When one reads the book of Deuteronomy, one must understand the distinction between cultural practices and transcultural principles. For example, in Deuteronomy 17:1, God commands the Israelites to sacrifice perfect animals. Any animal that is blemished is deemed unacceptable for use in God’s sacred worship ceremonies. Therefore, as Christians no longer bound by the Ceremonial Law, we keep the transcultural principle while abandoning the cultural practice. We no longer offer animals sacrifices in worship, but we do seek to honor the perfect Lamb (Jesus Christ) and seek to honor him with excellent New Covenant worship ceremonies. Christians read Deuteronomy and find themselves bound, not by the cultural practices, but by the transcultural principles found in the Word of God.
The same is said for the Herem or Devote to Destruction passages. In Deuteronomy 18:9, we see the warning, “When you come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations.” In Deuteronomy 20:10-18 we hear God’s strategy:
When you draw near to a city to fight against it, offer terms of peace to it. And if it responds to you peaceably and it opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall do forced labor for you and shall serve you. But if it makes no peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it. And when the LORD your God gives it into your hand, you shall put all its males to the sword, but the women and the little ones, the livestock, and everything else in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as plunder for yourselves. And you shall enjoy the spoil of your enemies, which the LORD your God has given you. Thus you shall do to all the cities that are very far from you, which are not cities of the nations here. But in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the LORD your God has commanded, that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the LORD your God.
God commands Israel to wipe out entire cities. In his righteous indignation, God did so with Sodom and Gomorrah. Before that, God flooded the world in the day of Noah. If one thinks this is overly harsh, one should read the Scriptures that describe God’s eternal damnation. When God determines his long-suffering posture has sufficiently been expressed, he reacts violently towards the wicked. Some may wish to put God on trial and question him as if he were sitting in the defendant’s chair, but he sits not in the seat of inquisition. He is both the judge and jury; and in this particular passage, he declares that Israel must be his agent of execution.
But what are we to learn from these sorts of passages? What are the transcultural principles that apply to our walk with Christ today? The following points may be of some devotional assistance.
We have a God who violently hates iniquity. Psalm 7:11 tells us that God is angry with the wicked everyday. He changes not. He still despises the sins we committed yesterday. Today’s transgressions will anger our jealous God.
We have a God who is long-suffering. He gave these Canaanite nations an additional forty years to consider their condition. How many opportunities and how much time has the Lord given us?
We have a tendency to be so hard and dull. All of these warring nations could have responded in repentance as Rahab will do. God is long-suffering and kind, and he refuses no one entrance into the family of God. All of these nations knew God’s power and Israel’s history. Still, they would not bow the knee to Yahweh. Men are so hard and incorrigible. We are so arrogant, slow to repent, and slow to bow the knee.
We ought not confuse God’s patience with apathy. He is long-suffering, but he is not eternal-suffering. There is a day when God says, “Enough!” On this day, there is no pardon remaining. On this day, there is no truce. The angry and holy judge is coming; it is only his grace and mercy that kept him from exploding yesterday.
We ought not play with those things that God hates. In God’s instructions to Israel, the closer the temptation to sin, the more violent was to be the measures taken. Christians are not to play with fire or dance with the devil. We are to make no provision for the lust of the flesh. We are to flee youthful lust. We are to abandon the sidewalk of the ungodly, the courtyard of the sinner, and the den of the scornful. A companion of fools suffers harm. As long as we can be like Jesus, and influence our neighborhood, we are to be missionaries. But in areas where our world influences us, we are to be warriors. We do this for our Christ. We do this for our children. We do this for our own sanctification.
So, in our time of prayer today, let us converse with God about what we have learned:
- What did we do yesterday and today that angers our Holy and Heavenly Father?
- What consequences could the Father have poured out upon us yesterday? Why did he not, yet, give us that which we deserve?
- Why is my heart so dull? Why am I so unconcerned with my sin and the Father’s delight? Can the Holy Spirit make me more sensitive to my transgressions?
- Will I tread on the grace of God today? Will I tempt God? Will I make him jealous? Will I look him in the face and intentionally call his hand?
- From what should I separate myself and my family? Where are the opportunities for sin that need to be rooted out of my walk? Today, sin will most often come calling my name through what person, place or thing?
Friends, there is no need to offer animal sacrifices or put to death men, women and children. But there remains a calling to fear God, run to God, enjoy God, and despise sin. May God help us abandon the cultural practices of the ancient Israelite nation, but keep the transcultural principles which apply to every ethnicity and time period.