10 And he said, “Behold, I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the Lord, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.
11 “Observe what I command you this day. Behold, I will drive out before you the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 12 Take care, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you go, lest it become a snare in your midst. 13 You shall tear down their altars and break their pillars and cut down their Asherim 14 (for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God), 15 lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and when they whore after their gods and sacrifice to their gods and you are invited, you eat of his sacrifice, 16 and you take of their daughters for your sons, and their daughters whore after their gods and make your sons whore after their gods.
17 “You shall not make for yourself any gods of cast metal. – Exodus 34:10-17 ESV
Moses had gotten what he asked for, and more. He requested to see God’s glory and God had obliged. But God had also given Moses a verbal reminder of His identity.
The Lord passed by before him and proclaimed: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in loyal love and faithfulness, keeping loyal love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin. But he by no means leaves the guilty unpunished, responding to the transgression of fathers by dealing with children and children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.” – Exodus 34:6-7 NLT
This divine declaration of God’s nature led Moses to respond, “O Lord, let my Lord go among us, for we are a stiff-necked people; pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance” (Exodus 34:9 NLT). He was more convinced than ever that the Israelites were in desperate need of God’s presence but would need an extra measure of His grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness. Their sin had separated them from a holy and just God, and only His compassion could restore the relationship they had broken. There was nothing they could do to redeem themselves or earn back God’s favor.
And God responded to Moses’ humble request by agreeing to remain among His people. But it would require a recommitment of the covenant agreement they had broken. In a sense, God was beginning again. He was giving them a second chance to prove their willingness to live according to His laws. And God was recommitting Himself to fulfill His part of the covenant.
“See, I am going to make a covenant before all your people. I will do wonders such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation. All the people among whom you live will see the work of the Lord, for it is a fearful thing that I am doing with you.” – Exodus 34:10 NLT
The God whom they had greatly offended was declaring His intentions to act on their behalf. He would do great wonders and fearful works that proved their status as His chosen people. Just a short time earlier, God had revealed His frustration with His rebellious people by stating, “If I went up among you for a moment, I might destroy you.” (Exodus 33:5 NLT). Now, He was declaring His intentions to bless them by pouring out His power on their behalf. And one of the greatest manifestations of that power would come in the form of His defeat of all the nations that occupied the land of Canaan.
“I am going to drive out before you the Amorite, the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite.” – Exodus 34:11 NLT
Israel’s takeover of Canaan would not come without a fight, but they would be guaranteed victory because Yahweh was on their side. They had nothing to fear and everything to gain. But this promise of ultimate success came with conditions.
God warns the people of Israel two separate times about making covenants with the inhabitants of Canaan. Their only covenant was to be with Him and, for His part, He would remove their enemies from the land. For their part, they were to refrain from any kind of relationship with those nations.
“Be careful not to make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land where you are going, lest it become a snare among you.” – Exodus 34:12 NLT
God knew His people well. This warning was necessary because the Israelites had proven their propensity for unfaithfulness. God knew that, once the Israelites entered Canaan, they would be tempted to make treaties and alliances with their enemies. It would be easier to compromise than to conquer. But God prohibited His people from making any kind of concessions that might jeopardize their commitment to Him. The Israelites had already demonstrated their propensity for unfaithfulness. Long before they ever stepped foot into Canaan, they had chosen to replace Yahweh with a false god. What would happen when they crossed over the Jordan River and discovered that the land of Canaan was filled with altars and high places dedicated to all kinds of false gods?
God’s greatest concern was that His chosen people would choose to be tolerant and accepting of their Canaanite neighbors. They would be tempted to operate by the old adage, “Live and let live.” But God knew that any fraternizing with the enemy would prove to be disastrous, so He warned them:
“Rather you must destroy their altars, smash their images, and cut down their Asherah poles. For you must not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” – Exodus 34:13 NLT
Yahweh was not a tolerant and open-minded deity who was willing to share the affections of His covenant people. He would not abide by any sign of unfaithfulness or infidelity among His people. And He knew that the Israelites would find it difficult to refrain from unfaithfulness if they failed to clean house. God had guaranteed the removal of Canaan’s inhabitants, but Israel was responsible for destroying all their idols and places of worship. Not a single shrine or altar was to be left standing because they would prove to be too great a temptation for the fickle people of Israel.
The Israelites should have learned a powerful and permanent lesson about God’s jealous nature when 3,000 of their leaders had been destroyed for their role in the golden calf incident. These men had been put to death for instigating the rejection of Yahweh and His replacement with a false god. And they were not the only ones to suffer God’s wrath. A plague put an end to an undisclosed number of Israelites who had joined in the insurrection.
So, God wanted to spare His people from any further judgment by reminding them of their need to remain faithful at all costs. God’s plan for the removal of the Canaanites involved a slow and methodical process. It would not happen overnight. He had already told Moses, “I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply against you. Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased and possess the land” (Exodus 23:29-30 ESV). But God knew that this plan for incremental expulsion would present a problem for the people of Israel. The ongoing presence of the Canaanites would tempt the Israelites to make alliances with them, which God completely prohibited, and for good reason.
“Be careful not to make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to their gods, and someone invites you, you will eat from his sacrifice, and you then take his daughters for your sons, and when his daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will make your sons prostitute themselves to their gods as well.” – Exodus 34:15-16 NLT
Close proximity would encourage moral laxity. The temptation to make alliances with their enemies would prove to be a problem for the Israelites. When they eventually entered the land of Canaan and saw the prosperity and power of their adversaries, the Israelites would find it tempting to take the path of least resistance and simply go along to get along. It would be easier to conform than to face the prospect of armed conflict. But conformity would result in compromise and compromise would lead to an abandonment of their convictions.
God reminds His people of the second of the Ten Commandments when He states, “You shall not make for yourself any gods of cast metal” (Exodus 34:17 ESV). The Israelites were not free to worship the existing gods of the Canaanites or a god they made with their own hands. This was a direct reference to the golden calf. The Israelites had already proven their ability to fabricate their own gods. So, it was going to get even harder when they entered the land of Canaan and discovered a virtual cafeteria of deities from which to choose. If remaining faithful to Yahweh had proven to be difficult in the wilderness, how were the Israelites supposed to survive the idol-filled landscape of Canaan?
The key to their survival would lie in their willingness to keep God’s commands and to maintain all the commitments that came with His covenant. Faithfulness would be the best defense against unfaithfulness. Living according to God’s law would preserve the set-apart status of God’s people. If the Israelites would only obey, they would experience the blessings of God and discover the joy of living in unbroken fellowship with Him.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.