11 “Therefore take careful heed to yourselves, that you love the LORD your God.
12 “Or else, if indeed you do go back, and cling to the remnant of these nations – these that remain among you – and make marriages with them, and go in to them and they to you,
13 “know for certain that the LORD your God will no longer drive out these nations from before you. But they shall be snares and traps to you, and scourges on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land which the LORD your God has given you.”
It starts small: a single drink, a single image, a single hand of cards, a single hit, or whatever. Then we find we like that “high” we get from that thing, whether it’s alcohol or pornography or gambling or drugs or even self-abuse. That’s how addiction starts: very small. And addiction operates on desensitization, a process of wearing away our sensitivity to the “wrongness” of a situation or behavior. We KNOW it’s wrong, but we get to the point that we don’t care.
Addiction isn’t the only thing like that, starting small and overwhelming our lives. Look at lying. We all have had those times when a “little white lie” has built into a huge fiasco of covering up what should have been revealed from the start. Or look at violence and abuse, how it starts with frustration and anger at someone else and gets poured out gradually but with increasing severity on someone we say we love. Look at sexual promiscuity. It starts with the three most abused words in the English language – “I love you” – and many partners later it devolves into “Wanna hook up?” And to make things worse, lying and violence and promiscuity and immorality in general are promoted through stories and films and advertising, to the point where the the moral norm is no longer normal.
The sexually promiscuous person faces the consequences of his or her actions through unplanned pregnancy, or disease, and also a general feeling of not being loved. The gambler or drug addict seeks ever greater “scores” to get some control over his or her life of emptiness. The liar, the abuser, the addict, the person slogging by in a mind-numbing “normal” life – they all become less sensitive to how wrong some actions can be. They no longer notice that they’re watching violence as entertainment like the Romans watched lions eat people in the Colosseum. They no longer realize that they’re exposing their kids to promiscuity as a lifestyle rather than an aberration, promoting “serial monogamy” over the stability and joy of a committed family life. And so that which once was so “wrong” has now become a trap for the next generation.
When God ordered the Israelites to remove all the people from the Promised Land, He wasn’t ordering a genocide – although that would seem to be the result. What God was ordering was a purging of sin. As God’s chosen people, the Israelites were called to be holy, set apart for God, devoid of sin and immorality. The Canaanites and other tribes in Palestine at the time were sinful pagans, and God knew that if the Israelites consorted with them, then the Israelites would become just like them. Yes, God was calling for the purging of whole groups of people from the land He’d promised the Israelites, but He wasn’t calling for wholesale slaughter. If that were the case, then Rahab – the prostitute in Jericho who hid the Israelite spies – would have been killed along with everyone else. Instead, Rahab was spared and dwelled among the Israelites. Why? Because she knew and loved the Lord God. (Joshua 2:1-21, 6:22-25)
In Joshua’s final speech to the tribes of Israel, he is telling them that they cannot afford to allow sin a foothold in their lives. If even one foreigner is allowed to dwell among them, then that person’s life of paganism and sin becomes a model for those living around him. God didn’t want His people “sleeping with the enemy” (in a literal and figurative sense), and so He ordered those enemies relentlessly killed or driven from the Promised Land.
In case we might think God was being a bit harsh, we need only read the next few books of the history of Israel to see that God was exactly right. The books of Judges, Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles all lay out what happened due to the Israelites NOT purging the foreign influences from among them. They slid into immorality and idolatry, and they ceased to love the Lord their God. They ceased to be holy. They fell apart into separate kingdoms led by mostly pagan kings and eventually ended up in slavery again. They literally ceased to be Israel. And it all started with small things.
Sin is a snare, a trap that grabs us and gets tighter the more we struggle. Such traps are set in place by us! We set our own snares when we allow little things to creep into our lives. When sexual immorality is overlooked, then it isn’t long before it is encouraged. When violence isn’t punished and discouraged, it isn’t long before it is glorified among us. When people cease to love God actively, then it isn’t long before they ignore Him altogether – or even deny His existence. When we tolerate sin, then we are simply inviting sin into our lives.
Christ offers a better way than the physical purging of sinners. We no longer are called to slay all the Philistines and Canaanites and Jebusites and such. We are called to share the gospel and guide people to the truth. (Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:15) We are told to “lay aside every weight, and the sin that so easily ensnares us” (Hebrews 12:1) and to live lives of great faith. We are told to live among the pagans but set the example FOR THEM. (1 Peter 2:11-12) Like the ancient Israelites, we are called by God to “Be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:16 and Leviticus 11:44-45)
Let this day be the one where we purge the sin from our homes and our lives. Let this be the day when we say we will not tolerate the promotion of sin in our media and entertainment. Let this be the day when we disarm the very snares we have already set for ourselves. Let this be the day we claim for the Lord our God, a day that is holy unto Him. Let Jesus enter our lives today, His Holy Spirit to guide us, our loving Father to protect us. Let this be the day we get rid of the little things and hold onto one “big thing”:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37 and Deuteronomy 6:5)
Gracious heavenly Father, thank You for the depths of Your great love and mercy. Thank You for giving us Your Word so we can understand how You have called us to be holy for You, and how to recognize the sin that so easily ensnares our lives. Purge our hearts today, Lord God, and help us to live for You with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. Amen.