Deuteronomy 7:1-11 -
A holy people's policy of self-preservation.
We have in this paragraph a glance onward to the time when Israel's march through the wilderness would be completed, and when the people to whom God had given the land should be confronted with those who had it previously in possession. In our Homily on it let us observe—
I. WE HAVE HERE POINTED OUT THE CONDITIONS UNDER WHICH ISRAEL WOULD TAKE POSSESSION OF THE LAND .
1. There was a great covenant promise which had been handed down to them from preceding generations, and which involved results which would be far-reaching both as to time and place, touching every family of man, through every age of time. In a word, it was nothing less than the Divine covenant of human redemption, in the fulfilling of which a Great Mediator should come, while in Israel the purity of the line of his descent was to be guarded, and by and for it there was to be held in possession a tract of land on which the great work of the Mediator should have its earthly basis and historic ground.
2. With this far outlook in view, Israel was to be a people "unto the Lord their God." It was to hold a place among the nations which was unique. One of the smallest as to territory and numbers, it was to strike the deepest as to its worth and power!
3. Hence Israel was to be a holy people ( Deuteronomy 7:6 ). It was to bear a specific character religiously , as it was to take a peculiar place historically . Hence its moral and spiritual elevation is the first thing to be secured. The revelation of God which the people possessed had no mean uplifting power. The eternal God was Israel's refuge, and underneath were the everlasting arms. The institutions of mediation, priesthood, sacrifice, were deep and solemn lessons in the evil of sin and the righteousness of God. And the moral law which Israel possessed was so pure, so complete, even in the infancy of the people, that to this day not the wisest men of the world can find a defect therein, nor can they suggest aught to supplement it.
4. Israel would, nevertheless, be in great danger ( Deuteronomy 7:4 ). The land of Canaan, though beautiful, fruitful, and gay, was a nest of impurity. The foulest pollutions were debasing the people, and, apart from some special guard, they were far more likely to infect Israel with the virus of their idolatry than Israel was to cleanse them by the strength of counteracting virtue. And when we come to think of what vast importance to the world was the choice of one people who should serve as leverage for the rest, we discern the reason for the imperative injunctions which follow as to the policy which Israel was to pursue with reference to the peoples of Canaan.
II. HERE IS a THREEFOLD LINE OF POLICY ENJOINED .
1. A policy of separation. Thus does the Most High, in the early training of a people for himself, let them see how completely they are to be the Lord's; and that marriage, which from the worldling's point of view is so apt to sink into a mere union of bodies, is, from the point of view of one who would be holy to the Lord, to be at once regulated by God and elevated for him. Who cannot see the impossibility of married life being as blessed as it may be if husband and wife are dissevered on the very matter on which joint sympathies should be fondest and strongest? The principle here enjoined is carried over into the New Testament, in such words as these: "Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers." In this stern interdiction of mixed marriages under the Law , our God would teach us for all time that life's dearest bond is to be formed only in subjection to his will whose we are, and whom we should serve.
2. A policy of religious intolerance ( Deuteronomy 7:5 ). As Israel was to possess the land for God, so it was to suffer his worship alone to be observed. Whatever was contrary thereto was to be taken out of the way. An external religion is virtually destroyed when its external observance is made impossible.
3. A policy of extermination in war. The Canaanites had had their day of grace ( Genesis 15:16 ). And now, lest they continue to pollute the land, they are to be swept away " with the besom of destruction" (see Homily on Deuteronomy 1:1-8 ). If Israel had no Divine command to this effect, no one would pretend to justify this part of their policy. If they had, it needed no justification. God may sentence a people to ruin in any way he pleases. And when a nation has given way to such nameless and shameless wickedness that its land groans beneath the burden of its crimes, it is mercy to the world when the evil is " stamped out." And though such exterminative policy on the part of any nation can be justified only on the ground of a Divine warrant, yet the warrant having been given in this case, that policy does but illustrate a truth which the Most High has again and again declared, that no nation has any absolute right in itself or its land. It holds its existence subject to God's will, and to that will alone; and if it is good for the world that it should give place to others, he will cause it to pass away, and will bring another people on the soil.
III. ISRAEL 'S POSITION AND POLICY , SO REGARDED , FURNISH US WITH PRINCIPLES OF ETERNAL AND UNIVERSAL APPLICATION . They are these:
1. The actual value of any nation or people in the worm depends on the degree to which they subserve God's purpose, and not on the extent to which they fulfill their own. Nations have but a passing loan of power from the Great Supreme, held in trust for his honor and the world's good; and when they lose sight of that, they are grievously forgetting the things which belong unto their peace.
2. If a nation is to preserve itself for God, corrupting influences are to be put away. We have seen (Homily on Deuteronomy 2:24 ) how much importance is attached by God to the training of the family. We see in this paragraph how much importance is also attached to those influences which go beforehand to make the family. How does the Most High set himself against all those corruptions that poison the social fabric and break up the sacredness of the home! And hew jealously does he guard his own worship from the defiling additions and commandments of men!
3. When a nation is loyal to its God, by putting away sin and nurturing righteousness, it will ensure the Divine blessing and its own permanence ( Deuteronomy 7:9 ). God reserves the entry through the gates of honor to "the righteous nation which keepeth the truth."
4. The elevation ensured and given to nations which promote righteousness is the one which, if we see as God sees, we shall value most. Godless men may covet an ascendency backed by guns and swords, armies and fleets. The believer in God covets only an uplifting that comes of the Divine blessing on " a wise and understanding people."
6. What Israel was designed to be among the nations, regenerated men are in their own nation—"a holy people unto the Lord their God." They are "the light of the world," "the salt of the earth." The earth is full of corruption, and is and must be rapidly decomposing unless some salt be thrown into it to check the decomposition. Christians are the "salt" of the earth. Their value is in their " savor ," not in their name. And if they let the " savor " die out, no name of discipleship will be of any use to them. Christians may not separate their Christianity from their citizenship. They are to be Christian citizens; and do we not learn by abundant teachings in the Old and New Testament that God spares many a guilty city for the sake of the righteous that are therein? (See the history of Abraham's intercession for Sodom.) And can we forget the teaching of the prophet Ezekiel, that nations may become so corrupt that even the righteous element therein avails not to stay the ruin ( Ezekiel 14:12-21 )?
7. Hence the principles involved in this paragraph should convey, and should be made the basis of, an earnest warning and appeal to men to remember that the day of grace for the nation, as well as for themselves, has its limit. God is long-suffering. He bears long, but he will not bear always ( cf . Isaiah 5:3-7 ; Isaiah 1:5-24 ; Luke 19:41-44 ; Luke 13:6-9 ; Matthew 21:38-44 ; Revelation 2:21-28 ). Oh, how earnestly should men turn to God while yet there is hope! For their own sakes, that they may be saved, and for the sake of others too, that they may become co-operators with God in purifying and saving men!
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