Why did God Command the Destruction of Nations? Part 1

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Why did God Command the Destruction of Nations? Part 1

This morning we are going to begin studying what for many people is a troubling passage of scripture. It is a passage that skeptics, atheists, and even some professed Christians would say indicates that God is not nice, or God is not fair, or the God of the Old Testament is not the same God as we see in the New Testament, because the God of the Old Testament is full of wrath and judgment and the God of the New Testament is all nice and gracious and merciful.
Of course, this is utter nonsense. The God of the Bible, both testaments, is the same God. Only by twisting and perverting the scriptures could anyone conclude that there are really two different Gods in the Bible. But twisting and perverting the scriptures is something that many have taken up as either their professional occupation or at least their hobby. They say the God of the Old Testament is not loving, even though the entire Old Testament proves the love of God. They say the God of the New Testament is not full of anger and wrath towards sin, even though the New Testament is full of language about God’s wrath towards sin, and Jesus talked about Hell and the punishment for sin almost more than any other topic.
Without understanding some very important concepts about God, this passage is indeed difficult to grasp for many, and it isn’t the sort of question you can answer in a brief statement. Let’s read the passage and then we will see what I mean about its difficulty:
Deuteronomy 7:1–11 ESV
“When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than you, and when the Lord your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them. You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the Lord would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly. But thus shall you deal with them: you shall break down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and chop down their Asherim and burn their carved images with fire. “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face. You shall therefore be careful to do the commandment and the statutes and the rules that I command you today.
Now the there are two main objections to this passage, and a couple of perhaps lesser objections. The first objection is how or why could a good God demand that entire people groups be wiped out? And the second is, why can’t God’s people marry outside their own nation?
I believe there are four very important doctrines to understand in order to answer this question. And Lord willing, over the next four weeks, we are going to use this passage to get into those four doctrines. So if you expected a quick and easy answer to these objections to give to your skeptical friends and family, I’m afraid I just cannot make it that easy. Why? Because I can’t even do it myself. I can’t answer these objections in just a few minutes conversation, and I doubt that any of us could satisfy the skeptical people in our lives by just giving a brief explanation.
So I am going to encourage you to stick this one out. This may even be the type of series you will want to go back and listen to again once it is complete so that you can better understand the reasons why God commanded Israel to eliminate these people, and why he would not allow the people of Israel to intermarry with the pagan people around them. I will give you a quick hint, though. Neither of these have anything really to do with race. They have to do with keeping the faith pure. So we cannot take these to mean we somehow have an obligation or right to kill any foreign people based on this, nor can we say that people cannot marry someone of a different race. This is absolutely not a conclusion we can draw from this.
So here are the four doctrines, or topics, that we are going to dive into in the next four weeks to help us understand this passage:
The holiness of God
Sin (and the dangers it brings)
God’s Wrath
God’s Sovereignty (In everything, including salvation)
These four doctrines all are intertwined. They are very important for us to understand, both for the believer and the unbeliever. For the believer they are important so that we can better understand the faith, that we can properly worship God, that we can remind ourselves of the destruction that comes with sin, and that we can call others to faith by presenting the gospel in a clear way. For the unbeliever, learning these things will hopefully lead them down the path to salvation. Being taught these truths, and the work of the Holy Spirit to convict someone of their own sinfulness and convince them the truth of the gospel may very well be salvation.
So rather than dodge this difficult passage, We are going to take it head on. Sometimes the preacher may feel tempted to gloss over or skip over a passage such as this. I feel no such temptation, because as I have been studying this, I believe the teachings on this passage can be very good for all of us, to understand and know God better, and when we know him better, to love Him better, to worship Him better, and to live our lives in a manner worthy of our calling in Christ.
So We Begin with the Holiness of God

The Holiness of God

This topic, by the way, cannot possibly be fully taught and treated rightly in just one sermon. Entire books have been written on this topic. If I had to produce a list of five books every Christian should read, “The Holiness of God”, by RC Sproul would be on that list. Sproul spent a lot of energy urging believers to strive to understand the holiness of God; If he had a pet topic that would have been it. One reason for this focus is because without grasping at least a sense of the holiness of God, we will always tend to question His ways and means. We will view His good actions through our human or fleshly lenses and may, God forbid, even conclude that in some cases, God is wrong. So the study of the holiness of God is an important one. And this week, I may just post a blog and give some resources for you to go deeper into this subject than I will be going in this sermon today.
So what is the holiness of God? I think for a definition this morning we will use this one from the Lexham Survey of Theology:
The Holiness of God speaks to God’s existence separate from his creation and, at the same time, to his pure and utterly incorruptible nature.
There are many scriptures we could reference to make this point. For example, in Isaiah 6:1-6
Isaiah 6:1–6 ESV
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar.
In verse 3, the Seraphim, which are heavenly beings who are mentioned only there in Isaiah. They call to one another, Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!
Then Isaiah see a demonstration of the holiness of God, and his response is a quaking fear. He instantly realizes that he cannot stand in the presence of the Holy God and live. However, Isaiah is provided a remedy for his unclean lips. A burning coal from the altar touches his lips and cleanses him. This is one of many examples in scripture of God providing to an unworthy person the means, the cleansing needed, to approach him.
And it is interesting that Isaiah’s immediate concern is his mouth, or his lips. James wrote that the area of speech is a critical area for us to seek holiness with. James3.2
James 3:2 ESV
For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.
In the understanding of some Jewish religions scholars, if a man could live a single day without sin, any man, just one day without sin, it would bring about the end of times. One day without sin would represent such perfection in that particular line of thinking. But we know we cannot do it. And perhaps this is why some religious devotees have taken vows of silence, because of the great potential to sin in our speech. Yet the speech we make only reveals the thoughts we have, such that even in James’ view, the one who does not stumble being perfect, even what is unsaid does not account for the evil in our thoughts.
So none of us could stand before this holy God. Yet we are to worship Him in his holiness:
Psalm 99:9 ESV
Exalt the Lord our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the Lord our God is holy!
So God himself is holy; remember our definition: The Holiness of God speaks to God’s existence as completely separate from his creation and, at the same time, to his pure and utterly incorruptible nature.
He is completely separate. That is what Isaiah recognized. He was not fit to stand in God’s presence! And let us not forget that these Israelites that Moses is speaking to also recognized that there is danger in the holiness of God for sinful people. They were so afraid of God’s holiness, that they begged Moses to speak to God for them. They wanted a buffer, so to speak, between them and God.
Deuteronomy 5:23–27 ESV
And as soon as you heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you came near to me, all the heads of your tribes, and your elders. And you said, ‘Behold, the Lord our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire. This day we have seen God speak with man, and man still live. Now therefore why should we die? For this great fire will consume us. If we hear the voice of the Lord our God any more, we shall die. For who is there of all flesh, that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of fire as we have, and has still lived? Go near and hear all that the Lord our God will say, and speak to us all that the Lord our God will speak to you, and we will hear and do it.’
Moses was told to take off his sandals, because He was on holy ground when God was near. Many times in scripture we are told that God cannot be looked upon in his holiness by and person and the person could live, unless God himself provided for this. Holiness means set apart. So we are also going to look in 2 weeks at how God’s people are holy. He set them apart, so they are holy. That is God’s sovereign choice. And in the passage we are looking at today, we see that Moses reminds the people of this again as well. God chose because He chose. Not because they were a large nation, it was simply because God loved them and so in response to his grace, they were to keep the commands he gave them.
God’s holiness is also revealed in the very careful precautions the priests had to take to approach the holy place in the temple. Making a mistake would mean death. Lev10:1-3
Leviticus 10:1–3 ESV
Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’ ” And Aaron held his peace.
The ark of God was also holy. God was very clear that it should not be touched, and He proved how serious he was:
2 Samuel 6:5–7 ESV
And David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the Lord, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God.
What does the holiness of God have to do with Deuteronomy 7? Everything! Why did God tell His people to eliminate those 7 nations? Because a holy God cannot interact with sin. A Holy God is also a God of justice, and he cannot allow people to constantly do evil without bringing justice to the evildoers.

The command to destroy them totally, that is, men, women, and children, has often been thought of as unethical for a loving God. However, several points must be kept in mind concerning these people. First, they deserved to die for their sin (9:4–5). Studies of their religion, literature, and archeological remains reveal that they were the most morally depraved culture on the earth at that time.

Now, we may be in competition with being the most morally depraved culture on earth. Immorality is spiraling out of control. And it brings up a fair consideration, and that is were do morals come from?
The individual? Does each of us get to decide for ourselves what is right and wrong? Does it come from our family? Our local community? The Society as determined by our elected officials? Or would it be better to have an absolute ruler to set the standards, such as a king? But for many, if not most people now in our society, what they certainly will not tolerate is a God who dictates what moral goodness is, and what is unlawful, or sinful.
Society has elevated the individual to be at the top spot here. Even families are now told they cannot tell a family member what is best for them. Someone just shared an article with me this week that said there are teachers now in some public schools who tell kids directly that they do not need to listen to their parents, and many of these same teachers tell the kids they will help them to keep secrets from the family.
So our society increasingly is telling us we cannot impose our family values on our family members. But really, neither can the community then tell the individual what is best. Society has no right to tell you anything except that what feels good to you is good for you. The individual rules. So there can be no king, ultimately. And certainly not a God to tell you what is right and wrong. And this is the evil that Satan promoted from the beginning. Self is first, no one can tell you what to do.
But properly, we would elevate God and HIS standards - those written on our hearts and those written in His Word.
His morals are known to us. They are ingrained. Take monogamy, for example. I understand some of our young ones may not understand this term. Monogamy means that once a man and woman are married, they are to stay with their spouse only. They aren’t to be kissing and hugging anyone else other than the one they married. This is God’s design for marriage between a man and a woman. Here is how we know that monogamy, or staying with the one you married, is ingrained in us, because even people who deny God feel the pain of infidelity, which means that a married person did spend some time kissing and hugging someone other than their wife or husband. Infidelity causes a deep pain, and you don’t have to be a Christian to know and feel that pain.
Now, there are people who claim they are ok with that, they may even say they have an “open” marriage. In other words, a husband and wife may say they have given each other permission to kiss and hug other people. But they are lying to themselves about the pain and emptiness this brings. In some cases, they just want to have the freedom to live in a sinful way, so they give their partner “permission” to sin as well. They have a craving or passion to do evil, and to make themselves feel better about it, the give their spouse permission to do the same. But there is no love in a marriage like that, in fact, you would really have to despise your spouse to try and justify this. Really it is just a craving to sin.
And not only married people do this. In a society where someone does not want to be held to a standard, they will give others to do what they want. In other words, they want society’s permission to do their sin of choice, so they will not correct anyone else for doing the sins they like either. So it goes further and further. And the holiness of God is not even considered by those who are so bent towards sin. God’s punishment sometimes is just to let them keep sinning, but eventually his wrath towards sin will come, and for those nations Israel was to drive out, the sin had reached the point of God’s graciousness coming to an end. His holiness sets him apart, and their sin sets them apart for destruction.
Paul writes about how God gives people up to their own lusts: Rom1:18-32
Romans 1:18–32 ESV
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
You see, when people deny that God has ultimate authority to set the rules, when they ignore that He is a holy God who deserves our glory and honor and respect, that He is a holy God who must take action to bring justice against sin, they are given up to those dishonorable passions. And in this they heap up the wrath of God.
The holiness of God speaks to God’s existence as completely separate from his creation and, at the same time, to his pure and utterly incorruptible nature.
Deuteronomy 4:24 ESV
For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.
Not jealous like we are often jealous, but a proper jealousy, like a husband has for his wife when he wants her reputation protected and wants his rights to her loyalty to be without question.
I mentioned earlier how sometimes people will try to make an Old Testament concept stay in the Old Testament, but in our command to be holy, we can’t do that: 1Pet1.15-16
1 Peter 1:15–16 ESV
but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
In our D6 lesson for this week we also saw an appeal to be holy from the apostle Paul:
Romans 12:1–2 ESV
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
A living sacrifice, holy and acceptable. Holy, set apart for God. And indeed if we are in Christ, we are not trying to achieve holiness in the sense of being set apart unto God, we actually have been set apart for God. So that we are to be transformed, this is a continuing imperative command Paul gives. Do not be conformed, but but be transformed.
So as I mentioned, we are going to camp our on Deut7.1-11 for the next few weeks, and these 4 topics or doctrines will be our area of study:
So here are the four doctrines, or topics, that we are going to dive into in the next four weeks to help us understand this passage:
The holiness of God
Sin (and the dangers it brings)
God’s Wrath
God’s Sovereignty (In everything, including salvation)
Hopefully you are beginning to see why it was righteous and just for God to command Israel to be his sword in bringing His wrath upon the seven mentioned nations.
The first point being, of course, that God is holy. We have not even begun to touch the surface of what it means that God is holy. And because he is holy, sin against him is very dangerous to the sinner who never repents. This is because God’s wrath, as we just looked at, is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. Because God is holy, he provides a standard for us to keep. When we do not keep his laws and statutes, or rules, we are in sin. Sin brings many dangers with it, the most severe being the wrath of God on all unrepentant sinners. And finally, God’s is sovereign over all. He chose Israel, not based on anything special they had done, but simply because it was his choice. And He chooses still today. He is completely sovereign in salvation.
We will be weaving together these concepts in the coming weeks. So why does God devote his enemies to destruction? Because he is holy, He will punish sin because his holy wrath is against sinners who do not repent, but in His sovereignty, He saves those whom he calls his own.
Perhaps this morning you are concerned that you may be sinning to the point of being subject to the wrath of God.
Repent, and believe the gospel.
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