to destroy so utterly those Canaanites? Sure, they didn’t have the wherewithal to resist the allurements of false religion, and following the gods of Canaan would bring God’s wrath upon them. But why did the Lord not want His wrath to fall on Israel? What motivates God to speak so candidly to Israel?
Behind it all, congregation, is the question of Who God is. The Lord Himself gives the radical command of vs 2, but He motivates it by reminding Israel that He is "the Lord your God." That’s to say that Israel is special to the Lord. God works that out further in vss 6-16. For He says in vs 6 that God "chose" Israel to be His people, to be a "special treasure" to Him. The word ‘chose’ does not refer to election, as if every Israelite would go to heaven; the word captures instead the notion that the Lord God chose Israel alone to be His covenant people. There was nothing attractive about Israel that prompted God to chose Israel for Himself; it was simply His love, rooted in reasons from within God Himself.
And because they are His covenant people, the people of His love, are they "holy". The word ‘holy’ does not refer here to lifestyle, to behavior patterns; it refers here to status. That is: because God has claimed Israel as His in the covenant is this people set apart from the rest of the world. The others aren’t His, but Israel is – set apart, holy. It’s their special identity before God that prompts the command not to mix with the Canaanites, the command to stay separate; since they belong to God they may have nothing to do with the unfruitful works of darkness – and that meant concretely for them that they had to "destroy utterly" every man, woman and child.
Again, because of Who God is would Israel experience God’s blessings if they obeyed, and His anger if they disobeyed. Vs 12: "Then it shall come to pass, because you listen to these judgments…, that the Lord your God will keep with you the covenant…. And He will love you and bless you and multiply," and there follows in vss 13-15 a list of the blessings God would pour out upon His "special treasure", the people-of-His-love. That is why –vs 16- Israel must "destroy all the peoples whom the Lord your God delivers over to you; your eye shall have no pity on them…." And if they don’t obey –vs 10- God will repay "those who hate Him to their face, to destroy them." "Therefore" - vs 11- "you shall keep the commandment … which I command you today" – specifically the one about not mixing with the Canaanites, but destroying them.
It’s a thought, brothers and sisters, that we have to have fixed in our minds. Why should Israel kill in cold blood every man, woman and child in the land they were inheriting? What should motivate them as they saw the look of terror in the eyes of their victims? This: they themselves, like the Canaanites, were by nature children of the devil and so subject to the eternal weight of God’s wrath. But God in boundless mercy had claimed this people as His, though they were no better than others, and now in His love for the people He wished every source of heathen infection removed from the environment where His people were going to live. Talk about love for His people!
The apostle Peter takes the terminology of Dt 7 and applies it the New Testament church. He says in I Peter 2:9 that "you" –and Peter refers to the "pilgrims of the Dispersion" who have been "elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ"- "you are a chosen generation…, a holy nation., His own special people." As God chose Israel from all possible peoples, so God has chosen the New Testament believers of all possible people. As Israel of old was His "special treasure", so the New Testament church is "His own special people." As Israel of old was holy, so you and I are holy. Result? Says Peter: it’s for us to be holy. How? By living like the Gentiles?? No, no! It’s for New Testament believers to be holy by keeping their distance from the values and habits of the world. Notice how Peter in vs 11 describe the saints he addresses as "sojourners and pilgrims". That’s to say: these children-of-God-for-Christ’s-sake know themselves to be not at home in the world! They are in the world, but not of it, and so they keep the world at arms length. Here’s the same lifestyle as John and James and Paul encouraged. And what’s the reason for keeping this distance from the world? The reason is God’s love; such is His care for His "own special people" that He does not want any of His covenant children –older or younger, for they’re all equally sinful, all have as a result of the fall into sin an Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome- to catch any of the deadly infections floating around in the world.
Our time encourages peoples of all cultures and religions to participate fully in Australian society; there’s room for everybody, and nobody should condemn another. The Lord your God, beloved, speaks differently, and He does so because He loves you. In Christ He has defeated Satan, and now He wants His people to think and speak and act in a fashion consistent with that gospel.
Meanwhile, He tells us in His Word that Christ comes again soon – to judge the living and the dead. Then He’ll cast all His and my enemies into everlasting condemnation, but He’ll take me and all His chosen ones to Himself into heavenly joy and glory (Lord’s Day 19). On that day the distance there needs to be today between the church and world will be perfected. Amen.