God’s War on Terror
17 If you say to yourself, “These nations are more numerous than I; how can I dispossess them?” 18 do not be afraid of them. Just remember what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt, 19 the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs and wonders, the mighty hand and the outstretched arm by which the LORD your God brought you out. The LORD your God will do the same to all the peoples of whom you are afraid. 20 Moreover, the LORD your God will send the pestilence against them, until even the survivors and the fugitives are destroyed. 21 Have no dread of them, for the LORD your God, who is present with you, is 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 make a quick end of them, otherwise the wild animals would become too numerous for you. 23 But the LORD your God will give them over to you, and throw them into great panic, until they are destroyed. 24 He will hand their kings over to you and you shall blot out their name from under heaven; no one will be able to stand against you, until you have destroyed them. 25 The images of their gods you shall burn with fire. Do not covet the silver or the gold that is on them and take it for yourself, because you could be ensnared by it; for it is abhorrent to the LORD your God. 26 Do not bring an abhorrent thing into your house, or you will be set apart for destruction like it. You must utterly detest and abhor it, for it is set apart for destruction.
-The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Dt 7:17–26). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
The Old Testament can be tricky for us to interpret and apply as Christians. It is hard to know which laws were canceled (or fulfilled) for us by Christ’s sacrificial death. It is often difficult to decipher which prophecies Jesus already fulfilled and which ones have yet to come. Here is a really quick over-generalized perspective on how to interpret these books:
- Genesis-Deuteronomy: The Torah, the Law of Israel was written like a combination of national history and constitution given to them by God. If you are not part of that people, and perhaps part of that land in the Middle East, these laws will not automatically apply to you. However, there is much to be learned about the nature of God and people in general, and you will not find a better example of what God’s desires for a holy nation are than within these stories and commandments.
- Joshua—Esther: These books are largely historical material about the rise and fall of Israel as a nation. Again, quite instructive about God’s character and the good and bad lessons we can learn from reading about another nation’s experience trying to be faithful to God, but not everything can be taken as directly applicable to ourselves.
- Job-Song of Solomon: It’s been debated whether Job is a historical book or not, but either way, it serves as an excellent example of how God’s people deal with suffering. Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes also deal with suffering, and many other parts of the human condition, but in the form of prayer or short teachings. Song of Solomon is a strange book compared to other biblical examples. It is a love poem that some have used as an example of God’s love for His people. For me personally, it may be the hardest book in the Bible to preach and teach well.
- The rest of the Old Testament, Isaiah-Malachi, are the prophets. These are collections of teachings by God’s messengers to the people of Israel, and occasionally their gentile neighbors, during the history of their nation and following their fall as they were taken into captivity. Their message could probably all be summarized as “Put your hope in God, not in yourselves and your own strength.” That is a message we can apply directly. The rest needs to be worked through contextually.
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So, if you take all this into consideration when reading the passage above from Deuteronomy, I think we can understand this as a warning to God’s people (Israel), not to be led by fear, rather than a warning to everyone else, not to mess with Israel. It also says specifically that God would do the clearing ahead “little by little”, not that the people were to rush in and conquer everything overnight. Indeed, they would not be destroyed with weapons of war, but by their own fear and panic.
Moreover, this passage begins with a call to remember Egypt and the work God did there. The Hebrew people did not fight a war with Egypt, God did. Not only were the people kept out of it, but God gave the Egyptian leader(s) 10 chances to simply let their Hebrew slaves go to avoid any causalities. Each opportunity was met with miraculous signs. In the end, it was Pharaoh’s own stubbornness in fighting against God that led to his downfall and the release of the Hebrew people.
Does that mean we should never fight or defend ourselves? Probably not. But you won’t find justification for violence here unless it is in regard to cleaning out the idolatry from our own lives. That is one of the few things God appears to have little patience for in the Old Testament.
What enemies cause you fear?
What things in life to you fear to give up?