Newcomers to the Bible are often horrified by the battles described in the Old Testament, even turned off by what appears to them as a bloodthirsty God. Wanting and perhaps expecting a God of love, they don’t know what to do with this God who orders His people to destroy men, women and children.
On the way home from church one day with two of our adult grandchildren, one of them asked about this. He didn’t understand why God would order death for so many people, even entire nations. But before we could answer his question, he answered it himself. “I think I know why. It is because those nations were so evil.”
God is a loving, gracious God, but that does not negate the fact that He is holy and hates sin. Deuteronomy 9:4 says, “Do not think in your heart, after the Lord your God has cast them out before you, saying, ‘Because of my righteousness the Lord has brought me in to possess this land’; but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out from before you.”
If I could get a grasp of His holiness and purity, then I would never ask why He destroys some because that is the wrong question. We are all sinful people. It is better to wonder why He allows any of us to live!
As I read Deuteronomy, I notice the warnings God gave His people about their own lives. While they were special and set apart for Him, He didn’t want them to forget that they were not any better than those nations He told them to conquer.
Deuteronomy 7:7-8 says, “The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the Lord loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”
This is always a good reminder for Christians too. God didn’t pick me because I am special or good or have merit or am more lovable; His choice had nothing to do with me. He picked me because He loves me. This is a humbling thought.
Verses 22-23 in that same chapter say, “And the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you little by little; you will be unable to destroy them at once, lest the beasts of the field become too numerous for you. But the Lord your God will deliver them over to you, and will inflict defeat upon them until they are destroyed.”
When God brought His people to the land He gave them, that land was filled with people who were godless and evil. He told them to clean it up, and said this would take time. If they moved too fast and didn’t inhabit and fill the areas they had conquered, the wild animals would take over and become too much for them.
Christians know that when we are brought into the family of God we have a huge amount of godless things in our own lives that need to be cleaned up. He wants me to attack the sin that once controlled me and conquer it, but He also knows this will take time. I know it too.
Also, in my case, wild animals do not threaten to move in after sin goes out, but satanic forces do. Those evil spirits will attempt to control anything not under the control of the Holy Spirit. It takes time to learn how to put off sin and put on that new nature that the Spirit gave me. Spiritual growth is slow, but it must happen. Otherwise I could revert to that sinful lifestyle that once ruled “the land” that God now tells me to possess.
After any success in ridding myself of sin and becoming more like God intended me to be, I still am in danger of pride. Deuteronomy 7:7-8 are two of many verses where God reminds His people about their tendency to think too highly of themselves. The Bible is filled with such warnings, mostly because pride is at the root of evil. Whenever I think I can do anything without God, I am guilty of sin.
Deuteronomy warns me, “And you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day. Then it shall be, if you by any means forget the Lord your God, and follow other gods, and serve them and worship them, I testify against you this day that you shall surely perish. As the nations which the Lord destroys before you, so you shall perish, because you would not be obedient to the voice of the Lord your God.”
The Old Testament does describe actual battles and real bloodshed, but it is also a graphic description of what God’s people must go through as we “work out our salvation.” Like those of Old Testament days, we don’t work for it—the land was a gift—but with the help of God, we strive to want His will and do His will. This striving is a spiritual battle because we have enemies that do not want us to walk with God or live as we ought.
My own old nature is my biggest enemy. The Bible tells me to watch out for the “lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.” If I let these ‘kingdoms’ dominate, I cannot also walk with God.
The wild beasts also threaten. Satan attacks continually, particularly after I win one of those battles against my old nature. However, his lies are thwarted by the spiritual armor God gives me. I can defeat them by the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Knowing it and using it requires great effort as I face many struggles to defeat this formidable foe. But I do not fight alone. If I did, Satan would destroy all my efforts to live for God.
Yes, the Old Testament is bloody, but when read in light of the Christian life, those battles take on great significance as parallels to the battles of Christian living described in the New Testament. The biggest difference between the two is that the blood shed in the Old is the blood of people fighting people so that godliness might rule, while the blood shed the New is the blood of Christ poured out so that God’s people might conquer sin and become godly and be holy as He is holy.