6.11 Incompleteness

Meditating on the Judgements of God:  

6.11 Incompleteness

Judges 1:19   The LORD was with the men of Judah. They took possession of the hill country, but they were unable to drive the people from the plains, because they had iron chariots

Before finishing with this part on the taking of Canaan and the judgment on its occupants, we need to observe the end outworking. As we go into the book of judges we soon come across the above verses which tells us that although Israel occupied and controlled most of the land, there were still pockets of resistance. When then read, The Benjamites, however, failed to dislodge the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the Benjamites.” (v.21)

The following verses show us that this was not unusual: “But Manasseh did not drive out the people of Beth Shan or Taanach or Dor or Ibleam or Megiddo and their surrounding settlements, for the Canaanites were determined to live in that land. When Israel became strong, they pressed the Canaanites into forced labor but never drove them out completely. Nor did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites living in Gezer, but the Canaanites continued to live there among them. Neither did Zebulun drive out the Canaanites living in Kitron or Nahalol, who remained among them; but they did subject them to forced labor. Nor did Asher drive out those living in Acco or Sidon or Ahlab or Aczib or Helbah or Aphek or Rehob, and because of this the people of Asher lived among the Canaanite inhabitants of the land. Neither did Naphtali drive out those living in Beth Shemesh or Beth Anath; but the Naphtalites too lived among the Canaanite inhabitants of the land, and those living in Beth Shemesh and Beth Anath became forced laborers for them. The Amorites confined the Danites to the hill country, not allowing them to come down into the plain. And the Amorites were determined also to hold out in Mount Heres, Aijalon and Shaalbim, but when the power of the house of Joseph increased, they too were pressed into forced labor.” (v.27-35) I include such an extensive reading because in those few verses it gives us over twenty locations where Israel failed to either destroy or remove the Canaanites. Amazingly Israel did in some cases subject the Canaanites to forced labour and did not obey the Lord’s instructions to either destroy or remove them.

Now Israel has been warned against this: “But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live.” (Num 33:55)  Once they were in the land and had come to this place, the Lord challenged them over this: “you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this? Now therefore I tell you that I will not drive them out before you; they will be thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you.” (Jud 2:2,3)

This state of affairs says various things about what has happened. First, let us note that the Lord had said (and we saw it many times) that He would drive out the occupants by fear and yet when it came to it, as we noted previously, the occult forces held the occupants in a place of deception where there though they could resist and survive.

Second, it is clear that the Lord’s driving them out goes hand in hand with Israel driving them out. The Lord played on the emotions  of the occupants and brought encouragement to Israel, including by the use of miracles, and success relied in Israel’s persistence. The Lord was not going to force the occupants Himself, but would leave it up to Israel. They would be responsible for their own destiny, that is clear.

Third, the absence of Israel’s failure to persevere meant that the enemy could remain. After Joshua’s generation passed away the next generation turned away from the Lord (see Josh 2:10-13): Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel and said, “Because this nation has violated the covenant that I laid down for their forefathers and has not listened to me, I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died. I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the LORD and walk in it as their forefathers did.” The LORD had allowed those nations to remain; he did not drive them out at once by giving them into the hands of Joshua.” (Josh 2:20-23) The Lord had said that He would only drive out the occupants slowly and so now, in the face of Israel’s unfaithfulness, He says He will leave the remainder as a challenge to Israel.

At the end of this account of Israel taking the Promised Land we find those who ought to have been the instrument of judgment being judged themselves. The tragic story of humanity – even those chosen by God to reveal Him and His goodness – is one of constant failure. Partial obedience is disobedience and we see it again and again in the Bible. God’s judgments (which don’t always involve death) are necessary to deal with these constant and ongoing failures. This should have been a people living in the goodness of the Lord but instead, as we shall see as we move on in judges, it is a story of continual failure. Such is the effect of Sin in the human race.

Thus ends our considerations of the judgment of the taking of the Promised Land. We will also pause before continuing at some future date with this subject of the judgments of God. This is the last of these studies, therefore, fr the moment at least. We hope we may continue them at some time in the future and move on into the historical books of the Old Testament.

6.10 Miracles of the Lord

Meditating on the Judgements of God:  

6.10 Miracles of the Lord

Josh 3:15-17   Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing. …. The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground

In examining the taking of Canaan we would be remiss if we did not take note of the fact that the Lord gave approval to what Israel were doing by a number of miraculous happenings. There are those who might say that Israel were just a bunch of escapees from Egypt to forced themselves on the people of Canaan and destroyed them for their own purposes. But such scepticism flies in the face of the Biblical accounts, first of the miraculous deliverance from Egypt, then the miraculous provisions in the desert and now entering the Promised Land.

The first miracle was this very entry to the land by crossing the river Jordan at flood time – in the dry! I have heard people say these things were coincidences. Well here is the first ‘coincidence’, one that Joshua was told about before it happened, that the moment the first men stepped into the river carrying the Ark of the Covenant the river stopped flowing and the water upstream piled up and remained piled up until Israel had all crossed over – and then it flowed again. These miracles are important because they deny the accusation that they were just doing their own thing. No, they were performing the will of God to bring judgment on this pagan people and He confirmed His approval by supporting them with these miraculous events.

The second ‘miracle’ was the appearance of an angelic being (or a theophany) to Joshua, the “commander of the army of the Lord” to reassure him (Josh 5:13-15)

The third ‘miracle’ was the taking of Jericho, clearly directed by the Lord (See Josh 6:2-5) The fourth miracle was Israel’s defeat at Ai and the revelation that Achan had taken some of the forbidden plunder (see Josh 7). The stoning of Achan was an execution  for direct disobedience which put Israel at risk. We have already noted the fourth ‘miracle’ (the sceptic’s coincidence) the massive hailstones that fell on the enemy who had sought to come against Gibeon and Israel (Josh 10:11)

The first part of the book of Joshua is given over to first of all describing how Joshua worked his way through the land with his army completely clearing it of people until eventually it was all under their control (Josh  11:23). Remember, if you read those chapters, that even as Joshua’s army advanced, there was plenty of time for those ahead of him to pack up and leave the land and escape but instead, quite to the contrary, we see examples of kings banding together to fight, knowing that if they lost it would mean the entire end of their people. Yet although the land was essentially under their control there were still pockets of survivors who held on and had not been taken (see Josh 13:1).  Nevertheless the land was theirs! So the LORD gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their forefathers, and they took possession of it and settled there. The LORD gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their forefathers. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the LORD handed all their enemies over to them. Not one of all the LORD’s good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.” (Josh 21:43-45)

Not only was the taking of the land accompanied (at least in its earliest stages) by the encouraging acts of the Lord, they attributed their successes entirely to Him. Jericho and Ai had made the point and subsequent victories came with His encouragement and strength. The second part of the book is given over to describing how the land was allotted to the various tribes of Israel to settle in.

The fact of Israel’s holiness and relationship with the Lord is kept to the fore, first through the incident at Ai and then later when the returning half tribes, going back to reclaim the land to the east, built an altar which incurred the wrath of the rest of Israel (see Josh 22:10-34) . The book concludes with the aged Joshua calling the people to commitment to the Lord and to remove idols that were still there (Josh 24:23).

6.9 The Fear of the Lord

Meditating on the Judgements of God:  

6.9 The Fear of the Lord

Josh 5:1   Now when all the Amorite kings west of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings along the coast heard how the LORD had dried up the Jordan before the Israelites until we had crossed over, their hearts melted and they no longer had the courage to face the Israelites.

Before we move on any further in this Part, it will be worth our while to take more note of something  we have already mentioned, the fear that the Lord said He would send on the Canaanites. We have seen that this fear was supposed to get the occupants to flee from the land before Israel.

We first hear of this fear in action as Israel move up the east side of the Dead Sea and the Lord speaks to them: “Set out now and cross the Arnon Gorge. See, I have given into your hand Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his country. Begin to take possession of it and engage him in battle. This very day I will begin to put the terror and fear of you on all the nations under heaven. They will hear reports of you and will tremble and be in anguish because of you.” (Deut 2:24,25) Nevertheless Sihon fought against them. As he speaks about what is coming, Moses reiterates this to the people on the plains: “No man will be able to stand against you. The LORD your God, as he promised you, will put the terror and fear of you on the whole land, wherever you go.” (Deut 11:25)

When the spies go to Rahab we find, “Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof and said to them, “I know that the LORD has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts melted and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” (Josh 2:8-11)

We observe two different responses to the advancing army. First: “Now when all the kings west of the Jordan heard about these things….. they came together to make war against Joshua and Israel.”  (Josh 9:1,2) Second, “However, when the people of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, they resorted to a ruse.” (Josh 9:3,4) These people pretended to be travellers from afar and were thus accepted by Israel (Josh 9:4-15).  When Joshua found out and questioned them we find, They answered Joshua, “Your servants were clearly told how the LORD your God had commanded his servant Moses to give you the whole land and to wipe out all its inhabitants from before you. So we feared for our lives because of you, and that is why we did this. We are now in your hands. Do to us whatever seems good and right to you.” (Josh 9:24,25)  Their fear drove them to scheme to be accepted by Israel and the outcome was that they became part of Israel and became their servants.

Now that story does not end there because other nearby kings banded together against the Gibeonites who then called on Israel to defend them (see Josh 10:1-6). Joshua thus took his army and did defend them (v.7), with the Lord’s encouragement: “The LORD said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them; I have given them into your hand. Not one of them will be able to withstand you.” (v.8) What we then see is a combined action against these kings by Israel greatly supported by the Lord: “After an all-night march from Gilgal, Joshua took them by surprise. The LORD (1) threw them into confusion before Israel, who defeated them in a great victory at Gibeon. Israel pursued them along the road going up to Beth Horon and cut them down all the way to Azekah and Makkedah. As they fled before Israel on the road down from Beth Horon to Azekah, the LORD (2)  hurled large hailstones down on them from the sky, and more of them died from the hailstones than were killed by the swords of the Israelites.” (Josh 10:9-11)

There are some powerful lessons here:

  1. The Lord used fear against the occupants of Canaan to scare them out of the land.
  2. The power of the occult resisted that fear and caused most to oppose Israel.
  3. There were individuals who went over to Israel – Rahab and her family at least.
  4. There was also one people group – the Gibeonites – who went over to Israel.
  5. The Lord accepted Israel’s acceptance of them and even fought on Israel’s side to defend them .

We have said many times previously that the main objective was to oust the Canaanites from the land but failing that, it is clear from the examples of Rahab and the Gibeonites, one alternative was to go over to Israel and be saved.

6.8 Hardened Hearts

Meditating on the Judgements of God:  

6.8 Hardened Hearts

Josh 11:18-20   Joshua waged war against all these kings for a long time. Except for the Hivites living in Gibeon, not one city made a treaty of peace with the Israelites, who took them all in battle. For it was the LORD himself who hardened their hearts to wage war against Israel, so that he might destroy them totally, exterminating them without mercy, as the LORD had commanded Moses.

We need to confront the difficult truth that, in fact, there were instructions given to Israel to completely wipe out the Canaanites. Those verses we have already seen. There are two sets of verses that almost act as ‘bookends’ to these studies. The ones above are the final ‘bookend’ and the one we saw in 6.3 in Exodus acted as the first ‘bookend’: “My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out(Ex 24:23) They both speak about the destruction of the Canaanites.

However, as we have sought to emphasise again and again, the primary instructions and primary understanding was that the Canaanites were to be driven out of the land and if they had gone, they could have gone without a single life being lost. That is what makes the verse above from Exodus 24 strange because in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers it is the only one that speaks of the destruction of the Canaanites. It is almost as if the Lord gives away what He knows will be the eventual outcome. In earlier studies in this series we noted His feelings about not wanting death (see Ezek 18) and the fact that the words ‘drive out’ or ‘driven out’ are used in respect of what is to happen to the Canaanites some thirty times would suggest that this is what God’s preference would have been in respect of this land, yet He knew that the reality was otherwise.

It is only when we come to these unique verses in Joshua that we get greater understanding. Now we don’t know who the writer of Joshua was but these words are not attributed to the Lord or to Joshua but are the words of the writer, his understanding of what had happened. Assuming divine inspiration we must accept his assessment.

Look at the strength of these words: “For it was the LORD himself who hardened their hearts to wage war against Israel, so that he might destroy them totally, exterminating them without mercy, as the LORD had commanded Moses.”   We seem to have a mystery here. On the one hand we have seen extensively the Lord’s intent to drive out the inhabitants, using fear, but now we are told He hardened their hearts to stay. The trouble is we have no further details upon which to formulate our conclusions. However we do have the story of Pharaoh, back in Egypt prior to the Exodus to aid us. There again and again we noted the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart but also that Pharaoh hardened his own already hard heart. Let’s consider Pharaoh.

Pharaoh, before God started dealing with him, was an evil, idol worshipping, self-centred individual. You can either talk gently to such a person hoping to persuade them or openly confront them.  Unless the heart is open, such a person will disregard the former course and will simply rise up in anger against the second. God knew that Pharaoh’s heart was not open and therefore whatever God said, it would not result in Pharaoh coming into God’s kingdom, therefore the Lord used direct confrontational methods which showed up Pharaoh’s foolishness as every plague came. Hardening here is, therefore, the response of Pharaoh’s already set heart, into an even more obstinate position where he refuses to back down before God.  The choice was always his.

Now the same was exactly true of the Canaanites but an element that comes through more strongly in this story than in that of Pharaoh, was that the occult played a big part. When anyone has dealings with the occult, we observe a particular hardness against the things of the Gospel. There is a resistance to the truths of God because there is a Satanic or demonic background always to the occult. Therefore, from the outset, there was a resistance in these people to the ‘fear-pressure’ the Lord put on them, pressure which, in any other circumstances, we would expect to have caused them to leave.

Thus, although the Lord wants them to leave (hence all the talk about driving them out) He knows that they are locked in to their occult worship and nothing is going to move them. So as much as the Lord gives instructions to drive them out and says that is what He intends to do, He will not override their free will and will not force them to go.

Now we might also make a comment about Moses’ heart in Deuteronomy. That book comprises his final talks to Israel before he is going to die. He knows his time is short but as a shepherd his heart anguishes for this flock of people he is going to leave behind. He knows what a good future is for Israel – obedience to God followed by His blessing – but he also knows the dangers before Israel – of being seduced into occult worship by the Canaanites. He has already seen some of the men seduced by the Moabite women (see Num 25) and knew that this was the greatest threat to the future of Israel.

It was not being overcome by an enemy in battle but by giving way to other people’s religions and becoming like them. For this reason Moses knew that their only hope was to inherit a land that was utterly cleansed of its peoples and practices. If the people sought to stay they would eventually act as yeast and permeate and undermine the life of Israel whether they were men, women or children. They must go – or die. The end result must be a cleansed land. It doesn’t have to mean the death of the people there but because of their hardness of heart, their ways set in the occult, then it almost certainly will. For these reasons we find those otherwise apparently hard words exterminating them without mercy. The future of Israel, the possibility of the Gospel, and indeed the very future of the world hinges on this, as difficult as it may seem. It is all about the question,  will Israel e able to be a nation that reveals God to the world, and will they remain in existence as that people into which the Son of God may eventually come?

These are the issues that hang in the balance here. Seeing it only in the short-term means we fail to see the terrible significance of what was going on here. No doubt there were similar thoughts in the minds of the Allies’ men who made the decision to bomb Dresden in the Second World War, or of Hitler’s men who decided to bomb Coventry, or those who had to decide to drop the first atom bombs on Japan, ostensibly to end the second World War. Long-term decisions look terrible in the immediate. It is only when we look back on history in this Fallen World that we realise the awful decisions that had to be made. The more we learn, the slower we should be to criticise.

6.7 Take Possession Completely (3)

Meditating on the Judgements of God:  

6.7 Take Possession – Completely (3)

Deut 1:6-8   The LORD our God said to us at Horeb, “You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Break camp and advance into the hill country of the Amorites; go to all the neighbouring peoples in the Arabah, in the mountains, in the western foothills, in the Negev and along the coast, to the land of the Canaanites and to Lebanon, as far as the great river, the Euphrates. See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land that the LORD swore he would give to your fathers–to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob–and to their descendants after them.”

In the previous two meditations, we have worked our way through Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers to take note of the early references to the instructions given by the Lord to Israel to go in and take the land and in these books we noted that THE ONLY REFERENCES TO TAKING THE LAND ARE ABOUT DRIVING OUT THE INHABITANTS.

So now we  need to go into Deuteronomy which is an account of Moses words to Israel on the plains before going up to take the land. Initial chapters are about their recent past history but when Moses comes to emphasizing Israel’s need to keep the Law, he says, “Do what is right and good in the LORD’s sight, so that it may go well with you and you may go in and take over the good land that the LORD promised on oath to your forefathers, thrusting out all your enemies before you, as the LORD said.” (Deut 6:18,19) The purpose is still to push out the inhabitants.  It is only when we get to chapter 7 that we come to the heavy instructions: “When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations–the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you– and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them.” (Deut 7:1,2)

Two things to note here. First these are the words of Moses and not the Lord  (We’ll consider this more fully in a subsequent study). Second, the order here is drive out – defeat – destroy. The destroy comes at the end implying that it is a cleaning up process rather than an act of purposeful genocide.  It is not so much to wipe out a people as their culture of paganism. For that reason Israel are not 1) to make peace treaties with them, 2) feel good towards them and 3) intermarry with them. The only way to prevent these three happening is to utterly destroy any remnant that has not fled the land.

Later on he says, “The LORD your God will cut off before you the nations you are about to invade and dispossess. But when you have driven them out and settled in their land, and after they have been destroyed before you, be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, “How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same.” You must not worship the LORD your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the LORD hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.” (Deut 12:29-31) Here there is a recognition that where the inhabitants stay and fight, they must be completely destroyed otherwise they may become a snare for Israel.

Even more he spells out the reason why these occupying people should be removed: “When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and because of these detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you.” (Deut 18:9-12) The list of forbidden things are clearly things the Canaanites do (and this list is mostly about the occult).

Also we find, “When the LORD your God has destroyed the nations whose land he is giving you, and when you have driven them out and settled in their towns and houses, then….” (Deut 19:1,2)  Again the words ‘destroyed’ and ‘driven out’ go together. It is more the bringing to an end of the nation – the culture of a group of people – rather than the individuals, that is at the heart of these commands. However this comes in more detail shortly: “in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them–the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites–as the LORD your God has commanded you. Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the LORD your God.” (Deut 20:16-18) Thus total destruction is on the agenda (of those who refuse to flee) and the reasons given are quite clear.

As the book  moves on we find Moses summing up: “The LORD your God himself will cross over ahead of you. He will destroy these nations before you, and you will take possession of their land. Joshua also will cross over ahead of you, as the LORD said. And the LORD will do to them what he did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, whom he destroyed along with their land. The LORD will deliver them to you, and you must do to them all that I have commanded you.” (Deut 31:3-5) The emphasis is on destruction of the ‘nations’.

To sum up: in Deuteronomy, which is the account of Moses’ teaching and instructions to Israel before he dies and leaves Joshua to take them into the land, we see the following:

  • The emphasis is on the Lord and Israel driving out the inhabitants – there was no need for anyone to die.
  • The fall-back position is that if they resist, refuse to leave and fight Israel then they, their cities and all their peoples – young and old – will be destroyed.
  • The reason for this destruction is to do all possible to ensure all temptations to idol worship are removed from before Israel as they settle in the land.
  • The crucial issue will be whether Israel can remain a holy (unique) nation that reveals the Lord to the rest of the world. If they succumb to the things of the Canaanites, that will not be possible.

6.6 Take Possession Completely (2)

Meditating on the Judgements of God:  

6.6 Take Possession – Completely (2)

Num 33:53-55   Take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given you the land to possess. Distribute the land by lot, according to your clans. To a larger group give a larger inheritance, and to a smaller group a smaller one. Whatever falls to them by lot will be theirs. Distribute it according to your ancestral tribes. ” `But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live.”

In the previous meditation we started to take note of the early references to the instructions given by the Lord to Israel to go in and take the land. We saw that the very first one was to work in partnership with Him to drive the inhabitants out, yet, there came a warning not to make treaties with the inhabitants and open them up to the possibility of being seduced by them into idol worship and we said there, the whole thing is about revealing to the rest of the world a relationship with the one true God and that must not be jeopardized by falling to false religion.

Thus far here we have seen all the references in Exodus. We have also in past studies made some mention of the reasons for the Lord acting against Canaan, but now we see this more fully in the context of Israel occupying the land and being a holy nation.

Now moving on to Leviticus, in the context of the Law we find, “You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices. You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees. I am the LORD your God.” (Lev 18:3,4) The big emphasis is NOT to follow the ways of Canaan but follow the ways of God revealed through His laws.  This seems to be at the heart of all the commands about taking the land.

In the third of these studies in this Part we noted the references to the land being defiled: “Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the aliens living among you must not do any of these detestable things, for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you. ” `Everyone who does any of these detestable things–such persons must be cut off from their people. Keep my requirements and do not follow any of the detestable customs that were practiced before you came and do not defile yourselves with them. I am the LORD your God.” (Lev 18:24-30)  The occupants had defiled the land by their practices which were abhorrent to the Lord because they were so far from the way He had designed people to live.

Again He said to them, “Keep all my decrees and laws and follow them, so that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out. You must not live according to the customs of the nations I am going to drive out before you. Because they did all these things, I abhorred them. But I said to you, “You will possess their land; I will give it to you as an inheritance, a land flowing with milk and honey.” I am the LORD your God, who has set you apart from the nations.” (Lev 20:22-24) Again the distinction is powerfully made between the Lord’s ways and the ways of the Canaanites. Israel are to be different, a holy people, a special and unique people, a people revealing the Lord to the world. That is what all this is about. Throughout Leviticus, the words, “in he land” occur many times, for so many of the laws conveyed there are about how to use the land.

Note so far, we have not seen a single instruction in Exodus or Leviticus about the Lord telling Israel to destroy the inhabitants. All of the references so far are about driving out the inhabitants. So let’s move into Numbers. Much of the early part of the book is taken up with Israel’s failure to enter the land the first time and then the second time there is the incident with Balaam and Balak. The first  reference is one we’re already seen in various forms: “When you cross the Jordan into Canaan, drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you. Destroy all their carved images and their cast idols, and demolish all their high places.” (Num 33:51,52) There yet again the emphasis is on driving out the inhabitants and any destruction is simply in respect of their idols that they will have left behind. This is the only reference in the book. Thus in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers (virtually) THE ONLY REFERENCES TO TAKING THE LAND ARE ABOUT DRIVING OUT THE INHABITANTS.

To complete this element about taking possession of the land completely, we  need to go into Deuteronomy which is an account of Moses words to Israel on the plains before going up to take the land.

6.5 Take Possession Completely

Meditating on the Judgements of God:  

6.5 Take Possession – Completely

Num 33:53-55   Take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given you the land to possess. Distribute the land by lot, according to your clans. To a larger group give a larger inheritance, and to a smaller group a smaller one. Whatever falls to them by lot will be theirs. Distribute it according to your ancestral tribes. ” `But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live.”

In the previous meditation we noted how the progress of taking the land was a gradual process. Here we need to observe it was to be a total process, and why that was to be. This for many is the most contentious area of this story. Our verses above, which come fairly late in the records and are simply a reiteration in basic form of what has been said before, emphasise for us a) the call to take possession of the land and b) the necessity of clearing the existing inhabitants out of it.

In the earlier chapters of Exodus there are various references to them being given the land but it is no more than that.  It is not until the Lord is giving them the Law that He goes on to explain  in more detail what will happen: “Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land….. I will hand over to you the people who live in the land and you will drive them out before you. Do not make a covenant with them or with their gods. Do not let them live in your land, or they will cause you to sin against me, because the worship of their gods will certainly be a snare to you.” (Ex 23:31-33) There we see the partnership between the Lord and Israel but in both cases note this first reference to clearing the land involves them also CLEARING OUT the inhabitants, driving them out. Their destruction is not the main priority, but clearing them and al their practices out of the land is.

In case we are not clear about the Lord’s role note the previous verses: I will send my terror ahead of you and throw into confusion every nation you encounter. I will make all your enemies turn their backs and run. I will send the hornet ahead of you to drive the Hivites, Canaanites and Hittites out of your way. But I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you.” (Ex 23:27-29) As we’ve seen extensively before, His intent was to create fear and thus drive the inhabitants out. The fear would come when they heard what He was enabling Israel to do as they approached and had dealt with the two hostile Amorite kings. Does the Lord speak into the minds of people to accentuate that fear? It is possible. Remember the context here was the giving of the Law and the importance of Israel following it when they entered the new land, to enable them to become a people under God, revealing to the rest of the world the good way they lived.

A little later, after the incident of the Golden Calf, the Lord has dealt with the miscreants and now reiterates His covenant with Israel, especially in the context of entering the land (which of course in the event did not happen for another forty years!): “Obey what I command you today. I will drive out before you the Amorites, Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land where you are going, or they will be a snare among you. Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and cut down their Asherah poles. Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.  Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices. And when you choose some of their daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same.” (Ex 34:11-16) The Lord’s part was to frighten the inhabitants out of the land, and Israel’s part was to clear the land of all signs of their pagan worship.

Twice He warns them not to make a treaty with the inhabitants of the land because in the friendship of such a treaty the inhabitants will invite them to join in their activities and that will lead on to mixed marriages and within those mixed marriages the Israelites will be persuaded to worship their gods (this is essentially what eventually happened to Solomon). Pagan worship is worship of that which is not real and it takes away from worshipping the One True God. It was also associated with other bad practices, occult prostitution  and child sacrifice. Whatever happened, Israel were not to let this happen. The whole thing is about revealing to the rest of the world a relationship with the one true God. Everything hinges on this, and we cannot over-emphasise this in these studies.

To ensure that we see this in its fullness, we need to continue to look at this even more and so will continue it in the next study.