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The invasion of Canaan - God's "holy war"!
It was because of this corrupt system of Baal worship that God was offended to the point of commanding the total extermination of the inhabitants of the land of Canaan. In His holy war, the Israelites were to function as the military operational invasion force to bring home God's judgement upon the worshippers of the false God, Baal. Because of this we can state with assurance that if the Israelites had functioned with total obedience to God's commands and ordinances, they could have fought all the battles in the land of Canaan, completely occupied the land, and never have lost a man in battle. Back in Numbers 31:48-491, following a battle in which the Israelites were completely obedient, the Bible records the report given to Moses:
48 Then the officers who were over the thousands of the army, the captains of thousands and the captains of hundreds, approached Moses; 49 and they said to Moses, "Your servants have taken a census of men of war who are in our charge, and no man of us is missing."
This was God's holy war against the wickedness of the inhabitants of Canaan, as we read in Deuteronomy 9:4, and He was not going to suffer the loss of any of His warriors if they fought according to His ordinances and His commandments. We will find later in the book of Joshua that this was exactly the case, for He chose to prove that the victories were never through the strength of men but through His mighty Sovereign power, and only their disobedience and sin brought about their defeats.
In addition to the sermonic and historic review reported in Deuteronomy, Moses also gave God's instructions for the occupation of the land, announcing these directives well within the hearing of Joshua who, as the second in command, would use them in his conquest of the land. Deuteronomy 20 contains the "Military Manual" for the occupation of the land. As Moses prepared the people for what would follow, he said in verse 81:
8 "Then the officers shall speak further to the people, and they shall say, 'Who is the man that is afraid and fainthearted? Let him depart and return to his house, so that he might not make his brothers' hearts melt like his heart.'
This is sound and practical advice and should be heeded by all Christians today. He made it clear that those who were afraid, or even cowardly, should not even start out, for the effect of them turning and running during the battle would have a repercussive effect and cause those around them to also lose heart and flee after them from the scene of the fighting. It is better to make up your mind before the fight even begins whether you are going to be a man or a mouse! Anyone fighting the encroachment of heresy into a Christian fellowship today will find many who, having claimed they will stand with you on the Word of God, suddenly become invisible when the fighting gets tough and they have to state publically who they stand with and who they will follow - indeed, just as the disciples fled when Christ was arrested in Gethsemane (Matthew 26:56) even though they had all promised never to deny Him (Matthew 26:35). We see through the history of Israel that this is not a new phenomena. By nature man will forget what God has done for him and the clear instruction of His Word and will, instead, bow to his own carnal desires or the wishes of fellow sinners.
Deuteronomy 20:10-141 describes the criteria for approaching the kind of city described in verse 15, where they are given this clear instruction:
15 "Thus you shall do to all the cities that are very far from you, which are not of the cities of these nations nearby."
"These nations" refers to the nations which God had instructed the Israelites to completely exterminate. But, around the peripheral areas of the land of Canaan, there were cities 'far off'' that were not specifically designated for extinction. Beginning in verse 10, God gave instructions for dealing with those cities "far off":
10 "When you approach a city to fight against it, you shall offer it terms of peace. 11 "And it shall come about, if it agrees to make peace with you and opens to you, then it shall be that all the people who are found in it shall become your forced labor and shall serve you. 12 "However, if it does not make peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it. 13 "When the LORD your God gives it into your hand, you shall strike all the men in it with the edge of the sword. 14 "Only the women and the children and the animals and all that is in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty for yourself; and you shall use the spoil of your enemies which the LORD your God has given you."
So the instruction were clear and, simply put, phase one is this:
When you go to a city far off, it is not designated for extinction, offer peace to it. If they come out and say, "we surrender," take them and let them serve you. If they say, "no, we will fight you," then the Lord will give you the city. You will kill all the men, but you will take the women and children and all the cattle and keep them for yourselves. However, according to verses 16 and 171, Phase two was to deal with the terribly corrupt nations who would influence Israel if allowed, and the reason is clearly given in verse 18:
16 "Only in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that breathes. 17 "But you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittite and the Amorite, the Canaanite and the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, as the LORD your God has commanded you. 18 in order that they may not teach you to do according to all their detestable things which they have done for their gods, so that you would sin against the LORD your God.
The idea of a "Holy War" is considered almost self contradictory to many minds today - even Christians seek to excuse the clear accounts of God's instructions to utterly destroy such peoples. Having personally attempted to debate with humanists by writing to their journal, "The Freethinker,"6 I have found that they prefer to ignore the Scriptural view and rely on scoring easy points off liberal Christians who argue against the truth of these Old Testament accounts. People today do not ordinarily associate holiness and warfare. It disturbs them that the Old Testament tells of so much carnage carried on in the name of the Lord. Yet our own recent history testifies to the foolishness of attempting to compromise with evil. God always sees the total picture and He will not bow out because His aims are perfect justice and goodness and they justify the means He chooses to achieve them. Our task is not to decide what God ought to be like - because we will try and make Him like us (Hosea 11:9) - but to study the ways in which He has revealed Himself to us.
Holy War, as described in the Old Testament, is not just another war embroidered by ritual and a few religious flags. It follows a distinct pattern that shares very little with ordinary warfare. Not every case was exactly the same in the Old Testament, but a typical example of Holy Warfare would include most of the following characteristics:
Yahweh God was the Supreme Commander in Holy War. He either gave the initial order to fight or was consulted regularly to make certain that the war was in keeping with his will. When Israel failed to consult him they fell into error as in the deception they suffered from the cunning Gibeonites in Joshua 9. His presence among them was symbolized by the Ark of the Covenant, which went into battle with them. Frequently, the march into combat was begun by a blast of trumpets and a great shout. The number of those in the combat force was unimportant for God was the real warrior. Without Him, a large army could not win - we have an example in Joshua 7, where 2-3,000 men were defeated at Ai because of Achan's sin. When God was with them a small army could not lose, as in the classic case of Gideon's army of 300 men which was deliberately reduced by God from an initial 32,000 to prove this point to Israel (Judges 7).
Two other features are also prominent. In many of the accounts we cannot help but notice that the enemy troops break into confusion and panic and, in their seeming blind panic, they help to bring about their own destruction. This is not coincidence but the normal result of the presence of Yahweh God at the head of the attack. The final peculiar characteristic of Holy Warfare is the disposal of the booty. Ordinarily, an ancient soldier got to keep whatever booty he could lay his hands on. Under the rules of Holy Warfare, however, the spoil was "devoted" (from the Hebrew word herem; see Joshua 6:18-19; 7:1, 15) to God. In some cases, the soldiers were allowed to keep part of the booty, but the general rule was that the spoil belonged to Yahweh, since it was He who had won the battle and we see that the disobedience of this rule by Achan (Joshua 7) had severe consequences.
God knew that once the people began to practice those abominations of Baalism their sons and daughters, and husbands and wives, would get involved in the formal worship system of the land, and that even Israelite men and women would become prostitutes in the houses of Baal. Chapter 23:17-181 has this warning:
17 "None of the daughters of Israel shall be a cult prostitute, nor shall any of the sons of Israel be a cult prostitute. 18 "You shall not bring the hire of a harlot or the wages of a dog into the house of the LORD your God for any votive offering, for both of these are an abomination to the LORD your God.
We remember the account of the Exodus, some forty years prior to Deuteronomy 25, when Israel encountered Amalek in battle under the leadership of Joshua. At that time God warned them that they would battle with Amalek from generation to generation. Now, in Deuteronomy 25:17-191, Moses reminded the people once again of what happened so they would not forget their involvement with Amalek or the promise of God to eventually judge Amalek for what he did:
17 "Remember what Amalek did to you along the way when you came out from Egypt, 18 how he met you along the way and attacked among you all the stragglers at your rear when you were faint and weary; and he did not fear God. 19 "Therefore it shall come about when the LORD your God has given you rest from all your surrounding enemies, in the land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you must not forget.
Forty years after the first attack, the promised judgment against Amalek was reaffirmed. It would not be carried out for another 350 years.
Rooted in our sinful human nature is the unerring ability to forget or ignore what the previous generation learned. The modern saying is that "the one thing we learn from history is that we never learn anything from history"! We know from Scripture that it was Adam's job to pass on the truth of God to his descendants, and he failed. In the same way Noah's task was to pass on the truth to his descendants, and he failed. It was the job of Abraham to pass on the knowledge of God to his descendants, and he failed. Moses likewise was instructed very plainly to pass these truths on to the sons and the sons' sons and, by this word-of-mouth method, the truth of God was to be transmitted from generation to generation (Deuteronomy 6:7; 31:12-13). Knowing how modern generations often mock the heroic sacrifices of saints of the recent past who answered the call to fight a Holy War to prevent the extermination of the Jewish nation and many others who were too weak to fight for themselves, we can imagine the response of those individuals who were five or six generations removed from Adam. When Adam tried to explain to them that he had been created by God and walked in the cool of the day with his Creator we can be sure that each wicked generation laughed and concluded he was insane. When Noah tried to explain to his descendants, several generations removed, that he had experienced the flood; and when his sons - Shem, Ham, and Japheth - attempted to explain to their grandchildren and great-grandchildren that at one time the entire earth had been covered by water and that they had lived in the pre-flood era, they doubtlessly suffered a similar response. We should recognise that, after several generations, the truth we attempt to pass on is ridiculed, derided, and assumed to be worthless, mythical information. Because of this, the omniscient God told Moses that He knew what was going to happen and He described in 31:16-181 what would happen soon after they were settled in the land and how He would respond to their continued rebellion:
16 And the LORD said to Moses, "Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers; and this people will arise and play the harlot with the strange gods of the land, into the midst of which they are going, and will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them. 17 "Then My anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide My face from them, and they shall be consumed, and many evils and troubles shall come upon them; so that they will say in that day, 'Is it not because our God is not among us that these evils have come upon us?' 18 "But I will surely hide My face in that day because of all the evil which they will do, for they will turn to other gods.
So that they would know that He foresaw all of this He commanded Moses to compose a song (Deuteronomy 31:19-22) so that generations and centuries later they would remember that they had been warned about their sinful behaviour. Though many things might pass away this song (or epic poem) would be learned and sung and passed down from one generation to another. It was designed to make them remember back to the time when God first gave it and its title could be "Against Forgetfulness." The purpose of this song (epic poem) was to remind the people that God had anticipated their failure, and that there was still hope if they would repent and turn back to Him. The poem consists of forty-three verses in chapter 32. In this marvellous piece of poetry, which may not be clearly prophetic yet has prognostic overtones, God reminds them that He made them drink honey from the rock and oil from the flinty rock (32:13), but that they decided to serve idols and other demons that claimed to be gods. God warned them in the song that they should acknowledge two things: first, their obligation to obey Him and, secondly, the certainty of His righteous judgement of them if they fell into apostasy. Though He would heap misfortune upon them He assured them in the end of His vengeance, for those who shed the blood of His servants will never go unpunished.
The remainder of chapter 32 (v48-52) contains God's instructions to Moses regarding his death, and the reason why it would occur prior to entering the land because he had failed in the matter of striking the rock. In chapter 33, Moses blessed the children of Israel prior to his death, which is recorded in chapter 34 and we learn in verse 7 that he lived to be 120 years old. The death of Moses in 1406 B.C., completes the first five books of the Old Testament which Moses authored under the inspiration of God. In these books we have the history of the world from creation through the flood, the tower of Babel, the selection of Abram, the births of Isaac, Jacob, and the sons of Jacob, the 430 years of captivity in Egypt, the birth of Moses, the plagues on Egypt, and the various murmurings and rebellions of the people of Israel prior to their entering the promised land in 1406 B.C. We have seen how, as a result of their grumbling and disobedience, they had to wander an extra thirty-eight years in the wilderness so that no numbered man over the age of twenty would survive to go into the promised land. After the death of Moses, the new generation of people were on the east side of the Jordan River and the leader they had known for so many years was dead had passed the baton of leadership to Joshua. The inhabitants of the land of Canaan were anticipating military activity as they looked eastward across the Jordan for they knew the Israelites had been successful in previous battles against the Midianites, and against the inhabitants of Heshbon and Edrei, so their hearts were beginning to melt. The Israelites, on the other hand, were becoming eager to enter the land for the military conquest under the leadership of Joshua.
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