By banishment, which in the ancient world was the social equivalent of execution (also an option). Today, our identity and sense of self are radically individualistic. We believe that each individual has rights that a just society will distribute equally; that is, without respect to differences of race, age, or matters of conscience such as religious preference. These ideas find their origin in Europe’s emergence from feudalism and in the democratic revolutions of the eighteenth century.
But the ancient world held quite a different and more communal view of society. From the very beginning God made covenants with His people, not contracts with individuals. The idea of group accountability for violations of that covenant is evident throughout the Old Testament. Achan sinned, and his family bore the penalty with him (Joshua 7:24). David sinned, and thousands of people died of the plague (2 Samuel 24:15). Likewise, God’s promises were group-oriented, emerging from the covenant God established with His people.
What happened, then, when an individual refused to accept the terms of the covenant, refused to identify with the people, refused to worship God, refused to follow God’s plan and purpose? Could such a person continue to live among the people? No, the people could not endure such entrenched stubbornness. To tolerate the dissenter would be tantamount to agreeing with the possibility that his refusal was appropriate and reasonable.
The person who refused the covenant must be cut off and could no longer live among the covenant people In banishment, the dissenter acknowledged that he had claim on the identity was available, he had none at all, His sense of self had vanished.