Many Christians see Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy as violent books that are irrelevant to the modern world. They are uneasy about a god who seems to advocate violence so staunchly. This is a wrong perspective.

The exodus was a time of intense spiritual warfare. The Israelites were escaping from a nation, passing by and entering land controlled by nations which were full of evil spirits. God wanted his people to be spirit free. These books tell the story of how God made this happen. This spiritual struggle was recorded in these books. Understanding this truth gives a different perspective.


God created the earth and gave authority over it to humans. When Adam and Eve were deceived by the serpent, they gave their authority over to the spiritual powers of evil. For the next thousand years, the spiritual powers of evil had authority in the earth. This enabled them to wreak havoc on the earth (this topic is explained more fully in my book called Kingdom Authority).

God had a plan for restoring authority back to his people, but it took time to implement it. The first step was Noah. God used the flood to destroy many of the spiritual powers at work on earth. The next step was to establish a piece of land where he had authority to operate and a people with whom he could work. Abraham was faithful, so God called him to be the father of a chosen nation.

Slaves of an Empire

Abrahams descendants ended up as slaves in the empire of Egypt. This was a sneaky move by God. When the devil saw Abraham's faith, he knew that God was up to something, so he wanted to nip it in the bud. He carried Jacob and his family into Egypt, so he could keep them under control and stamp them out if necessary. God allowed this to happen because he knew that if they became slaves, the people of Israel would cry out to him. Their cries for help gave God authority to set the next stage of his plan of redemption.

God also allowed the children of Israel to go into slavery so they would be cleansed of evil. Evil spirits are not interested in slaves because they have no authority. They always move towards their masters and rulers to gain more power. When Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt, they were evil-spirit free, because most evil spirits chose to stay with their Egyptians rulers and masters. They were not interested in slaves heading towards a wilderness.

The Exodus was the first large-scale rescue executed by God. He used Moses to lead the rescue. The spiritual powers of evil realised that something was going on when Moses ended up in Pharaoh's household, living as a prince. When he grew to be a man, they stirred him up with anger to kill a man, and then with fear to cause him to flee. They wanted to disqualify him from anything important before he started (Ex 2:11-15).

God gave Moses a glimpse into the spiritual realms before calling him to his ministry.

There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, "Moses! Moses!" (Ex 3:2,4).

The burning bush was not a miraculous sign to dazzle Moses. God wanted him to understand that the spiritual realms were close to the world of a lonely shepherd, even when he lived in the wilderness. God was able to speak to Moses from the bush because the spiritual realms touch the physical world. Learning this truth enabled Moses to hear God speak wherever he went. Hearing God's voice was critical to his engaging in spiritual warfare and becoming a great prophet (Deut 34:10).

Escape from Empire

The ten plagues on Pharaoh were a spiritual conflict between God and the spiritual powers of evil controlling Pharaoh and the Egyptian people. They knew God was doing something big, but they did not know what, so they wanted to stop it. God threw everything at them.

And in the greatness of Your excellence
You have overthrown those who rose against You (evil spiritual powers);
You sent forth Wrath;
He consumed them like stubble (Ex 15:7).

Pharaoh used sorcerers and magicians. For the first few plagues, they were able to replicate what Moses and Aaron did. By the time they got to the plague of Gnats, they recognised the work of God.

Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, "This is the finger of God" (Ex 8:19).

They realised they were up against God, but Pharaoh still hardened his heart and did not surrender to Moses and Aaron.

Once Moses and Aaron released a plague of boils, the magicians were defeated.

The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils that were on them and on all the Egyptians (Ex 9:11).

The sorcerers and magicians gave up the struggle, but the spiritual powers of evil that controlled Pharaoh did not give up. They continued to harden his heart.

At first, Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Ex7:22 8:15 8:32 9:7), but by the end of the conflict, the spiritual powers of evil were hardening his heart. Moses thought it was God who hardened Pharaoh's heart. I believe that it was the spiritual powers of evil that were doing it. They knew this was a pivotal battle in human history, so they were not going to give up easily.

The spiritual powers of evil were created by God and then rebelled, so they belong to him. Therefore, it is not incorrect to link their actions back to God. He does not shirk from responsibility for the beings that he created, even when they do evil.


The climax of the struggle in Egypt was the Passover. God said that he would go through Egypt at midnight and kill the firstborn male of every person and animal.

This is what the Lord says: "About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the female slave, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well" (Ex 11:4-5).

Moses records that God came, but it was actually an angel called Destroyer who killed all the children.

He will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down (Ex 12:23).

A destroying angel went through the land to destroy children and animals.

God told Noah that the life of an animal or person is in the blood (Gen 9:4). He later confirmed this through Moses.

For the life of the flesh is in the blood...
it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul (Lev 17:11).

Once the spiritual powers of evil understood this, they loved blood. They love death, and shedding blood means loss of life. The destroying angel and the spirit of death love blood and demand it from every person who has sinned. They were looking for blood in Egypt.

Each Israelite family killed a lamb. The blood of the lamb was sprinkled on their doorpost. The Israelites were slaves, so they had very little freedom. Their lives were totally controlled, so they had very little potential to sin. Therefore, the blood on the doorposts was sufficient to cover their sins (the lamb points to Jesus). When the destroying angel saw it, they realised the household's sins were covered, so they had no right to harm the family. They would then move on to look for other families to destroy.

The Egyptian families had not killed a lamb. They were serious sinners, so the spiritual powers of evil demanded their blood. They used this power to kill the firstborn son in every household. The bereaved parents were so upset that Pharaoh told the Israelites to leave.

The Egyptians urged the people to hurry and leave the country. "For otherwise," they said, "we will all die!" (Ex 12:33).

God does not shirk from his responsibilities. He created the destroying angel and the spirit of death, so he takes responsibility for their actions, even though they had rebelled against him. They were able to kill and destroy because humans had given them authority on earth. Nevertheless, Moses sheets responsibility back to God, because he is their creator.

Red Sea

Once the Israelites were gone, Pharaoh quickly realised that he had made a mistake by letting his slaves escape. He quickly called his best troops together and set out after them. When he saw them camped beside the Red Sea, he thought he had them trapped (Ex 14:5-8).

The Egyptians—all Pharaoh's horses and chariots, horsemen and troops—pursued the Israelites and overtook them as they camped by the sea near Pi Hahiroth, opposite Baal Zephon (Ex 14:5-9).

The Israelites were terrified because they were surrounded by a ruthless army.

Moses called the people to stand firm and the Lord would deliver them.

Moses answered the people, "Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again (Ex 14:13).

God told Moses to raise up his staff.

Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen (Ex 14:16-17).

Raising the staff gave God authority to send his angels to push back the sea. It appeared as if a wind was blowing, but the cause was spiritual.

The spiritual powers of evil knew they were in trouble. They could not destroy the Israelites, but they could destroy the Egyptian army instead. They loved destruction more than anything, so they do not care much about who or what they destroy.

The spirit called Wrath was unleashed. He stirred up the Egyptians and they foolishly drove into the Red Sea, though they knew God was against them.

After his people had passed through, Moses stretched out his staff again and Gods angels stopped holding back the sea. The spiritual powers of evil were not strong enough to do it, so the Egyptians were destroyed.

Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak, the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing from it, and the Lord swept them into the sea (Ex 14:27).

God sent a spirit of confusion amongst them, and they were swept away.

Your right hand, Lord,
was majestic in power.
Your right hand, Lord,
shattered the enemy (Ex 15:6-7).

Pharaoh was defeated. The spiritual powers of evil that controlled him were defeated too.


The Exodus would have freaked out all the people in the surrounding nations, including the Canaanites.

The chiefs of Edom will be terrified,
the leaders of Moab will be seized with trembling,
the people of Canaan will melt away;
terror and dread will fall on them.
By the power of your arm
they will be as still as a stone (Ex 15:15-16).

The Israelites could have marched straight into the land without resistance if they had entered straight away. Unfortunately, they rebelled against God and had to wait for forty years. Mucking around for this time allowed the Canaanites to recover their confidence and resist God's plan.


God had only limited authority to act in Egypt. The children of Israel had called out for help, so he had authority to rescue them. He was limited to that. He needed to defeat to Pharaoh and the spiritual powers of evil that controlled him, but he could not remove them because the people of Egypt had given Pharaoh authority to rule them and the people had given the spiritual powers of evil authority over them. So God had to stir up one group of spiritual powers against another. This is what he did. Destroyer killed the firstborn of the Egyptians. Wrath and Destruction destroyed Pharaoh and his army. This allowed the Israelites to escape and prevented Egypt from forcing them back.

Once they were in the wilderness, there was no human control, so God had authority to work amongst the people, as long they did not rebel. When they complained and rebelled, the spiritual powers of evil that were skulking around looking for opportunities were able to attack.

Life in the Wilderness


God made an amazing promise to the Israelites after they had crossed the Red Sea.

If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you (Ex 15:26).

While the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, they were vulnerable to the spiritual powers of evil that controlled that nation. These spirits were able to inflict sickness on the slaves. Once they had moved out into the wildness and were no longer slaves, those spirits had no authority to touch them. That is why God promised that they would not experience any of the sicknesses that had come on them while they were in Egypt.

However, if they rebelled against God and failed to keep his commands, they would lose their spiritual protection. Spirits of sickness would be able to attack them and inflict diseases on them.


Israel grumbled against God about the lack of water in the wilderness. God brought water from the rock (Ex 17:1-7), but complaining about God removed his authority to rescue them. They lost their spiritual protection. Rephidim means peace. It should have been a place of peace, but they lost God's peace and faced war.

The spiritual powers of evil took the opportunity and stirred up the Amalekites to attack the Israelites. The Amalekites were descendants of Esau (Gen 36:12,16). They took advantage of the opening, and attacked while Israel was spiritually exposed and feeble.

The battle was initiated by the Amalekites, but Moses decided on the response himself. At the Red Sea, Moses held up the staff and God brought victory. The people just had to stand still and watch.

The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still (Ex 14:14).

At Rephidim, Moses did not seek the Lord, but told Joshua to fight. This was the only alternative while they were without God's full blessing. Moses prayers when he held up his arms released angels to support Joshua and his soldiers, but not in God's way.

It seems that Moses tried to replicate what had happened at the Red Sea, but with military force.

As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses' hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset (Ex 17:11-12).

He prayed as he did at the Red Sea, but the people still had to fight, because they had lost God's blessing by grumbling.

Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword (Ex 17:13).

This was not God's will, but he blessed the soldiers for Moses' sake.

Fighting was legitimate because they were attacked. The Israelites actions were defensive. War was not the best option, but it was permitted.

The experience was bad for Joshua because he developed a taste for the sword. Grumblers need the sword. Moses did not like the sword as much.

Forget Remember

God told Moses to speak about the Amalekites within Joshua's hearing.

Write this for a memorial in the book and recount it in the hearing of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven (Exodus 17:14).

The meaning of this passage is not obvious. There is a strange juxtaposition of words: remember, memory, forget. God said to write it down as a memorial so that it would not be forgotten, yet he said that the Amalekites would be forgotten, but urged the Israelites not to forget. The Amalekites have not been forgotten because they recorded in the scriptures, so this was not what God intended by these words.

Moses said something different from what God had said.

And Moses built an altar and called its name, "The Lord is my Banner" for he said, "Because the Lord has sworn: the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation" (Ex 17:15-16).

He said the Lord would be opposed to the Amalekites for several generations. More important, he said the Lord is my Banner. A banner is a flag, but Moses was not just referring to an ordinary flag. Rather, he was saying that the Lord is his spiritual protection. The Lord protects him from physical and spiritual attack.

Moses gave a longer explanation in Deuteronomy.

Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you were coming out of Egypt, how he met you on the way and attacked your rear ranks, all the stragglers at your rear, when you were tired and weary; and he did not fear God. Therefore, it shall be, when the Lord your God has given you rest from your enemies all around, in the land which the Lord your God is giving you to possess as an inheritance, that you will blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. You shall not forget (Deut 25:16-19).

These words followed a list of things that the Lord detests. This included those who are deceitful and take advantage of people who are weak. The Amalekites took advantage of the Israelites when they were tired and weary. Amalek did not fear God. The Israelites were also spiritually weak and tired. That was probably the more serious problem.

Moses advised that when the Lord has taken them into the land and given them peace, they should "blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven". We should note that he said to blot out the memory, not blot out the Amalekites themselves. He was urging them to blot out the experience, by not letting it happen again. They must not grumble and rebel, because that would allow another spiritual attack.

The phrase "under heaven" is important. It refers to the spiritual realms. Moses wants the Israelites to eliminate the power of the spiritual powers of evil that worked through the Amalekites. The Israelites must remember that the Lord is the source of their protection from spiritual attack. They must not make the same mistake as at Rephidim, where they allowed spiritual powers "under heaven" to attack them.


The prophet Samuel misunderstood what Moses had said. In a strange incident, he urged Saul to destroy the Amalekites. This destroyed Saul's Kingship.

Samuel said to Saul, "I am the one the LORD sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the LORD (1 Sam 15:1).

Saul knew who Samuel was and that he was a prophet, so Saul had no need to be reminded that Samuel had anointed him as king. There is no evidence in the passage that the Lord told Samuel to speak to Saul, so it seems like he was acting on his own initiative. Maybe Samuel reminded Saul of his role as kingmaker to build up his personal authority because he did not have authority from God.

Samuel told Saul that God wanted him to attack the Amalekites.

This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.'

This was a ruthless message straight out of the blue. Samuel said that he spoke in the Lord's name, but his strange introduction suggests that this was not true. God had promised that he would wipe out the memory of the Amalekites (Ex 17:14), but he did not say how he would do it. There is nothing in the scriptures to indicate that God intended Saul to do destroy them.

Telling Saul to totally destroy everyone, including women and children, was really drastic. This command has given God a bad name because it does not seem to be justified and is inconsistent with Deuteronomy 20:14. This was not a command from God, but Samuel was acting on his own initiative.

God's Word

Saul gathered a large army and attacked the Amalekites. He captured their king and totally destroyed all the people. Then the Lord spoke. Unlike in the early part of the chapter, this time the word of the Lord did come to Samuel.

Now the word of the LORD came to Samuel, saying, "I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as king, for he has turned back from following Me, and has not performed My commandments." And it grieved Samuel, and he cried out to the LORD all night (1 Sam 15:10-11).

The usual interpretation is that the Lord was upset, because Saul had allowed the king to live, but this is not what the word of the Lord said. The word was that Saul had not performed or kept his commandments (Deut 19:14-20). The reality was that Saul had not observed God's commandments for kings. This was the reason that God rejected Saul's kingship.

It is interesting that Samuel grieved all night. In the earlier events, he seemed to undermine Saul's kingship, so I doubt that he was grieving about Saul's fate. I suspect that he was upset because he was beginning to realise that he had given bad advice to Saul. Usually, when the Lord initiates something, his word comes to the prophet to get things started. The word of the Lord coming after an event is a sign that Samuel had been out of order in stirring Saul up to fight.

The other interesting issue is that when Samuel spoke to Saul the next day, he did not repeat the word that Lord had spoken. He said something quite different.

Samuel said, "Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the head of the tribes of Israel? The LORD anointed you king over Israel. And he sent you on a mission, saying, 'Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; make war on them until you have wiped them out.' Why did you not obey the LORD? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the LORD " (1 Sam 15:17-19)?

The Lord had not mentioned the Amalekites or the plunder, but this is what Samuel focused on. He put a different spin on the word of the Lord.

After some argument, Saul admitted that he was wrong.

Then Saul said to Samuel, "I have sinned. I violated the LORD's command and your instructions. I was afraid of the people and so I gave in to them. Now I beg you, forgive my sin and come back with me, so that I may worship the Lord" (1 Sam 15:24-25).

It is interesting that Saul confessed to violating the commandments of God and disobeying Samuel's instructions. This is a hint that Samuels instructions went beyond the Lord's commandments.

Despite Saul repenting, Samuel did not offer to intercede with the Lord for him. This is strange because the Lord usually responded positively to repentance. When Samuel left Saul that day, he never spoke with Saul again.

Death of Agag

Samuel asked for Agag the king of the Amalekites to be brought to him. Agag thought this was good news, but Samuel had a different attitude.

And Samuel hacked Agag in pieces before the LORD in Gilgal (1 Sam 15:33).

Most commentators applaud Samuel for doing what God commanded, whereas Saul is condemned. I am not sure that we have got this right. Saul had certainly lost touch with God (1 Sam 15:11), but there is no evidence from the scriptures of God commanding Samuel to slaughter Agag.

The impression I get is that Samuel acted on his own initiative. The expression "before the Lord" could be translated "against the Lord". This would confirm that Samuel was not acting in obedience to the Lord.

Even if God did want Saul to kill Agag, that did not make it right for Samuel to do it. A prophet must not act as judge or military commander. A true prophet should be totally separated to God, so they should not be acting as the executioner of criminals or military prisoners. Samuel went beyond his calling as a prophet by executing Agag.

These events are a serious warning to all prophets. They must be careful to stay within their calling. When a prophet thinks they are being ignored, they can be tempted to fulfil their own prophecies. This is a dangerous thing for any prophet.

Many people are disturbed by the description of Samuel hacking Agag into pieces. They say that a God who would order this is not very nice. I agree with this view, but I am also fairly certain that God did not order this violent death. If I have interpreted this passage correctly, God did not command that Agag be hacked to hamburger.

Mount Sinai

When the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai, God came down onto the mountain to establish his covenant with the people and give Moses the law. He commanded the people to stay away from it. If they strayed onto the mountain, they would be destroyed by the power of his glory. God instructed Moses to put ropes around the base of the mountain so that no one could wander onto the mountain by mistake, or to get a better view.

If someone went onto the mountain, God instructed the people to throw a stone or fire an arrow at them to warn them of the danger.

Whoever touches the mountain will die. Stones are to be thrown at them or arrows shot to warn them; not a hand is to be laid on them. Whether an animal or a man, they will not live (Ex 19:13).

This passage has been misunderstood. The purpose of the command was not that the person wandering onto the mountain should be killed, but that their life should be saved by warning them of the danger.

God's presence is so holy and glorious that any sinful person wandering into would be killed instantly. This was not something God wanted to happen, but the inevitable consequence of his presence and glory. This was true for humans and for animals. God wanted his people kept safe and alive.

The passage says that no one should touch the person or animal who wandered onto the mountain (no hand is to be laid on them). This would be too dangerous, because if God came unexpectedly, the person trying to save the one in danger would also be destroyed.

The only safe way to warn the person or animal was to throw stones towards them, or if they were further away, to shoot arrows in front of them. Once a person's attention was gained, they could be signalled to leave. An animal might be frightened into fleeing. The people must not go onto the mountain to save the person or animal because it was too dangerous. They could die too.

The purpose of throwing stones and shooting arrows was not to kill the person. It was actually the opposite. If they did not get off the mountain quickly, God's presence would destroy them. The stones might alert them to the danger, and cause them to flee. The stones would save their life, not destroy it.

God's Character

God described his character in the second commandment. His words imply that he is vindictive, harming people to the third and fourth generation. This conflicts with his statements throughout the scriptures that people will be judged for their own sins.

Parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will die for their own sin (Deut 24:16).

The problem is with the way that the second commandment has been translated. The same applies to the other places where the phase is repeated.

The Hebrew word in Exodus 20:5 that is usually translated as "visit" or "punish" is "paqad". It can mean "look" or "observe", as well as "inflict" or "visit". It contrasts with the word "asah" meaning "do", which is used Exodus 20:6 for "showing" kindness to those who obey.

God observes the effects of iniquity. He sees the spiritual powers of evil passing pain and harm from generation to generation amongst those who hate him. He cannot protect them from what happens because they have lost their spiritual protection. In contrast, he can actively does good to those who love him and keep his covenant.


There is a parallel passage in Num 14:18.

The Lord is longsuffering and abundant in mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but he by no means clears the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation.

And in Exodus 34:6-7.

The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children's children to the third and the fourth generation.

The first half of these verses describe the amazing love of God. He is abundant in mercy and forgives iniquity and transgression. However, the second half of the verses seem to contradict what went before. They seem to be saying that God forgives iniquity, but then judges grandchildren and great-grandchildren for it. That is illogical. If God has forgiven the person who sins, he is not going to punish their descendants.

I believe that there is something wrong with the standard translations. First of all the word "guilty" does not exist in the Hebrew, but is added by the translators. That is why it is often in italics. Secondly, the expression "he by no means clears" is a very expansive translation of a couple of Hebrew words. Literally, the Hebrew says something like "to acquit not he will acquit". I am not sure what this strange expression means, but I doubt that it means what the English translators assume it means.

I presume the second half of these two verses are talking about what the spiritual powers of evil want to do, in contrast to God. God is full of lovingkindness, so he forgives transgressions. The powers of evil want to punish transgression to the fourth generation. Maybe Num 14:18 should read like this.

The Lord is longsuffering and abundant in mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, not visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation (like the spiritual power of evil).

Same with Ex 34:5-6.

The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, not visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children's children to the third and the fourth generation (like the spiritual powers of evil).

The spiritual powers of evil love to inflict harm on subsequent generations, whereas God blesses the children and grandchildren of those who love him. Even if they reject his covenant.

Detestable Practices

The book of Leviticus records some instructions that God gave to Israel, about how they should live. These commands were specifically addressed specifically to the children of Israel (Lev 1:2; 27:34). They are not universal laws, but were designed to provide spiritual protection for Israel during the season between Sinai and the cross.

Leviticus 18 lists a range of detestable behaviours that would defile the Israelites. These behaviours are immoral, but more seriously, they allow evil spirits access into the community. The behaviours listed are spiritually dangerous because they open people up to spiritual attack. Permitting these behaviours makes a community vulnerable to the spiritual powers of evil.

Leviticus 20 spells out the actions that should be taken for spiritual protection. At the end of the section, God explains the reason.

You must not live according to the customs of the nations I am going to drive out before you. Because they did all these things, I abhorred them (Lev 20:23).

Anyone engaging in one of these sins must be excluded from the community, because they have submitted to evil spirits, so they are a threat to the spiritual safety of the community. God's people must remain holy and separate, so they can live with the presence of God

You shall be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy, and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be Mine. (Lev 20:26).

Leviticus 20 spells out the requirement to remain separate from people carrying evil spirits more clearly. The first sin listed is sacrificing children to Molech. Not only is this a terrible sin, but it opens the people up to ruthless evil spirits. Those who engage in this activity must be banished from the community. Leviticus 20:2-3 uses three different expressions to describe how people offering their children to Molech should be treated.

  1. The person must be put to death; literally "die death".
  2. The person must be cut off from among their people.
  3. The people of the community must stone the person.

Each of these expressions is a different way of describing the same action.

1. Die death

The Laws for Society specifies that a person offering their child to Molech must die. The word die is doubled in the Hebrew, as "die death".

Whoever gives any of his descendants to Molech, he shall surely die death (Lev 20:2).

The person committing this sin deserves to die, but that does not settle the matter. God is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness (Psalm 86:15) so his justice is always merciful. He wants to provide his people with spiritual protection, not destroy lives.

The expression "die death" is used throughout the Torah for a variety of sins. Most commentators assume that it means physical death, but to understand what it means, we really need to go back and see how God understood it because he was the first to use it. He used this expression when he warned Adam that he would die if he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it, you will die death ( Gen 2:17).

The word die is doubled in the Hebrew, as "die death". However, God did not physically kill Adam and Eve when they ate the fruit. That is what they deserved, but he is merciful, so he banished them from the garden instead. God was merciful towards those who deserved to die in the Garden of Eden. Adam lived on for hundreds of years, but he was shut out from the presence of God.

God implemented his penalty of "die death" as "exclusion". In a spiritual sense, Adam and Eve were dead. Their relationship with God had died. They lost their place of safety and were thrust into a dangerous world dominated by the spiritual powers of evil. They were spiritually dead

The same doubling of the word death (die death) is used in Exodus 21:12 as the penalty for murder. Cain was the first murderer. God did not kill Cain, but he excluded him from the land. He became a restless wanderer living an unsafe life. (Gen 4:14). We must not apply this expression more literally than God does. If he implemented Adam and Eve's penalty as exclusion, then we should do the same.

Leviticus 20:2 specifies "die death" for the person offering their children to Molech (as it is a form of murder). They deserve death, but they should not be killed, as that would be doing evil to achieve good. Instead, they should be excluded from their community. Their relationship with the community that had sustained them would be dead. They would be cut off from the people they trusted for protection and exposed to spiritual attack. They are spiritually dead.

2. Cut Off from Among their People

The second expression for the banishment of a person offering sacrifices to Molech is being cut off from among his people. Spiritual protection comes from living in a community of people who are serving God. The Hebrew word for "cut off" is karath. This word is also used to describe making a covenant. God used the same word for his making a covenant with Abram.

On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, "To your descendants, I give this land" (Gen 15:18).

God "cut a covenant" with Abraham.

The person worshipping Molech breaks their covenant with their family and community. They must be banished from among the people because they carry evil spirits that would harm the people of God. Prior to the cross, this was the only way to remove evils spirits. Their covenant with family and community is broken.

Being cut off from the community is serious because it removes spiritual protection. The tabernacle sacrifices dealt with sin sufficiently to protect the Israelites from spiritual attack, provided their leaders obeyed God and followed the cloud. A person excluded from the community immediately lost that protection and was vulnerable to an attack by the spiritual powers of evil, especially by a powerful spirit called Death.

Paul explained in Romans that Death reigned from the time to Adam to Moses.

Death reigned from Adam to Moses (Rom 5:14).

Death was the name of nasty spiritual power. This controlling spiritual power ruled the spiritual powers of wickedness from the time of Adam until Moses received the law. He focused on destroying the people and the earth that God had created.

For if by the one man's offence Death reigned through the one (Rom 5:17).

This further clarifies the Hebrew expression translated as "you shall certainly die" in Genesis 2:17. A literal translation would be "To Death, you will die". Once we realise that Death is a powerful, controlling, spiritual power, we can understand that being excluded from their community left people under its control and open to destruction.

3. Pelting with Stones

A person found guilty of serving Molech should be given an opportunity to escape, providing they agree not to return to their community. In Moses time, this exclusion from the community was expressed by the entire community pelting stones at the offender. While travelling through the desert, it was hard to persuade a person to leave the safety of their family and community. The stones were not intended to kill the offender, but were a dramatic way of telling the murderer that they no longer belonged to the community.

The entire community gathered outside the places where they were living. The witnesses to the crime would place their hands on the head of the sinner to affirm his guilt (Lev 24:14). There is no suggestion in the biblical text that the offender should be tied up or restrained, so when the people pelted him with stones, he was free to run away. The shower of stones was a forceful sign that the person was no longer a member of that community. (More at Stoning).

The fleeing Molech worshipper would lose the protection and privileges that came from being part of a strong community. Their reputation would go before them and make them unwelcome in many communities. They would be forced to live with other excluded criminals on the edge of society. This would be a dangerous place.

In a sense, exclusion is a death penalty. The people of the community that supported them will have nothing to do with them. The excluded person will be treated as if they are dead. It will seem like they have never lived in the community.

Other Sins

All three of the descriptive expressions are used for the person offering their child to Molech. This ensures the spiritual protection of the community. The rest of Leviticus 20 lists a range of other defiling practices that would release evil spirits into the community. Most involve sexual immorality (some of the same sins are specified in Exodus 22:18-20,28; Deuteronomy 17:2-7; 18:9-13; 22:22,24)).

Only one of the three expressions above is used for each behaviour, mostly "die death". Cut off from the community is used for a couple. Pelt with stones is used for a person who is a medium or spiritist (Lev 20:27). The consequence for each sin was the same. The person was to be excluded from their community so that they carried the evil spirits that they had picked up away. They would be pelted with stones as a sign that they should leave.

A couple of the sins listed were less serious because they did not affect the community, but only the people who committed the sin. These people were likely to end up childless because they had placed a curse on themselves by defiling themselves (Lev 20:19-21). This applies to sexual relations with relatives, such as uncles, aunts, or brother's wife.

(When a man engages in sexual activity with an animal, the animal receives human semen, so it must be killed. A woman engaging in bestiality does not give anything to the animal, so it does not need to be killed (Lev 20 15-16)).

Sexual immorality also defiles the land by letting powerful evil spirits into the land. If immorality is allowed to go on the people would be vomited out of the land.

If you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you (Lev 18:28).

The children of Israel needed to protect themselves from the consequences of sexual immorality. It would contaminate the land they were entering by giving access to dangerous and destructive spirits. This is why people who are excluded for these reasons cannot be ransomed (Lev 27:29).

The person engaging in immoral sexual behaviour invites an evil spirit into their community. They must be excluded from the community for spiritual protection. They were pelted with stones as a signal that they should leave their community.

God warns that this evil must be purged from the land. If the person committing the sin were killed, their blood would remain in the land, along with the evil spirits they carried. The land is still defiled, and the evil spirit will find someone else in the community to work through. Forcing the person to leave is a safer solution, because the land is not defiled, and the evil spirit will go out of the land with them.

A person who rejects the verdict of a judge can be excluded if their crime is sufficiently serious (Deut 17:12. This is the only sanction that judges can use. However, they cannot make someone leave, and they cannot make the community exclude someone.

The Sabbath

In Numbers 15, the Lord confirmed to Moses that a person cursing the Lord should be cut off from his people.

Anyone who sins defiantly, whether native-born or foreigner, blasphemes the Lord and must be cut off from the people of Israel. Because they have despised the Lord's word and broken his commands, they must surely be cut off (Num 15:30-31).

A person who blatantly rejects God and his commands must be excluded from the community. They are a threat to it because they give the powers of evil access.

The book then deals with a man breaking the Sabbath.

Now while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering wood on the Sabbath day. Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation; and they put him in custody because it had not been declared what should be done to him (Num 15:33-35).

I am not sure why they did not know what to do because God had told them at Sinai how to deal with Sabbath-breaking.

You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall die death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people (Ex 31:14).

This was just for the Israelites. It is not a universal command. The person breaking the Sabbath must be excluded from the Israelite community, because they are a threat to its spiritual security. God explained why.

You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy (Ex 31:13).
The children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a lasting covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever (Ex 31:16).

To be holy is to be different and better. The Israelites were to secure their spiritual protection by remaining separate from neighbouring nations, who had made a home for a range of demonic powers. The Sabbath was the main cultural marker (along with food rules) that would distinguish the Israelites from the other nations, so breaking the Sabbath was undermining their spiritual defence.

Going back to Numbers 15, God confirmed that the Sabbath-breaker should be excluded from the community (die death). This term refers to "exclusion from the community".

Then the Lord said to Moses, "The man shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp" (Num 15:35).

The man should be pelted with stones outside the camp to give him the message that he no longer belonged to the Israelite community. The children of Israel obeyed the instructions God gave to Moses.

So all the congregation brought him outside the camp and pelted him with stones, and he died as the Lord had commanded Moses (Num 15;36).

The man died as the Lord commanded. This was not physical death, as the Lord had not commanded that. Rather, the Lord had commanded spiritual death by exclusion from the community, just as Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden (Gen 2:17).

From the perspective of the Israelites, the man was dead. At the beginning of Numbers, the Israelites had counted the number of men who were available to fight for the Lord.

Take a census of the whole Israelite community by their clans and families, listing every man by name, one by one (Num 1:3).

Anyone who died would be removed from the list. The man who was banished for deliberately breaking the Sabbath was removed from the list in the same way. He was no longer part of the Israelite community, so it was just as if he were dead. The Sabbath-breaker would be treated as if he had died.

Golden Calf

When Moses spent 40 days on the mountain, the people got tired of waiting. They gave their gold to Aaron and he made a golden calf for them to worship. The people had a feast and engaged in every kind of revelry (Ex 32:6). According to Exodus, God told Moses what had happened and urged him to go down. He threatened to destroy Israel and make a nation from Moses.

Let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation (Ex 32:10).

This is what the Israelites deserved, but it was not God's ultimate purpose. Moses understood this and asked for forgiveness.

Lord, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand (Ex 32:11).

Moses said that nations would laugh at God if he let Israel be destroyed. He understood that Israel's idolatry had released a spirit called Wrath. This spirit was waiting to destroy the chosen people if God did not intervene. Justice gave Wrath permission to do it. Justice required God to allow this to happen, so he needed Moses to intercede and pled for mercy on them. Moses' cry gave God authority to relent and show mercy to the people. God agreed to be merciful.

When Moses went down the mountain, he was shocked by what he saw.

When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain (Ex 34:19).

Moses smashed the golden calf and ground it to powder and scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it (Ex 34:19). God had not told him to do this, but I presume he felt the need to do something to put the situation right.

The people continued to be stirred up.

Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies (Ex 32:25).

Moses stood at the entrance and called people who are on the Lord's side to join him. The Levites joined him. He told them to go amongst the people and kill them. They killed 3000 people (Ex 32:25-28).

God had not instructed Moses to take this terrible action, but he said, "This is what the Lord says", even though he had not. He could be merciful when he was with God, but once he was with the people and saw what they were doing, his anger took over and he encouraged violence.

The next day, Moses said that he would go to the Lord and try to make atonement for them.

You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin (Ex 32:30).

Moses seems to have got it wrong here, because he was angry with the people. God had already agreed to have mercy on the people before Moses came down the mountain, so he did not need to plead with God again. Moses could not make atonement for sin.

When Moses went back to Lord, he asked them to forgive their sins. He was dramatic and asked God to blot him out if he would not forgive the people. God calmed him down and reminded him that people would be responsible for their own sin. He agreed that he would continue to travel with his people (Ex 32:31-33).

The people were then struck by a plague (Ex 32:35). This happened because they had lost their spiritual protection. This confirms that the Levites killing was unnecessary, because it did not deal with the problem.

Having God with them was a privilege for the Israelites, but it was also dangerous because he could not remain when they grumbled and rebelled. He said,

You are a stiff-necked people. If I were to go with you even for a moment, I might destroy you (Ex 33:5).

If he travelled with them but had to withdraw when they sinned, the spiritual powers of evil could attack. They might be safer with an angel, who could stay with them through some of their bad behaviour.

The Tabernacle

The Tabernacle of God was a centre of spiritual warfare. This made it a dangerous place to be.

The Levites shall camp around the tabernacle of the testimony so that there will be no wrath on the Israelite community. So the Levites shall keep charge of the tabernacle of the testimony (Num 1:53).

It is usually assumed that God would kill them, but that is wrong. The spirit called Wrath and his evil angels would put people to death if they got caught in the wrong place.

God dwelt in the Holy of Holies because the Covenant with Moses gave him the right to be there. The spiritual powers of evil hated this intrusion because they thought the earth belonged to them. They didn't want the children of Israel being close to God, so they gathered there and did their best to harm those who went near.

The Holy of Holies was the place where God dwelt. The main furniture was the golden box containing a copy of the covenant between God and the Israelites. The spiritual powers of evil hated the covenant box because it was the place where God dealt with the sin of the people and provided them with spiritual protection. It was also the place from which God spoke to Moses.

When Moses entered the tent of meeting to speak with the Lord, he heard the voice speaking to him from between the two cherubim above the atonement cover on the ark of the covenant law (Num 8:79).

Just outside the Holy of Holies, but still within the tabernacle of this was the golden altar. Incense was placed on this altar as a pleasant aroma. There was not much blood in the Holy of Holies. A little was dabbed on the horns of the altar, once a year on the day of Atonement (Exodus 30:1-10). God is easy to please and a pleasant aroma was all he required.

The burnt offerings were offered on the bronze altar outside the tabernacle. The altar was bronze because it was not directed towards God, but towards the spiritual forces of evil. The blood was for them too. The primary purpose of these offerings was to appease the spiritual powers of evil, who demanded blood for every sin. They love blood and gore because they love killing and doing evil. They demanded the right to impose the curses of the covenant on the children of evil.

The sacrifices were offered to keep the spiritual powers of evil at bay. They were not entirely happy, but they had no choice but to accept them. God said they must be satisfied with the blood of animals, because the animals belonged to humans.

The priests made atonement for the people once a year.

This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites (Lev 16:34).

A sacrifice once a year was sufficient to provide atonement for the people. This was sufficient to provide the people with spiritual protection, if they did not rebel or grumble against God.

The tabernacle court was a dangerous place to be, because the spiritual powers of evil hung around there, enjoying the death and gore. They would attack anyone who was not authorised by God to be there.

The tabernacle was not the centre of ceremonial religion, or a type to teach us mysteries. It was the site of an intense spiritual battle, in which God won and enforced a strategic victory that foreshadowed a much greater victory of Jesus cross and resurrection.

The Israelites had very little spiritual discernment, so they needed strict rules to keep safe in this situation. Following the cross, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, spiritual protection comes from the gift of discernment and walking in the Spirit.

A common Hebrew phrase in the book of Leviticus is "Zoth Torah". It is usually translated as "This is the law of" or "This is the regulations for"... (Lev 7:1). A better translation would be "How-To". Leviticus 7:1-10 is the "How-To" for the guilt offering. The book of Leviticus includes a large number of "How-To's". There is one for each of the offerings. There is also a How-To for the consecration of priests and religious festivals. The How-To's provided guidance on how to maintain spiritual protection by offering sacrifices. They also provide guidance on how to manage the tabernacle safely.

God had put spiritual protection in place for the Priests and Levites, by specific sacrifices, and keeping them away from activities that could open them up to spiritual attack. They were responsible for the tabernacle.

From among all the Israelites, I have given the Levites as gifts to Aaron and his sons to do the work at the tent of meeting on behalf of the Israelites and to make atonement for them so that no plague will strike the Israelites when they go near the sanctuary (Num 8:19).

The Levites made an offering of atonement on behalf of the people. This would prevent a plague from striking them if they went near. If the Levites had not made this offering the spiritual powers of evil would attack people with a plague and destroy them.

The Levites camped around the tabernacle because they were the only ones who were safe in this dangerous place. They put up their standards to mark the safe areas (Num 1:52).

When the tabernacle was being packed up was a dangerous time, because the boundaries and safe places were less clear.

Whenever the tabernacle is to move, the Levites are to take it down, and whenever the tabernacle is to be set up, the Levites shall do it. Anyone else who approaches will die (Num 1:51).

Anyone unauthorised who goes near the tabernacle when it is being taken down will die. It was a very dangerous place to be. Wrath and Death were there enjoying the sacrifices. They would attack anyone who drew near without permission.

Nadab and Abihu

Two of Aaron's sons offered unauthorised fire to the Lord near the Tabernacle. Fire came out from the tabernacle and destroyed them (Lev 10:1-2). The place of the offering was dangerous because offerings were directed towards the spiritual powers of evil to appease them. They demanded blood for every sin. They loved blood and gore. They were not happy with the tabernacle because the sacrifices provided atonement for sin, which provided spiritual protection to the people. However, they had to accept them.

The spiritual powers of evil hung around the tabernacle enjoying the blood and death. They would attack anyone not authorised to be there. Nadab and Abihu were entitled to be there, but by offering their own fire, they lost their spiritual protection. The spiritual powers of evil attacked and destroyed them, not God. The fire came out of the place where God was present, but it was not his work.

Complaining and Wrath

When people complained, Wrath burned at the edge of the camp.

Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the Lord, and when he heard them, his Wrath was aroused. Then fire from the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp (Num 11:1-2).

Complaining removed spiritual protection and allowed the spiritual powers of evil to attack the people. When they cried out to Moses, he prayed, and the fire died down (Num 11:3). His prayers allowed God to provide protection for the people.

The same thing happened when the people complained about the lack of food. God provided quails for the people to eat.

But while the meat was still between their teeth and before it could be consumed, the Wrath of the Lord burned against the people, and he struck them with a severe plague (Num 11:33).

Complaining removed their protection. While they were eating, the spirit of Wrath attacked the people with a plague.

A similar thing occurred when Aaron and Miriam grumbled about Moses. They were his brother and sister. Miriam was a prophetess, so more was expected of her. God called them out to the Tent of Meeting.

The Wrath of the Lord burned against them, and he left them. When the cloud lifted from above the tent, Miriam's skin was leprous—it became as white as snow (Num 12:9-10).

When God left them and the cloud lifted, Miriam had lost her protection. Wrath was able to attack and turn her skin leprous. Aaron seems to have been protected because the priestly sacrifices protected him.

As they travelled from Mt Sinai toward Edom, the people became impatient and grumbled against God.

The Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died (Num 21:6).

The people thought the Lord sent the snakes, but they had actually lost their protection by grumbling against the Lord again. The spiritual powers of evil love snakes, so they sent them to kill people once they gained access when the people grumbled. The Lord had to withdraw, so you could say that he sent them.

The people asked Moses for help, so he prayed. The Lord told Moses what to do. He raised a staff with a bronze snake. This was a sign to the spiritual powers of evil that the Lord had returned to the people, because they had asked Moses for help. When the Lord returned, healing came.

Korah Dathan and Abiram

These three men stirred up others and they rebelled against Moses' authority. 250 leaders gathered together to oppose Moses. When Moses heard about this rebellion, he fell on his face before the Lord. He told Moses what to do. Moses asked them to bring censors before the Lord so that he could choose between them and Moses. Dathan and Abihu refused to come. They made false accusations against Moses, by saying that he would gouge out their eyes.

God told Moses to separate the people from those that were rebelling. Moses prophesied that the three men who had refused to come would go straight to Hades. I am not sure if this came from the Lord or Moses, but God fulfilled his words. Prophetic words are powerful.

Anyway, the Lord fulfilled his word. The ground opened and swallowed up Dathan and Abihu with their families. They went down to Hades. Hades is guarded by powerful evil spirits. It was they who took the rebellious men down.

Fire came down on the other 250 men who had rebelled as they offered incense. This was an unauthorised offering. They had lost their spiritual protection by rebelling against Moses. The spiritual powers of evil were able to attack them and destroy them with fire.

The next day, the entire community grumbled against Moses. He and Aaron stood before the Tent of Meeting.

Moses said to Aaron, "Take your censer and put incense in it, along with burning coals from the altar, and hurry to the assembly to make atonement for them. Wrath has come out from the Lord ; the plague has started." So Aaron did as Moses said, and ran into the midst of the assembly. The plague had already started among the people, but Aaron offered the incense and made atonement for them. He stood between the living and the dead, and the plague stopped. But 14,700 people died from the plague (Num 16:46-49).

Two powers were at work here. One was starting a plague and the other stopped it. The spirit of Wrath went out from where the Lord dwelt and started the plague. When Aaron moved among the people to protect them, God was able to heal the plague. Authentic priestly action turned away Wrath, whereas rebellion releases the spirit of Wrath.


While the Israelites were travelling through the land, a man with an Israelite mother and Egyptian father cursed God's name. The Israelites did not know what to do because the sin was not covered in the Laws for Society. In the Ten Words of the covenant, God said that he would protect his own name. They kept the man who had cursed God in confinement until Moses had asked God what to do.

This is the only mention of imprisonment in God's law. It was used here while the people checked out God's will in this situation. This is not a justification for the use of prison sentences as a penalty for crime. Prisons are not God's will.

God told Moses what they should do. This was not a universal command, but only for the children of Israel. They needed spiritual protection and cursing opened them up to spiritual attack, so they needed a remedy. God told Moses that the penalty for cursing the name of God should be "die death".

The one who curses the name of the Lord shall die death. All the congregation shall throw stones at him (Lev 24:16).

This is the same penalty as for sacrificing children to Molech, which is exclusion from the community. This was important for Israel, as this was the only way to keep the community safe from the spirits that would take advantage of the sin. God told Moses explained how this exclusion should take place.

Take outside the camp him who has cursed; then let all who heard him lay their hands on his head, and let all the congregation throw stones at him (Lev 24:14).

The people did as Moses had commanded them.

They took the blasphemer outside the camp and threw stones at him. The Israelites did as the Lord commanded Moses (Lev 24:27).

This passage is the fullest description of pelting with stones. There is no suggestion that the man died. The people laid their hands on his head. They did not tie him up or hold him down. They purged the evil from their midst by challenging the man who tried to bring evil upon them to leave their community. The penalty for blasphemy is the same as for murder (See Restitution and Exclusion).

Striking the Rock

When the people arrived at Kadesh in the Wilderness of Zin, there was no water there. The people quarrelled with Moses, so he went and sought the Lord. God told Moses to speak to a rock, as he had at Rephidim.

Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink (Num 20:8).

Moses gathered the people and rebuked them. He then struck the rock, instead of speaking to it, as God had commanded. Moses was angry, so he used violent words.

Moses said to them, "Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?" Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock (Num 20:10-11).

This opened the way for evil spirits to attack the people. Moses had immense authority, so if he gave spirits access, they could do great evil. He was not allowed to enter the Land because his anger would allow spirits to gain control of the new land.

Defence against Attack

As they moved from the wilderness towards the promised land, various nations opposed them. The fear that had been created by the Red Sea incident had declined as the years went by.


The first nation encountered was Edom. Moses asked the king of Edom for permission to pass through his lands. He said that the Israelites would stay on the road and not take any food or water. The King of Edom refused.

You may not pass through here; if you try, we will march out and attack you with the sword (Num 20:18).

He was persistent in his refusal. When Edom came out against them with a large and powerful army, the Israelites turned back and went a different way.

The Edomites were descendants of Esau, so the Israelites did not want to fight against them. God urged Israel not to provoke them because he would not give any of their land to the Israelites (Deut 2:5). Their first impulse was to remain at peace with the nations they needed to pass through.


When the King of Arad heard that Israel was coming, he attacked and captured some of them. The Israelites made a vow to God.

If you will deliver these people into our hands, we will totally destroy their cities (Num 21:2).

God heard the vow and gave the attacking army into their hands. They destroyed them and their towns. They called the place Hormah, which means "destruction".

God had not asked for this vow, so it was probably not his plan to destroy the people of Arad. Once they had made the vow, he was limited to allowing them to do what they asked, because they had authority in this part of the earth and he needed their permission to act. He was limited to doing what they had given him permission to do.


Israel sent messengers to Sihon King of the Amorites and asked permission to pass through their land. They promised to stay on the road and not take any food. He refused and marched out with his army.

Israel, however, put him to the sword and took over his land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, but only as far as the Ammonites, because their border was fortified (Num 21:24).

The Amorites attacked Israel, so they were justified in defending themselves from the attackers (Deut 2:26-37).


The next nation the Israelites encountered was Bashan, which was ruled by a king called Og. He marched out his army and attacked them. The Lord said not to be afraid because he would deliver the army over to the Israelites. They struck them down leaving no survivors (Num 21:34-35).

Og attacked Israel, so they were justified in defending themselves against him.


Something important was going on. Moses explained in Deuteronomy that the Anakim lived in some of these countries. The Anakin were giants. Og was one of them. He was so big that he slept in a bed that was thirteen feet long.

God did not create the Anakim. The spiritual powers of evil must have bred them by messing with human DNA in the same way as they did with Nephilim before the flood (Num 13:33). It provided them with a way to destroy human life on earth if they needed to. The Anakim were not truly human, so they did not have authority on earth, apart from what they could steal by force. They were also called Rephaites and Emites (Deut 2:10). When they were defeated by another king, the Anakim had moved into the land of the Amalekites and Amorites (Gen 14:4-6).

They had also lived in Moab, but the Moabites had driven them out (Deut 2:20-22). The Lord told the Israelites not to harass the Moabites. He said that he would not give them any of their land because they were descendants of Lot (Deut 2:9).

Og of Bahan was one of the Anakim. Members of his family would have had the same giant genes. They were a creation of the spiritual powers of evil. They had probably put them in Canaan so they could disrupt God's work in the area. God had to destroy them because he did not want them to disrupt his purposes in the region. He was quite happy when the spiritual powers of evil stirred them up to attack Israel because it gave him permission to destroy this line of the Anakim. This was the only way that he could get authority to destroy them.

There were probably some Anakim still living among the Amorites ruled by Sihon. When they attacked the Israelites, God took the opportunity to destroy them too.

When the Israelites had entered the land, God got Joshua to destroy the Anakim that remained in the land (Jos 14:12-15).

At that time Joshua went and destroyed the Anakites from the hill country: from Hebron, Debir and Anab, from all the hill country of Judah, and from all the hill country of Israel. Joshua totally destroyed them and their towns. No Anakites were left in Israelite territory; only in Gaza, Gath and Ashdod did any survive (Jos 11:21-22).

This was an important step in restoring God's creation.

Moabite Deception

The Passover and the crossing of the Red Sea was not just a military victory, it was a spiritual victory. The Egyptians chased the Israelites out of their land. Spiritual powers were not interested in slaves, so they had ignored the Israelites. So when they were shut out of the land, they were mostly evil-spirit free. God wanted them to stay that way.

God’s treatment of the Midianites seems harsh, but a serious spiritual battle was going on. If the spiritual powers of evil had been able to win this one, God’s plans for Israel would have been seriously set back.

When the Israelites arrived at the border with Moab, the people were filled with terror. The elders of Moab appealed to the Midianites for help. The Midianites with support of the Moabites launched a spiritual attack against the children of Israel (earlier attacks were physical). Balak was king of Moab. He sent the elders of Moab and Midian to Balaam a prophet to get him to put a curse on the children of Israel (Num 22:7). They offered him money, but Balaam had an encounter with God. He came and declared four prophecies of blessing over the Israelites. Balak and the Midianites were annoyed, but Balaam insisted on speaking the words that God had given him (Num 22-24). His prophecies gave God authority over the nations that wanted to curse him.

When Balaam had completed his last oracle/prophecy, it seemed like the Lord has achieved a mighty victory over the spiritual powers of evil that controlled Midian. Unfortunately, these spiritual powers had another trick up their sleeve (Num 25). The Moabites didn't give up and tried a different tack. They sent attractive Moabite and Midianite women to seduce the Israelite men. One of the women was a daughter of one of the leading men of the Midianites (Num 25:15). This shows the intensity of the spiritual war that Israel was facing.

Once they had engaged in sexual immorality, they persuaded them to join in the worship of Baal of Peor, an evil spiritual power (Num 25:1-2). This incident was not just an orgy that got out of control. It was an intense spiritual attack. When they committed adultery and worshipped Baal of Peor, they gave the Cosmos Dominator that controlled this false god and the spirits that worked with him permission to enter their lives and control them. This would have been a disaster, because Israel would have gone from being relatively evil-spirit free to being controlled by powerful spirits.

The idol worship destroyed the Israelites' spiritual protection. Because Jesus had not yet died on the cross, Moses did not have the ability to cast out these demonic powers. So God had to do the only thing that he could do to defeat the spiritual powers. He told Moses to kill the leaders of the people who had committed adultery and expose them in daylight. Once these men had died, the evil spirit that had entered them left and went back to where they had come from. The people of Israel stayed away from them to remain spiritually free.

The spirit of Wrath over-reacted and attacked the rest of the people who had sinned with a pestilence/plague. The Lord said to Moses,

Take all the leaders of these people, kill them and expose them in broad daylight before the Lord, so that the Lord's fierce Wrath may turn away from Israel (Num 25:4).

The usual interpretation of this verse makes God's seem schizophrenic. With Yahweh trying to stop Yahweh. However, it makes sense if Wrath is a separate spiritual entity, who was released by the Israelites sinning and losing their spiritual protection.

God did not use the term "die death", but instead used "yaqa", which means hang or impale. Moses told Israel's judges what they should do.

So Moses said to Israel's judges, "Each of you must put to death those of your people who have yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor (Deut 25:5).

He used the word "harag" which means slay or kill. Their bodies were to be hung up, presumably to satisfy Wrath and exhaust his attack. The men who had linked themselves to Baal has submitted to evil spirits, so were a risk to the Israelite community. Prior to the cross, the only way to deal with these spirits was to kill the men, so that the evil spirits would go back to where they had come from.

Moses' command made the people weep. They were unwilling to obey Moses, because they did not understand the danger that had come with the worship of Baal. The situation was brought to a head when an Israelite brought a Midianite woman into his tent in the sight of all the Israelites.

Aaron's grandson Phineas picked up a spear and followed the man into his tent. He drove the spear through the man and the Midianite woman. This blood satisfied wrath and stopped the plague. The incident changed the people's hearts and restored their spiritual protection. However, 24,000 people had already died from the plague (Num 25:6-9).

The 24000 people who died were those who had compromised with Baal and lost their protection. Once they had died, these spirits had to leave them, and because the rest of the people had chosen to stay loyal to God, so they could not enter their lives.

You saw with your own eyes what the Lord did at Baal Peor. The Lord your God destroyed from among you everyone who followed the Baal of Peor. but all of you who held fast to the Lord your God are still alive today (Deut 4:3-4).

God protected those who trusted him. He allowed those who had followed Baal to be destroyed by withdrawing their spiritual protection. In a way, he was responsible, but he had no choice once some of the people had united themselves with Baal. Casualties are inevitable in a spiritual war.

The Baal incident was an extremely serious attack on the Israelites. Spiritual attacks are far more serious than physical attacks. Moses had to take extreme action to deal with it because if the Baal spirit had developed a stronghold, the nations would have struggled to enter the promised land. God was constrained, so the only way to respond to a spiritual attack was with physical defence.


God told the Israelites to treat the Midianites harshly. This is not the way he likes working, but he had to deal with a situation where his plans were under threat due to an intense spiritual attack. He told Moses that he should deal with the Midianites before he died.

Take vengeance on the Midianites for the Israelites. After that, you will be gathered to your people (Num 31:2).

These are strong words. This was the only time that God told Moses to attack another nation that had not provoked God by starting a war against the Israelites. This reflects the spiritual intensity of the situation.

Earlier after the incident with Baal Peor, God had said to Moses.

Cramp (vex) the Midianites and strike them. They cramped (vexed) you when they deceived you in the Peor incident (Num 25:16-18).

The Israelites were to treat the Midianites as enemies and destroy them. This was for spiritual protection. The word Midian means "strife". The Midianite nation was controlled by an evil spirit call Strife. By bringing in this woman, the Israelites were opening themselves up to a spirit of strife. They would lose their unity.

The Hebrew word "tsarar" means "cramp", "vex" or "show hostility". God wanted Moses to bind the spirit of strife and smite the Midianites. They had bound the Israelites using cunning and seducing them to accept strife. The Midianites had been deceptive. It seems that God saw them as causing the Baal incident, rather than the Moabites who were also involved. Prior to the cross, spiritual warfare needed physical smiting to preserve the people from spiritual attack.

The battle between Israel and Midian was a spiritual struggle. Balaam had prophesied blessing on Israel. The Midianites countered by getting the Moabite and Midianite women to seduce the Israelite men. This released Wrath and a plague. Phineas dealt with Wrath, but that was not the end of the risk, so God asked Moses to take action to destroy the spiritual powers behind the Midianites. This was his last resort, because before Jesus, he had no other way to deal with spiritual evil.

Moses was not just defending the people of Israel against a military attack. He was dealing with a clever spiritual attack, with very few spiritual weapons, because he was operating prior to cross when the spiritual powers of evil had not yet been defeated. His people were being spiritually harassed. The only way that he could deal with this was to use physical force against the leaders who had made the people vulnerable to this attack.

God then told Moses to engage in war against the Midianites (Num 31:1-2). They would be living close to the Israelites and would continue to be a spiritual threat to the Israelites. The last thing did before he died was to organise a battle against the Midianites to kill the kings of Midian and the women who had tried to seduce them into the ways of evil.

God did not tell Moses how to do it. Moses sent in an army and they killed all the men they encountered, including Balaam and various kings (Num 31:7-8). Moses was angry that they kept some women, because it was a huge spiritual risk.

Have you allowed all the women to live?" he asked them. "They were the ones who followed Balaam's advice and enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the Lord in the Peor incident (Num 31:15-16).

They were engaged in a spiritual war that they did not understand. They had to kill the women because they were carrying evil spirits that would entrap them.

After the battle, the men who had fought had to cleanse themselves to protect themselves from picking up evil spirits (Num 31:19-24). Eleazer, the priest, told them what to do. Any soldier who killed anyone, or had touched anyone who was killed had to remain outside the camp for a week. On the third and the seventh day, they had to purify themselves and their clothing. This would remove the evil spirits picked up during the battle and ensure that the soldiers did not carry any evil spirits back into the camp.

Any gold, silver, bronze, iron tin and lead that they had captured had to be passed through a fire. This burning purified the metal and ensured that evil spirits did not come into the camp on the metal that had been used to make idols.

This battle was one of the few which was not started in response to a physical attack. However, it was a defensive battle. It was fought to overcome a serious spiritual attack that put God’s purposes for Israel at risk. Harsh tough action was needed because the threat was serious, and the consequences of losing were terrible.

Since the cross, we have powerful weapons for dealing with the spiritual powers of evil. So we no longer need to engage in this kind of war. Christians who use war for spiritual purposes have failed to understand the cross. We now use spiritual weapons for resisting spiritual attacks.

The entire Midianite nation cannot have been destroyed because they continued to exist after Israel had moved into the promised land. Gideon had to deal with an attack by the Midianites.

The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites. Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country (Jud 6:1-3).

I presume that Moses only destroyed the Midianites tribes, which had engaged in the spiritual war against the Israelites.

The war with Midianites was not God's perfect will, but once the Israelites had been seduced by the Moabite and Midianite women, he had to take action to protect them. He did not have authority to shut evil spirits out of the earth because they had been invited there (unwittingly) by humans. All that he could do was protect the Israelites from them because they had given authority to him through covenant. If the Israelite men had obeyed God and kept themselves pure, this ugly incident would have been unnecessary.


The idea of sending spies into the promised land did not come from God. It was an idea that came from the people.

Then all of you came to me and said, "Let us send men ahead to spy out the land for us and bring back a report about the route we are to take and the towns we will come to". The idea seemed good to me (Deut 1:22).

Moses went along with the people's suggestion because it seemed good to him. This was a mistake. The people are often wrong. They would have been better to ask God what to do. He had already told them about the land. He had promised them the land and explained how he would give it to them. Spying it out was not necessary. God went along with Moses decision and told him to send one from each tribe (Num 13:1).

Spying the land proved to be a mistake because the spiritual powers of evil were able to fill the of the spies with fear. They lost their faith and were afraid to enter the land. The ten spies fed fear to the rest of the people.

Most told the people not to be terrified (Deut 1:29). It seems that the spies had picked up spirits of fear and passed them on to the people. This was part of the spiritual war against the Israelites. The spiritual powers of evil attacked the spies with fear in an attempt to prevent the people from fulfilling the purposes of God (once they decided on this action, God took responsibility for it).

New Leader

When Moses was due to die, he asked God to appoint a man to lead the Israelite community.

May the Lord, the God who gives breath to all living things, appoint someone over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the Lord's people will not be like sheep without a shepherd (Num 27:16-17).

Moses wanted a new leader because he was scared that the people would not be like sheep without a shepherd.

Moses was wrong. They did not need a man to lead them because God has promised that he would lead them by fire and the cloud. They had established the practice of following the fire and the cloud much earlier.

On the day the tabernacle, the tent of the covenant law, was set up, the cloud covered it. From evening till morning the cloud above the tabernacle looked like fire. That is how it continued to be; the cloud covered it, and at night it looked like fire. Whenever the cloud lifted from above the tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. At the Lord's command the Israelites set out, and at his command they encamped. As long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle, they remained in camp. When the cloud remained over the tabernacle a long time, the Israelites obeyed the Lord's order and did not set out. Sometimes the cloud was over the tabernacle only a few days; at the Lord's command they would encamp, and then at his command they would set out. Sometimes the cloud stayed only from evening till morning, and when it lifted in the morning, they set out. Whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud lifted, they set out. Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out. At the Lord's command they encamped, and at the Lord's command they set out. They obeyed the Lord's order, in accordance with his command through Moses (Num 9:15-23).

God told the people when they should move. He showed them the direction that they should go. They had no reason to wander like sheep.

God had instructed the people about the order that the tribes should march out, and the way that the various and tribes should line up in arrays (Numbers 2). He had given the high priest a breast piece to wear on his chest that could be used for asking God questions.

Put the Urim and the Thummim in the breast piece, so they may be over Aaron's heart whenever he enters the presence of the Lord. Thus Aaron will always bear the means of making decisions for the Israelites over his heart before the Lord (Num 28:30).

The high priest could get a decision from God. He was the mediator between God and the people. He could find answers to their questions and give them guidance. It was not the role of a Temporary Military Leader to give guidance to the people.

God was the leader of the children of Israel. Even without the fullness of the Spirit, they did not need a man to lead them. If they faced an attack, they could choose a Temporary Military Leader.

God gave in to Moses and appointed Joshua, but it was a mistake because they were choosing a man over "cloud and fire". This was second best, just like the Israelites choosing a king in the days of Samuel (1 Sam 8). The choice was not God's will, but he accepted it, and gave the people what they wanted.

Moses knew the heart of the people. They had disobeyed God many times. They had rejected Moses' leadership on several occasions. Moses knew that the people would not trust God enough to follow the fire and cloud into the promised land. Therefore, he asked God to provide them with a human leader. This was not ideal, but was the most practical option given the circumstances. God agreed and appointed Joshua to be their military leader.

Joshua had a tough task. If Moses wanted a man, the people would have wanted one too. God compromised with the people's desire. Compromise produces compromise. Joshua was responsible for leading a people who were ambiguous about trusting God. This was the reason why he tended to rely on military power, rather than trusting God when they entered the land.

Once Joshua took over the leadership, the fire and the cloud stopped. Imagine if they had been led into the promised land by the fire and the cloud. The Canaanites would have been totally spooked and would flee from it.

Joshua is not mentioned as a hero of faith in the book of Hebrews. In contrast, the prostitute Rahab does get mentioned, because she welcomed the spies who had entered the land (Heb 11:31). Joshua did not release the great miracles that Moses released, because he was commissioned to lead a military invasion. He was stuck with a second best option. As a result, the entry into the promised land was not the glorious event that it might have been, if God's original plan had been implemented.

Covenant Promise

God needed a place on earth where he had authority to act that could not be taken from him again. He would get that in Canaan, once he had established the Israelites in the land. This would also be the place where Jesus would be born, once God made it safe for him to come to earth.

To get authority in the land, God had to move his people in, and drive the existing inhabitants out. This would give him authority on earth over this piece of land. The Israelites agreed to a covenant that allowed God to push them into exile if they rejected him. This covenant did not allow them to push him out of the land, as was permitted by the covenant with Adam.

The Israelites were engaged in a terrible spiritual battle. God needed to force out all the inhabitants of Canaan because they were full of evil spirits and he wanted to establish an evil-spirit free land for the Israelites to enter.

The Israelites must not make a treaty with the Canaanites. If they did make a treaty with them, the Canaanites would gain some authority in their lives. This would allow the spiritual powers of evil that controlled the Canaanites to get some control of the Israelites.

They had made a covenant with God. It was exclusive. They could not have a covenant with other nations. Most Christians do not understand this When they vote, they ratify the covenant with their political leaders, but that just gives the spiritual powers of evil that control their political leaders' authority in their lives. Our covenant with King Jesus is an exclusive covenant. We cannot have a covenant with another king or group of political leaders.

The Israelites were not to marry their children to the Canaanites. Marriage is the one other covenant that is permitted. When a person marries into a family, they accept the authority of that family. If the family is controlled by evil spirits, the person marrying into the family opens themselves up to those spirits. The Israelites could not allow that to happen.

Big Question

God promised to give the land of Canaan to the Israelites. This leads to a big question. How would the existing population of Canaan be removed? Most people assume that God wanted the Israelites to defeat them in war and kill everyone. This is not correct.

The Torah contains a different message.

  1. God promised that he would drive out the existing inhabitants, as the Israelites were moving in. He would do it, not them.

  2. God would do this by filling the people with fear and confusion, causing them to flee.

  3. He would use natural events to scare those who did not leave during the initial fear.

  4. God gave clear instructions to the Israelites.

  5. They must not make a covenant or treaty with the Canaanites.

  6. All the idols and altars of the Canaanites must be destroyed.

  7. The Israelites must not marry the Canaanites.

These six themes flow through each of the statements of the covenant in the Torah.

  1. God will drive them out.

  2. God will send terror and confusion

  3. Natural events would scare those who were slow to leave.

  4. The Israelites must not make a covenant with the Canaanites.

  5. The altars and idols must be destroyed.

  6. They must separate from the Canaanites. They must not marry them.

Ten Words

After God has given Moses the Ten Word on Mount Sinai, he announced the terms of his covenant with the chosen people (Ex 23:20-32). The Israelites responded by promising to fulfil their side of the covenant.

When Moses went and told the people all the LORD's words and laws, they responded with one voice, "Everything the LORD has said we will do." (Ex 24:3)

1. When God spelt out the conditions of the covenant, he promised to lead them into the promised land.

An angel would go before them and drive out the inhabitants. I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you. My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will suppress them (Ex 23:20-21, 22-23).

2. God would send terror and confusion on the nations.

I will send my terror ahead of you and throw into confusion every nation you encounter. I will make all your enemies turn their backs and run (Ex 23:27).

If the Israelites had marched into the land with the fire and cloud going before them, soon after they crossed the Red Sea and the Egyptian army was destroyed. The people of Canaan would have been freaked out and would have fled in fear before them.

3. Natural events would scare them.

I will send the hornet ahead of you to drive the Hivites, Canaanites and Hittites out of your way (Ex 23:27).

4. Do not make a covenant with them. Have nothing to do with.

Do not make a covenant with them or with their gods. Do not let them live in your land or they will cause you to sin against me, because the worship of their gods will certainly be a snare to you (Ex 23:32-33).

This was the first and fullest statement of the covenant promise. God did not tell the Israelites to kill the Canaanites. He told them that he would drive them out of the land. That is why it was really important that they destroy the altars and have nothing to do with them. God would drive them out of the land, and they would take all their evil spirits with them.

New Tablets

While he was giving the second set of tablets to Moses, God restated the covenant promises.

1. God would do great things. He would drive out the nations from Canaan.

I am making a covenant with you. Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the Lord , will do for you. Obey what I command you today. I will drive out before you the Amorites, Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites (Ex 34:10-11).

4. Do not make a treaty with them, or they will lead you astray.

Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land where you are going, or they will be a snare among you... Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices (Ex 34:12,12).

5. Destroy their idols and altars

Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and cut down their Asherah poles. Do not worship any other god (Ex 34:13-14).

6. Do not intermarry with them.

They will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices. And when you choose some of their daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same (Ex 34:15-16).

This passage is all about separation from the nations for spiritual protection. No mention is made of killing the people. Rather, they are to avoid the Canaanites, so they are not corrupted by the evil spirits that control them.

God said that he is a jealous God and that his name is Jealous. That sounds strange to us.

Do not worship any other god, for the Lord , whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God (Exodus 34:14).

The Hebrew word for jealous is "qanna". It is a noun that is used exclusively for God in the context of idolatry. This is not the same as human jealousy. False worship is dangerous because it opens people up to the powers of evil. God wants his people to be totally loyal to him because that is the only way that they can be kept safe from spiritual attack. God used a term that the people could understand to make sure they understood the seriousness of what he was asking. Not for him, but for their safety.


While they were on the plains of Moab, God restated his covenant requirements for Israel.

1. God will drive the people out.

On the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho the Lord said to Moses, "Speak to the Israelites and say to them: "When you cross the Jordan into Canaan,drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you... But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live". (Num 33:50-52,55)

If they allowed some of the people to remain, they will barbs in their eyes and thorns in their side. They will prevent the people from seeing clearly. They will be attacked by the evil spirits that had dwelt in the land, and they will cause troubles for the people.

5. Destroy their idols and altars.

Destroy all their carved images and their cast idols, and demolish all their high places (Num 33:51).

God told the people to divide the land by lot according to their size (Num 33:54). This would ensure that the land was distributed fairly.

God warned what would happen if the Israelites compromised with the Canaanites.

I will do to you what I plan to do to them (Num 33:56).

This clarifies God's plan for the Canaanites. He has never killed and destroyed the Israelites. He exiled them from the promised land. This has to be what God planned for the Canaanites. He never intended to kill them, only to expel them from the land.

Excluding the Canaanites was unpleasant for them, but they were collateral damage in a spiritual war. They had lost the right to be in this land. Being driven out was better than being killed. Tribal migration was common during this time.


Before they were about to enter the new land, Moses gave the Israelites a warning against the dangers of idolatry (Deut 4:15-31).

I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you this day that you will quickly perish from the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess. You will not live there long but will certainly be destroyed. The Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and only a few of you will survive among the nations to which the Lord will drive you (Deut 4:26-27).

If the Israelites disobeyed God, they would be scattered among the nations.

Destroy or Evict

Moses repeated God's promises to Israel in Deuteronomy 7. The passage has been seriously misunderstood. Most commentators say that God was telling the Israelites to totally destroy the Canaanites, but this is not correct.

1. God will drive them out.

Moses begins by repeating God's promise to drive the inhabitants of Canaanites out of the land.

When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations-the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you (Deut 7:1).

This is quite straightforward. God will "drive out" these seven strong nations and the Israelites will take possession of the land.

The confusion comes from the next verses.

When the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods (Deut 7:2-4).

The phrase "destroy them totally" is "herem", but the message in the rest of the paragraph shows that "destroy" is not the appropriate translation in this context (see more on "herem" below). Moses' message was that they must have nothing to do with the Canaanites. They must not make a treaty with them. They must not marry them. This would not make sense if all the Canaanites had been destroyed, as there would be no one to marry and no one to make a treaty. In this context, herem would be better translated as "totally separate from them".

When the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must totally separate from them. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them.

God would deal with the Canaanites. The Israelites should avoid all contact.

5. Destroy the idols

Moses is very precise about what should be destroyed.

Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols in the fire. For you are a people holy to the LORD your God (Deut 7:5,6).

God wanted the Israelites to destroy the idols and all the sacred things that belonged to the previous inhabitants of the land, but he did not want the people destroyed. He would deal with them himself.

The LORD your God will clear away these nations (Deut 7:22).

God wanted to destroy the spiritual powers of evil that controlled the Canaanites.

He will deliver their rulers into your hand, and you will destroy their name from under heaven; no one shall be able to stand against you (Deut 7:24).

The powers of evil that ruled the Canaanites would be destroyed. They are said to be "under heaven", which is a reference to the spiritual realms. God will eliminate their spiritual power by forcing them the people that carry them out of the land. As a result of this victory, no one would be able to stand against the Israelites (see also Deut 12:1-4,30-32).

2. Terror and Confusion

Moses also explained how God would expel the people of Canaan.

Do not be terrified by them, for the LORD your God, who is among you, is a great and awesome God throwing them into great confusion until they are destroyed (Deut 7:20,21,23).

The Lord will bring confusion, discomfort and vexation upon the Canaanites. He will send hornets among them to fill them with terror. They would realise that a mighty God is with the people of Israel and they will flee or hide. The word "perished" in verse 20 is "abad" which comes from a root meaning "wander away" or "escape". The word "destroyed" at the end of verse 23 is not "herem," but "shamad". It can mean "come to nothing". That is the fate of the Canaanites. They would escape in every direction and cease to be a people.

Rahab described the fulfilment of this word. She describes her people's response to hearing about what God had done.

When we heard of it, our hearts melted and everyone's courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below (Jos 2:11).

The spies reported to Joshua,

All the people are melting in fear because of us (Jos 2:24).

When they arrived at Jericho, the spies' words were confirmed.

Now Jericho was tightly shut up because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in (Jos 6:1).

God had filled the Canaanite nations with fear and trepidation.

3. Hornets would scare the people who hide.

Moreover, the LORD your God will send the hornet among them until even the survivors who hide from you have perished (Deut 7:20).

God did not want the inhabitants of Canaan killed, because eviction was more effective for dealing with evil spirits than destruction. If the people possessed by spirits were killed, the evil spirits would remain in the land and seek out other victims to control. The most vulnerable person would be the soldier who killed their previous home. Fighting hand to hand with people carrying evil spirits is very dangerous. Evicting them is risky too, but not as bad, because most demons will leave with the people who carry them.

If the Israelites had allowed God to expel the inhabitants of Canaan, they would have got rid of most the demonic activity that dominated the region. Because Joshua slaughtered many of the inhabitants of Canaan, he allowed an army of evil spirits to remain in the land. This is one reason why the people of Israel were so easily led into evil. By slaughtering the Canaanites, Joshua opened his people to spiritual defeat.


Moses message was confirmed in Deuteronomy 9. He warned the children of Israel that they must not take credit for gaining the land, even though it belonged to a people who were mighty and strong.

Hear, O Israel: you are to cross over the Jordan today, to go in to dispossess nations greater and mightier than yourselves, cities great and fortified up to heaven. Know therefore today that he who goes over before you as a consuming fire is the LORD your God. He will overthrow them and subdue them before you. So you shall drive them out and make them escape quickly, as the LORD has promised you (Deut 9 1,3)

God would go ahead of the Israelites as a consuming fire and subdue the Canaanites. The Israelites were not given permission to slaughter them.

Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust them out before you, 'It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,' whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out before you (Deut 9:4).

The children of Israel must not take credit because the victory belonged to the Lord. He was the one who was thrusting the people out and driving them off their land. Moses message was very clear. The people living in the land were not to be slaughtered because God would drive them out. This was God's judgment on their wickedness.

Blessings and Curses

Before they entered the promised land, God revealed the blessings and curses of the covenant to the children of Israel. Representatives of the people stood on two mountains and agreed to the blessings of the covenant (Deut 27). The blessings and curses are described in detail in Deuteronomy 28. Moses made it sound like God would implement the curses himself. This is not the correct way to understand the passage.

When the people disobey God, they lose their spiritual protection and the spiritual powers of evil cannot attack them. It is actually the powers of evil that implement the curses. God has to allow them, because he has lost authority to protect his people and must withdraw.

Deuteronomy 29 and 30 provide a way for people to return to God and restore their spiritual protection. God will always have them back, if they seek him.

Spiritual Base

The worst thing that could happen to the Israelites would be for the spiritual powers of evil to establish a base in the land that they could control. Moses warned the Israelites what they should do if this happened.

If you hear it said about one of the towns the Lord your God is giving you to live in that troublemakers have arisen among you and have led the people of their town astray, saying, "Let us go and worship other gods," gods you have not known (Deut 13:12-13).

The words translated as "troublemakers" is literally "men, sons of Belial". "Belial" means "worthless" or "decadent". These are men who have deliberately submitted to the spiritual powers of evil (Belial).

This was a very serious situation. The people must investigate it carefully.

You must inquire, probe and investigate it thoroughly (Deut 13:12-13).

If it is proved that this terrible thing has happened, the Israelites must defend themselves from the attack.

And if it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done among you, you shall smite with the sword all who live in that town (Deut 13:14-15).

I presume the goal was to cause the people to flee, not to kill them. The city itself must be totally destroyed.

The situation would be incredibly serious because the spiritual powers of evil have established a military base in God's territory. Since this is a serious attack, a military defence is justified for.

You must destroy it completely, both the city and its livestock. You are to gather all the plunder of the town into the middle of the public square and completely burn the town and all its plunder as a whole burnt offering to the Lord your God. That town is to remain a ruin forever, never to be rebuilt, and none of the condemned things are to be found in your hands (Deut 13:16-17).

Everything must be destroyed, so that none of the evil spiritual powers that have been allowed in will have to leave.

This situation should be extremely rare. Moses is not referring to a few people who choose to worship other gods. That would be easy to deal with because the rest of the people would exclude them from their town. In the situation referred to here, the entire town has agreed to worship idols. There would be no elders to exclude them from the community because the elders and the entire town have set themselves up as enemies of God. The entire town has decided to oppose God's purposes.

This is a serious attack on the people of God, just like the spiritual attack by the Moabites and the Midianites in the Balaam incident. The only way to resist such a serious attack is to fight a war against the town. This is a situation where things have got so bad that the use of force is justified.

God hoped that this would never occur. If the people continued to worship and obey God, it should not be possible. But in just in case, the worst happened, God provided Moses instructions about how it should be dealt with. A false prophet can be excluded from the land. A few idol worshippers could also be excluded. An entire town opposed to God could not be excluded because there would be no one to exclude them. The only option was to attack the people as the invaders they were and force them out of the land.


God told the Israelites to worship in one place. They must destroy the worship places left by the Canaanites.

Destroy completely all the places on the high mountains, on the hills and under every spreading tree, where the nations you are dispossessing worship their gods. Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and burn their Asherah poles in the fire; cut down the idols of their gods and wipe out their names from those places (Deut 12:2-3).

Their "name" refers to their reputation. Their reputation is to be destroyed.

When the Lord your God cuts off from before you the nations which you go to dispossess, and you displace them and dwell in their land, take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are brought to nothing before you (Deut 12:29-30).


God needed to force the inhabitants of Canaan out of the land to clear it of evil spirits. He wanted to create an evil spirit free land where he could work on earth.

Foreigners were to be forced out of the Promised Land to achieve this purpose, but God was quite happy for them to come back. But they must come back on his terms. They must accept that the land now belongs to God. They must submit to the conditions of his covenant.

Rahab is an example. She was a Canaanite, but she did not have to leave the land because she submitted to God and to his covenant. She was able to remain, and become part of the family line of Jesus.

The covenant with Moses was not limited to the children of Israel. It made provision for foreigners to live in the land among the people. Moses included foreigners living amongst the Israelites in their commitment to the covenant.

All of you are standing today in the presence of the Lord your God—your leaders and chief men, your elders and officials, and all the other men of Israel, together with your children and your wives, and the foreigners living in your camps who chop your wood and carry your water. You are standing here in order to enter into a covenant with the Lord your God, a covenant the Lord is making with you this day (Deut 29:10-12).

Foreigners were to listen to the law when it was read out to the people.

Assemble the people—men, women and children, and the foreigners residing in your towns—so they can listen and learn to fear the Lord your God and follow carefully all the words of this law (Deut 21:12).

The covenant applies to everyone living in the Promised Land, including foreigners. Here are some principles.

The law applies to locals and foreigners.

The same law applies both to the native-born and to the foreigner residing among you (Ex 12:49).
Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt (Ex 22:21).
Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners because you were foreigners in Egypt (Ex 23:9).
When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God (Lev 19:33-34).
You are to have the same law for the foreigner and the native-born. I am the Lord your God (Lev 24:22).
These six towns will be a place of refuge for Israelites and for foreigners residing among them, so that anyone who has killed another accidentally can flee there (Num 35:15).
Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow." Then all the people shall say, "Amen!" (Deut 27:19)

Foreigners can offer sacrifices for sin.

For the generations to come, whenever a foreigner or anyone else living among you presents a food offering as an aroma pleasing to the Lord , they must do exactly as you do. The community is to have the same rules for you and for the foreigner residing among you; this is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. You and the foreigner shall be the same before the Lord: The same laws and regulations will apply both to you and to the foreigner residing among you (Num 15:14-16).
The priest is to make atonement for the whole Israelite community, and they will be forgiven... The whole Israelite community and the foreigners residing among them will be forgiven, because all the people were involved in the unintentional wrong (Num 15:25-26).

Foreigners were expected to keep the Sabbath

Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and so that the slave born in your household and the foreigner living among you may be refreshed (Ex 23:12).
The seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it, you shall not do any work, neither you... nor any foreigner residing in your towns (Deut 5:14).

Foreigners must avoid all the detestable practices listed in the law.

But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the foreigners residing among you must not do any of these detestable things (Lev 18:26).

Foreigners are allowed to glean

Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God (Lev 19:10).
When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the Lord your God. (Lev 23:22).
If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and are unable to support themselves among you, help them as you would a foreigner and stranger, so they can continue to live among you (Lev 25:35).
When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands (Deut 24:19).

The tithe is to be used to support foreigners who are poor.

At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year's produce and store it in your towns, so that... the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands (Deut 14:28-29).
He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt (Deut 10:18-19).

Poor foreigners are to be paid well for their work

Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether that worker is a fellow Israelite or a foreigner residing in one of your towns. Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it. Otherwise, they may cry to the Lord against you, and you will be guilty of sin (Deut 24:14-15).
Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this (Deut 24:17-18).

When the Israelites had entered the land, it was to be divided among them. This meant that there was no land for foreigners to own permanently. The only way they could own land was to buy it from Israelites who were poor, but they could only own it until the next Jubilee, when it would have to return to the original owner.

Limiting the ability of foreigners to own land, ensured that they could not establish a spiritual base for false gods. If they owned land, it would be temporary. Most of them would have to be wage workers. If they lost their employment, they would have to rely on charity from the community. For these reasons, foreigners would have to live among the Israelites. If they engaged in worshipping idols or incited others to follow idols, they could be excluded from the community and sent back to where they came from.

If they submitted to the covenant and worshipped God, they could live within the communities established in the promised land.

Harsh Translation

One reason why Christians get the impression that God is violent and harsh is that the Old Testament is translated into English this way. Translators seem to like portraying God as tough on evil. Judging from modern English translations, "harsh" seems to be the default position when a Hebrew word has a range of possible meanings. If we toned down this aggressive translation, we would get a very different view of the character of God.

I can understand why Jewish translators and commentators would prefer the harshest meaning because it vindicates their history of violence and trust in the power of war. The problem with this is that they justify their own actions at the expense of harming God's name and character. Given that Christians have a fuller revelation of God's character, we should avoid the harsher meanings of Hebrew words, unless the context requires it. We do not need to honour the warmongering and violence of the Israelites. Our primary objective should be to honour God.


A good example of the translation problem is the Hebrew word usually transliterated as "herem" or "charam". Interpreting this word is pivotal to understanding Deuteronomy and Joshua. Herem is usually translated as "totally destroy" or "ban", despite the fact that the word can take a variety of meanings.

Herem comes from a root meaning "seclude". It is related to an Arabic word meaning "to prohibit, especially in ordinary use" It is the opposite of "halal" which means acceptable for use. The word "harem," used to describe the special quarters for Muslim wives comes from the same root. This suggests that the core meaning of "herem" is not "destroy", but "set apart" or "exclude from normal use". Herem means the exclusion of an object from the use or abuse of man and its irrevocable surrender to God (Leon Wood in Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament).

"Herem" is translated in a variety of ways in the Old Testament. Here are some examples:

Old Testament scholars are not sure about the correct meaning of this word. No one has been able to come up with an explanation of that covers all these uses. Given this uncertainty, sensible translators should be cautious about assuming that "herem" mostly means "destruction".

Using the harshest possible translation of a word is unwise (unless you want to make the Old Testament seem harsh). The primary meaning of "herem" is not destruction, but "separation" and "setting apart" or "exclusion". This should be the starting point for our understanding of what God said to Israel.

I can understand why the early Christian translators and expositors, like Calvin and Luther might choose a harsh version. They were supported by kings and emperors who lived by the power of the sword and whose ruthless violence makes Joshua look like a wimp.

We now live in a different world and have a better understanding of God's ways. Jesus has given us a better revelation of God's character. Jesus' nonviolent life and death demonstrate that God dislikes violence. There are times when God uses violence, but it must always be the last resort. In light of this fuller revelation of God, Christian translators should default to the milder meanings of these words where that is consistent with the context.