16 However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. 17 Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you. 18 Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 20:16-18 NIV)
“However” is a contrast to the previous instructions about cities taken in war. The eradication is to be complete – nothing left alive (neither animals nor people).
The reason? Leaving them alive will leave the possibility of their teaching and encouraging Israel to worship their gods (whose practices are reflected in the many prohibitions in the law that seem strange). These included child and adult human sacrifice, temple prostitution, among other things.
Whew. Hard to read and hard to understand. I know some people don’t struggle with these stories (or don’t know them so don’t deal with them). But it’s there and part of our biblical witness. What do we do with it? It is hard to read the Gospels and imagine Jesus saying this isn’t it?
One of the keys for me – and it has been lurking around the other things over the last few days – is a totality of commitment and consecration. Just as there could be no flaws in sacrifices or the least uncleanness in people, so there could not be in the land the influence of foreign gods and worship.
The question for me is not what to do with this command – but what do I do today? Am I willing to remove from my heart and life all that would draw me away from God? Every thing that would entangle me in sin, distraction?
O God, may I be as committed to removing from me all that dishonors you. May I cleanse not the land but the landscape of my heart. May I kill not others but all that would kill my faith and quench your spirit. May I worship you – and you alone – with my life. my mind, myself. Amen.