Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
When the LORD thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and hath cast out many nations before thee, the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than thou;VII.
(1) When the Lord thy God shall bring thee into the land. . . .—The former chapter applies the Decalogue to the love of Jehovah and of His word, and to faith in Him as the God of Israel; and thus it may be regarded as an expansion of the first commandment. The exhortation in this chapter concerns the treatment of idolaters in the conquest of Canaan, and the avoidance of all such intercourse or union with them as might tend to turn Israel from Jehovah. Obviously, this may be connected both with the first and with the second commandment.
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:(2) And when the Lord thy God shall deliver them before thee. . . .—It would be possible to read, “Then the Lord thy God shall deliver them before thee, and thou shalt smite.” Or the sentence might also be divided thus: “When the Lord thy God shall bring thee in, and shall have delivered the nations from before thee, and thou hast smitten them, then thou shalt utterly destroy them”—i.e., shalt make them chêrem, a devoted or accursed thing. Perhaps this last way of dividing the clauses is, upon the whole, to be preferred. But in any case it should be noted that Jehovah’s deliverance of the nations into Israel’s hand is to precede their defeat and extermination. Indiscriminate attack and massacre are not to be thought of. (See for a further Note on this, Joshua 13) All the operations described in Joshua—the sieges of Jericho and Ai, the southern campaign and the northern campaign—were alike undertaken under Divine direction. The same may be said of the battles in Moses’ lifetime, whether against Amalek, Sihon, Og, Arad, or Midian. The same is true of the judges, and of David’s operations against the Philistines after he came to the throne (2Samuel 5:19, &c). The principle was acknowledged by Ahab in his attack on Ramoth-gilead (1 Kings 22).
Thou shalt make no covenant with them.—The reason for this is too obvious to need comment. If Israelites and idolaters were united—still more if they were intermingled in marriage—there was an end to the distinction of race and religion—an end to the supremacy of Israel or the isolation of the people of Jehovah, as exhibiting His Law and the blessings of His government to mankind. It must be remembered, however, that the isolation here commanded was only a means to an end; it was not the end itself. It may be further observed that as soon as the danger of idolatry was at an end, the isolation of Israel in a great measure ceased. The object of giving the people a land of their own, and supremacy among the surrounding nations, was to enable them to develop the religion which was to prepare the way for Christianity. When the religious principles of the nation were sufficiently fixed to make their political supremacy unnecessary, this supremacy was taken away.
But thus shall ye deal with them; ye shall destroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut down their groves, and burn their graven images with fire.(5) Ye shall destroy their altars. . . .—This course, if adopted in a conquered territory, would be certain to bring matters to a crisis. The inhabitants must rise in defence of the objects of their worship—a course which would end in their extermination—or they must adopt the worship of Jehovah.
Their groves.—Here the grove itself in which the idol was worshipped, and so in Deuteronomy 16:21. Sometimes the word is used for the image.
For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God: the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth.(6) An holy people.—Not merely “a holy nation” (as in Exodus 19:6), but “a holy people” i.e., a state of which holiness to Jehovah was the very constitution. If God pleased to establish such a state, manifestly its laws could allow no toleration of anything displeasing to Him. And it is also manifest that nothing but Divine revelation would authorise the establishment of such a constitution.
A special people.—The same word with the “peculiar treasure” of Exodus 19:5 and the “jewels” of Malachi 3:17. The private property of King David is described by the same word (1Chronicles 29:3), “mine own proper good.” (See also Deuteronomy 14:2; Deuteronomy 26:18; Psalm 135:4 )
The LORD did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people:(7) The Lord did not . . . choose you, because ye were more.—The danger lest Israel’s peculiar relation to the Most High should beget national pride is so obvious, that Moses takes special pains to counteract it by asserting God’s sovereignty in the choice.
Ye were the fewest of all people.—It may be observed that the development of the Moabites, Ammonites, Ishmaelites, and Edomites (all, like Israel, descended from Terah), was far more rapid than that of the chosen line. Abraham had twelve grandsons through Ishmael, but only the same number of great grandsons through Isaac and Jacob. Edom, Moab, and Ammon all preceded Israel in the conquest of territory. Kings reigned in Edom “before there reigned any king over the children of Israel” (Genesis 36:31). It was only “when the time of the promise drew nigh” that “the (chosen) people grew and multiplied in Egypt.” The Scripture is throughout consistent in representing their development as due to the special providence of God. (See also on Deuteronomy 10:22.)
But because the LORD loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers, hath the LORD brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.(8) But because the Lord loved you.—And this, again, was not due to themselves, as he points out fully in Deuteronomy 9:4, &c.
Know therefore that the LORD thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations;(9-11) These verses are a direct comment upon the second commandment. The “thousands of them that love Him” are here expanded into a “thousand generations.” The “hatred,” too, is the same thing denoted there: “Thou shalt therefore keep the commandments.”
Wherefore it shall come to pass, if ye hearken to these judgments, and keep, and do them, that the LORD thy God shall keep unto thee the covenant and the mercy which he sware unto thy fathers:(12) At this point begins the third of the Hebrew divisions of the book.
If ye hearken.—Literally, as a return for your hearkening. (See Note on Deuteronomy 8:19.)
And he will love thee, and bless thee, and multiply thee: he will also bless the fruit of thy womb, and the fruit of thy land, thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep, in the land which he sware unto thy fathers to give thee.(13) The flocks.—The word here employed for flocks is peculiar to Deuteronomy in this sense. It occurs in Deuteronomy 28:4; Deuteronomy 28:18; Deuteronomy 28:51. It is in form identical with Ashtaroth, and signifies “increase,” or progeny.
Thou shalt be blessed above all people: there shall not be male or female barren among you, or among your cattle.(14) All people.—Literally, all the peoples: i.e., all other states and communities.
And the LORD will take away from thee all sickness, and will put none of the evil diseases of Egypt, which thou knowest, upon thee; but will lay them upon all them that hate thee.(15) Evil diseases.—The word for diseases here used is found only in Deuteronomy (see Deuteronomy 28:60). It must not be forgotten that the law of Moses was in many of its details a sanitary quite as much as a moral code. Some of the associations of this word and the root from which it is derived would seem to point to those “languors” and “infirmities” which arise from neglect and violation of the laws of God, both moral and physical.
And thou shalt consume all the people which the LORD thy God shall deliver thee; thine eye shall have no pity upon them: neither shalt thou serve their gods; for that will be a snare unto thee.(16) Thou shalt consume (literally, eat up) all the people which the Lord thy God shall deliver thee.—When delivered to Israel, they are delivered for execution; but the time of delivery is in the hand of Jehovah. (Comp. the words of Caleb and Joshua in Numbers 14:9 : “They are bread for us: their shadow is departed from them, and the Lord is with us.”)
Thou shalt not be afraid of them: but shalt well remember what the LORD thy God did unto Pharaoh, and unto all Egypt;(18) Thou shalt not be afraid of them: but shalt well remember . . . Egypt.—No free nation could ever have the same ground for terror as a nation of slaves rising up against its masters. If Israel had been delivered by Jehovah in that position, it was a security for all time that He would give them the victory in every enterprise He called them to undertake.
The great temptations which thine eyes saw, and the signs, and the wonders, and the mighty hand, and the stretched out arm, whereby the LORD thy God brought thee out: so shall the LORD thy God do unto all the people of whom thou art afraid.(19) The great temptations.—The several repetitions of the summons to Pharaoh that he should let Israel go, accompanied and enforced by plagues, may well be called “temptations” in the sense of trials of his character. The word “temptation” in the sense of “inducement to sin” is very rare, if not absolutely wanting, in the Old Testament.
Moreover the LORD thy God will send the hornet among them, until they that are left, and hide themselves from thee, be destroyed.(20) The hornet.—To be understood literally. (See on Deuteronomy 1:44, and Joshua 24:12.) The “land flowing with (milk and) honey” may well have swarmed with bees and hornets.
And the LORD thy God will put out those nations before thee by little and little: thou mayest not consume them at once, lest the beasts of the field increase upon thee.(22) The Lord thy God will put out.—The word for “putting out” is illustrated by its use in Deuteronomy 19:5, of the axe-head flying off from the handle in the midst of a blow, and of the olive “casting” his fruit in Deuteronomy 28:40. (Comp. also 2Kings 16:6, and 1Samuel 25:29, for a similar thought.)
By little and little.—This confirms the view already expressed, that the expulsion of each particular nation was contingent upon the Divine decree, and that none were to be attacked by Israel except when the Lord should deliver them into Israel’s hand.
And he shall deliver their kings into thine hand, and thou shalt destroy their name from under heaven: there shall no man be able to stand before thee, until thou have destroyed them.(24) He shall deliver their kings into thine hand.—In the summary of Joshua’s conquest (Joshua 12) the kings are reckoned for the cities. Special mention is made of seven of them, who were hanged.
There shall no man be able to stand before thee.—A promise personally renewed to Joshua (Joshua 1:5), and fulfilled to Israel under his command (Josh. 20:44).
The graven images of their gods shall ye burn with fire: thou shalt not desire the silver or gold that is on them, nor take it unto thee, lest thou be snared therein: for it is an abomination to the LORD thy God.(25, 26) These words are a special warning against the sin which Achan committed (Joshua 7:21): “I coveted them, and took them.” They also describe the consequences which he experienced, together with his whole household, being made chêrem. devoted or accursed by the spoil which he took from Jericho. (See on Joshua 7)