Moses gives the people instructions on how to deal with those they go to war against. One set of instructions is for far away encounters and the second is for the land God is giving them.
When I first started reading our passage my jaw was dropping as I read about offering peace first. Surely this was NOT what Israel was told to do to the inhabitants in the Promised Land? After reading on I found that God wasn’t talking about the people they would initially disposes of the land He was giving them but of later battles with other nations AFTER they were settled in.
Moses was also not setting up provisions for men to back out of the work ahead in taking the Promised Land. EVERY fighting age man was expected to participate in the battles required to cleanse the land of false gods. The tribes who settled on the eastern side of the Jordan had to promise to help in the battles until the end. No one was excused.
But God’s description of His power in the battles would be the same. “Hear, O Israel, today you are drawing near for battle against you enemies: let not your heart faint. Do not fear or panic or be in dread of them, for the Lord your God is He who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory” (verses 3b-4). It did not matter the size of the army that faced Israel. It didn’t matter if they had better equipment. It didn’t matter if they were more experienced in the art of war. They didn’t have Israel’s God and THAT was what made all the difference.
My heart cringes when I read of God’s command to “save alive nothing that breathes” (verse 16b). Men, women, children, oxen, sheep, cattle, goats, dogs, ANYTHING that moved around would be killed. I don’t know how to put it more bluntly than that. My human heart wants to wonder why God would have even the children killed. But then I have to look at the reasons God has already stated and the results of Israel’s behavior with other nations to understand His directions.
The nations God is removing from the land He is giving to His people are doing things in the names of their gods that make your skin crawl. Sacrificing their own children to their gods for favors they want. Not just selling them into slavery but actually killing them, even burning them alive. God will NOT tolerate this kind of behavior. But to get rid of it completely He has to kill it right down to the root. NO piece of it can remain. If it isn’t dealt with that completely it will reemerge again.
Israel demonstrated at Peor how easily they accepted the practices of those around them. God HAD to clean the slate far around them to let them grow without temptation, at least in the beginning. There could be no distractions from serving Him.
Thinking about how God was dealing with removing those who were detestable and replacing them with His children reminds me of gardening. I am the worst when it comes to taking care of plants! I have TEN BLACK THUMBS! But my mother-in-law is an expert gardener. She has explained the process to me enough that I could do it, if the plants would just cooperate and live.
In late winter she begins to think about what she wants in her garden this year. She plans out which plants she wants and where they would do best. In early spring she begins work on the beds. She has to remove any leftover material from last year’s garden. This includes removing weeds that have grown over the winter. She has to make sure she gets ALL the roots out. This alone is an arduous and time consuming task but is critical to the health of her garden. The next step is to break up the soil itself. It is best done during the rainy season but not when it is too wet. Next she adds fertilizer to the soil. As she uses raised beds she has to have part of the soil removed so there will be room for the steer manure she prefers. Then she has to smooth out the planters and remove any rocks that have surfaced during working the soil.
Once all these preparations are completed it is time bring in the new inhabitants of her garden; the seeds, seedlings and small starts. The seedlings and small starts have been carefully tended in a special atmosphere ahead of time to ensure they have enough growth before planting to ensure maturity and productivity during the growing season. The seeds and early plants are then meticulously placed in her garden. Seeds are spread a precise distance apart. Seedlings and starts are carefully removed from their original pots, to keep their roots from being bruised, nestled into their new places in the garden and then given a healthy drink of water fortified with vitamins designed to keep them from going into shock.
During the early days of her garden she is diligent in watching the weather. If there is even a hint that a frost might happen she covers her plants to protect them. She waters carefully so she doesn’t give them too much or too little. As the seeds begin to sprout she assesses their growth to see if she needs to reseed anywhere that the original planting didn’t come up. She watches for any signs of fungus or bugs. She sets up supports for her plants to climb on as they grow. And she maintains an eagle eye for any encroaching weeds.
After months of preparation, tending and time she is rewarded by abundant harvests. Her garden usually produces so much that she is begging people to take some home with them.
Thinking about her gardening prowess brings to mind another garden I had the “pleasure” of being involved in. This garden was planted by my first husband. He claimed he knew all there was to know about gardening and refused to let me help. I still had “black thumbs” at this time so I bowed to his “superior knowledge.”
I honestly don’t remember how or even if he prepared the garden. I do remember that it was bare ground where he planted. I don’t believe he used any kind of fertilizer or even worked the soil very much. He planted only seeds for the crops he wanted. The thing that stuck with me most about his garden is that he REFUSED to weed it or to allow me to weed it. He stated that “pulling the weeds will disrupt the roots of the vegetables.” I was floored by this pronouncement because my mother had always weeded her gardens and they did very well. But it was his garden and I abided by his decisions.
Some of his seeds grew but NONE of them produced any fruit. The most memorable one was the watermelon plants. They actually tried to grow but they wound up flat as they couldn’t get any nutrients thanks to all the weeds that were choking the whole garden. There was no space for the vegetables to grow. There was no nutrients given to them to begin with and none left over after the weeds had taken their “portion.” There wasn’t even enough water for the garden and the weeds to share.
The contrast between these two gardens is the preparation and the continuing care. Both had the potential to produce good crops. But the one that allowed all that was undesirable to remain never realized its potential. The weeds NEEDED to be removed completely and kept at bay for the desired plants to have a chance to grow.
God had to remove all the evil from the land before what He had made could thrive. He carefully cultivated His people in a special environment until it was time for planting. He cleared the land before them, right down to the root. He carefully planned out their placement in their new habitat. He planted them in rich soil and cared for them as they took root. Once they were established He would work with them on increasing their yield through expansion.
Father God I understand Your reasons for the steps You took in placing Your people in Your Promised Land. I’m SO glad I wasn’t part of it. I don’t know how I would have handled the death that was involved. I know it didn’t bring You joy to see what had to be done to remove the evil first. I believe that seeing the evil removed was satisfying but the loss of life wasn’t. I wish there had been some other way. I bet You did too.
I’m more than happy that You don’t call Your children to physical warfare any longer. You call us to spiritual warfare instead. There will be a death toll from these battles too. Those who choose to stay in the “weeds” will not produce fruit that leads to life. I know Your heart longs for them to come to You but You also know that not all will. I believe this death hurts You much more than death that You called for Your people to do hurts me. I wish I could take Your pain away. I’m sorry for all the pain I have caused You too. I LOVE You and want with all that is in me to stop causing You pain in every way. With Your help I will work towards this every day of my life.