The main thought of this chapter is the sanctification of the people to God. This includes rejecting all the ways of the Gentiles and the Gentiles themselves. It is not about the sanctification of any particular class, for example priests, but of the whole people that God gathers around Himself as ordained to Him. Priests and Levites are hardly mentioned in this book. They are seen as part of the people. In the wilderness the differences between these groups are large; in the land they are relatively small.
1 - 5 Utterly Destroy Nations and Their Idolatry
1 “When the LORD your God brings you into the land where you are entering to possess it, and clears away 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 stronger than you, 2 and when the LORD your God delivers them before you and you defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them. 3 Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons. 4 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. 5 But thus you shall do to them: you shall tear down their altars, and smash their [sacred] pillars, and hew down their Asherim, and burn their graven images with fire.
Until now we had more the inner condition of the people before us. Now we are being given the duty to the outside world. The nations must be utterly destroyed because they are an obstacle to inheriting and enjoying the land’s blessing. God wants us to learn that the blessings He has given us can only be taken possession of by us through struggle to enjoy them.
They must destroy these nations, not on the basis of murder, but as executors of divine judgment. These nations have earned that judgment righteously from God. Research has shown that at that time they were the most depraved peoples of the earth. God has endured them for 400 years, but now their iniquity is full (Gen 15:16-21).
God could also have exterminated these nations by disease, hunger, or natural disasters (cf. Eze 38:21-22). But he lets His people do it, so that they may receive the serious lesson of how holy He is and how terrible sin is in His sight. The judgment they pronounce will be their portion if they follow the nations in their sins and abominations.
Seven nations are mentioned who have taken over the land of God unlawfully. The number seven shows that in these nations the complete power of wickedness is seen. They are a picture of the rulers and powers and world forces, spiritual powers of wickedness in the heavenly places. Against these powers is our struggle and not, as with Israel, against flesh and blood: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual [forces] of wickedness in the heavenly [places]” (Eph 6:12).
The only way to take possession of the inheritance is through struggle and victory. We are placed in the inheritance by God – He “raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly [places] in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:6) – but enemies have taken possession of it and want to prevent us from experiencing actual proprietorship. In Israel’s case, the promise is that the LORD will deliver the enemy to His people, so that they are capable of defeating them. For us, the Lord Jesus defeated all enemies on the cross and in His resurrection (Heb 2:14; Col 2:15). With Him as our Leader, victory is certain when we go in the armor God has made available to us (Eph 6:13-18).
Israel must not show these enemies any mercy or make any covenant with them. They must be “utterly destroyed”. For us, believers of the church, it applies that we cannot make a covenant with unbelievers (2Cor 6:14), but we must show them grace and do them good. Proving grace and doing good suits the revelation of God our Savior in this day and age (1Tim 2:3-4).
What we should not show any mercy to are the wicked powers, which are the principles by which unbelievers let themselves be guided. That is why we cannot commit ourselves to social groups that pursue noble goals, or to political parties that want to improve the world. The principles behind it are not from God.
In the land nothing can be tolerated that does not come from obedience to God. Only what He gives is appropriate for the land. Therefore, all that is not of Him must be destroyed with the axe and fire (verse 5). This means that the altars and sacred pillars used to serve the idols should not be cleansed and then consecrated to God. This happened in Christianity with the Christianization of originally pagan feasts such as Christmas and the worship of Mary.
The inheritance contrasts with things in our lives that make enjoyment impossible. The types do not speak about what we have become in principle, but about living and experiencing the truths of the New Testament. We have received an inheritance in the light (Col 1:12). This contrasts with our salvation from the power of darkness. What we already own, we must now enjoy. We do this in the midst of the world of darkness from which we are redeemed. To really enjoy, we must remove all remnants of darkness and thus make the heritage our actual property.
It is not God’s intention that we own an inheritance without knowing about it and enjoying it to the full. When John speaks of eternal life in his letters, he does so as something we already own and not as something we will only get later. Therefore, the enemies must be driven out of our lives to enjoy it. We can overcome the powers in our lives through the power of the Spirit.
The more terrain the enemy possesses, the less we can enjoy the blessings. Everything that is attractive to the flesh is dangerous and must be disposed of, otherwise we lose the blessings (verse 16). God gives a blessing in place of every evil we drive out of our lives. He fills every terrain that we conquer from the enemy and adds abundantly when, to Him, we humbly submit.
It is a matter of expelling the enemy so that we may inherit the land and be a pleasure to God. An absolute separation is needed with the world forces of such darkness. God wants us for His own possession: to be in fellowship with us. This is only possible if our thoughts correspond to His and we have the same interest as He does. What is it like in the families? Are the parents seeking this for their children?
6 - 11 Chosen out of Love
6 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. 7 “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, 8 but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the LORD brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9 Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments; 10 but repays those who hate Him to their faces, to destroy them; He will not delay with him who hates Him, He will repay him to his face. 11 Therefore, you shall keep the commandment and the statutes and the judgments which I am commanding you today, to do them.
We are a holy people for an own possession: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God’s] own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1Pet 2:9; Tit 2:14). God wants a people for Himself. The heritage is for us, but we are for God. God has “predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself according to the kind intention of His will” (Eph 1:5). The same pleasure He has in His Son, He has extended to us. Then we should be a holy people who do not desire compromise, but drive out everything that does not belong to Him.
Deuteronomy 7 serves to highlight how much the heart of God goes out to His people. God has not chosen the people because of their attractiveness. There is nothing in ourselves prompting God to make us sons and bestowing the inheritance to us. It is a love that finds its source and motivation fully in God Himself: “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). When we think of ourselves, isn’t it a great miracle that He chose us? He is therefore worthy of worship for all eternity.
Sons of God and being under the law do not belong together. Sons are not under the law. Every action of God with His sons is out of love and because He is longing to have fellowship with them. That excludes all sin. For everything we remove, we receive a greater blessing in return from Him.
He also attached an oath, a promise, to the election which originated exclusively in Himself. For Israel this oath is connected with the patriarchs and ultimately, of course, with the Son. In our case, that promise is directly connected to the Son.
God always remains faithful to what He has said. He also has all the means at his disposal to do what He has said. When his people are in bondage, he redeems them. Salvation is a proof of His faithfulness to His Word. His faithfulness continues “to a thousandth generation.” He is also faithful, unchanging, to His announcement of the judgment. God is love, and God is also light (1Jn 4:8,16; 1:5). He cannot deny His nature, His being. He always remains faithful to Himself (2Tim 2:13).
For Him, the people are not a mass, but individuals who together form a people. Each of them is personally responsible for the acts committed. He retaliates to each and every one personally, without delay. The verdict He makes is perfectly just and directly executable. Appeal is neither possible nor necessary. A process that will take years to complete is unthinkable in His exercise of law.
All that has been said in the previous section is a great encouragement to listen to the call of Moses – for us, the Lord Jesus – in verse 11. There has been talk of their election by the LORD, the love of the LORD, His oath, the redemption from Egypt, His covenant with them, His faithfulness and lovingkindness toward them, His retribution upon those who hate Him.
1. “Commandments” are precepts in which God orders or prohibits clearly defined acts.
2. “Statutes” are guidelines for action in order to serve Him.
3. “Judgments” define the people by the right that God has over them. This concerns their daily life, public conduct, and their mutual association as members of God's people.
12 - 16 Blessing as a Reward
12 “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 lovingkindness which He swore to your forefathers. 13 He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your new wine and your oil, the increase of your herd and the young of your flock, in the land which He swore to your forefathers to give you. 14 You shall be blessed above all peoples; there will be no male or female barren among you or among your cattle. 15 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. 16 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.
By keeping God’s commandments, the people can show that they love God. This in turn results in God’s special love. It gives Him opportunity, so to speak, to declare a new reason for His love for them. He loves the people from Himself, but He also wants His people to feel His love based on what He finds of them in the practice of their lives (verse 13).
This also applies to us and to a more intimate degree. The Lord Jesus speaks about this in the upper room with His disciples. There He tells how keeping the commandments and love for Him belong together (Jn 14:21). The reward of this is to experience the love of the Father and the Lord Jesus and to gain an insight into the further glory of the Son. Our knowledge of the Person and the work of the Lord Jesus will increase.
The commandments mentioned by the Lord Jesus are not the Ten Commandments. They don’t promise a revelation of the Son. The commandments of the Lord Jesus go far beyond that. It is the commandments that indicate the desire of the new life to do the will of God. These are not limiting or prescriptive commandments – “you shall” and “you shall not” –, but it is every obedience to whatever the Lord Jesus asks us to do. “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome” (1Jn 5:3). These commandments are not burdensome because they fit perfectly with the new life that finds its joy in keeping these commandments.
This is followed by an even more far-reaching proof of love toward the Lord Jesus. We find this in the Lord’s words: “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word” (Jn 14:23). The reward of this is that the Father and the Son will come and make Their abode with such a person. This is not just about doing something that the Lord Jesus asks us to do, but about doing everything that we know pleases Him without His having expressly said it to us. When a father tells one of his children to do something, and the child does what he is told to do, it's a good thing. When a father tells his wife to do something and one of the children hears it and does it for his father, it goes beyond.
The way of obedience is the way of blessing. Love that manifests itself in obedience results in abundant blessing. There is multiplication of the earthly blessing. There is abundance in the fruit of the land and in the posterity, exaltation above other peoples, no diseases and ailments of Egypt. For us, spiritual prosperity is linked to obedience (Acts 9:31).
Prosperity is presented in three areas. First there is the fruit of the womb. That’s about new life, in the land. Paul says of the Galatians, about whom he is in great concern because of the legalism that has entered there: “My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you” (Gal 4:19-20). The fruit of the womb is seen spiritually where a person is presented complete in Christ, that is to say that someone knows his position in Christ and lives by it (Col 1:28).
The second proof is the fruit of the land, summarized in “your grain and your new wine and your oil”. These are for us symbols of Christ as our food (grain) and our joy (wine) that we enjoy in the power of the Holy Spirit (oil).
The third proof of prosperity is the fruit of cattle, in which the increasing possibilities of sacrificing can be seen, which for us means an increasing worship.
For us, illness is not proof of disobedience. The illnesses and ailments of Egypt speak to us of the spiritual attitude we used to suffer from (Tit 3:3). This attitude will again be visible in us as we stray from God.
God rewards His people for their walk. However, they must beware of the trap of protecting the hostile peoples and serving their idols. We fall into this trap when we are no longer pleased with everything the Lord has given us in blessings. Then we become jealous of what the people of the world or worldly-minded Christians can all afford and want the same.
17 - 24 Encouragement
17 “If you should say in your heart, ‘These nations are greater than I; how can I dispossess them?’ 18 you shall not be afraid of them; you shall well remember what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt: 19 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. So shall the LORD your God do to all the peoples of whom you are afraid. 20 Moreover, the LORD your God will send the hornet against them, until those who are left and hide themselves from you perish. 21 You shall not dread them, for the LORD your God is in your midst, a great and awesome God. 22 The LORD your God will clear away these nations before you little by little; you will not be able to put an end to them quickly, for the wild beasts would grow too numerous for you. 23 But the LORD your God will deliver them before you, and will throw them into great confusion until they are destroyed. 24 He will deliver their kings into your hand so that you will make their name perish from under heaven; no man will be able to stand before you until you have destroyed them.
The trap of verse 16 is an ill-considered pity. In verse 17 another trap is waiting, that of fear. God knows how His people are and how they picture themselves. He knows that the enemy can become too great an obstacle in the eyes of the people, so that they will be demoralized. Therefore He reminds them and encourages them by pointing out what He has been for them and has done with the Pharaoh and all Egyptians. In the same way He will help them again.
Just as God reminded Israel of His victory over the Pharaoh and Egypt, He reminds us of the victory of the Lord Jesus on Calvary. There we see how He defeated Satan and his demons (Col 2:15). He reminds us of our own salvation. No power could withhold Him from us when He set about our delivery from the slavery of Satan, the world and sin. The danger does not lie in the power of the enemy, but in the point of reference He has in our hearts.
A people who have “a great and awesome God” among them need not be afraid at all. On the contrary, the presence of that God in their midst will fill their enemies with fear. If we rely on His power, we can rest assured (2Cor 10:3-6).
The LORD also points out that the conquest of the land must not go too fast (Exo 23:29-30) in order not to upset the balance of the land. If they drive out the enemies, but don’t live there because they move on, the conquered land will be taken over by the wild animals. So they have to drive out and dwell and then drive out and dwell.
That is not a discouragement. Taking possession of the land can’t happen overnight; the same applies spiritually. Spiritual growth has several stages. There are children, young men and fathers in faith (1Jn 2:13-14). Children, young men and fathers all have the same eternal life. But little children, those who have only recently come to faith, and young men, those who are a little further along the way of faith, still have to grow up to maturity. You are not first a father in Christ. There is a gradual growth to take possession of the blessing God wants to entrust to us. In this way, we always get new surprises in the land.
25 - 26 Abhor What Is Banned
25 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 snared by it, for it is an abomination to the LORD your God. 26 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.
Achan is a warning example of what Moses is telling the people here (Jos 7:1; cf. 1Sam 15:9). It is important to note that we are asked to “utterly abhor” certain things. There are things that arouse our lusts and that our flesh desires, things that we do not naturally abhor, but cherish. It is precisely these things that are said to be despised. First and foremost, abhorrence is a decision we make out of obedience to God’s Word and not a feeling.