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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Absolute Allegiance and the Law of the Ban - Deuteronomy 7

Deuteronomy 7 

            Deuteronomy 6 commands following the first commandment in a positive way with the conditional statements of what will occur if a person does not obey it. Deuteronomy 7 speaks about the commandment in a negative way and introduces the law of the ban. This law of the ban is the prohibition of the worship of idols. Though the writer included God’s blessings and a war speech, he focused on the prohibition of idols. So, this chapter is a sermon on the theme of the first commandment, just as chapter six is, but composes it with the focus on what not to do. Three times and in three ways in chapter seven the writer expressed the ban, in verses one through six, sixteen, and twenty-five through twenty-six. In respect of other gods and idols, God declares a holy war on other gods and idols. He leads and wins the war in this instance. There are times in the Israelites lives where they chose not to follow Yahweh and He did not win. People through the ages have chosen to follow their own will and place someone or something higher than Yahweh. At that time, God’s will did not occur, but we believe God’s will prevails at the end. He will be victorious because He is more powerful than idols/gods made by humans and instigated by Satan.
            The first ban in this chapter begins by reminding the Israelites which nations God will clear away before them. As this roll call of nations proceeds, we remember the history of the people. As we read of the nations and recall their history, we will understand why God refused to make them a part of His chosen people. First, Moses mentioned the Hittites. This nation of people descended from Heth, the second son of Canaan, the son of Ham (Genesis 10:15). Ham was the youngest son of Noah who found his father drunk and naked in his tent and made fun of him. When Noah heard about it, he cursed him and his descendents (Genesis 9:21-23). The Hittites lived in the mountainous region around Hebron and before that lived in current day Turkey and, later, northern Lebanon. The Girgashites were descendents of Canaan, the son of Ham, too. They lived east of the Sea of Galilee when the Israelites entered the Promised Land. The Israelites encountered the Amorites when they battled Kings Og and Sihon earlier. Other Amorites lived on the western side of the Dead Sea in the mountains. The Amorites came from the Babylonian Empire that ruled the west and east of the Jordan River several centuries before the Israelites arrived. The Canaanites were direct descendents of Canaan. They lived near the Mediterranean Sea in Phoenicia, Tyre, and Sidon. The Perizzites are relatively unknown. Their name means “villagers” and they lived in un-walled towns and in southern Canaan. The Hivites descended from Canaan, too. They lived in northern Canaan near Ebal and Gerizim, extending toward Hermon. The Jebusites descended from the third son of Canaan, Jebus. They lived near the place later named Jerusalem. What is most important in this list of nations is that they were bigger and stronger than the Israelites. Moses highlighted this fact to them. The Israelites would not win any battle with them on their own. Moses made his point in verse two, “the Lord your God delivers them before you and you defeat them.” The Canaanites outnumbered the Israelites, but with God as the Israelites' deliverer, the seven nations could be defeated.
            God did not want them just defeated, He wanted the seven nations “utterly destroyed,” as Moses stated in verse two. The word “destroy” in this verse is the Hebrew word charam, which means complete devotion to ban or extermination. Moses began commanding the law of the ban in verse two. Added to this, God forbade the Israelites from making covenants with the seven nations, showing them favor, or intermarrying with them. God specifically prohibited making marriage covenants with any people of the seven nations. Why did God erect such a high wall around the Israelites. Moses explained what God said in verse four. God said, “For they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods, then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you and He will quickly destroy you.” God, the one true God, demands absolute allegiance to Him. He proved Himself to the Israelites as their Savior from Egypt and their desert wandering. No other god the Israelites knew of could do what Yahweh God did and promised to do. God chose the descendents of Abraham to receive His grace. As is noted in Deuteronomy 6, He is a jealous God who is a fierce protector of His treasured possession, the people of Israel. The one true God demands absolute allegiance and the Israelites joined Yahweh in covenant at Mount Sinai when they agreed to the Ten Commandments. The first commandment is “You shall have no other gods before Me.” God gave them the Promised Land because He had promised it to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He is always faithful to His promises. The Israelites would “possess” the Promised Land by keeping their covenant, the Ten Commandments, with Yahweh. They promised to love, revere, and obey Yahweh. By routing and destroying the seven nations, God removed all influence of the gods of these nations from around the Israelites so they would not be enticed to worship them. The first commandment is a command, but God gives humankind freewill. Should a person not choose to give God absolute allegiance, then the other side of the conditional statement occurs -  judgment: God will destroy them (vs. 4).
            God did not give vague instructions to keep the Israelites from worshipping the gods of Canaan. He specified what He wanted the Israelites to do when they destroyed the seven nations. To guard against idolatry, God commanded them to (notice the word “shall”) “tear down their altars, smash their sacred pillars, hew down their Asherim, and burn their graven images with fire.” Their altars were their places of worship, their temples. These places of worship could be in buildings, but often they were in fields, olive groves, and forests. The sacred pillars were the places on which the idols sat. The Asherim was a Babylonian-Canaanite goddess of fortune and happiness and the consort of Baal. The word  “Asherim” referred to the many gods, too. The idols of these gods were most often wooden tipped in gold or silver. They burned easily. Interestingly, during the Reformation, the Scottish reformers did this and people of the time called them vandals. God’s purpose, though, is to keep His people set apart for Him because He chose/elected them for His own.
            The last verse of the writer’s first stating the law of the ban is verse six and it says, “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God: the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” To be holy is God consecrating and setting apart a person or people for His purposes. The word “chosen” is the Hebrew word bachar, which means to choose, elect, decide for, and select. God selected the Hebrew people not because they were the largest and most important nation. On the contrary, they were one of the smallest nations in the world at that time. He chose them because of His faithfulness to His covenant with Abraham, a man God called His friend (Genesis 15:5-6 and James 2:23). Because of Abraham’s faith in God, God considered him righteous and called him friend. God chose the Hebrews because of Abraham’s righteousness and because God is faithful to His promises. When God chose the Hebrews, He called them “His treasure.” The word “possession” in Hebrew means valued treasure. The Hebrews were God’s special treasure out of all the people on the earth (Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 4:20, 14:2, 26:18; Psalm 135:4; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9). As inheritors of sonship through Jesus Christ, God calls believers/Christians today His special treasure, too.
            God placed a prohibition on idolatry so the people would just worship the LORD. By doing this, they would fulfill the most important part of the covenant, the first commandment. Anyone who reads the Bible notices this prohibition was difficult for the Israelites. One generation after another fell and worshipped other gods. We today have this same problem. We have distractions that lead us to put more importance on things and people other than God, who requires absolute allegiance and single-minded devotion.
            What enables a person or people to stay strong in their devotion is recounting the blessings God gave him, her, or them. Moses recounted for the Israelites in verses seven through fifteen the blessings from God. Verses 7 and 8 told the Israelites and tell us today “The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the LORD loved you and kept an oath which He swore to your forefathers.” As stated in earlier paragraphs, God chose them because of His love for them and His oath to Abraham. God blessed them with His love and faithfulness. He blessed them, too, with His strength and power with which He redeemed (ransomed, rescued, and saved) them from slavery, Egypt, and Pharaoh (vs. 8b).
Moses continued and highlighted these blessings again in verse nine. He said, “Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God (Deut. 6:4); the faithful God who keeps His covenant and loving-kindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments.” The word “know” in Hebrew is yada, which means to perceive, recognize, acknowledge, and confess. Notice a continual and expanding knowledge of something occurs with knowing. When a person first encounters a new idea, teaching, or leader, they know about them. As they study it or the person more, they begin to recognize its/his/her influence in their world. As they recognize more, they acknowledge their recognition and then confess to follow the idea, thought, or leader. Moses meant this when He said, “Know therefore that the LORD your God; He is God.” The Israelites had forty years of personal acquaintance, knowledge, and experience of the LORD and His commandments. They had testimony of Him in their lives. Now, Moses said, it was time for them to confess that the “LORD your God, He is God!” On the other side of “knowing the LORD is God,” we find God meted out judgment on those who hate Him. The haters are the ones who choose not to confess the LORD is God. Verse 10 states this judgment by saying, “But [God] repays those who hate Him to their face, to destroy them; He will not delay with him who hates Him, He will repay him to his face.” The Israelites knew about this part of the covenant. There are always two sides to an agreement or promise – the part when both parties meet their obligations and the part where one party does not receive what was obligated by the faithless party. For the Israelites, they inherit the Promised Land because of God’s faithfulness to his covenant with Abraham. In chapter six, the Israelites will "possess" the land when they meet the obligations of their covenant with God. That covenant is the Ten Commandments. If they are not faithful to their covenant with God by obeying the Ten Commandments, God can dispossess them from the Promised Land just as He planned to dispossess the Canaanites. Where expectation is, at least two possibilities are – the fulfillment of the expectation and reward or the lack of fulfillment and punishment. Moses reminded the Israelites of this in verse ten.
Because of this covenant via the Ten Commandments, Moses commanded,
Therefore, you shall keep the commandments and the statutes and the judgments, which I am commanding you today, to do them. Then it shall come about, because you listen to these judgments and keep and do them that the LORD your God will keep with you His covenant and His loving-kindness, which He swore to your forefathers. (7:11-12 [NASB])
God, as the loving Father, told His expectations and made known what would occur if they obeyed or not. Because they realized the outcome of faithlessness, Moses believed the Israelites would obey God and keep His commandments. That is why he commanded them to keep and do them in verse eleven. Remember, “keep” in Hebrew is shamar and it means to listen and do/obey.
            Verses 12 and 13a same the same thing as verses nine through eleven except in reverse order. Moses said, “Then it shall come about, because you listen to these judgments and keep and do them, that the LORD your God will keep with you His covenant and His loving-kindness which He swore to your forefathers. He will love you and bless you.” God’s love and faithfulness to the Israelites calls the reply to Him with their love and faithfulness expressed in their obedience to His commandments. God’s keeping the covenant conditions is comparable to Israel keeping God’s laws. By obeying God, people show their love and reverence for Him. God’s love for the Israelites was due to His faithfulness to His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and nothing to do with the Israelites’ worthiness. God’s election/choosing of every person has nothing to do with the person’s worthiness and all to do with His love and grace.
            The blessings of God Moses reminded the Israelites continue through verses thirteen to fifteen. God will love, bless, and multiply them – their womb, the produce of their ground, and the womb of their animals. Moses specifically stated they and their cattle would not be barren (vs. 14). In addition to this, Moses said, “The LORD will remove from you all sickness and He will not put on you any of the harmful diseases of Egypt, which you have known, but He will lay them on all who hate you.” The people, the land, and their animals would be fruitful. God would protect them from the diseases the Israelites learned of in Egypt. The illnesses and diseases indigenous to Egypt were dysentery, smallpox, opthalmia, and the plague.
These blessings God gave them and promised to give the Israelites if they remained faithful to their covenant with Him. The greatest commandment is to love the LORD God only and absolutely. The other nine commandments hinged on this one. Should the Israelites have forgotten, Moses reminded them of the ban again in verse sixteen and God added that they shall not serve other gods. Verse 16 says, “You shall consume all the peoples whom the LORD your God will deliver to you; your eye shall not pity them, nor shall you serve their gods for that would be a snare to you.” Serving other gods is the heart of what God is protecting the Israelites from when He issued this law of the ban. The destruction of the gods of the land of Canaan and their influence to lead the people to idolatry is the center of this law. The Israelites could cross the Jordan River, defeat a few of the nations, see the wealth and splendor of the land and think, “The gods of these people are why the land is plentiful and the people wealthy; therefore, we should worship their gods, too.” God commanded the destruction of the idols to pre-empt this temptation/snare.
In the next section of this chapter, verses seventeen through twenty-four, the writer wrote in a different style. The purpose of these eight verses is to inspire warriors to battle. Should the Israelites consider themselves too small and insignificant to defeat the Canaanites, they should remember what God did to Pharaoh and Egypt (vs. 17-19). Should they still consider they are not able to defeat the nations, they can be assured God will use means they have not considered, such as the hornet (vs. 20). God used hornets at other times, too (Exodus 23:28 and Joshua 24:12, past and future). God uses obvious and unusual means to make His will occur. Moses told the Israelites they “shall not dread them for the LORD your God is in your midst, a great and awesome God” (vs. 21). The Israelites could not drive the people out of Canaan with their own strength. They were too small in number. The only way the Hebrews could be victorious was through God’s strength and wisdom, wisdom that included other things in its arsenal besides people. The resources of their selves are not what the Israelites should focus on, but, instead, on the LORD and His power as He showed them in Egypt. Since God could defeat one of the mightiest nations at the time, He could defeat seven smaller nations. The Israelites must not despair because God’s mighty hand and outstretched arm would strike the people and cause fear in the hearts of every person (vs. 21). Moses told them the LORD would clear the nations before them little by little because “the wild beasts would grow too numerous” (vs. 22). The Hebrew word used as “wild beasts” is chayah and means living things. We then can interpret this verse in one of two ways. The "wild beasts" could refer to the people of Canaan who would be too numerous for the Israelites to defeat quickly. That being so, God would whittle away at the people of the seven nations. Alternatively, as a few commentators think, the "wild beasts" are literal animals. The Israelites would defeat only a small number of people at a time because the carcasses of the dead people would become too great and attract too many predatory/carrion animals to the vicinity where the Israelites were at the time. Either interpretation shows God’s genius in making the plan. He did not want to overwhelm the Israelites with the enormous size of the task of claiming the Promised Land in too short a time. Another tactic of God’s war plan was to throw the nations into confusion until their destruction (vs. 23). God used confusion for His benefit many times, such as the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:19, the confusion of the Egyptian army in Exodus 14:24, the confusion of the Philistines in 1 Samuel 7:10, as well as in Joshua 10:10, 2 Chronicles 20, Esther 3:15, and Acts 21:31. Through God’s use of these and other tactics, the Israelites would destroy kings and nations and the Promised Land would be won and given to the Israelites. Moses made sure they understood God would bring the victory. He said, “He will deliver the kings into your hand, make their name and reputation vanish on earth. No one man will be able to stand before you until you have destroyed them” (vs. 24). The fear of the Israelites and their God preceded them and God assured them of the victory.
After His war speech, Moses encapsulated this sermon on the ban with a stronger restatement of it. He strengthened it by saying the images are banned. As we see in verse twenty-six, Moses used the word "ban." The Hebrew word for the English word “ban” is cherem and means curse and devote to destruction. This, then, means God bans, curses, and wants the destruction of the idols and they shall not be in one’s house or life. Verses twenty-five through twenty-six say,
The graven images of their gods you are to burn with fire; you shall not covet the silver or the gold that is on them, nor take it for yourselves, or you will be ensnared for it is an abomination to the LORD your God. You shall not bring an abomination into your house, and like it come under the ban; you shall utterly detest it and you shall utterly abhor it, for it is something banned. [NASB]
God commanded the complete destruction of the idols, as well as the gold and silver on them. They must not be coveted or included in one's life. God commanded this because they could trap and tempt the Israelites to worship them instead of the Him. Moses called them an abomination - disgusting, wicked, detestable, and in a religious ritual sense, unclean. God taught the Israelites the idols are cursed. The Israelites must destroy them. Banned means this - unclean and set aside for destruction.
            That the law of the ban encloses the blessings of God and the war speech may appear odd. Considering the Israelites would doubt their ability to defeat the Canaanites and they would face temptation to incorporate the Canaanite way of life with their own, placing the ban around this whole chapter is appropriate. How many times are we encouraged when we remember God’s strength and presence in our lives? How many times are we encouraged when we count our blessings and revere the One giving the blessing instead of revering the blessing itself? The whole chapter revolves ultimately around the first commandment. Moses reminded the Israelites to stay faithful in their covenant with Yahweh God because He is the one who chose them and loved them even though they were unworthy of these actions of God. They were not worthy of God’s salvation from Egypt or the wilderness. Neither were they worthy of God’s blessing of the Promised Land. God’s blessings and love, though, are not about us, but about Him. God is the reason we understand about love and experience it. He is the source of blessings. We would not know God’s love or blessing or experience them if He did not give them, but He did give them. From the beginning of time, God created us to be in a relationship with Him (Ephesians 1:4, 2:10; 2 Thessalonians 2:13). He created us to know, want, and give love. Knowing this, how can we not love the LORD God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength? This makes following the first and successive commandments simple. As chapter six taught, obedience of the commandments of God is the most perfect expression of our love of Him.
Because He loves us so much as to want us even though we are unworthy, how can we not choose to follow Him? God loves us so much that He sacrificed His Son, Jesus Christ, so we can be redeemed from our sin and its penalty. Because we know this great love is there for our asking, what stops you from calling to God and accepting His love and grace? Jesus paid the ransom price for your sin so you can be in a love relationship with the Father. What greater love is there? Jesus said ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you (Matthew 7:7-8). When you are ready to receive God’s love and love Him in return, then ask, seek, and knock. God promises He will be found by you.