By David Baumann

A Reading from Deuteronomy 7:17-26 

17 If you say to yourself, “These nations are more numerous than I; how can I dispossess them?” 18do not be afraid of them. Just remember what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt, 19the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs and wonders, the mighty hand and the outstretched arm by which the Lord your God brought you out. The Lord your God will do the same to all the peoples of whom you are afraid. 20Moreover, the Lord your God will send the pestilence against them, until even the survivors and the fugitives are destroyed. 21Have no dread of them, for the Lord your God, who is present with you, is a great and awesome God. 22The Lord your God will clear away these nations before you little by little; you will not be able to make a quick end of them, otherwise the wild animals would become too numerous for you. 23But the Lord your God will give them over to you, and throw them into great panic, until they are destroyed. 24He will hand their kings over to you and you shall blot out their name from under heaven; no one will be able to stand against you, until you have destroyed them. 25The images of their gods you shall burn with fire. Do not covet the silver or the gold that is on them and take it for yourself, because you could be ensnared by it; for it is abhorrent to the Lord your God. 26Do not bring an abhorrent thing into your house, or you will be set apart for destruction like it. You must utterly detest and abhor it, for it is set apart for destruction.

Meditation

In the early books of the Old Testament, the accounts of God’s order to the Israelites to destroy utterly the nations whose lands they were to possess make for pretty grim reading. Today’s lesson is one of the milder ones. The reason those nations were to be destroyed, however, is because they practiced a perverse and abominable form of idolatry: today we would call what they did “crimes against humanity.” Even thinking about what they did is disturbing, much less writing it down. Let us just say that they practiced human sacrifice, even the hideous sacrifice of children and infants.

The Israelites were called to execute God’s judgment against them, a practice called “devotion to destruction,” and the taking over of the land was not only a “reward” to the Israelites, but a call to purify the land that was stained with innocent blood. In the call to destroy those nations, God promised the Israelites victory against overwhelming odds, assuring them that their God is a “great and awesome God” who will guarantee their victory.

Years ago I was part of a discussion group comprised of ministers, and the leader asked each of us to describe himself in one word. Most of us said, “compassionate” or “loving.” I remember well what one man said: “Warrior”! Granting the ways that word can be used badly, perhaps he was still right to apply it. We are not much different today than the pagan nations were in Israel’s time — we still practice abominations in the Lord’s sight; our nations still shed innocent blood. But we are taught that “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20a), and John 17 describes believers as being “in the world” but not “of the world.” We are indeed to be compassionate, but today’s lesson is clear that we are also to be firmly committed to contesting the things that anger God, and where they appear in our own lives, to let them be burned up completely.

David Baumann has been an Episcopal priest for 47 years, mainly in the Diocese of Los Angeles and the Diocese of Springfield. He is now retired and has published nonfiction, science fiction novels, and short stories.

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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer

Today we pray for:

The Diocese of the Arctic (Anglican Church of Canada)
The Diocese of Albany