But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then it shall be that those whom you let remain shall be irritants in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall harass you in the land where you dwell. Moreover it shall be that I will do to you as I thought to do to them. (Numbers 33:55-56)
In this verse, God presents a stern warning to His people that leaves no doubt as to what He expects of them. Failure to drive out the different clans that were living in Canaan would mean that Israel couldn’t stay in the land. They had to completely rid the land of the corruptive influence of the Canaanites. If not, their presence would be a constant source of irritation, presumably intended to motivate Israel to finish the job. This translation renders the remaining offenders as “irritants in your eyes” however, the Hebrew wording is literally translated as “pricks in your eyes” — ouch!
The wording is interestingly similar to what was spoken to Adam upon his failure to obey the command not to eat from the forbidden tree. He was sentenced to eat bread by the “sweat of his brow” with the understanding that the earth would resist his labor with “thorns and thistles.” In other words, because he did not have proper regard for the sacred space given to him, in that he allowed the Serpent to infiltrate the garden, “thorns and thistles” would be reminders that mankind would do well to fulfill all of God’s commands without exemption. If we do not guard against and purge from our midst that which is corruptive to us, we will certainly become its’ victim. In the end, what was intended for our enemy will be the very thing that happens to us. If Israel did not dispossess their enemies, Israel would be forced to leave and see their enemies occupy their homes.
The message, then, is that we are to be a set apart people completely disengaged from that which brings death. If we mistakenly decide not to separate ourselves from corruptive influences, thinking we can coexist with wickedness, then wickedness will influence us. However, more than just influencing us, wickedness will eventually separate us from them and mark us for death — much like Hitler did with the Jews in the 1930s and 40s. Putting it another way: if God’s people refuse to be set apart by their own choice, they will be set apart by others against their will.
And so the warning given to Israel rings true today: if we don’t want pricks stinging our eyes and thorns tearing at our side, we must rid our “sacred space” (our lives and homes) of all things that offend our Master. We must war against those influences that have squatted in our lives and purge them from our midst lest we become their victim. It seems appropriate to be reminded that, as we wage war, our fight is not with flesh and blood but with the Adversary and his minions. Nevertheless, let us fight the good fight of faith all the way to its conclusion.
Blessings and Shalom,