Board index Specific Bible verses, texts, and passages Deuteronomy

Deuteronomy 7:2-3 - Please explain

Postby Regnis Numis » Thu Jul 05, 2018 6:30 pm

When reading Deuteronomy 7:2-3, I wasn't under the initial impression that Israel's enemies were dead yet when God was instructing the Israelites not to make treaties nor intermarry with them. Rather, it seemed like God was prohibiting alternative courses of action to destroying the enemy. Why else would God tell the Israelites not to show mercy (Deut. 7:2) unless they hadn't fought the enemy yet? Anyhow, my main question is: If God was ordering the Israelites to destroy their enemies' altars, images, and sacred pillars, then what did the Israelites actually do with the people themselves? Did the Israelites capture them as prisoners of war to be enslaved?
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Re: Deuteronomy 7:2-3 - Please explain

Postby jimwalton » Thu Jul 05, 2018 6:30 pm

Deuteronomy 7.2-3

You are right that when Deuteronomy was written (traditionally by Moses in about 1300 BC give or take), the land was not yet conquered. What God is commanding is that they *herem* them: Remove from use. What is being commanded here is to destroy their identity as people groups, not to destroy them as people. It is to destroy their identity markers (Dt. 7.5), not their bloodline. They are to break down their altars, smash their sacred stone, cut down their Asherah poles, and burn their idols. This is not a command to kill every last one of them. If that were the case, the prohibition in v. 3 (after the command to allegedly "kill them all") against intermarriage would be unnecessary. The references to nations (Dt. 7.2, 17, 22), peoples (Dt. 7.16, 19), and even survivors (Dt. 7.20) all refer to community identities, not individuals (compare to Judges 1.25-26, where the survivor preserves the identity of his community by building a city). This is especially the case with the kings (Dt. 7.24), who are the embodiment of the identity of the community they lead (which is why they are specifically killed throughout Joshua's campaigns) and whose names (identity) are "wiped out from under heaven" (Dt. 7.24).

In the OT, herem is not limited to cities. There are 4 distinct categories of things that can be herem:

1. Inanimate objects (including plots of land): plunder (Josh. 6.17), metal objects (Josh. 6.19, 24), a field (Lev. 27.21). These things are assigned to the divine realm.

2. Living Individuals (people or animals). It is implied in Josh 6.17 & 8.2; Lev. 27.28.

3. Abstractions representing communities of people. The nation of Israel refers to the abstract identity of the community, not to each and every individual Israelite. The same is true of nations who inhabit the land. If herem means "remove from use," then removing an identity from use depends on what identity is used for. Essentially it is the equivalent of disbanding an organization. It is not disposing of the members, but disposing of enough of the organization so that there is no longer any identity as members.

4. Cities. They prohibited all human activity at the site. Herem cannot and does not mean "destroy" because apart from Jericho, Ai, and Hazor, no herem city was destroyed. The city was removed from use. They drove them out. After that, YHWH leased the land and the cities back to Israel. Because the land is herem, Israel cannot make use of it for herself, but it belongs to YHWH, and so YHWH can do whatever he wants with it. What He chooses to do with His land is to allow Israel to use it, provisionally on Israel's fidelity to the covenant.

Maybe that helps to understand the instructions about "not make treaties nor intermarry" after the herem command.

> If God was ordering the Israelites to destroy their enemies' altars, images, and sacred pillars, then what did the Israelites actually do with the people themselves? Did the Israelites capture them as prisoners of war to be enslaved?

The plan was to drive them from the land (v. 17, 22). They don't belong in that space. That land was "zoned" for sacred activity. They were to be exiled to other lands.
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Re: Deuteronomy 7:2-3 - Please explain

Postby Regnis Numis » Sun Jul 08, 2018 3:10 pm

> Living Individuals (people or animals). It is implied in Josh 6.17 & 8.2; Lev. 27.28.

How would people or animals be devoted to God, i.e. removed from normal human use? What exactly happens to the humans and animals in question, if not sacrifice?
Regnis Numis
 

Re: Deuteronomy 7:2-3 - Please explain

Postby jimwalton » Wed Aug 01, 2018 8:12 pm

In the case of Joshua 6.17, the people of Jericho were supposed to be killed. Remember, however, that generally only the political leaders and military personnel, and the people who serviced them, lived in the cities. The Canaanites were agrarian, and most of the population lived throughout the land. In this particular case (just as in Sodom, we can assume), all the inhabitants were killed. The Bible says it was justice being served on a community of people who had earned destruction (Dt. 9.5). All the inhabitants of the city contributed to its perpetuation. Total destruction is rarely the case with herem, as I mentioned, but in Jericho it was so. Of course, we read that any of the residents could escape herem (Josh. 2.17-20) and be integrated into the Israelite family.

In Joshua 8.2 they were supposed to kill the king and his court and the soldiers, but not the animals. They could be used for plunder (food if necessary, or to keep as an asset).

All of Leviticus 27 is describing the internal logic of redeeming various things that have been dedicated to the Lord in various ways. When (if) cherem objects are destroyed, the purpose of the destruction is to make sure nobody can use it (but not all cherem objects are destroyed. Most notably, Josh. 11.12-13 reports that all of the northern cities were cherem, yet Joshua destroyed only one of them [Hazor]. Likewise, a field that is cherem is not destroyed but becomes the property of the priests [Lev. 27.21] Destruction, when it happens, it only a means to an end). Cherem may involve destruction, but destruction is not the essential meaning. If destruction is involved it is because that is the way to remove that particular entity from human use. Verse 28 explains the conceptual difference between dedication and devotion (cherem): "nothing cherem…may be sold or redeemed; everything so devoted is most holy to the Lord." Cherem things cannot be redeemed because they are off-limits for human use, and this is not a status that can never be revoked.

The logic of the passages (Ex. 13.12-13; Lev. 27.27-29; Num. 18.15-17) is that clean animals cannot be redeemed (they are to be sacrificed); humans must be redeemed; unclean animals have some options.


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