Reading the Bible daily is an excellent thing to do. It recalibrates our thinking so that the contamination of the world around us can be seen for what it is. In other words, it keeps us in the truth. But there are some passages in the Bible that are puzzling or downright irksome. See, for example, Deuteronomy 7:1-2 (NKJV)
1 “When the Lord your God brings you into the land which you go to possess, and has cast out many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than you, 2 and when the Lord your God delivers them over to you, you shall conquer them and utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them nor show mercy to them.
The Apostle Paul refers to these verses in Acts 13:19 (NKJV) :
19 And when He had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, He distributed their land to them by allotment.
For contemporary readers, the Old Testament’s catalogue of wipings out of nations for the sake of setting up a promised land for the Israelites comes into this category of irksome Bible passages. We really do need to look at it carefully, though, and not give ourselves ready permission to write it off. We have been given the whole of Scripture for a reason. There must be a cohesive Bible message that spans both the Old Testament and New Testament.
There were several wars between the Israelites and the various inhabitants of the land of Canaan. These inhabitants often prevented Israel’s receiving the land promised to her by God. Note, though, that God called His people to negotiate with the other nations first and to only give in to war when there was no cooperation. Lack of cooperation was a ‘no’ to God Himself although it was ostensibly a ‘no’ just to the people of God. See Deuteronomy 20:10-18 (NASB) :
10 “When you approach a city to fight against it, you shall offer it terms of peace. 11 If it agrees to make peace with you and opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall become your forced labor and shall serve you. 12 However, if it does not make peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it. 13 When the LORD your God gives it into your hand, you shall strike all the men in it with the edge of the sword. 14 Only the women and the children and the animals and all that is in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty for yourself; and you shall use the spoil of your enemies which the LORD your God has given you. 15 Thus you shall do to all the cities that are very far from you, which are not of the cities of these nations nearby. 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. 17 But you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittite and the Amorite, the Canaanite and the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, as the LORD your God has commanded you, 18 so that they may not teach you to do according to all their detestable things which they have done for their gods, so that you would sin against the LORD your God.
Note that the reason for forced labour or war against these nations was
18 so that they may not teach you to do according to all their detestable things which they have done for their gods, so that you would sin against the LORD your God.
Yet God had also expressed His displeasure with Israel for her idolatry in the wilderness following the exodus from Egypt. See Deuteronomy 9:1-6 (ESV)
1 “Hear, O Israel: you are to cross over the Jordan today, to go in to dispossess nations greater and mightier than you, cities great and fortified up to heaven, 2 a people great and tall, the sons of the Anakim, whom you know, and of whom you have heard it said, ‘Who can stand before the sons of Anak?’ 3 Know therefore today that he who goes over before you as a consuming fire is the Lord your God. He will destroy them and subdue them before you. So you shall drive them out and make them perish quickly, as the Lord has promised you. 4 “Do not say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you. 5 Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. 6 “Know, therefore, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people.
Warfare against oppositional nations was commanded by God not only for the purpose of punishment for their indescribable barbaric and cruel idolatry and practices, but in order that a beachhead be established for God’s kingdom on earth. ‘Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’. The word ‘beachhead’ is not used in Scripture. It is an apt word nonetheless because God’s purpose in establishing Israel in her own land was to provide an earthly home for His people, His laws and His temple. From here, the people would be instructed by God’s priests, prophets, judges and eventually, kings. The instruction given to the people was intended to purify them, as it were, through teaching them God’s revelations given to people appointed by God for the receiving, transmitting and safekeeping of these revelations. Moses, for example, was given the Ten Commandments from God which were inscribed onto tablets of stone and later housed in the Ark of the Covenant and placed in the temple. These revelations from God are believed by God’s people to be the only reliable source of truth. These revelations are not man’s concoctions but are from God.
Purity of the people of God was called for by God so that Israel would be a suitable vessel for transmitting God’s light to the surrounding nations. Israel was to be a shining light in the midst of barbarity. Being a shining light was not an end in itself. God was providing, through Israel, a source of the knowledge of truth to the pagan nations surrounding Israel. Although Israel’s own history was to lead to eventual exile, such were her failures in following God faithfully, sometimes even an unwilling prophet was used by God in His care of pagans. Through God’s sending of Jonah to the pagan city of Ninevah, the people of that city repented in sackcloth and ashes and turned to God. See Jonah 3:6-10 (ESV) :
6 The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7 And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, 8 but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9 Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” 10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.
We see here God’s love for the pagans and His use of His people, or one of His people in the case of Jonah, whom God sent to preach to Ninevah. And here follows a beautiful word from God:
Jonah 4:11 (ESV) 11 And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”
We see that God had reason to displace the inhabitants of Canaan with His own people. It was not just for Israel whom He had chosen as His people but also for the good of all peoples. What appears as injustice is actually the highest justice of all.