Thought for the Day by Revd Dr Angela Birkin (St Michael’s)
“And when the Lord your God gives them over to you and you defeat them, then you must utterly destroy them. Make no covenant with them and show them no mercy.” (Deuteronomy 7.2)
How tempting it is to ignore those parts of the Bible which make us uncomfortable, which give Richard Dawkins and others ammunition to use against faith and people of faith.
Deuteronomy is the fifth book of the Jewish Torah, and this morning’s passage is part of a speech given by Moses to the Israelites on the plains of Moab before they enter the promised land. Though the narrative is set early in the history of Israel, the book of Deuteronomy developed greatly during the exile in Babylon, and so a narrative of a people just about to enter the promised land was written for a people returning to the land from exile.
The seven nations named in chapter 7 verse 1 had long since ceased to exist at the time Deuteronomy was written, and they symbolised human forces that could not have been defeated unaided by God. On returning from exile the Israelites were to remember this and be faithful to God as a chosen people, rejecting idolatry and foreign gods.
How are we to understand a passage like this today?
We are certainly not to see it as evidence that the Bible promotes an ideology of genocide, or use it as evidence that the God of the New Testament is superior to the God of the Old Testament.
We are, however, to take seriously the warning against being seduced by the idols and gods of our own age of which there are many – money, power, consumerism, celebrity etc.
As Christians we are to read scripture through the lens of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and it is interesting that this passage from Deuteronomy is paired with a passage from the letter to the Ephesians which includes the words,
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” (Ephesians 2.13-14)
- What idols pull us away from abundant life in Christ?
- Are we working to tear down the dividing walls between people and communities or are we building them?
- We are “no longer strangers and aliens” (Ephesians 2.19), but how do we treat others who come to our churches?