Here is, I. A very strict caution against all friendship and fellowship with idols and idolaters. Those that are taken into communion with God must have no communication with the unfruitful works of darkness. These things they are charged about for the preventing of this snare now before them.
1. They must show them no mercy, Deut. 7:1, 2. Bloody work is here appointed them, and yet it is God’s work, and good work, and in its time and place needful, acceptable, and honourable.
(1.) God here engages to do his part. It is spoken of as a thing taken for granted that God would bring them into the land of promise, that he would cast out the nations before them, who were the present occupants of that land; no room was left to doubt of that. His power is irresistible, and therefore he can do it; his promise is inviolable, and therefore he will do it. Now, [1.] These devoted nations are here named and numbered (Deut. 7:1), seven in all, and seven to one are great odds. They are specified, that Israel might know the bounds and limits of their commission: hitherto their severity must come, but no further; nor must they, under colour of this commission, kill all that came in their way; no, here must its waves be stayed. The confining of this commission to the nations here mentioned plainly intimates that after-ages were not to draw this into a precedent; this will not serve to justify those barbarous laws which give no quarter. How agreeable soever this method might be, when God himself prescribed it, to that dispensation under which such multitudes of beasts were killed and burned in sacrifice, now that all sacrifices of atonement are perfected in, and superseded by, the great propitiation made by the blood of Christ, human blood has become perhaps more precious than it was, and those that have most power yet must not be prodigal of it. [2.] They are here owned to be greater and mightier than Israel. They had been long rooted in this land, to which Israel came strangers; they were more numerous, had men much more bulky and more expert in war than Israel had; yet all this shall not prevent their being cast out before Israel. The strength of Israel’s enemies magnifies the power of Israel’s God, who will certainly be too hard for them.
(2.) He engages them to do their part. Thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them, Deut. 7:2. If God cast them out, Israel must not take them in, no, not as tenants, nor tributaries, nor servants. Not covenant of any kind must be made with them, no mercy must be shown them. This severity was appointed, [1.] By way of punishment for the wickedness they and their fathers had been guilty of. The iniquity of the Amorites was now full, and the longer it had been in the filling the sorer was the vengeance when it came at last. [2.] In order to prevent the mischiefs they would do to God’s Israel if they were left alive. The people of these abominations must not be mingled with the holy seed, lest they corrupt them. Better that all these lives should be lost from the earth than that religion and the true worship of God should be lost in Israel. Thus we must deal with our lusts that was against our souls; God has delivered them into our hands by that promise, Sin shall not have dominion over you, unless it be your own faults; let not us them make covenants with them, nor show them any mercy, but mortify and crucify them, and utterly destroy them.
2. They must make no marriages with those of them that escaped the sword, Deut. 7:3, 4. The families of the Canaanites were ancient, and it is probable that some of them were called honourable, which might be a temptation to the Israelites, especially those of them that were of least note in their tribes, to court an alliance with them, to ennoble their blood; and the rather because their acquaintance with the country might be serviceable to them in the improvement of it: but religion, and the fear of God, must overrule all these considerations. To intermarry with them was therefore unlawful, because it was dangerous; this very thing had proved of fatal consequence to the old world (Gen. 6:2), and thousands in the world that now is have been undone by irreligious ungodly marriages; for there is more ground of fear in mixed marriages that the good will be perverted than of hope that the bad will be converted. The event proved the reasonableness of this warning: They will turn away thy son from following me. Solomon paid dearly for his folly herein. We find a national repentance for this sin of marrying strange wives, and care taken to reform (Ezra 9:1-10:44; Neh. 13:1-31), and a New-Testament caution not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers, 2 Cor. 6:14. Those that in choosing yokefellows keep not at least within the bounds of a justifiable profession of religion cannot promise themselves helps meet for them. One of the Chaldee paraphrases adds here, as a reason of this command (Deut. 7:3), For he that marries with idolaters does in effect marry with their idols.
3. They must destroy all the relics of their idolatry, Deut. 7:5. Their altars and pillars, their groves and graven images, all must be destroyed, both in a holy indignation against idolatry and to prevent infection. This command was given before, Exod. 23:24; 34:13. A great deal of good work of this kind was done by the people, in their pious zeal (2 Chron. 31:1), and by good Josiah (2 Chron. 34:3, 7), and with this may be compared the burning of the conjuring books, Acts 19:19.
II. Here are very good reasons to enforce this caution.
1. The choice which God had made of this people for his own, Deut. 7:6. There was such a covenant and communion established between God and Israel as was not between him and any other people in the world. Shall they by their idolatries dishonour him who had thus honoured them? Shall they slight him who had thus testified his kindness for them? Shall they put themselves upon the level with other people, when God had thus dignified and advanced them above all people? Had God taken them to be a special people to him, and no other but them, and will not they take God to be a special God to them, and no other but him?
2. The freeness of that grace which made this choice. (1.) There was nothing in them to recommend or entitle them to this favour. In multitude of the people is the king’s honour, Prov. 14:28. But their number was inconsiderable; they were only seventy souls when they went down into Egypt, and, though greatly increased there, yet there were many other nations more numerous: You were the fewest of all people, Deut. 7:7. The author of the Jerusalem Targum passes too great a compliment upon his nation in his reading this, You were humble in spirit, and meek above all people; quite contrary: they were rather stiff-necked and ill-natured above all people. (2.) God fetched the reason of it purely from himself, Deut. 7:8. [1.] He loved you because he would love you. Even so, Father, because it seemed good in thy eyes. All that God loves he loves freely, Hos. 14:4. Those that perish perish by their own merits, but all that are saved are saved by prerogative. [2.] He has done his work because he would keep his word. “He has brought you out of Egypt in pursuance of the oath sworn to your fathers.” Nothing in them, or done by them, did or could make God a debtor to them; but he had made himself a debtor to his own promise, which he would perform notwithstanding their unworthiness.
3. The tenour of the covenant into which they were taken; it was in short this, That as they were to God so God would be to them. They should certainly find him, (1.) Kind to his friends, Deut. 7:9. “The Lord thy God is not like the gods of the nations, the creatures of fancy, subjects fit enough for loose poetry, but no proper objects of serious devotion; no, he is God, God indeed, God alone, the faithful God, able and ready not only to fulfil his own promises, but to answer all the just expectations of his worshippers, and he will certainly keep covenant and mercy,” that is, “show mercy according to covenant, to those that love him and keep his commandments” (and in vain do we pretend to love him if we do not make conscience of his commandments); “and this” (as is here added for the explication of the promise in the second commandment) “not only to thousands of persons, but to thousands of generations—so inexhaustible is the fountain, so constant are the streams!” (2.) Just to his enemies: He repays those that hate him, Deut. 7:10. Note, [1.] Wilful sinners are haters of God; for the carnal mind is enmity against him. Idolaters are so in a special manner, for they are in league with his rivals. [2.] Those that hate God cannot hurt him, but certainly ruin themselves. He will repay them to their face, in defiance of them and all their impotent malice. His arrows are said to be made ready against the face of them, Ps. 21:12. Or, He will bring those judgments upon them which shall appear to themselves to be the just punishment of their idolatry. Compare Job 21:9; He rewardeth him, and he shall know it. Though vengeance seem to be slow, yet it is not slack. The wicked and sinner shall be recompensed in the earth, Prov. 11:31. I cannot pass the gloss of the Jerusalem Targum upon this place, because it speaks the faith of the Jewish church concerning a future state: He recompenses to those that hate him the reward of their good works in this world, that he may destroy them in the world to come.