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Friday, July 19th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 7

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


This chapter, following the pattern we have already observed, is devoted to a further exposition and comment on the 2nd and 3rd commandments of the Decalogue. Here Moses extensively warned the Israelites against the idolatry of the land of Canaan into which they were about to enter. In the very first verse of this chapter, we have, “When Jehovah thy God shall bring thee into the land….” This expression, or its equivalent (including half a dozen slight variations of it) occurs twenty-four times in Moses’ speeches as recorded in Deuteronomy, and only five times throughout all the rest of the Pentateuch.(F1) This amazing characteristic was due to the fact that when Moses delivered these addresses, all of Israel were standing on the threshold of Canaan, which could plainly be seen across the rolling waters of the Jordan river. In the mouth of Moses, this oft-repeated expression is natural, reasonable, and in harmony with all that is known of that situation. On the other hand, such expressions are absolutely contrary to anything that a forger, impersonator, or any seventh-century author can possibly be conceived of as writing. This material confirms the formal declarations in Deuteronomy that Moses is indeed the author of all this material.(F2)

Verses 1-5

“When Jehovah thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and shall cast out many nations before thee, the Hittite, and the Gergashite, and the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite, seven nations greater and mightier than thou: and Jehovah thy God shall deliver them up before thee, and thou shalt smite them; then thou shalt utterly destroy them: thou shalt make no covenant with them; neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son. For he will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods: so will the anger of Jehovah be kindled against you, and he will destroy thee quickly. But thus shall ye deal with them: ye shall break down their altars, and dash in pieces their pillars, and hew down their Asherim, and burn their graven images with fire.”

The list of nations here in Deuteronomy 7:1 is also found in Genesis 15:19-21; Exodus 3:8; Deuteronomy 1:4; Deuteronomy 20:17; Joshua 3:10; Joshua 24:11, a “total often of these being enumerated in all.”(F3) In several instances only six nations are named, but in others we have seven, as here. There were actually thirty-two kingdoms of Palestine destroyed by the Israelites, and all of these lists may be considered as typical summaries of all of them, these being the principal racial divisions. We have no patience with scholars who complain that the Girgashites were omitted from the list in Exodus 3:8, or that the Rephaim (Genesis 15:20) are omitted here and in other places. So what? “The Girgashites, thought by some to be the same as the Gergesenes (Matthew 8:28), may be identified as a subdivision of the large Hivite group”;(F4) and the Rephaim were not mentioned by Moses at this point, because Israel had just “destroyed Og, the last of the Rephaim!” (Deuteronomy 3:11). “The Rephaim were at this time extinct, having been conquered and destroyed by the Israelites.”(F5) That these groups thus distinguished in these various lists are to be understood as racial divisions appears in the following:

The Gergesenes. (See the paragraph above.)

The Amorites were descended from the fourth son of Canaan.

The Hittites were descended from Herb, the second son of Canaan (Genesis 10:15).

The Canaanites were descended from the first son of Canaan, and were the bearer of his name. They occupied the coast.

The Hivites dwelt in the region near Gerizim and Ebal northward to Mount Hermon.

The Perizzites were villagers, living in unwalled towns throughout the land of Palestine.

The Jebusites occupied the area in the vicinity of Jerusalem.(F6)

“Then thou shalt utterly destroy them” (Deuteronomy 7:2). “Some people take offense at this, as though it represented sub-Christian ethics. Actually, they are taking offense at the theology and religion of the whole Bible.”(F7) What the physician does when he removes a cancerous member of a human body is exactly what God is represented as doing here, i.e., removing a terribly-infected portion of the human race to prevent the destruction of all people! God has already once destroyed all persons, except the family of Noah, because the degeneration of humanity had reached such a crisis that there was no other way to save Adam’s race. Furthermore, as Kline pointed out, “This very same ethical pattern will prevail in the event of the final judgment and beyond.”(F8) There is no Biblical indication whatever that Almighty God will finally accommodate Himself to the gross immorality of the Adamic creation. The Israelites acted, not out of their own hatred and fury, “but as the instrument of divine justice against people whose abominations were an offence to God.”(F9)

Many modern scholars gloss over the unbelievably sordid picture of the immoralities and debaucheries of the pre-Israeli inhabitants of Canaan, simply because “it is embarrassing” and revolting to relate them.(F10) However, “The Ugaritic religious literature recovered from the Ras Shamra discoveries on the north Syrian coast (1929-1937) fully authenticates the moral depravity of the Canaanite civilization around 1400 B.C.”(F11) Therefore, as Unger pointed out, “It was a question of destroying them or being destroyed.”(F12)

“Neither shalt thou make marriages with them” (Deuteronomy 7:3). Of course, God could not allow marriages with such morally-depraved people. To have done so would have been to advocate the immediate destruction of Israel. This exclusivism of Israel “was one reason for Judaism’s survival. Jewish religion flowed swift and deep because it was constricted within narrow banks.”(F13)

That there is a lesson for the Church of God in this is certain. As Oberst put it:

“Perhaps the young people of Moses’ day said, “But we will make Israelites out of those girls!” (as is often done today). But God knew better. His warning still stands to every young person in the Israel of God, the church. His exhortation still remains, “Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers (See 2 Corinthians 6:14 to 2 Corinthians 7:1).(F14)

In Deuteronomy 7:4, Moses speaks of “following me,” the meaning, of course, being “following God.” Keil stated that, “Moses here used the first person singular pronoun because he was speaking in the name of God.”(F15)

The command: (1) to break down their altars (Deuteronomy 7:5); (2) to dash in pieces their pillars (Deuteronomy 7:5); (3) to cut down their Asherim (Deuteronomy 7:5); and (4) to burn their graven images with fire (Deuteronomy 7:5) shows how completely the people were to eradicate paganism from the promised land.

“Pillars” These were obelisks, or standing stone columns, connected with the worship of the Asherim. Several varied opinions about these are current, but the conviction of this writer is that they were phallic symbols erected to worship the male principle in the vulgar sexual cults of the Baalim.

This writer has seen startling examples of this in Japan in 1952.

“Asherim” “These were representations in wood of the old Semitic goddess Asherah.”(F16) There is some doubt of this definition, because the KJV renders this word “groves,” and certainly the groves were an essential feature of the pagan worship of that day. The Septuagint (LXX) also renders this word “groves.”(F17)

There seems to be, however, some connection with a pagan goddess. As Cook said, “The word means trunk of a tree, a representation of the goddess Ashtaroth.”(F18) Alexander identified the female deity indicated by these items as “Astarte, the Venus of the Syrians.”(F19) It is obvious that a good deal of uncertainty surrounds this word. It is almost certain that Astarte was the female goddess of the citizens of Tyre, for Josephus tells us that, when the Philistines overcame Saul and his sons in battle, they stripped them of their armour and deposited it in the temple of Astarte, the pagan house of worship that had been constructed by Hiram, the friend of Solomon.(F20)

Verses 6-11

“For thou art a holy people unto Jehovah thy God: Jehovah thy God hath chosen thee to be a people for his own possession, above all the peoples that are upon the face of the earth. Jehovah did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all peoples: but because Jehovah loveth you, and because he would keep the covenant which he sware unto your fathers, hath Jehovah brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that Jehovah thy God, he is God, the faithful God, who keepeth covenant and lovingkindness with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations, and repayeth them that hate him to their face, to destroy them: he will not be slack to him that hateth him, he will repay him to his face. Thou shalt therefore keep the commandment, and the statutes, and the ordinances, which I command thee this day to do them.”

“To be a people for his own possession” The Septuagint (LXX) renders this, “to be a peculiar people above all the nations that are upon the face of the earth.” This is translated exactly the same way in 1 Peter 2:9.

“Because the Lord loved you” (Deuteronomy 7:8). Alexander’s comment on this is:

“Instead of saying, he hath chosen you out of love to your fathers, as in Deuteronomy 4:37, Moses brings out in this place love to the people of Israel as the Divine motive, not for choosing Israel, but for leading it out and delivering it from the slave-house in Egypt.”(F21)

The word “love” in such passages does not indicate an emotional state such as is normally associated with the word. It merely means “doing right by,” or “honoring his promises to” Israel. Jacob loved Rachel and hated Leah, i.e., in the emotional sense, but he surely “loved” Leah also in the sense of fulfilling his duty toward her, for she was the mother of six of the Twelve Patriarchs.

“The faithful God” (Deuteronomy 7:9). Davies properly understood this as being equivalent to “the true God,” i.e., the only God, quoting 4:37 as supporting this.(F22)

A few thoughts on the faithfulness of God are in order. In putting Israel into possession of Canaan so many centuries after the promise to Abraham, and at such cost in miracle and divine manipulation of human events, “God gave Israel irrefragable proof of His covenant-keeping faithfulness.”(F23) Just look at what God did:

(1) He promised Abraham to deliver Canaan to his seed.

(2) When it became apparent that the Israelites would be swept into unity with the pagan nations around them (in the times of Judah), he arranged to make Israel unpopular by moving the whole nation of the keepers of sheep into Egypt, where they were despised. There they became a cohesive, strong, and powerful people, and were enslaved.

(3) Against the mightiest nation on earth, God delivered His judgments in the form of ten great plagues, delivered the people across the Red Sea, drowning Pharaoh and his whole army at the same time.

(4) He nourished and guided them in the wilderness, in spite of their repeated rebellions.

(5) And NOW, some half-a-millennium later, He will actually deliver Canaan to the children of Abraham as He had promised so many centuries earlier! No wonder He is referred to here by Moses as “the faithful God.”

“He will repay him to his face” (Deuteronomy 7:10). Alexander gave the meaning of this unusual clause thus: “It means openly, manifestly, during this present life, and so that the hater of God should know and feel that he had been smitten of God.”(F24) The principle that God will indeed speedily avenge Himself upon His enemies (and it would seem especially upon those enemies who are in some way an actual threat to the kingdom of God) is taught unequivocally in the N.T., as well as here. A very similar promise is in Luke 18:7, a passage which Dummelow affirmed “was literally fulfilled in the calamities which overtook the Jews and the heathen persecutors of the early Christians.”(F25) Lactantius has twenty pages of the most interesting events concerning the awful punishments, judgments, and miseries, which befell the famed persecutors of the church, namely, Nero, Domitian, Decius, Valerian, Aurelian, Diocletian, etc.”(F26)

Verses 12-16

“And it shall come to pass, because ye hearken to these ordinances, and keep and do them, that Jehovah thy God will keep with thee the covenant and the lovingkindness which he sware unto thy fathers: and he will love thee, and bless thee, and multiply thee; he will also bless the fruit of thy body and the fruit of thy ground, thy grain and thy new wine and thine oil, the increase of thy cattle and the young of thy flock, in the land which he sware unto thy fathers to give thee. Thou shalt be blessed above all peoples; there shall not be male or female barren among you, or among your cattle. And Jehovah will take away from thee all sickness; and none of the evil diseases of Egypt, which thou knowest, will he put upon thee, but will lay them upon all them that hate thee. And thou shalt consume all the peoples that Jehovah thy God shall deliver unto thee; thine eye shall not pity them: neither shalt thou serve their gods; for that will be a snare unto thee.”

Physical and material prosperity were the rewards promised to the covenant people of the O.T. Great as these rewards assuredly were, the spiritual rewards of the new covenant are far superior. Also, the N.T. abundantly teaches that many of the old physical and material rewards of the O.T. are likewise given unto the faithful under the new covenant. Has not God promised to be with His people, “always, even unto the end of the world?”

A significant aspect of the teaching here regarding the fruitfulness of body, land, cattle, etc., is that all such fruitfulness is attributed to God alone, and this is just the opposite of the claims of the cultists of Canaan who attributed the fruitfulness of their fields and the fertility of themselves and of their cattle to their sex gods and goddesses which they worshipped with such abominable rites.

Wonderful as the grace of God assuredly is, it should be noted that all of the blessings here promised were contingent, absolutely, upon Israel’s fidelity to the holy covenant. “Even the elect, may become faithless, and so become reprobate!”(F27) Thus, it came about that 24,000 of the elect who came up out of Egypt committed fornication in a single day, lost their lives, and, of course, were denied entry into Canaan. “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

Deuteronomy 7:13. There is a very strange thing in this verse, in that the Hebrew word for ewes “is the plural form of Ashtoreth. This goddess, called by the classical writers Astarte, is identified with Venus, and represents the fruitfulness of nature.”(F28)

Deuteronomy 7:15. This has God’s promise that He would protect Israel against the diseases with which He had afflicted the Egyptians. This corresponds to the promise God had made previously in Exodus 15:26. As to what those diseases were, Davies identified these as: “dysentery, elephantiasis, and ophthalmia”;(F29) and to these Jamieson added, “smallpox and the plague.”(F30) It is amazing that in this verse disease appears as something that God sent upon sinful people as punishment. In harmony with that view, a number of respected medical authorities have expressed the opinion that the dreadful malady - AIDS - is a direct judgment of God upon the sin with which the disease is undoubtedly associated.(F31)

“That will be a snare unto thee” (Deuteronomy 7:16). The Hebrew Scriptures have many references to the devices by which men captured animals and birds, and “snare” is surely one of the favorite metaphors of the sacred writers.

“It was a noose made of hair for small birds, and of wire for larger birds. The snares were set in a favorable location and grain was scattered to attract the feathered creatures. The birds accepted the bribe of good feeding and walked into the snare not suspecting any danger. For this reason, the snare became particularly applicable to describing a tempting bribe offered by men in order to lead their fellows into trouble.”(F32)

There are at least fifteen Biblical instances of the use of this remarkable metaphor.

Verses 17-23

“If thou shalt say in thy heart, These nations are more than I; how can I dispossess them? Thou shalt not be afraid of them: thou shalt well remember what Jehovah thy God did unto Pharaoh, and unto all Egypt; the great trials which thine eyes saw, and the signs, and the wonders, and the mighty hand, and the outstretched arm, whereby Jehovah thy God brought thee out: so shall Jehovah thy God do unto all the peoples of whom thou art afraid. Moreover Jehovah thy God will send the hornet among them, until they that are left, and hide themselves, perish from before thee. Thou shalt not be affrighted at them; for Jehovah thy God is in the midst of thee, a great God and a terrible. And Jehovah thy God will cast out those nations before thee by little and little: thou mayest not consume them at once, lest the beasts of the field increase upon thee. But Jehovah thy God will deliver them up before thee, and will discomfit them with a great discomfiture, until they be destroyed.”

Concerning “the hornets” mentioned in Deuteronomy 7:20, we like the comment of Wright in the Interpreter’s Bible, that the question of whether these were literally hornets or if this is a metaphor for some other type of opposition, “is not clear!”(F33) We say “Amen” to that! Some commentators have voiced the opinion that, “There is no ground for interpreting the hornets literally; the reference symbolizes some form of God’s activity on behalf of Israel.”(F34) An opposing view is that of Oberst who said, “I take these verses literally, believing that God actually did use wasps or hornets to assist Israel in battle. Why couldn’t he?”(F35) W. L. Alexander mentioned the fact that the Roman Emperor Julian was compelled to change the route of his retreat from Parthia “by a host of flies and gnats.”(F36) It appears to us that believers may choose either of these viewpoints. However, we should reject outright the know-it-all scholars who have taken the options away from us and changed the translation to conform to what they suppose the sacred author meant. Smith-Goodspeed, for example, rendered “leprosy” here instead of hornet; the Torah renders it as “plague”; Lamsa gives us “raiders”; and Baumgarmer translates it “depression and discouragement.”(F37) Needless to say, such renditions are not translations at all, but opinions of scholars passed off to the non-suspecting public as “the Word of God.” For those who prefer the metaphorical interpretation of the hornets, perhaps the best support of such a view is found in Peter Lange’s comment. (See the Bible commentary by Peter Lange).

Verses 24-26

“And he will deliver their kings into thy hand, and thou shalt make their names to perish from under heaven: there shall no man be able to stand before thee, until thou have destroyed them. The graven images of their gods shall ye burn with fire; thou shalt not covet the silver or the gold that is on them, nor take it unto thee lest thou be snared therein; for it is an abomination to Jehovah thy God. And thou shalt not bring an abomination into thy house, and become a devoted thing like unto it: thou shalt utterly detest it. and thou shalt utterly abhor it; for it is a devoted thing.”

“Lest thou be snared therein” (Deuteronomy 7:25). The meaning is not that the silver and gold in itself would be a snare, but that in being a devoted thing as part of their false gods, it would contaminate all that came in contact with it. The tragic story of Achan in Joshua (Joshua 7) shows what a dreadful snare such as gold and silver really were. For a full explanation of what was meant by the “war ban” of all devoted things, see last paragraph of Deuteronomy 2, where three degrees of this ban are outlined.

“Thou shalt make their name to perish from under heaven” (Deuteronomy 7:24). The final and ultimate fate of everything detested by God appears in a word like this, and the sorrowful aspect of this is that it applies, absolutely, to the entire race of Adam to the full extent of the sinful and rebellious part of the race. “And I will cut man (Adam) off the face of the ground” (Zephaniah 1:2). Throughout the Bible, the Great Terminator, like the sword of Damocles, is poised for the destruction of mankind in the final judgment, the sole survivors of which catastrophe will be the redeemed “in Christ.” “To fall under God’s ban is to forfeit all covenant privilege and come under the anathema of God.”(F38) “Even the name of false gods should be obliterated from memory.”(F39) Amazingly, this anathema against false gods is pronounced especially against the pagan priests. Zephaniah has this: “And I will cut off the remnant of Baal from this place, and the name of the Chemarim with the priests” (Zephaniah 1:4). Note: “[~Chemarim] is the usual Aramaic word, which comes from a root whose meaning is `to be black.’“(F40) “The word means `black robed’ and is applied to idolatrous priests (2 Kings 23:5; Hosea 10:5).”(F41)

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 7". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/deuteronomy-7.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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