Sunday School Lesson for January 6, 2002
Background Passage: Deuteronomy 7:1-8:20
Focal Teaching Passage: Deuteronomy 7:1-9
Remember God: The Destruction of False Deities (7:1-5)
In this chapter Moses continues to give specific instructions to the Israelites regarding their behavior once they arrive in the land of promise. As we have repeatedly observed in our study, Deuteronomy makes it clear that with the blessings of redemption come serious responsibilities that every covenant child must faithfully discharge. As Mosesí speech develops, a major obligation and requirement is placed upon the people, that of engaging in holy war against the enemies of Yahweh. Moses, speaking directly for Yahweh, demands that the Israelites "destroy . . . totally" the various peoples occupying Canaan upon entrance into the land (note the list of nations in v.1). The "seven nations" listed as objects of Godís wrath are strategically depicted as being both "larger and stronger" than Israel. This serves to remind the covenant people of their constant need for the intervention of God and will also"deflate any incipient Israelite arrogance" (Wright, 109). The holy war Israel is to engage in will find its success in the fact that Yahweh Himself will deliver their enemies into their hands. Once the initial defeat is secured, however, the Israelites must "make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy" (v.2).
As we observe the contents of this section, we encounter an intriguing irony. Israel, the nation blessed with the unfathomable grace and mercy of God, is to display "no mercy" to other nations. That is, the nation which had been called by means of the Abrahamic covenant to be a blessing to the nations of the world is now summoned to utterly "destroy" these very people-groups (see 7:25-26). As our lesson develops, we will come to understand this apparent contradiction.
These verses reveal the nature and scope of the destruction that God had ordered. Many interpreters have noted that "destruction" in this context clearly does not imply annihilation since Israel is subsequently ordered to refrain from social, religious, and political entanglements with the nations listed. In this light, it is better to understand the command to "destroy them totally" (v. 2) as a call for the complete rejection of the idolatrous ways of other nations. As the history of Israel reveals, sometimes this did include military actions against pagan nations. Yet, the complete destruction of the enemy was not always in view as this text indicates.
Three areas of concern are enumerated by Moses:
Remember God: Election and the Identity of Israel (7:6-9)
At this point the rationale for such drastic actions on Israelís part is set forth by Moses. As the language depicts, Israel was to maintain her distinctiveness from the surrounding nations and cultures. Israelís uniqueness as a nation was founded upon the fact that she had been declared "holy to the Lord your God." The concept of holiness, which literally dominates the Pentateuch, is fundamentally linked to the notion of separateness. To be "holy" in the biblical sense of the term, was to be set apart for the exclusive service of Yahweh. This idea is reflected in the second phrase of the verseó"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." That God had selected them from all other peoples and declared them to be His private treasure mandated that they live in complete distinction from the rest of humanity. As evidenced above, no dimension of their existence was to be in conformity with the world.
At this point we may begin to understand the apparent contradiction between Israelís calling to be a blessing to the nations, and their divine mandate to engage in holy war against Godís enemies. If Israel failed to maintain her spiritual and religious distinctiveness she could not be the promised channel of blessing to the Gentile nations. Note this insightful comment from Christopher Wright:
From a missiological perspective, what was at stake was not merely the survival of the Israelites, but the preservation of the revelation God entrusted to them and so majestically articulated in chapters 4-6. For Israel to have syncretized that revelation with Canaanite idolatry and fertility polytheism would have been no favor to the Canaanites or any other nation, but a fundamental betrayal of Israelís vocation (113).
In this section, the election of Israel to be the covenant nation is detailed. In particular, the Lord makes known to the people how it was that they came to be Godís "treasured possession." This verse states the case from the negative perspective. The Lord "did not set his affection on [them] and choose [them]" because they were numerically superior. Israel, in fact, was simply a "small group of people without great culture or prestige. She possessed no special personal qualities which would warrant such a choice. The election was the act of God alone" (Thompson, 130). The reality was that Israel was the "fewest of all peoples." Yet, God loved them with a passionate and zealous love (the meaning of "affection") that was not elicited by the worth of the nation itself but, rather, stemmed from His nature as a gracious and compassionate God.
Stated positively, Godís choice of Israel was based upon:
With the blessing of entrance into the promised land (7:1) would come the sobering reality of the danger of idolatry (7:4).
In order to protect themselves from such a sin, Israel was called to continually remember several facts:
Major Questions for Application and Discussion
One: How are New Testament believers to apply the teaching of Deuteronomy 7:1-6, 16? Are we to destroy all pagan worship houses and break all ties with those who do not follow Christ? How should this passage be interpreted and applied in light of the completed work of Christ?
Two: How should Christians answer the charge that the God of the Old Testament was harsh and cruel by ordering the destruction of other nations? Where is grace to be found in the Old Testament?
Three: What connection does Israelís election have with believers today? Is there any value in seeking to understand the concept of election as presented in the New Testament? Should this teaching be avoided since it is highly controversial?
Four: How should Christians respond when unbelievers challenge us to "prove" that God exists? According to this passage, what is the proof of Godís reality and power?