Exodus 34:15–16 (HCSB)
15 “Do not make a treaty with the inhabitants of the land, or else when they prostitute themselves with their gods and sacrifice to their gods, they will invite you, and you will eat their sacrifices. 16 Then you will take some of their daughters as brides for your sons. Their daughters will prostitute themselves with their gods and cause your sons to prostitute themselves with their gods.
This pericope is a repeat of the establishment of the covenant between God and His people. This is almost all familiar stuff from previous chapters, but that is by design. The Israelites had broken the covenant, they had turned from God, and this is a re-establishment of the covenant… thus the repetition.
Exodus 34:15-16 seems like a bit of pivot point in the pericope to me. In the beginning of the passage God lays out what He will do, and how the Israelites should respond to the inhabitants of Canaan. And then the warning is laid out, how even just a crack results in full-fledged sin and separation. The rest of the passage seems to be how God’s people follow Him. Worshipping God consists of doing the things in the remainder of the passage. Keeping oneself safe, guarded from sin, consists of doing the things in the remainder of the passage.
Exodus 34:15-16 itself is interesting. The initial command is to not make a treaty with the people that God will be driving out of Canaan. And although this seems logical: God’s plan is to give the land wholly to His people, they are to remain pure, it is God and His people dwelling in the land He has designed and predetermined to be theirs. Seems to me there is nothing inherently wrong with a treaty. But what I think we see here is the idea of a “guardrail”. There are areas where we should not be because they are gates to sin. For the Israelites, who have repeatedly demonstrated that they are quick to turn on God, entering into a treaty with the people of Canaan is that area. God reveals that it will lead to worshipping false gods. I think this is why these verses exist, and also is a reason for the reiteration of the commands that follow: to keep Israel focused on God, in safe areas, apart from sin and the temptation that drags us into sin.
Lord, thank You for protecting us, for knowing what we can and cannot handle. I pray we would seek to remain in the safe areas, not in the spaces that tempt us into sin. Help is to recognize and avoid them, instead clinging to You. Amen.