“And you were not to make a covenant with those who dwell in this land; its altars you shall pull down. But you have not listened to my voice; what is this that you have done?”
I fear that we have lived in a pluralistic society too long to really understand the fullness of this statement. Certainly, as Christians, we can understand the prohibition about making covenants with those who are pagans, but what of the language of tearing down the idols of the pagans?
Of late there has been a great deal of discussion in the news about how the Islamic State, as it conquers new regions in the Middle East, has been tearing down “cultural artifacts.” Now, certainly I am not in sympathy with the wicked Islamists who are doing such things…particularly as they slaughter innocents in the name of their false god, but I raise the question simply to point out that in their eyes, they are destroying reminders of paganism from which they hope to purge the land. Is this not exactly what the Israelites were called upon to do?
Now, we have already explored the notion of MårDj (charam — verse 17) and should remind ourselves that Joshua’s invasion of Canaan was meant as a picture of God’s final judgement in the end of days. In those days, before the coming of Christ, God used his people as a witness against the pagans of the land. In these last days, after the coming of Christ, God speaks through his Son and the Son will be the one who executes judgment upon the wicked as he subjects all things to himself. Thus, while governments are given the power of the sword to execute justice, we are not given the power of the sword to execute vengeance or to purge the culture of the wicked. This is why you do not see Christians committing the kinds of crimes that you see being committed in the name of Allah today. Indeed, our weapons of warfare, as Christians, are spiritual in nature because our true enemy is spiritual as well.
At the same time, as Christians, we are called to destroy every argument and tear down every lofty opinion that is raised up against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:4-6). Sounds a lot like this passage, doesn’t it? In fact, when you pair this passage with Paul’s language of not being unequally yoked (2 Corinthians 6:14), we have, in essence, everything for which the people are being condemned by the Angel of Yahweh. How little times change…
Today, when we look at idols (whether they are made from stone or metal or whether they are made out of ideologies), we tend to see them as things to be preserved as cultural artifacts. And while cultural artifacts they may be, what happens when the society becomes inundated with such artifacts? And what happens when the Christian church becomes rather illiterate as to what the Bible teaches as truth and error? What happens? Sadly, the answer can be found by looking out of the window at the culture around us. Because we have not faithfully pursued truth ourselves, we have not faithfully taught that truth to our children. And because we have not faithfully taught Truth to our children, they are being seduced by the Pied Pipers of this world.
What is the result? Faith is and has been minimized. People typically see faith as that which carries them through difficult times only and they forget that while faith will carry you through difficult times, faith is meant to guide the entirety of your life and pursuits. The institutional church is treated much like a kind of club that one might participate in and Sunday worship is seen as optional if it fits into the busy schedule of athletic events and school activities that are “required” if one is going to be socially “well-rounded.” Kids are taught that their social lives, too, are more significant than their family lives. And we can go on and on. And it all stems back to the fact that we have been too lenient in the way we have handled false ideas and in the way we have taught our children the truth.
So, what shall we do? To begin with, we can do much like the people did when they received this judgment from the Angel of Yahweh…we can genuinely lament the hole we have allowed ourselves to fall into. But there is more…and it is what the people failed to do in the verses that followed in the book of Judges. They failed to repair the problem by teaching their children Truth. We know that because the next generation falls away. We need to be proactive with our kids that they know truth from error more clearly than we have ever thought possible. And to do that effectively, we who are adults, need to pursue Truth with a renewed vigor that is fueled by the grief over the wickedness of our land and the fear of our children falling repeatedly into the errors that the Israelites so quickly fell into in the book of Judges. And we can work to tear down the ideological ideals that stand against the knowledge of God — things like secular humanism, false spirituality, mysticism, situational ethics, pluralism, and the modern versions of gnosticism and sophism that have crept into the church. And in doing these things through a repentant spirit, we need too to pray that God would use us as a spiritual sledgehammer in this world to tear down the influence of those teaching error.