Deuteronomy 13:17 (CSB)
17 Nothing set apart for destruction is to remain in your hand, so that the Lord will turn from his burning anger and grant you mercy, show you compassion, and multiply you as he swore to your fathers.
Where the last passage was concerned with the attitude towards a specific false prophet, this pericope is concerned with our attitude towards idolatry in general, both at the individual level and the community.
Not only are we called to resist the temptation to worship false gods, even if it might be our family or friends that are tempting us, but we are to go further. The command here is to actually kill the person. Obviously, just like the previous pericope, this is not to be our reaction. We need to be clear on that, there is no suggestion that this should be our course of action today, as we are under a new covenant, and the relationship with God is different now. But, the seriousness of the action is the same. We should not take lightly the persuasion of others to lead us away from the Lord.
Likewise, the command applied as well to an entire city that was idolatrous. The penalty was serious. And we should expect no less! The scenario here is an entire city that is corrupt, and seeking to spread its corruption to others. An entire city has been poisoned, and that poison is threatening to spread. We often see human death as final, and it is in many ways, but we must remember that we have an eternal aspect to our lives. If we are led to abandon and reject God in this life, it is not just our human life that we risk, but our eternal life. It is no stretch to see the destruction of one city as the saving of an additional one, two, or more cities. Not to diminish the value of life in the one city, but we should not discount the value of those saved through this command.
Finally, we must keep in perspective that these commands are in the context of the nation of Israel. Deuteronomy 13:6 speaks about family and closest friends: in other words, other Israelites. Deuteronomy 13:12 cites specifically the cities of Canaan, the ones “God is giving you to live in.” So this is not a command to roam the world seeking out and destroying all those that worship false gods, this is a command to keep the nation of Israel, God’s chosen people, pure.
Lord, thank You for purifying us through the blood of Christ! Although we don’t have to destroy those who worship false gods, we do have to stand firm and reject those false gods. Help us to resist and reject the idols of today, and remain string in our faith, staying purified in You. Amen.