When God brought the Israelites into Canaan long ago, He stipulated that their possession of the land was dependent on their obedience. Deuteronomy 8:19– 20, for example, warns the ancient Israelites not to forsake the Lord God Almighty lest He destroy them just as He would crush the pagan Canaanites under Joshua. Clearly, God knew Israel would be unable to keep covenant flawlessly; therefore, He instituted sacrifices. Yet sacrifices cannot atone for flagrant, unrepentant sin (1 Sam. 15:22–23; Hos. 6:6), so the Israelites had to conform generally to the Law even as they were to see the depth of their wickedness and look for a Messiah to keep the Law perfectly on their behalf (Gal. 3:10–29).
To maintain ownership of Canaan, God called the Israelites to practice and love the Law, which meant a good-faith effort to obey His will, repentance for sin, and a recognition of their inability in themselves to be holy (Isa. 66:1–2). If the pagan Canaanites’ failure to honor God or give thanks to Him eventually led to their being removed from the land, how could the Lord not exile the Israelites for violating the oracles revealed uniquely to them? This is the point of today’s passage. Flagrant, unrepentant wickedness that clearly denies God’s way — incest, homosexual acts, child sacrifice, and bestiality — caused the Canaanites to lose their land, and the Israelites would meet the same fate if they followed suit (Lev. 18).
We see in this passage that sin, though first and foremost an assault against our Creator’s holiness, repulses creation itself. Verses 24–30 personify Canaan, likening God’s judgment of the pagan inhabitants to the land vomiting out its unrepentant inhabitants. One wonders if J.R.R. Tolkein had this passage in mind when he described how the tree-creatures known as the Ents responded to the evil of Saruman and his orcs in The Lord of the Rings. The Ents “roared and boomed and trumpeted until stone began to crack and fall at the mere noise of them. . . . Round and round . . . the Ents went striding and storming like a howling gale, breaking pillars, hurling avalanches of boulders down the shafts, tossing up huge slabs of stone into the air like leaves.” Created for God’s glory, the land must reject its inhabitants when they impenitently reject His laws.
Unrepentant sin against the Creator disturbs the creation itself. Though we cannot know today when a natural disaster is a sign of divine judgment, we can proclaim to all people that they will suffer a worse fate unless they turn from their sin to Christ. All of us should be looking for opportunities to share the gospel on a regular basis, especially to those with whom we have an existing relationship. Are you doing this today?