At this point we find it necessary to tackle the passage from Psalm one hundred and six, in which God appears to have clearly given a command to His people to destroy the pagan peoples surrounding them. We will provide the passage in question one more time:
They [ISRAEL] did not destroy the peoples,
Concerning whom the Lord had commanded them,
But they mingled with the Gentiles
And learned their works;
They served their idols,
Which became a snare to them.
They even sacrificed their sons
And their daughters to demons,
And shed innocent blood,
The blood of their sons and daughters,
Whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan;
And the land was polluted with blood.
Thus they were defiled by their own works,
And played the harlot by their own deeds.
Therefore the wrath of the Lord was kindled against His people,
So that He abhorred His own inheritance
(Psalm 106:34-40, emphasis added).
The Psalmist writes that when Israel crossed the Jordan to take over the Promised Land, they “did not destroy the peoples concerning whom the Lord had commanded them.” The “peoples” mentioned here were pagan peoples; they were worshipping the gods.
In order to understand this passage, we need to ask ourselves a few questions: when had God given the first command to the children of Israel to destroy the gods-worshipping-peoples of the land? What were the exact words used in that command? Do the subsequent uses of that command align themselves with God’s initial intent He had when He first gave the command? Where do we find the first instance of this command which is outlined in Psalm 106:34?
The first mention of this command is found in Exodus chapter twenty-three. Notice what God had said:
For My Angel will go before you and bring you into the Amorites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites and the Hivites and the Jebusites; and I will cut them off. You shall not bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor do according to their works; but you shall utterly overthrow them and completely break down their sacred pillars. “So you shall serve the Lord your God, and He will bless your bread and your water. And I will take sickness away from the midst of you. No one shall suffer miscarriage or be barren in your land; I will fulfill the number of your days. “I will send My fear before you, I will cause confusion among all the people to whom you come, and will make all your enemies turn their backs to you. And I will send hornets before you, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite from before you. I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the beasts of the field become too numerous for you. Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased, and you inherit the land. And I will set your bounds from the Red Sea to the sea, Philistia, and from the desert to the River. For I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you shall drive them out before you. You shall make no covenant with them, nor with their gods. They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against Me. For if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you” (Exodus 23:23-33).
Even at first glance this passage is very enlightening. Already some of the language used here has become familiar to us and we can make a safe guess that there is much more behind these words than meets the eye.
Take the words “I will cut them off,” for instance. What did God mean when He said that He would “cut them off?” In Hebrew, “cut them off” is not a phrase but one single word, the word kāhad. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT) defines kāhad like this:
972 (kad) kick, conceal, cut off, cut down, make desolate. This verb, which appears in the Nilhal, Piel, and Hiphil, occurs thirty-two times in the Old Testament. It means to keep something back, to refuse to make it known. Since something which is unknown has no independent existence, the verb also denotes non-existence or effacement.
The Gesenius Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon helps us understand this word a bit better. It says that kāhad means to “deny, to disown.” God was going to disown these people; He was going to efface them from His kingdom because they were no longer in His jurisdiction. They had chosen to pass onto the jurisdiction of the gods. Therefore, God’s command to His people regarding them was:
You shall not bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor do according to their works; but you shall utterly overthrow them and completely break down their sacred pillars.
It is easy for us to do a surface reading of this command and interpret it to mean that God wanted the Israelites to utterly kill every single one of the Amorites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites and the Hivites and the Jebusites. But is this what the text is saying? Is this what God was saying?
Let us take a look at some of these words. Take the words “utterly overthrow.” These two English words are in effect one single Hebrew word, hâras, which is written twice. Repeating a word is the Hebrew way of making a superlative, therefore hâras hâras is translated as “utterly destroy.” Hâras is a primitive root, which means:
beat down, break, break down, break through, destroy, overthrow, pluck down, pull down, throw down, ruined, destroyer, utterly (TWOT).
It sounds quite obvious that what God meant was for the Israelites to utterly destroy and kill their pagan neighbors. But does it really? Notice what TWOT further says about this word: “this root means to destroy by tearing down, e.g. city walls, houses, and fortresses.”
Did you notice that hâras is not used in the context of destroying or killing people? When God was telling His people that they were supposed to “utterly overthrow them and completely break down their sacred pillars,” He was talking about destroying their “pillars,” their carved idols—not killing the people themselves!
That this is the case is apparent by the rest of God’s command to the people in Exodus twenty-three, because further down we read that God was going to “cause confusion among all the people.” You cannot cause confusion among those that are already dead.
The “confusion” mentioned by God is related to the phrase that precedes it, “I will send My fear before you, I will cause confusion among all the people to whom you come, and will make your enemies turn their backs on you.
What did God mean when He said that He would send His “fear” before them? The Hebrew word for “fear” used here is ‘êymâh ‘êmâh, and it means:
fright; concretely an idol (as a bugbear): – dread. fear, horror, idol, terrible, terror (Strong’s Concordance).
This is real fear God is talking about here; it is horror, terror, absolute heart-stopping abject fear. Then, in the New King James Translation, He says that He would “cause confusion among the people.” But if you read the King James Version you will notice that its translators chose to say that God was going to “destroy” instead of “confuse” the people. But the Hebrew word for “destroy” used here that word hâmam again, which as we saw earlier, also can mean “confusion” as well as “discomfit.” TWOT describes hâmam like this:
The basic meaning of this word seems to be “to give attention to” in the negative sense, that is, “harass,” “trouble,” often with the purpose of creating panic. This verb is used thirteen times. Ten times God is the subject. Of these, five times the object is Israel’s enemy whom God strikes with panic for their sake. (See I Sam 7:10; Ex 14:24; Ex 23:27; Josh 10:10; Jud 4:15; and also II Chr 15:6 with a more general subject.) Thus it denotes an important aspect of holy war.
This is an extremely important word which we need to understand, because as TWOT explains, this word “denotes an important aspect of holy war.” Hâmam is always used in the context of “the wrath of God.” Having said as much, it is true that one of the definitions of hâmam is also “destroy.” But it is the “confusion,” the fear, and the unrepressed satanic fury and violence that destroys, as we saw in the preceding chapter. TWOT says that hâmam “connotes the awesome dread inspired by a mighty army.” So we see that God was going to do something that would cause these people to be scared out of their wits, and we will soon see which army this is referring to.
What we are seeing here is exactly the same thing that happened in the valley of Gibeon, when the Amorites and their allies stood up to war against the city of Gibeon and God’s people. God was doing something there that was going to cause such fear that they would go into a terrible panic, terrible confusion, utter panic and fear.
This is confirmed by the next phrase: “and will make all your enemies turn their backs to you.” What does this mean? Gesenius explains that turning their backs means that they would be put to flight. They would run away in utter fear. And this is exactly what happened, as we saw.
Thus, we see that what was going to happen is that the moment God gave Satan and his armies permission to take over, the moment God handed them over to Satan and gave them up, Satan would imbue them with such fear that they would lose their sanity and not only flee for their lives but destroy each other as well. This is the result of leaving God in order to follow the gods.
What about those hornets? What’s the meaning of that? Was God going to send an army of stinging bees to harass and hurt those pagans? It sure sounds like it, doesn’t it? But what a sadistic picture of God this would give us! Can we afford to take this at face value without researching to see what it really means? Are we willing to settle for a tyrannical picture of God without at least looking for a better answer?
“And I will send hornets before you, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite from before you.”
Gesenius states that some have doubted this is to be taken literally, but that rather, that it is a metaphor “designating ills and calamities of various kinds.” This is absolutely in line with the curses of Deuteronomy twenty-eight where God outlined everything that can happen to human beings when they forsake Him and His counsels of life. When we don’t follow the Creator’s manual, really bad things begin to happen to us and those around us! And this is exactly what happened to the nations who did not choose to follow God’s life-giving instructions.
In Joshua 24: 12 the hornets are mentioned again as God’s method of deliverance:
I sent the hornet before you which drove them out from before you, also the two kings of the Amorites, but not with your sword or with your bow (Joshua 24:12, emphasis added).
Here we see how clearly God is pointing out that it would take a series of causes and effects to free up the land for the Israelites to take possession. They were not meant to use their swords and bows! And yet, in Joshua chapter ten we see Joshua using the sword and utterly killing all the people around him. This was absolutely not God’s will, because He had said in Exodus twenty-three:
I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the beasts of the field become too numerous for you. Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased, and you inherit the land.
God’s command to utterly destroy the peoples of the land was not a command to utterly kill them. God Himself, in His own way—in the way of righteousness—was going to give His people the Promised Land. He did not want the peoples of the land massacred. In fact, He wasn’t even going to drive them out in one year. It would be little by little that this would happen, in God’s own way of allowing them freedom to distance themselves from Him. And as they did so they would begin to die out. God was going to wait for things to take on their natural course, even though to see them destroy themselves must have been a painful thing.
God, who is love—unconditional love—loved those Amorites and Hittites and Perizzites and the Canaanites and Hivites and Jebusites. Yes, God loved them as much as He loves you and me! But they didn’t love God. Therefore, they didn’t listen to God’s counsels, instructions, warnings and as a result they fell prey to what happens when we spurn God’s wisdom. The same can happen to you and me because God’s kingdom is absolute and impartial. We have two ways to choose from: the way of life and the way of death. If we don’t choose the way of life, we automatically default to the way of death.
As the people of the land became more and more entrenched in their evil and wicked ways, they entered more and more into Satan’s jurisdiction—the way of death. And as they did so, God became a stranger to them. As a consequence, Satan was given more and more freedom to do his destructive work upon them, and they perished through disease, pestilence and violence. This is what the “hornets” were meant to represent.
Up to now, we have seen God describe what was going to happen to the people that spurned His love and wisdom. But the real message He wanted to convey, the most important message He wanted His covenant-keeping people to understand was this:
“You shall make no covenant with them, nor with their gods. They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against Me. For if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you.”
God did not want His people to follow in the same path as these nations. He was trying to teach them and us as well, that when we ally ourselves with Satan, the result is destruction. The people of course, didn’t heed God’s warnings. Over and over they assimilated the pagan religions that surrounded them. And so they reaped the consequences as we have already seen.