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Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology

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DesireDeuteronomy, Theology of
Destroy, Destruction

"Destroy" in the Bible usually refers to violent action causing physical death (Num 16:33; Psalm 2:12; Heb. abad [אָבַד]). But less intense meanings may be denoted. Exodus 10:7 describes economic ruin (cf. Matt 9:17, ; Gk. apollumi [ἀπόλλυμι] ). In 1 Samuel 9:3 abad [אָבַד] refers to lost animals (cf. Matt 10:6). In the New Testament katargeo [καταργέω] can mean "render powerless, ineffective" (Heb 2:14).

The Amorites. Directions by God for extermination of the Canaanites have long been perplexing (Exod 23:23-33; 34:12-17). Although life is sacred (Gen 9:5-7), at times life has to be taken to preserve life. A man-eating lion must be destroyed (Eze 19:1-9). It was prophesied that these nations would be thorns in the eyes and snares (Joshua 23:12-13). Such objects sometimes cause infections necessitating surgical removal of an inflamed limb. In a vastly greater sphere no physical life could be more important than the redemption of the entire world.

The Baal and Aqht myths described the rampages of the goddess Anat. She offers to make blood run down her father's grey hair if Baal does not get a palace. She has Aqht's skull crushed to get his bow. She wades through blood of her own devotees whom she has killed for little or no reason.

With such models Jezebel had no problem killing Naboth for his vineyard (1 Kings 21). Abimelech killed his seventy half-brothers and roasted 1, 000 people in his Canaanite mother's city (Judges 9:4-5,45-49). Adoni-Bezek mutilated seventy kings and kept them under his table (Judges 1:7). The Baal-worshiping Athaliah almost ended David's line by slaughtering her husband's sons (2 Kings 11:1-3).

The result of sparing Canaanites was that Israel mingled with them and learned their practices. Sadly this caused shedding blood of children sacrificed to idols. They were to be removed so they would not teach them "to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods" (Deut 20:18).

These gods were also sexually depraved. Before Baal's trip to Mot's domain he had intercourse eighty-eight times with a cow, who was really his sister. The story of El's adultery with two human wives is thought to have been worship liturgy. Leviticus 18 lists the Canaanites' abominations as incest, homosexuality, adultery, child sacrifice, and bestiality. Results of this immorality was that the land vomited them out. No country can long tolerate such destruction of family life. The coming of the Israelites simply hastened the inevitable demise of this society.

Altars. Sacred pillars, asherim (Exod 34:13), altars, and cult centers were to be destroyed (2 Kings 21:3). According to the New Testament the altar is a symbol of fellowship with the deity behind the altar (1 Cor 10:18-22). According to Jesus the altar represents both the sacrifice on it and the deity whose presence dwells there (Matt 23:20-21). Paul refers to a pagan altar as "the table of demons" (1 Cor 10:21).

In addition to child sacrifice Canaanite worship included many sexual immoralities. When the Israelites joined in these rites they yoked themselves to Baal (Num 25:1-5). Paul reminds us that this immorality resulted in 23, 000 deaths (1 Col 10:8; cf. Num 25:9). With child sacrifices, self-mutilation, and other despicable Acts being performed there, the altars became centers of demonic presence (Psalm 106:37-39). Destroying them would remove "the table of demons" from the people's midst.

When the Lord split apart the altar at Bethel it manifested the powerlessness of man-made religion (1 Kings 13:3-5). When Gideon destroyed the altar of Baal, his father pointed out to its defenders Baal's inability to stop the desecration of a structure sacred to him (Judges 6:28-32). Apostate Israelites obviously wanted to make this demonstration about Yahweh by tearing down his altar (1 Kings 18:30; 19:10, 14). God, however, was able to validate his potency by sending fire down upon Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:38; cf. Judges 6:21). When Solomon dedicated Yahweh's altar, the priests were unable to approach because of the fiery glory (2 Chron 7:1-3).

God himself will personally destroy apostate high places along with their altars (Lev 26:30; Ezek 6:4). Yahweh will reveal himself as the Most High God by actually standing next to the altar when he gives the command to destroy their worship center (Amos 9:1).

Israel. When golden calf worship broke the covenant, Israel fell under a sentence of destruction (Exod 32:10). By intense intercession Moses "stood in the breach before him to keep his wrath from destroying them" (Psalm 106:23). "Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened" (Exod 32:14). Thus in Exodus 32-34 the radical theological proposition was laid down that human responses might alter a divine pronouncement of doom. The mercy confession of Exodus 34:6 arose out of this context of judgment. It was reaffirmed on many different occasions throughout Israel's history (Num 14:18; Deut 4:31; Neh 9:17; Psalm 86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Jonah 4:2).

Wicked Ahab could humble himself and be granted a postponement of his dynasty's destruction (1 Kings 21:27-29; 2 Kings 9:8). Even evil Ninevites by radical, plenary repentance could avert the prophecy of their doom (Jon. 3). From these specific examples of God's grace Jeremiah built a theology of repentance that gave hope to those facing exile (Jer 18:7-10).

God, however, is not to be manipulated; and the altering of judgment is not a foregone conclusion. Thus Moses says, "Perhaps I can make atonement" (Exod 32:30). As intense as the efforts of his people were, the king of Ninevah knew he could not force God. He qualified his expectations with a "perhaps" (Jonah 3:9).

Israel was told that continued disobedience would result in destruction and exile. They were warned they would be utterly destroyed from under heaven (Lev 26:38; Deut 4:26; 28:20). The sage had predicted that "a man who remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed" (Prov 29:1).

There will be no hiding from this destruction either in heaven, earth, the bottom of the sea, or sheol (Amos 9:2-3). Even if they are taken captive, the sword will follow them into distant lands (Amos 9:4,8). Yahweh will stalk them like a bear and tear their hearts out (Hosea 5:14; 13:7-8).

Survival of Destruction. Israel, like the rebellious son in Deuteronomy 21:18-21, received the death sentence. God's people were bent on turning away, so the sword would whirl over them (Ho 11:6-7). But when confronted with delivering the coup de grace, Yahweh experiences the most intense emotional trauma ever written about deity. His heart is overturned. His inner emotions come to a boil (Ho 11:8). The lion cannot finish his kill. Instead he brings his trembling sons home (Hosea 5:14-15; 11:11).

"Not completely" is a motif of many destruction prophecies (Isa 6:11-13; Jer 5:10; 30:11; 31:35; Joel 2:32; Amos 9:8). Various synonyms denoting destruction are often paralleled with the words "build" and "plant" (Jer 1:10; 18:7-10; 24:6; 42:10; Ezek 36:35-36). Like Jonah, a person approaching the gates of sheol can suddenly be snatched back to the land of the living (Jonah 2:5-7). What the Babylonian sea monster has swallowed must come out of his mouth (Jer 51:34,44).

Thus the meaning "lost" becomes applicable to Israel (Jer 50:6). Exiled Israelites are the Lord's lost sheep. Their shepherds have failed them, so the Lord himself will become their shepherd and lead them home (Isa 40:10-11; Ezek 34:1-16). Jesus himself claimed this shepherding ministry perhaps partially quoting the Septuagint of Ezekiel 34:4 (Matt 10:6; 15:24; 18:11; Luke 19:10). The prophet Isaiah foresaw that lost exiles would return and worship on the holy mountain (27:13).

Paul was convinced that God had not rejected Israel whom he foreknew (Rom 11:2). He had prepared them beforehand as vessels of mercy to show forth his glory (9:23). Even though some of the branches have been broken off, the root of Israel will be saved (11:17-18). Although individuals may perish, all Israel will be saved when the Deliverer appears and removes their ungodliness (Zech 12:10; Rom 11:26; Rev 1:7-8). Unless the days of tribulation are cut short, no flesh will be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened (Matt 24:21-22).

The Devil's Works. According to Paul, God endured with patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction. He raised them up and made them mighty for the purpose of revealing his power and glory (Rom 9:17-22). The word translated "prepared" often refers to equipping someone for a task. Thus God merely makes pagan nations who have already chosen the road to destruction (Matt 7:13) more powerful and hence more capable of expressing their rebellious tendencies.

These nations are depicted as ferocious animals (Dan 7:1-4; Rev 13:1-2). Their origin is the chaotic ocean. They are the devil's work. They are not made in God's image and are not of heavenly origin. They have allowed themselves to be shaped and molded by the devil's sinister artistry.

On the mountain of temptation Christ did not challenge the devil's temporary, partial sovereignty over these nations (Luke 4:6-8). But he knew one day the kingdoms of this world would become kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ (Rev 11:15,17).

Nebuchadnezzar saw all these kingdoms in a dream as a mighty statue made of various metals. A stone hewn without hands (the work of God) came down and crushed the clay and iron (Satan's work). The devil's kingdom will be crushed and destroyed forever (Dan 7:26). The armies of these nations are to be slain by the sword of the one sitting on the horse (Rev 19:21).

Much of the devil's works is carried on by unseen, spiritual realities called "rulers, powers, and spiritual forces of evil" (Eph 6:12). Their main works are accusation (Rev 12:10), deception (2 Thess 2:9; Rev 12:9), and temptation (1 Thess 3:5). The purpose of the appearance of Christ was to destroy these works (1 Jo 3:8). With the coming of Christ the prince of this world was thrown out (John 12:31).

The first demons to encounter Christ sensed that they would be destroyed by him (Mark 1:24). At the cross these powers were disarmed and openly defeated (Col 2:15). The death of Christ destroyed the devil (Heb 2:14). Katargeo [καταργέω] (translated "destroy" in the av) means to render powerless or ineffective. Thus in 1 Corinthians 2:6 the present participle of katargeo [καταργέω] indicates that these powers are even now in the process of passing away.

The condemning work of Satan was destroyed by the cross (Col 2:14). Satan's deception will be destroyed by bringing to light the hidden things of darkness (1 Cor 4:5) and by the brightness of Christ's coming (2 Thess 2:8). Satan's work will be ended when he is thrown into the lake of fire (Rev 20:10).

Death. In Job 26:6 destruction is paralleled with sheol, the underworld. But this is not mere annihilation because the departed spirits there tremble (v. 5). Destruction is an actual place that is open before God (Prov 15:11). In Revelation 9:1, 11, the king of this bottomless pit is called "Abaddon" (destruction). In Revelation 20:14 death itself and Hades will experience the second death by being cast into the lake of fire.

In the Baal myth Mot, the god of death, swallows his victims. In Isaiah 25:8, death will be engulfed for all time and tears will cease. At the cross Christ rendered death ineffective (2 Tim 1:10; Heb 2:14). According to Paul the last enemy to be destroyed at the second coming of Christ is death (1 Cor 15:24-28).

Earthly Beauty. The present tense of the verb parago [παράγω] in 1jo 2:17 indicates that the world is always in the process of passing away. Ecclesiastes 12:1-5 describes how the beauty of youth fades in old age. Assuming Solomonic authorship, the writer would have been able to observe his own father, the sweet singer of Israel, the slayer of ten thousands, becoming a weak, impotent, senile old man.

Solomon's own son saw the fading beauty of an entire kingdom. David's kingdom was divided and the treasury ransacked. In the end Solomon had to be content with shields of bronze rather than of gold (1 Kings 14:26-27). Many others would witness the impermanence of beautiful symbols of kingship (Isa 28:1-4).

Jeremiah looked at Jehoiakim's palace on Ramat Rachel panelled with cedar and painted bright red. He asked, "Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar?" Prophetically he lamented, "Alas, his splendor" (Jer 22:14-18). Some of the beautiful carvings are in the Israel Museum. The site is grown up with weeds and one cannot tell that it was once a palace. This is a silent witness to the fact that "man, despite his riches, will not endure" (Psalm 49:12).

The disciples of Christ, overawed at the beauty of the temple adorned with gifts, remarked at how wonderful the buildings were. Jesus told them that not one stone would be left upon another in the awesome destruction that would follow (Mark 13:1-2). He warned them that everything in heaven and earth would pass away except his words (Mark 13:31).

Eternal Destruction. The Bible seems to indicate that there is an unending destruction and that those who experience it will always be consciously aware of it. The words translated "destruction" do not always denote total extinction. Sometimes they denote a ruin that is beyond repair (Exod 10:7; Matt 9:17).

Thus when Revelation 17:8 says the beast is to go into destruction (apoleia [ἀπώλεια]), it does not mean termination of existence. Revelation 20:10 indicates that the beast will be tormented day and night forever and ever. The Old Testament also affirms that for the wicked there is no more expectation or future (Prov 11:7; 24:20). They will be ashamed and dismayed forever and thus apparently always aware of their lost condition (Psalm 83:17). job 26:5 indicates that the departed spirits realize their situation and tremble.

Paul Ferguson

See also Abaddon; Death, Mortality; Devote, Devoted; Hell; Judgment; War, Holy War

Bibliography. R. Adamiak, Justice and History in the Old Testament; P. Craigie, Ugarit of the Old Testament; Y. Kaufmann, Biblical Account of Conquest of Palestine; M. Kline, A Tribute to Gleason Archer; T. Longman and D. Reid, Yahweh as Divine Warrior; C. Pfeiffer, Ras Shamra and the Bible.


Copyright Statement
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell Copyright 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Book House Company, PO Box 6287, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49516-6287. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Bibliography Information
Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Destroy, Destruction'". "Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology".
<>. 1897.


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