IN the book of Deuteronomy, we see the Lord, through Moses, giving commands to his people as to how they are to deal with the inhabitants of the promised land. Remember that the Lord told the people of Israel to go into the land and to wipe out all who dwelt there. Israel was to be the tool of God’s judgment on peoples who practiced great evil including idolatry, sexual depravity, and child sacrifice.
As God gives these instructions, there is an interesting motivation that he has for Israel to utterly destroy the people of Canaan that is instructive for us today. No, we are not called to do violence or to take any land by military force. But there is a thing to learn for sure.
Deuteronomy 20:16-18 – 16 But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, 17 but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded, 18 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.
In verse 18, the Lord gives the people of Israel a reason why they need to observe his command to completely destroy the evil nations in the land. The word “that” at the beginning of the verse tells us that God is giving a reason why behind his command. HE does not have to do this, but his why is helpful to us.
In verse 18, the lord gives this as a reason for Israel to destroy the peoples of Canaan: “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.” Notice that a motivating reason for what Israel was called to do is so that they would not be persuaded by the nations who lived in the land to adopt their evil practices. The Canaanites were killing their children as offerings to false gods. The Canaanites were incorporating sexual perversion into their religious ceremonies. The Canaanites were violent and cruel, without justice or righteousness in their governing. And God says to the people of Israel that he does not want them to go into these people’s land, learn from them, and then begin to adopt their perversion. God was protecting Israel from sinning against him and earning for themselves the very destruction that they were to bring upon the Canaanites.
I’m glad that we are not in an era when the people of God are called to take lands by military force. But, perhaps we can learn a thing or two from what God said here. God told Israel that, when they entered their new homeland, they were not to adopt anything of the cultures they conquered. They were not to dress like the Canaanites, eat like the Canaanites, worship like the Canaanites, or adopt the morals of the Canaanites. When it came to religion and morality, the Israelites were to completely and utterly do away with Canaanite practices and follow only the word of the Almighty.
I wonder what it would look like if believers in the 21st century were to take that angle, the motivational angle, of this passage seriously. What would it be like if we determined that we would not, in any way, adopt the culture of the lost around us? Examine yourself. Where do you already adopt the culture’s values, religion, or morality? Is your worship fully circumscribed by what God has commanded in his word? Is your view of gender and sexuality fully consistent with what God has commanded? Is your entertainment fitting with what God calls righteous?
Christians, we are not to take the world by military force. But neither are we to allow the world, in its persuasions, to press us into its mold. We are to turn from ungodly practices and thinking. We are to worship and live in accord with Scripture in all things. This principle was important enough to God to be the motivation for what God commanded Israel to do in the land of Canaan. It is certainly important enough for us to look at our own lives and go through our thinking and morality and worship with the same absolute fervor.