Devoted (Things)

See also Devotion

DEVOTED (THINGS) (חָרַם, H3049, [verb], חֵ֫רֶם, H3051, [noun], devoted, accursed, to be utterly destroyed). Devoted to the deity either for sacred use or for utter destruction.

This root is used about eighty times in the OT. The verb is usually tr. “utterly destroy” both in KJV and RSV. The tr. “devoted,” though less common, is more expressive of the meaning of the root. In Arab. the word Haram is used for the consecrated area of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. The word harem comes from this root and implies that the quarters of the women in a polygamous society are private and forbidden to outsiders.

The overwhelming usage of the root ḥrm refers to the destruction of the enemy in the total wars commanded in the conquest of Canaan, in the campaign against the Amalekites, and in similar situations. The enemy was put “under the ban,” as it is sometimes expressed. An example is the city of Jericho which was thus devoted. All was to be destroyed except metals which could be purified by fire, for the Lord’s treasury. Thus Achan in violating the ban actually stole from God.

Devoted men are mentioned in Leviticus 27:29 as certainly condemned to death. This does not refer to those persons consecrated to the Lord by a vow and serving as slaves in the Temple. These are mentioned in Leviticus 27:1-8. Nor does it refer to the firstlings of men who were redeemed when God chose the tribe of Levi as an equivalent (Num 3:12). There is no vestige of early human sacrifice. Rather the devoted men who must be killed as directed in Leviticus 27:29 are captives from the holy wars. These captives theoretically belonged to God. Yet such foreign captives could not serve in the holy precincts. Like Agag and the Amalekites they must be put under the ban (1 Sam 15:3-33).

Before one judges Israel too harshly in this, or objects to God’s commandment, he needs to remember first that he in this era has learned again the sad lesson that the most effective war is total war. Aerial bombing spares no one. The enemy in Israel’s day could at least flee. It is a common observation that the culture of the conquered often conquers the victors. God did not want that, but to a degree it happened. Psalm 106:34-38 shows that misplaced mercy can result in the slaughter of the innocent. It may further be observed that when Joshua conquered Canaan, the war was more than usually justified, for he was carving out a homeland for his people from the Palestinian possessions of the Egyptian empire. In a sense, Israel had paid for Canaan many times over in blood and tears in Egypt. Remember Lincoln’s second Inaugural Address, “If God wills...that every drop of blood drawn by the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, must be said, the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.” See Anathema.


R. de Vaux, AIs, 251-265; G. F. Oehler, Theology of the OT (1883), 81, 82; J. B. Payne, Theology of the Older Testament (1962), 329, 330.