Do you see yourself somewhere in this cycle right now? We’re all prone to drift downward because our bent is toward backsliding. Bill Hybels often says that without attention our spiritual lives will head south, not north. Sometimes when our lives are too comfortable we start to coast. I’d like to suggest seven steps that often mirror our own slippery slope.
1. Conquering. In the opening verse of the book we read that after Joshua died, the people asked the Lord: “Who will be the first to go up and fight for us against the Canaanites?” Under Joshua the people had conquered thirty-one kings and after his death each tribe traveled to the place of their inheritance. However, there were still a lot of enemies to be extracted. I want to pause here and consider why God instructed His people to wipe out the wicked Canaanites. In the second century Marcion had such a hard time reconciling the loving God of the New Testament with the violent God of the Old that he did a cut-and-paste job and just removed the Old Testament from his Bible. That’s not an option for us because God is the same in the both testaments. Perhaps you’ve wondered why the Israelites were told to annihilate the nations around them. It seems pretty severe, doesn’t it?
Let’s go back to an important statement found in Genesis 15:16: “In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” God had given Abraham the promise of a people and the promise of a place in Genesis 12. John Ortberg points out that during Abraham’s time the Amorite culture was defiled but God was still going to offer mercy to the people of Canaan. Later on, once God’s people go into the area of the Amorites, their sin will reach its full measure and God will judge them accordingly. God is merciful and is offering them a way out as we saw in Joshua 2 when Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute, repents and comes to faith in God. However the Canaanite people in general refuse to repent and their sin finally reaches its full measure during the time of Joshua and Judges.
Leviticus 18 catalogs the depths of their depravity which included sacrificing children to a god named Molech. The Israelites were given a warning in Deuteronomy 18:9-13: “When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and because of these detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you.”
God not only wanted the crooked Canaanites judged, He wanted them removed because of the evil influence they would have on the Israelites if they were allowed to stay in the land. Exodus 23:23-24: “My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out. Do not bow down before their gods or worship them or follow their practices. You must demolish them and break their sacred stones to pieces.” And verse 33 tells us why they were to kill the Canaanites: “Do not let them live in your land, or they will cause you to sin against me, because the worship of their gods will certainly be a snare to you.”