In the second half of Chapter 6 Moses preached to the people about their lives in the Promised Land after the conquest. In Chapter 7 he discusses the conquest itself. He instructs them as to their role in driving out the inhabitants of Canaan and reassures them that God’s presence and power will be with them as they go forward. He also rehearses the incredible blessings of the covenant and stresses their position as God’s chosen people. Moses uses this section to both warn a historically disobedient people and encourage a fearful people as they prepare to enter the land.
Moses begins to instruct the people in more detail about the conquest of the land. He mentions seven nations that are greater and stronger than you that God will clear away. This list is not meant to be exhaustive but is representative of the main groups to be defeated. The main point is that the people groups Israel will destroy are mightier than them (what the people realized 38 years ago at Kadesh when they refused to enter the land) but God will fight for Israel and deliver them before you.
God gives them eight commands regarding the people of Canaan:
- You shall utterly destroy them (2).
- You shall make no covenant with them (2).
- You shall show no favor to them (2).
- You shall not intermarry with them (3).
- You shall tear down their altars (5).
- You shall smash their sacred pillars (5).
- You shall hew down their Asherim (5).
- You shall burn their graven images with fire (5).
God makes it very clear that they are to rid Canaan completely of all its inhabitants. In verse 16 He says, “Your eye shall not pity them.” When He says to utterly destroy them He means they must kill every man, woman, child and animal. He instructs them more fully in 20:15-16 – “Only in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that breathes. But you shall utterly destroy them…as the Lord your God has commanded you.”
Israel’s conquest is more than just the fulfillment of God’s promise to His chosen people – it is His judgment on pagan nations that have been storing up wrath for generations. The Canaanites worship idols, they burn their children, they engage in cult prostitution – there is almost nothing ungodly they do not practice (12:31, 18:9-13, Lev 18). Thus God will destroy them root and branch.
These kinds of commands in the Old Testament (see also I Sam 15:3) can seem brutal and hard to understand until we remember that this is how judgment works. This is not brutality for the sake of brutality or for intimidation or revenge. It is judgment. When sin is judged there are no survivors. It is what final judgment is. This is what will happen in the last days. It is what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah and what happened in the Genesis Flood.
That we are uncomfortable with passages like this also shows how much more seriously God takes sin than we do. God sees sin for what it is – awful and powerful and pervasive – and cannot abide it in any form. We oftentimes see it as something to be dabbled in or simply a part of us that God easily forgives. Perhaps instead of worrying about how to justify God’s actions, we should be sobered by our casual acceptance of what causes the death of every living thing in Canaan.
Utterly destroying the people of the land also ensures they will not lead Israel astray into the worship of pagan gods. This goes along with the commands to not intermarry in verses 3-4. Israel is God’s chosen nation – what fellowship can it have with nations that are not His?
In one sense it seems unnecessary to command against intermarrying since God just commanded them to kill every living thing in the land. But later in the chapter – verse 22 – He tells them that they will not clear the land all at once so as not to have it overrun with wild beasts. Thus Israel will live for a time alongside some of the pagan nations. And during that time they are to have nothing to do with them (or else risk suffering the curses of the covenant). They will eventually utterly destroy them – they cannot in the interim intermarry with them.
Along with destroying every living thing the Israelites must destroy all remnants of the Canaanite worship. Even after the people are gone, the idols themselves could tempt Israel to break the first two commandments. The idols and sacred sites must be torn down, smashed, hewn and burned (see also vs. 25). God leaves no doubt as to the importance of His people worshiping Him alone.
The reason God will bring the Israelites into the land and displace the current residents is because they are a holy people whom God has chosen for His own possession. God has set His love on them and redeemed them from the house of slavery.
God did not choose them because they were mighty – they actually were the fewest of all peoples – but because He loved them and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers. Moses effectively says that God chose them because He chose them – He loved them because He decided to love them. They did not do anything to warrant God’s choice or love – He loves them and is their God because of Himself.
[It is notable – and we have pointed this out numerous times in our studies – that God repeatedly chooses weak and otherwise unspectacular people to accomplish His purposes. He tends to choose people whose abilities make it very clear that the glory for their achievements belongs somewhere else. He chooses Israel as a lowly nation and makes it the most feared nation in the area. It is worth remembering this point when we are tempted to be proud of what we accomplish for God.]
Nothing they do warrants being the people of God. And nothing they do can change the arrangement. Their safety and prosperity in the land are contingent on their obedience to the covenant, but their status as God’s people is not. God chose them – thus they cannot change or reverse that choice.
In verse 9 Moses explains again the blessing and curse of the first two commandments (and the covenant). God is faithful and cannot do anything other than keep His covenant, and if they obey they will be blessed to the thousandth generation. Their love for Him will be shown by their obedience – just as Jesus says in John 14:15 & 15:10 – and those who obey will pass on that obedience to subsequent generations who will enjoy the blessings of the covenant in perpetuity. However, for those who disobey they will suffer as the Canaanites will suffer – they will ultimately be thrown out of the land and destroyed. God will repay those who hate Him to their faces (individually and directly), to destroy them.
Verse 11 gives the proper response to the covenant and to being the holy people of God. Therefore, you shall keep the commandment and the statutes and the judgments which I am commanding you today, to do them. They do not obey to become the people of God – they obey BECAUSE they are the people of God and because of the covenant they made with Him. Obedience does not determine status – it is a result of status. Obedience is always a response.
Moses goes into more detail regarding the blessings of the covenant (see also 28:1-14). If they obey the Law of God:
- He will love you and bless you and multiply you.
- He will bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground.
- He will bless your grain and your new wine and your oil.
- He will bless the increase of your herd and the young of your flock.
- You shall be blessed above all peoples.
- There shall be no male or female barren among you or among your cattle.
- He shall remove from you all sickness.
- He will not put on you any of the harmful diseases of Egypt which you have known, but will lay them on all who hate you (this is either a reference to the plagues or to diseases that afflicted Israel during its time in slavery – perhaps there were diseases native to Egypt that were especially hard on Israel?).
This list and others like it are amazing. God promises them almost a perfect existence. No disease, no droughts, no barrenness either among themselves or their livestock, no times of unfruitfulness for their crops or vineyards and no threats from those who hate them. Total peace and prosperity. This is the Old Testament version of the health and wealth gospel – only this is actually true and based not on sending money to a televangelist but on obedience. If they obey they will enjoy almost unheard-of blessings.
AND YET – we know they will not. They know this list and will have it repeated and enhanced in later addresses and they still will not obey. They will either forget the blessings of the covenant or decide they are not enough to warrant obedience. We have pointed this out before in this study, but it is amazing how often we see God promising incredible blessings for obedience and yet watch as His people continue to disobey. How could anyone see this list and ask, “What about Plan B?”
We are the same. We know the only contented life is the one seeking after God’s kingdom and walking with Him but we still choose the passing pleasures of sin and its inherent dissatisfaction. Just like the Israelites, we know the incredible rewards of the life of faith but we still oftentimes choose to walk by sight instead.
This section is the converse of the episode at Massah that Moses referred to in 6:16. These verses give us a model we can use during times of trial. Instead of testing God when we become frightened we are to remember and trust. There is a difference between fear that cries out for God’s strength and fear that demands God prove Himself. One is trusting – the other is testing.
Moses has already mentioned that the nations Israel will displace are greater and stronger (vs. 1) than the people of God. Here he refers back to that and encourages the Israelites not to be afraid. He knows they will have weak times when they contemplate what they are about to do and possibly lose heart (as their fathers did at Kadesh). He wants to head this off and so openly acknowledges it now.
He encourages them to remember what God did for them in bringing them out of Egypt. They are to remember the great trials which your eyes saw and the signs and the wonders and the mighty hand and the outstretched arm by which the Lord your God brought you out. If God can do what He did to Egypt He can certainly take care of the Canaanites. And since He fought for Israel then, He will certainly fight for them now – He will not leave them to face the inhabitants alone but will send the hornet against them.
They must also remember who and what and where God is. He is in your midst. He is a great and awesome God. He is the awesome Yahweh and He is YOUR God who goes with and before YOU.
Moses’ words to Israel also instruct and encourage us. How do we face times that try us and scare us? We should first notice that Moses does not criticize them for being afraid – he simply recognizes it. He describes their fear in verse 17 and then acknowledges it in verse 19 – “… the peoples of whom you are afraid.” Fear itself is not necessarily bad – it is our response to fear which is critical. Fear that causes us to run to God for His strength is not a bad thing.
First step – remember our redemption. Israel is to remember its deliverance from Egypt and God’s mighty works in accomplishing it. We are to remember our deliverance from sin and God’s mighty works in accomplishing it. If God can save us then He can protect us and guide us. If He can work out redemption for mankind then He can preserve us during difficult trials in life.
Second – God fights for us and with us and we never fight alone. Just as God will send the hornet against Israel’s enemies, He who redeemed us will continue to redeem us and will never leave or forsake us.
Lastly – remember who and what and where God is. He is great and awesome and He is in our midst. Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world (I Jn 4:4).
Something we must not miss as we study Moses’ sermon is that God never says He will drive out the people of Canaan entirely on His own. He will fight against the Canaanites and send the hornet against them (20) and shall deliver them before you (23) – but the people still must enter the land and fight. God goes with them but He does not fight without them.
Could God simply remove the people from Canaan and let Israel come in and occupy an empty land? Absolutely. But in His wisdom and in His concern for His own glory He knows there is a better way. If the people do not fight themselves they will not witness firsthand His glorious works and they will not learn to depend on Him. If He clears away everything in front of them they will not learn to walk and fight by faith. They will ultimately be helped by the process – the fight itself will deepen their faith in and their knowledge of God.
This goes along with the situation referenced in verse 22. God will not destroy the people of the land all at once but will clear them little by little. If He did, much of the land would lay empty and Israel could not settle it fast enough to keep it from becoming reclaimed by nature. Moses says specifically that the danger of a fast conquest is that the wild beasts grow too numerous for you.
God’s perfect timing will thus spare Israel serious trouble. He knows the downsides of a fast conquest and so takes steps to ensure it takes longer. In His infinite wisdom and unlimited view He sees and knows more than the people and so puts the brakes on a very good thing. He will make sure it takes a little longer than it otherwise would so the people gain as good a land as possible.
It would be interesting to ask the average Israelite listening to Moses what he thinks about this news. It is likely that he would say that from his standpoint it would be nice if God just took care of things in the land and then simply handed them the keys. Or else that God would march before them in battle and enable them to route the inhabitants as quickly as possible so they could have peace and prosperity right away.
But that is not how God chooses to act in this situation. And it is not How He chooses to act in most situations. God tends to work with us and through us rather than unilaterally (this sheds light on prayer). And He tends to go with us through trials rather than deliver us from them. And God does everything in His own time which we rarely understand or appreciate until typically long after the fact. God knows there is profit in the process and knows perfectly how long the process should take – and we benefit from both. It is living through the trials – for as long as they last – that makes us more useful for His kingdom and more fully aware of God’s glory and strength (James 1:3-4).
The “little by little” promise continues to be relevant in the lives of believing people. When we are broken and bruised by life’s experiences and sometimes feel we have failed to be at our best in them, we dream of a dramatically instant salvation that, once and forever, will give us constant, effortless deliverance. If only we could lose, in a flash, the downward pull of our ‘old nature’ and, in one single trusting moment, be free forever from every insidious temptation and life’s unremitting conflict. But that is not how God works. He promises that we shall be saved, but only by continual dependence upon Him. The renewing work will not be accomplished overnight. A ‘once and forever’ deliverance might make us independent, prayerless and proud. The process of ‘being transformed into His likeness’ is achieved only as we behold ‘the Lord’s glory’ (II Cor 3:18), and looking at Him is the work of a lifetime. For those who live for Christ, the transformation certainly happens, but “little by little.” – Raymond Brown, The Message of Deuteronomy
God will march before the people and deliver the land into their hands. But in the meantime they must fight in His strength and live in His time.
Lessons for Us
Like Israel we are a chosen people set apart by God for holiness.
As holy people we must have nothing to do with other gods.
As chosen people we respond to God with loving obedience.
The blessings of obedience (different for us) far outweigh the passing pleasures of sin.
Even as the people of God we will face trials that make us afraid.
Our response to fear should be to remember that God chose us and redeemed us.
He is greater than anyone or anything in the world and He is with us because we are His.
He will go with us through any trial but does all things in His own time.