And when the LORD your God shall deliver them before you; you shall smite them, and utterly destroy them…
There is, perhaps, no point on which the weakness of human nature is more clearly shown than in the difficulty of treading the right path between persecution on the one hand, and indifference to evil on the other. For although we are, it may be, disposed according to our several tempers more to one of these faults than to the other, yet I fear it is true also that none of us are free from the danger of falling into them both. If we have today been too violent against the persons of evil men whom we do not like, this is no security against our being tomorrow much too forbearing towards the practices of evil men whom we do like; because we are all apt to respect persons in our judgment and in our feelings; sometimes to be too severe, and sometimes too indulgent, not according to justice, but according to our own likings and dislikings. Nor is it respect of persons only which thus leads us astray, but also our own particular sympathy with, or disgust at particular faults and characters. Even in one whom we may like, on the whole, there may be faults which we may visit too hardly, because they are exactly such as we feel no temptation to commit. And again, in one whom we dislike on the whole, there may, for the same reason, be faults which we tolerate too easily, because they are like our own. There is yet a third cause, and that a very common one, which corrupts our judgment. We may sympathise with such and such faults generally, because we are ourselves inclined to them; but if they happen to be committed against us, and we feel the bad effects of them, then we are apt to judge them in that particular case too harshly. Or again, we may rather dislike a fault in general, but when it is committed on our own side, and to advance our own interests, then in that particular case we are tempted to excuse it too readily. There are these dangers besetting us on the right hand and on the left, as to our treatment of other men's faults. And in Scripture we find very strong language against the error on either side. A great deal is said against violence, wrath, uncharitableness, harsh judgment of others, and attempting or pretending to work God's service by our own bad passions, and a great deal is also said against tolerating sin, against defiling ourselves with evil-doers, against preferring our earthly friendships to the will and service of God. Of these latter commands the words of the text furnish us with a most remarkable instance. We see how strong and positive the language is (ver. 2); and the reason is given (ver. 4). It is better that the wicked should be destroyed a hundred times over, yea, destroyed with everlasting destruction, than that they should tempt those who are as yet innocent to join their company. And if we are inclined to think that God dealt hardly with the people of Canaan in commanding them to be so utterly destroyed, let us but think what might have been our fate, and the fate of every other nation under heaven at this hour, had the sword of the Israelites done its work more sparingly. The Israelites fought not for themselves only, but for us. Whatever were the faults of Jephthah or of Samson, never yet were any men engaged in a cause more important to the whole world's welfare. Their constant warfare kept Israel essentially distinct from the tribes around them, their own law became the dearer to them because they found such unceasing enemies amongst those who hated it. The uncircumcised, who kept not the covenant of God, were forever ranged against those who did keep it. It might follow that the Israelites should thus be accounted the enemies of all mankind, it might be that they were tempted by their very distinctness to despise other nations; still, they did God's work; still, they preserved unhurt the seed of eternal life, and were the ministers of blessing to all other nations, even though they themselves failed to enjoy it. But still these commands, so forcible, so fearful — to spare none — to destroy the wicked utterly — to show no mercy — are these commands addressed to us now? or what is it which the Lord bids us do? Certainly, He does not bid us shed blood, or destroy the wicked, or put on any hardness of heart which might shut out the charity of Christ's perfect law. But there is a part of the text which does apply to us now in the letter, thereby teaching us how to apply the whole to ourselves in the spirit. "Be ye not unequally yoked together in marriage with unbelievers. For what concord hath Christ with Belial?" It is, indeed, something shocking to enter into so near and dear a connection as marriage with those who are not the servants of God. It is fearful to think of giving birth to children whose eternal life may be forfeited through the example and influence of him or of her through whom their earthly life was given. But though this be the worst and most dreadful case, still it is not the only one. St. Paul does not only speak against marriage with the unbelievers; he speaks also no less strongly against holding friendly intercourse with those who call themselves Christ's, yet in their lives deny Him (1 Corinthians 5:11). We need not actually refuse to eat with those whose lives are evil; but woe to us if we do not shrink from any closer intimacy with them; if their society, when we must partake of it, be not painfully endured by us, rather than enjoyed. We may put away from among ourselves that wicked person; put him away, that is, from our confidence, put him away from our esteem; put him altogether away from our sympathy. We are on services wholly different; our masters are God and Mammon; and we cannot be united closely with those to whom our dearest hopes are their worst fears, and to whom that resurrection which, to the true servant of Christ, will be his perfect consummation of bliss, will be but the first dawning of an eternity of shame and misery.
(T. Arnold, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And when the LORD thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them: