The Holy War


Deuteronomy 7:1-8:20


When we looked at the 10 Commandments, we claimed that they served as a type of overture for the rest of Deuteronomy. We saw starting in Deut. 6 Moses expanding upon the first commandment when he commanded Israel to love God with all her heart, soul, and strength. The first commandment is so pivotal for the people of God. If a person honors this command, then he can rest assured that he will follow all the other commands.

Many times we try to get people to deal with certain individual aspects of their lives, such as gambling, smoking, drinking, etc., while all along the primary part of their life that needs to be dealt with is their commitment to God. When a person is radically committed to God, then you don't have to worry about their drinking or gambling habits. These matters will take care of themselves by themselves. Unfortunately, though, whenever we’ve gotten people to give up drinking, etc., they still have the problem of their relationship with God. We need to preach first and foremost the relationship a person should have with God. The rest will eventually take care of itself if that person has truly committed himself to God.


The concept of the Holy War flows naturally out of the first commandment. The first commandment commands us to have a radical commitment to God. God will brook no rival for the affections and allegiance of His people. He is a jealous God who wants them to be completely His. The Holy War is one way the OT takes radical commitment to God seriously.

We also find this concept in the NT. Whereas the NT does not command us to go kill people who are non-Christians, it still calls us to enter into a radical commitment to Jesus Christ. Jesus said that our commitment to him should be so radical and that our love for Him should be so intense, that all other relationships should pale in comparison to our relationship with Him. For example, when He tells us that only the person who hates his parents, spouse, and children is worthy of Him, He is saying that our love for Him should be so radical and so intense, that if you compared your love for others to Him, the love for others would seem like hate in comparison (Luke 14:26; see also Matt. 10:34-39).

Too many times we reduce what the church does and what our relationship to Christ is to being nothing more than developing us into good parents, spouses, American citizens, etc. Whereas the Christian is going to be a good spouse, parent, etc., he is those things because he follows Christ radically and exclusively. Any other basis for being a good parent, etc. is ultimately a shaky foundation. When it is all said and done, if I want my spouse to be the best spouse possible, I need to pray that she grow in her relationship with the Lord. If I want my children to be the best children possible, I need to pray that they grow in their relationship with the Lord.

The first element in this holy war is that the Israelites were to kill all the inhabitants of the land of Canaan. Whereas this may seem quite harsh, we need to understand the spiritual condition of those inhabiting Canaan at this time. The Canaanites were so debased that they actually created a religion which vindicated their promiscuous lifestyle. They were an agrarian society which had lapsed into licentiousness. As a result, they created 2 gods of nature which condoned their promiscuity. They claimed that the god of heaven was Baal, while his consort was Asherah, the goddess of the earth. They needed Baal to send rain down upon Asherah which they perverted into a sexual union. In order to entire Baal to come to Asherah, the Canaanites established temples which housed both male and female prostitutes. Male worshipers approaching the female prostitutes was meant to entire Baal to approach Asherah. Women worshipers approaching male prostitutes was also meant to entice the 2 gods to come together. By engaging in these sexual acts, they were claiming that they were enticing Baal to come to Asherah with the result that rain was poured down upon the earth. The Canaanites had descended beneath the level of the animal realm in their morals. When God commanded the Israelites to destroy the Canaanites, He was not acting like some capricious god who delights in the death of sinners. Rather, He is acting like the moral judge of the universe who brings judgment upon people at the right time. In fact, God timed the invasion of the Israelites so that the Canaanites would have regressed to such a point that there was no longer any hope for them (see Gen. 15:16).

Our modern sensitivities are repulsed by the idea of the Holy War. Modern theologians try to "rescue" God by claiming that the Israelites did not fully understand God when they embarked upon this Holy War. They claim that we have to look at God in Christ in order to understand God fully. Two responses to this. First, the NT itself claims that even the God of the NT will bring judgment upon all mankind at the end of time. A verdict of condemnation will not bring a slap on the wrist but rather eternal death. The God of the Holy War is consistent with the God of the NT. History is the arena in which God reveals Himself and His acts to people. In the OT God many times acted in history in order to teach His people eternal truths. If God had never judged people in history, they would have never believed that He would judge them at the end of history.

Second, while it is true that in order to understand God fully we must see Him in Christ, it is also true that the Christ of the NT will also bring judgment upon all mankind. In fact, after Jesus describes the events which will precede His second coming, He then explains the purpose of His second coming: JUDGMENT! In order to get a picture of Christ which does away with Him as being judge, you must delete major parts of Revelation and the Gospels, something many of us are unwilling to do.

Finally, many of our modern sensitivities run contrary to God's Word. We want to be merciful when God cries out for justice. At other times, we want justice when God cries out for mercy. Henry Blackaby has said that we need to be careful whenever we act like we are more merciful than God (7:16). When we do this, we are acting out of sheer arrogance. In the case when we are exercising "more mercy" than God, we are not more merciful than God; we're being indulgent.

The other 2 elements of the Holy War are that the Israelites are not to make a covenant with their pagan neighbors and that the Israelites are not to intermarry with their pagan neighbors. These last 2 elements make us ask why Moses even mentions these since the Israelites are supposed to kill all the Canaanites. Later Moses informed the Israelites that their conquest would not be immediate, the reason being that if the Israelites annihilated all the Canaanites, then the land would be under-populated and be susceptible to being overrun by wild beasts. As a result, God was going to allow the conquest to be successful in stages and not in one fell swoop (7:22).

Just a side note here for the sake of you deer hunters, etc. Man is good for the environment. People who decry the killing of "Bambi" and the maintenance of forests are basing their opinions upon sentiments and not facts. Keeping the deep population at manageable levels means that you don't have a lot of sick deer running about infecting the rest of the population. Maintaining our natural forests and not allowing them to return to their primitive state helps them. Radical extreme environmentalists succeeded in preventing the National Parks and Forest Service from being able to clear the brush out from underneath the trees in one of our national parks. They claimed that was the way nature intended for the parks to exist. Well, one dry summer lightning struck the ground and had all this dead underbrush at its disposal to destroy the entire forest. Well, just maybe nature put MAN her on the earth to use his head and prevent such things from happening. Have the extreme environmentalists thought of that? God has put man here on the earth to improve nature which for the most part he has done.

In the second element God commands the people not to intermarry with pagans. This carries over into the Christian sphere as well. Once you're married to somebody, you're married to them. That person becomes God's will for your life after that. The Christian is allowed to get out of that marriage only if the non-Christian initiates the separation; therefore, we're not addressing people who are married to non-Christians. When a Christian is a single, though, he is under strict obligations not to marry anybody else who is not a Christian. The marriage relationship is the most important human relationship we have in our lives, and as a result, we are to make sure that God plays the pivotal role in that relationship which will not happen if one of the spouses is a non-Christian. No matter what choice we've made, we need to be praying right now for our children's future spouses that they be dedicated Christians.

In the third element, God commands the people not to make a treaty or covenant with the other nations surrounding them who do not worship Israel's God. Israel will be tempted to do this throughout her history. Constantly she will be threatened by the Assyrians (modern-day Iraqis), Babylonians (modern-day Iraqis), and Persians (modern-day Iranians—some things never change ). She will be tempted to go to Egypt for help. Repeatedly the prophets warned against this because the following scenario will happen. If I go down to Egypt for help because I believe she is stronger than me, then it is just a matter of time before I start thinking the reason Egypt is stronger than is me that her gods are stronger than my God. It's just a matter of time before I junk my God and start to worship Egypt's gods—a clear violation of the First Commandment.


The 3 reasons that the Israelites were not to do this were (1) such entanglements would eventually pull down the Israelites spiritually so that they would worship other gods; (2) they were God's chosen people, a holy possession; and (3) just as God had been faithful to them, so they should be faithful to God. Invariably, the unrighteous pull down the righteous more than the righteous pull up the unrighteous. Evangelistic dating is simply not condoned in the Bible. This is not to say that we are not to make friends with non-Christians; it's just that we become the friends of non-Christians only for the purpose of bringing them to Christ. If our best friends are non-Christians, we are more likely going to become like them than they like us. Our best friends should only be Christians who share the same values we do. (Simply because a person is a Christian does not qualify them to be our best friends either. Some Christians have the same lifestyle as non-Christians; they too should not become our intimate friends.)

The second reason is that we are God's chosen, holy possession. The Israelites were God's possession for 2 reasons. First, God had created them. Whatever a person creates belongs to that person. Since God created them, He possesses them. Second, God had freed them from the bondage of Egypt. Now He did not free them so that they could go on their own merry way; rather, He freed them so that they would now be His possession which is the essence of true freedom. Next, the word "holy" means "set apart" or "different." God is holy because He is so different from everything and everybody else (Is. 55:8). Since a holy God possesses us, we then should be holy also.

The third reason is based upon His faithfulness. For the past 23 years, I have loved the book The Lord of the Rings. Although its scale and scope are epic in proportion, it is still a testament to friendship and faithfulness. At the end of the first part of the movie version of LOTR, Sam expresses to Frodo his undying faithfulness. It is really a tender scene. Frodo has been entrusted with the task of destroying a ring which wields incredible power. Whoever controls the ring can control all the earth. He along with 8 others is commissioned to cast the ring into the fires of the mountain from which it was forged. As he and his companions get closer to the fiery mountain, the ring begins to take hold of the thoughts and imaginations of some of Frodo's companions. He realizes that unless he separates himself from the rest of the company, the ring will destroy all of them; therefore, he tries to leave the group and head off for Mount Doom alone. His best friend, Sam, realizes what Frodo is doing and chases after him. By the time Sam gets to Frodo, Frodo is in a boat halfway across the river. Sam starts running after Frodo. "Go away, Sam! I am going to Mount Doom alone." "I know you are; that's why I'm coming with you!" Sam jumps into the water and tries to swim to Frodo. "Stop, Sam! You can't swim!" "I’m coming with you, Mr. Frodo!" At that point Sam begins to sink and near about drowns, when at the last moment Frodo reaches down and rescues Sam. After he pulls Sam into the boat, he asks him, "Sam, what are you doing" With tears streaming down his cheeks, Sam says, "I made a promise, Mr. Frodo. 'Don't you leave him Sam Gamgee!' they told me. And I don't mean to; I don't mean to." The scene brings tears to my eyes; however, as wonderful as this is, it does not begin to compare with the faithfulness God displays towards you and me each and every day.

The one thing we never have to worry about is God's faithfulness to you and me because ultimately when He is being faithful to you and me, He is actually being faithful to Abraham and to Christ. When God promised to bless Abraham and his seed, according to Paul (Gal. 3:16) God was making the promise to Abraham and to Christ. When we become Christians, we become so identified with Christ that the promise God made to Christ applies to you and me also. As a result, if God were to become unfaithful to you and to me, he would actually have to be unfaithful to Abraham His friend and to Christ, His beloved Son. That is something He would never, ever do.

Our responsibility then is to respond to God's faithfulness by being faithful to him in return. This past Saturday I was summoned by Thelma Caskey to visit her in the hospital. She is 95 years old and has just had a heart attack. When I entered the room, she told me that she wanted to talk to me about the future of her Sunday School class. I told her that before we went any further that I wanted to point out something. Here she was not only 95 years old but also recovering from a heart attack in the hospital wanting to talk about her SS class. I pray to the Lord that if I am ever in the same situation that I am calling up my ministers to talk about my concerns for the church. That is pure faithfulness. And if Thelma can be faithful like that, then I can too. (I am writing this many years later. A few weeks after this episode, Thelma passed away. One of her last dying wishes was that I take care of her ministry. That is indeed a wonderful testimony to her faithfulness.)


Chapter 8 continues the theme of radical commitment to God. Many times when we speak about idolatry, w think in terms of images made of silver, gold, and brass. Idols, though, come in many shapes, sizes, and materials. One of the major idols in the lives of many is that of self, self-deification, where I make myself and not God the center of the universe. The Israelites were about to face the very threat of self-deification because of the blessings God was about to bestow upon them. He was going to bring them into a land flowing with milk and honey. They were going to occupy houses and cities which they themselves did not build. They were going to till vineyards they had not planted and drink from wells they had not dug. At first, they would be grateful to the Lord for bestowing all things blessings up them. As time passed, though, they would be tempted to take credit for all these blessings. They would then become conceited and arrogant as they prided themselves on their accomplishments.

In this chapter Moses wants to remind them of their wilderness wandering experiences in order to guard against such a sin. The wilderness experience was meant not only to remove the rebellious generation of those 20 and older but also to be an educational tool to teach the future generations of Israelites that they needed the Lord and that everything they had came from Him. The only appropriate response they should have towards the Lord should be gratitude and a willingness to use whatever God had bestowed upon them in the ways He wanted them to use them.

He first reminds them of the manna they had in the wilderness. The Israelites naturally believed that in order to survive they needed bread and that they needed to cultivate wheat fields in order to produce wheat for the bread. In the wilderness there are no wheat fields. As much as they tried and as much as they wanted, they would have never been able to grow wheat in order to produce bread while in the wilderness. In the wilderness, though, God taught them 2 things. First, that bread was not necessary for their livelihood and second, that God did not need their help in order to take care of them. Instead of giving them fertile fields they could till to produce wheat, God gave them manna every morning with a double portion on Fridays which would last through Saturday. It was not the wheat bread they thought they needed; rather it was manna, a type of sweet substance which was like filo bread, sweet and very sustaining. This was meant to produce an attitude of humility on their part towards God. God sustained the Israelites in this manner in order to teach the Israelites that bread was not the essence of life but the things which God gave His people by means of his world. The only way this manna was going to exist was by God creating it through His word.

Each of us needs to reflect back on our own lives to see how God has cared for us so that we can live in humility and not in pride. I remember in 1981 after I was accepted into the Ph.D. program at SWBTS that one of my major professors, Dr. MacGorman, advised me to quit my fulltime position at FBC Lancaster and devote myself completely to my studies. For the next 3 years, I took all my course studies while working at Safeway Food Stores. At the end of the 3 years I felt led to help with the youth group in a local church because of all the troubles it had had over the past 9 years. I had 4 more years left to finish my dissertation and complete my doctorate; therefore, I felt no time pressure. Time passed swiftly because of all the work required to be youth minister. In 1986 just a month before Nancy and I were to wed, I had 3 of my wisdom teeth taken out. The doctor gave me percodan and another pain reliever to ease the pain. He told me to take the percodan first and then the other pain reliever. He meant that I was to take the percodan, and after I had run out of it I was to take the other pain reliever. I thought he meant to take one dosage of the percodan and then one dosage of the other pain reliever simultaneously. That night I woke up sweating profusely. My mom had to change the sheets because of tall the sweat. That night I think I almost died from overdosing! God used that incident to stop me dead in my tracks and give me time to meditate. The one thing God impressed upon me was the urgency to get on with my dissertation. The church gave me a 6-month leave of absence which eventually became 18 months. I thought I had plenty of time. Little did I realize how little time I did have.

The first step of the process was to prepare a prospectus, a 30-page summary of the dissertation. This took a few months; however, I was not concerned because I was working with one of the top 5 professors at the seminary. Dr. Brooks had 2 Ph.D.'s, one from Princeton University having studied under Bruce Metzger and one from Oxford University having studied with G.D. Kilpatrick, the 2 top leaders in the field of NT criticism. I was working with one of the best in his field; therefore, I felt no concern with regards to the prospectus. After a few months of working on the prospectus and fine-tuning it under Dr. Book's leadership, I submitted it to the Ph.D. committee. Now the committee does not meet often; it meets once a month. I submitted it and waited. I got the notice in the mail from the committee that my prospectus had been rejected. I couldn't believe it. I went immediately to Dr. Brooks who told me not to worry, that this type of thing was typical. He instructed me to make a few changes and then resubmit it. I followed his instructions. (Just a bit of information. The committee many times did not have the best men in the program serving on it; this year 2 junior NT professors were representing the area of NT. Sometimes unlike the seasoned professors who don't feel threatened they tend to try to prove themselves by being overly harsh on students.) A month passed and I got another notice from the committee informing me that my prospectus had been rejected. This time Dr. Brooks did not take the notice so well. He summoned the 2 NT professors on the committee and me to his office to determine how to resolve the impasse. I had no idea who would blink first, Dr. Brooks or the other 2 professors.

Well, let me tell you what happened. When I got to Dr. Brook's office, the other 2 professors not only blinked first, they were blinking so rapidly that you didn't need a fan in that room. They had been summoned by a giant in the field of textual criticism who was in a state of wrath. They told us that if we just made a few minor changes, then they would accept it. In order to help all save face, we accepted their terms.

The only problem was that time was running out. I had less than a year to research and write a 300-page dissertation. Moreover, I still had to take a course at Baylor University under Dr. Robert Sloan, who was just a lowly NT professor at the time (later he became president of BU). By the time I had finished the course and was ready to begin the dissertation, I had only 6 months left. For the next 6 months I would spend 3 weeks researching a chapter and then one week of the month writing the chapter. At the end of 6 months I was finished. I was toast, but I was finished. At the appropriate time I received word from the Ph.D. committee that my dissertation was not only accepted but also accepted with the highest of marks.

There was no way I could have done this on my own. It took on the average 18 months for students to write dissertations. Fortunately, 5 years earlier 2 of my friends and I became the first students at SWBTS to purchase PC's in order to do our school work. Without the Lord's help and the computer I could have never done it. It's just one example of many of how the Lord has given me all the wonderful things in my life in such a way that I know they came from Him and Him only. My appropriate response should be nothing other than humility and faithfulness to Him.