For as long as there has been war, plunder has been a part of it. For centuries, invading nations have stolen the food, resources, and the territories of those they conquer. But back in Genesis 14—when Abram rescued the goods and people of Sodom but accepted nothing in return from Sodom’s king—an important precedent was set for God’s people.
Later, during their conquest of the Promised Land, as the Israelites prepared for their final march around Jericho, Joshua commanded them directly. “[K]eep away from the devoted things . . . otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction . . . All the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron are sacred to the Lord and must go into his treasury” (Josh. 6:18–20).
For the most part, the Israelites obeyed. However, Achan gave into the temptation and took a robe, some silver, and some gold (7:1). He and his family and all of his possessions were burned as recompense (7:25). King Saul also failed to destroy the Amalekites and plundered the best of their possessions (1 Sam. 15:19). When confronted by the prophet Samuel, Saul claimed he was going to sacrifice the loot to the Lord. In that confrontation, Samuel spoke the famous words of today’s key verse.
Today’s passage provides a detailed account of the battle between the Jews and all who would do them harm. The slaughter of hundreds and thousands was recorded for a decisive Jewish victory. But these verses also emphasize that the Jews did not lay a hand on the plunder (v. 10). Personal profit was not the point of this conflict. This war was about God’s provision for and preservation of His people.
>> Let’s take another opportunity to examine our hearts. What do we “plunder” that doesn’t belong to us? What inappropriately motivates us: money, prestige, praise? A classic hymn “I Surrender All” echoes today’s Bible reading. Read the hymn’s lyrics and let them minister to you today.
Though today’s Scripture reading describes the grim realities of fighting and war, it also celebrates obedience. The Jewish people obeyed and won. Will we obey the Lord’s commands in the same way?