This is not a portion that typically gets a lot of air time. There are promises of blessing for obedience; warnings to keep God's law faithfully; a recounting of Israel's wanderings through the wilderness and the people's great sin with the golden calf; and exhortation to keep God's laws.
Throughout the portion we see "if... then." The Hebrew 'ekev' (because) is usually translated as "if" or "it will be". There's a causal link between obeying God and being blessed. See Deut 7:12-26. If the Israelites keep God's law, they will be blessed abundantly with fertile women and fertile land. They will be able to destroy their enemies who stand in their way and God will drive them out little by little lest the wild beasts multiply to their hurt.
The verses describing God's command to wipe out the peoples, showing them no pity, and God's promise to help the Israelites (7:16-26) is typically glossed over.
We like to think of God as a loving parent, or a benevolent king or a fair Judge. It is hard to reconcile these images with the verses that portray God as commanding the Israelites to destroy the peoples of the land that the Israelites are coming into. My rabbi calls these verses "anti-Semites' delight." That is to say, anti Semites look at these verses and say, the Jewish God commands genocide. Israel uses these verses as justification for its 'ethnic cleansing' of the native Palestinians. It's easy to see how that could be an interpretation.
I submit that the Canaanites and Perizites and Jebusites and Ammonites and Midianites and Moabites and Girgashites, et al, were not just going to welcome Israel back to the Promised Land after a 430 year hiatus on Israel's declaration that God promised the land to their fathers. If Israel wanted to inhabit the land, they would have to fight for it.
Couldn't the Israelites and Canaanites live together peacefully side by side? Why did God have to command Israel to utterly wipe out the people? History has shown that that is not feasible. Already in the wilderness, Israel had been seduced by Moab and God sent a plague throughout the camp and the plague was only checked when Phineas killed Cozbi and her lover with a spear. Who's to say that Israel would not have been led astray by the peoples living in Eretz Yisrael? And in fact that did happen, time and again. And time and again Israel had to fight many wars against Midian and Moab while Israel was in the land.
Still, this business of killing every body who stands in their way-what is that all about? I could understand smashing the pillars and destroying the high places and burning the idols. But wholesale slaughter? Listen to the verses:
You shall destroy all the peoples that the Lord your God delivers to you, showing them no pity. And you shall not worship their gods, for that would be a snare to you.....The Lord your God will deliver them up to you, throwing them into utter panic until they are wiped out. He will deliver their kings into your hand, and you shall obliterate their name from under the heavens; no man shall stand up to you, until you have wiped them out. Deut 7:16, 23, 24 Emphasis added
I cannot pretend to understand the mind of God. I don't know why God would say this. But I also know that these verses and others like them turn people off from the Bible. Because they cannot understand this passage, they reject it, and other parts of the Bible, and ultimately, God. They want no part of a God who commands genocide. Frankly, I cannot fault them.
But I'd like to somehow have people see this passage as only a small part of the Bible. The Bible contains many stories about God and His creation. And the stories show that God is complex. God is bigger than our understanding of Him. The Bible does not fully portray God, as no book possibly could. God is too big, too holy, too great to be confined to a book-holy as that book may be.
The Torah contains God's words to us. To gloss over or reject the parts that we don't like or don't understand is to reject part of God. I, for one, am grateful for these passages and others. Everything is not peaches and cream or roses or sunshine or rainbows or sugar and spice and everything nice.
If we view God and the Bible through rose-colored glasses, we do so at our peril. People are wont to forget that everything comes from God. Good AND evil. If God is One (Deut 6:4) and He is the Creator of all that is, seen and unseen, everything is attributable to Him. There isn't a good God and a bad God. There's just God. And as Job said, "shall we accept the good from God and not trouble?"
Blessed be God, to whom our thanks are due. Praise Him for His great and glorious law and for the knowledge that He cares for us even though we cannot always understand Him.