SynopsisIn this chapter, Moses changes his focus a bit, and reminds the Israelites about their command to completely remove the nations that are currently occupying the Promised Land. They were not to make treaties with these nations, or show them mercy; they were not to intermarry with them. (Because if they did, they would be turned away from following God.)
This is what you are to do to them: Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols in the fire. For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. (verses 5–6)
Moses reminds them that God didn’t choose them because they were more numerous than other peoples; in fact, they were the fewest of all peoples. No, He chose them because He loved them, and because He was keeping the oath He had sworn to their forefathers. So, because of this:
Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands. But
those who hate him he will repay to their face by destruction;
he will not be slow to repay to their face those who hate him.
Therefore, the people were to obey the rules Moses was handing down to them on behalf of the LORD. In addition, Moses gives the Israelites some promises, as to how the LORD will treat them, if they obey His commands:
If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the LORD your God will keep his covenant of love with you, as he swore to your forefathers. He will love you and bless you and increase your numbers. He will bless the fruit of your womb, the crops of your land—your grain, new wine and oil—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks in the land that he swore to your forefathers to give you. You will be blessed more than any other people; none of your men or women will be childless, nor any of your livestock without young. The LORD will keep you free from every disease. He will not inflict on you the horrible diseases you knew in Egypt, but he will inflict them on all who hate you. You must destroy all the peoples the LORD your God gives over to you. Do not look on them with pity and do not serve their gods, for that will be a snare to you. (verses 12–16)
Finally, Moses addresses any fears the Israelites might have, about going into the Promised Land. After all, the peoples who currently live in the land are more powerful than the Israelites. But Moses’ answer to this is to remind the Israelites how God rescued them from Egypt, with the miracles He displayed there. After all, if God could do that, to bring them out of Egypt, couldn’t He also give the Israelites the power to overcome the peoples currently living in the Promised Land? So the Israelites weren’t to fear the peoples of the land, because God would remove them in His power.
Moses does tell them, though, that God is not going to remove all of the peoples of the Promised Land at once. If He did, the wild animals would take over the land, so He is going to do it little by little. But He is going to do it.
And when He does, the Israelites are to burn their idols in fire; they are not to be ensnared by them, or to be ensnared by the gold or silver that they’re made out of—it’s all detestable to the LORD.
ThoughtsThere are two key messages in this passage, and they’re both closely intertwined:
First, the Israelites (in God’s power) were to completely destroy the people currently living in the Promised Land, partially because they were detestable to the LORD, but mostly because if they didn’t, the Israelites themselves would be ensnared into worshipping the same “gods” that the current peoples in the Promised Land worshipped.
Second, the Israelites didn’t have to worry about how they’d ever be able to remove the peoples currently in the Promised Land—all they had to do was leave it up to God. Notice that when God is trying to reassure them, that they’ll be able to do the task set before them, all He does is point to Himself—“I’m the one who is going to do it, so remember all that I have done, and trust me.” Good advice for anyone, in any situation.
One of the passages quoted above mentions “Asherah poles;” these were symbols of the goddess Asherah. Asherah must have been a very popular goddess, at the time, because Asherah poles will be mentioned again and again throughout the rest of the Old Testament; the Israelites never properly removed worship of the goddess Asherah from the land, and they were ensnared for almost their entire Old Testament history.