In “mutual defection” Jefferson Vann explains that God holds entire communities responsible for defection, and his punishment is their destruction.
Deuteronomy 13:11-15 (JDV)
Deuteronomy 13:11 All Israel will hear and be afraid, and they will not do anything evil like this among you again.
Deuteronomy 13:12 “If you hear it said about one of your cities Yahveh your God is giving you to stay in, and this is what they say:
Deuteronomy 13:13 that wicked men have sprung up among you, led the inhabitants of their city astray, and this is what they said: ‘Let us go and worship other gods,’ which you have not known,
Deuteronomy 13:14 you are to inquire, investigate, and interrogate thoroughly. Notice if the report turns out to be true that this repulsive act has been done among you,
Deuteronomy 13:15 you must strike down the inhabitants of that city with the sword. Completely destroy everyone in it as well as its livestock with the sword.
An individual who seeks to lead another Israelite into idolatry must be put to death, but what if an entire city chooses to defect? Does the size of the group somehow justify their decision to betray and abandon their God? Of course not. But a careful investigation must take place to see if it is really a choice to commit treason as an entire city.
If they are found guilty, they must be treated like the other cities that were devoted to destruction when the Israelites first came to the land. Defection is an infection, and left unchecked, it would spread to the other cities.
Under the new covenant, we have no such instructions. It is fortunate for many that we don’t, because many cities pride themselves on their defection from God and his holiness.
What we can glean from this text today is that our God is serious about eradicating sin from our communities, not just individuals. He wants to rescue cities from sin. The deliverance he offers is more than just an individual rescue.
In the Gospels, we see Jesus weeping over the cities who rejected his message. He also pronounced woes upon them— predictions of coming judgment for their wickedness and refusing to respond to his gospel of grace.
Jesus did not call on us to destroy the infected cities, but we can follow his example by grieving over their defection, and prophesying their coming doom.
Lord, deliver our cities from their mutual defection. All around us, there are entire communities who are unprepared for the day of your wrath.
For more on the destruction of the wicked, see: