Thursday, March 30, 2006

Deuteronomy 7: Mysterious Grace

The conquest of Canaan is simultaneously an act of great love, and an act of great judgment by God. Great love on behalf of his chosen people, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey, a land of great influence in the region, and a land that would be theirs for generations to come. There would be great judgment on the Canaanites, the seven peoples greater and stronger than Israel; their perverse fertility religions had built up the wrath of God, which would soon be poured out through His instrument Israel. Great mercy would be shown to Israel, despite their wandering and whining, by giving them the land, taking it from the current residents. In the Bible, and by their nature, the grace and mercy of God are always undeserved. Conversely, in the Bible, the judgment of God is always deserved. Thus we can say that although undeserving, God blessed his chosen people, and because the Canaanites were deserving of wrath, he cursed them. What should make us wince when we read Deuteronomy 7 is not our human sense of justice being violated, but an awareness of our sinfulness like the Canaanite, and an awareness of how undeserving we are like an Israelite.

Even though we get a little sensitive about our “God of love” being so judgmental, his greatest act of love was an act of judgment. Where else do we see an act of great love and of great judgment in the Bible? At the cross we have the most loving event of all time, and also the worst, most unfair event of all time. In the judgment of God upon Jesus, we have life. In 1st Corinthians 5:21, it illustrates this great exchange and juxtaposition of judgment and love: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The central event of salvation was the most unfair, inhumane event of all time.

Lest we minimize the history of Israel and God’s dealings with her to allegory and illustrations, let’s think about the results of the conquest of Canaan. First of all, the Israelites were successful in occupying the land, but they did not exterminate the Canaanites. To be sure, many were killed, but also many were dispersed, and some even intermarried with Israelites. Let us not forget Rahab, the Canaanite woman from Jericho who would be part of the line of Jesus. Secondly, in God’s mysterious ways of grace, we see Jesus in the gospels, consorting with Samaritans (Hebrew-Canaanite mix), and going to the Decapolis, at that time known as the “land of the seven” according to Jewish tradition. In a land considered evil, he cast out a legion of demons and set a man free, and then sent him to tell people what God had done for him. (For more on the Decapolis, see here. Jesus showed his disciples what the kingdom would be like. It would be much different than a tiny, sliver of a nation-state; they would bring his kingdom to the world. The kingdom would encompass the entire globe and take root in all the cultures and peoples of the earth.


Bryan Halferty said...

Hey Matt, This is a really great post. Concise and deeply biblical.

mrteague said...


Hey, minimize to allegory all you want. If you keep sharing Jesus, it's alright with me!

My favorite parts were the part about wincing at how undeserving we are, and that the cross was the most loving but unfair act of all time. God is good.