Deuteronomy 22 – Various Laws
A. Laws to demonstrate kindness and purity.
1. (1-4) Kindness to your brother regarding his animals.
You shall not see your brother’s ox or his sheep going astray, and hide yourself from them; you shall certainly bring them back to your brother. And if your brother is not near you, or if you do not know him, then you shall bring it to your own house, and it shall remain with you until your brother seeks it; then you shall restore it to him. You shall do the same with his donkey, and so shall you do with his garment; with any lost thing of your brother’s, which he has lost and you have found, you shall do likewise; you must not hide yourself. You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fall down along the road, and hide yourself from them; you shall surely help him lift them up again.
a. You shall not see… and hide yourself: God here condemned the sin of doing nothing. To see your brother in need, and to do nothing, is to do evil. When one has the opportunity to do good, you must not hide yourself.
b. Until your brother seeks it; then you shall restore it to him: Simply put, when something is lost, a finder cannot claim it as theirs without taking all due diligence to restore it to the owner. If the owner seeks the missing object, it must be restored to him.
i. Exodus 23:4-5 commands Israel to also help stray animals but extends the obligation to the stray animals of an enemy, not just a brother.
c. You shall surely help him lift them up again: Also, if someone’s donkey falls down, and you can help them, then you must. To pass by your brother in need and to hide yourself from them is to sin against your brother and against God.
2. (5) A command to keep distinction between the sexes in clothing.
A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment, for all who do so are an abomination to the LORD your God.
a. Anything that pertains to a man: In Old Testament times, men and women wore clothing that was superficially similar – long robes and wrapping garments were common for both sexes. Yet, the specific types of garments and the way in which they were worn made a clear distinction between the sexes, and this command instructs God’s people to respect those distinctions.
i. Some have taken this command to be the “proof-text” against women wearing pants and some Christian groups command that women wear only dresses. Yet, this is not a command against women wearing a garment that in some ways might be common between men and women; it is a command against dressing in a manner which deliberately blurs the lines between the sexes.
b. Nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment: This does not prohibit a man from wearing a kilt; yet it clearly prohibits a man dressing like a woman, as is all too common – and all too accepted – in our modern culture.
i. The dramatic rise in cross-dressing, transvestitism, androgynous behavior, and “gender-bender” behavior in our culture is a shocking trampling of this command and will reap a bitter harvest in more perversion and more gender confusion in our culture.
c. All who do so are an abomination to the LORD your God: This command to observe the distinction between the sexes is so important, those who fail to observe it are called an abomination to the LORD. This was not only because cross-dressing was a feature of pagan, idolatrous worship in the ancient world, but also because of the terrible cultural price that is paid when it is pretended that there is no difference between men and women.
i. “Later writers, such as Lucian of Samosata and Eusebius, speak of the practice of masquerading in the worship of Astarte. Apparently women appeared in men’s garments and men in women’s garments.” (Thompson)
3. (6-7) A command to show kindness to animals.
If a bird’s nest happens to be before you along the way, in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs, with the mother sitting on the young or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young; you shall surely let the mother go, and take the young for yourself, that it may be well with you and that you may prolong your days.
a. If a bird’s nest happens to be before you along the way: God simply and plainly commanded kindness to animals. Even a bird’s nest was to be given special consideration and care.
i. Some Jewish commentators say that this is the smallest, or least of all the commandments; yet even it has a promise of blessing for the obedient attached to it: That it may be well with you and that you may prolong your days.
b. You shall surely let the mother go: Puritan commentator Matthew Poole wrote on this, “Partly for the bird’s sake, which suffered enough by the loss of its young; for God would not have cruelty exercised towards the brute creatures; and partly for men’s sake, to restrain their greediness and covetousness, that they should not monopolize all to themselves, but might leave the hopes of a future seed for others.”
c. That it may be well with you and that you may prolong your days. If Israel would obey this commandment, they would find blessing and long life, both as individuals and as a nation. What possible connection can there be between showing kindness to bird’s nests and eggs and little baby birds and national survival?
i. First, because obedience to the smallest of God’s commands brings blessing. It puts us into a properly submissive relationship to Him, that this always brings blessing to us.
ii. Second, because kindness and gentleness in the small things often (but not always) speaks to our ability to be kind and gentle in weightier matters. If someone is cruel to animals, not only is that sin in itself, but they are also much more likely to be cruel to people. If Israel allowed such cruelty to flourish, it would harm the nation.
4. (8) Liability and building codes.
When you build a new house, then you shall make a parapet for your roof, that you may not bring guilt of bloodshed on your household if anyone falls from it.
a. You shall make a parapet for your roof: God commanded that a railing be made for the rooftop, so someone was protected against falling.
b. That you may not bring bloodshed on your house: Failure to build in a safe way would bring guilt (liability) on the owner or builder of the home. They were responsible for the safety of those who would use the home.
i. In his sermon on Deuteronomy 22:8, titled “Battlements,” Charles Spurgeon shows how just as there was to be a railing for the protection of people on the roofs of Israel’s homes, there are also spiritual railings for our protection. Many people, in regard to sin, get too close to the edge and fall off. Then it’s too late! We need to have “railings” protecting us from the edge. Such railings will not only protect us, but others also.
5. (9-12) Four laws of separation.
You shall not sow your vineyard with different kinds of seed, lest the yield of the seed which you have sown and the fruit of your vineyard be defiled. You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together. You shall not wear a garment of different sorts, such as wool and linen mixed together. You shall make tassels on the four corners of the clothing with which you cover yourself.
a. You shall not sow your vineyard with different kinds of seed: Each of these laws was meant to separate Israel from her pagan neighbors, who would commonly combine unlike things to achieve what was thought to be a “magical” combination.
b. You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together: So, in pagan cultures it was common to combine different kinds of seed in a vineyard; or to plow with an ox and a donkey together; or to wear a garment of wool and linen mixed together. When God commands Israel to not do these things, it isn’t so much for the sake of the combinations themselves, but so Israel would not imitate the pagan, occult customs of their neighbors.
i. There is a spiritual application of this principle; the commands forbidding unholy combinations, “though in themselves small and trivial, are given… to forbid all mixture of their inventions with God’s institutions, in doctrine or worship.” (Poole)
ii. As Paul says, do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14)
iii. One commentator believes that these laws were also given, in part, to protect other animals from the bad breath of donkeys: “Besides, the donkey, from feeding on coarse and poisonous weed, has a fetid breath, which its yoke-fellow seeks to avoid, not only as poisonous and offensive, but producing leanness, or, if long continued, death.” (Jameison-Fauset-Brown, page 673)
c. You shall make tassels on the four corners of the clothing: This command was also to distinguish Israel from their pagan neighbors; in this way, an Israelite man was immediately known by the clothes he wore.
i. “A symbolic meaning is given to these tassels in Numbers 15:37-41, namely that they are a reminder to Israel to keep God’s law.” (Thompson)
ii. Like most good commands of God, men have the capability to twist and corrupt this command. In Jesus’ day, He had to condemn the Pharisees in Matthew 23:5, saying they enlarge the borders of their garments. In other words, they made the tasseled portion of their garments larger and more prominent to show how spiritual they were.
B. Laws of sexual morality.
1. (13-21) Resolving an accusation of marital deception.
If any man takes a wife, and goes in to her, and detests her, and charges her with shameful conduct, and brings a bad name on her, and says, “I took this woman, and when I came to her I found she was not a virgin,” then the father and mother of the young woman shall take and bring out the evidence of the young woman’s virginity to the elders of the city at the gate. And the young woman’s father shall say to the elders, “I gave my daughter to this man as wife, and he detests her. Now he has charged her with shameful conduct, saying, ‘I found your daughter was not a virgin,’ and yet these are the evidences of my daughter’s virginity.” And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city. Then the elders of that city shall take that man and punish him; and they shall fine him one hundred shekels of silver and give them to the father of the young woman, because he has brought a bad name on a virgin of Israel. And she shall be his wife; he cannot divorce her all his days. But if the thing is true, and evidences of virginity are not found for the young woman, then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has done a disgraceful thing in Israel, to play the harlot in her father’s house. So you shall put away the evil from among you.
a. Charges her with shameful conduct: The idea is that the man accused his wife of not being a virgin when they were married. Apparently, this was discovered on their wedding night, when they first had intimate relations (when I came into her I found she was not a virgin).
i. It is important to understand that in ancient Israel virginity was valued. It was seen as a great loss to give up one’s virginity before marriage, and if a woman was known to have lost her virginity, it greatly reduced her chances of getting married.
ii. By the same principle, if a husband believed that his wife had lied about her virginity, he felt cheated. What follows is an attempt to resolve the issue.
b. Then the father and mother… bring out the evidence of the young woman’s virginity… they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city: according to custom, a Jewish woman would first be intimate with her husband upon a special cloth, which would collect the small drops of blood which were accepted as evidence of the young woman’s virginity. This bloodstained cloth would then become the property of the married woman’s parents, who kept it as the evidence of the young woman’s virginity.
i. Many people argue that this custom of proving a woman’s virginity is absurd, because it doesn’t always work. Some have answered by saying it does “work” when ladies are given in marriage at twelve or thirteen years of age, as was the custom in Old Testament times.
ii. Nonetheless, for whatever reasons, the custom did “work” – and is still practiced in some parts of the world. “The proofs of virginity, the blood-spotted bedclothes or garments, which, though not infallible, were widely accepted in the ancient Near East as indications of prior virginity, are still accepted among some peoples today” (Kalland). Clarke also adds: “A custom similar to that above is observed among the Mohamedans to the present day.”
iii. Clarke on they shall spread the cloth: “A usage of this kind argues a roughness of manners which would ill comport with the refinement of European ideas on so delicate a subject.”
c. The elders of the city shall take that man and punish him: If the parents could produce the evidence, then the man was found to have made false accusation against his wife and it was commanded that a fine to be paid to the father of his bride.
i. Additionally, the man had forfeited his future right to divorce this wife: he cannot divorce her all his days.
ii. The strong penalty against a man who made a false accusation (one hundred shekels of silver was a significant fine), and the loss of his right to divorce his wife in the future was an effective deterrent against wild, false accusations by a husband against his wife.
d. But if the thing is true, and evidences of virginity are not found for the young woman: If this were the case, the woman was to be executed by stoning. This was not only for her sexual promiscuity (to play the harlot), but also for her attempt to deceive her husband.
i. This law must be seen in connection with the command in Exodus 22:16-17, which commands that a man who entices a virgin must surely pay the bride-price for her to be his wife. This law in Deuteronomy is directed against the truly wanton woman, who has given up her virginity, yet not claimed her rights under Exodus 22:16-17. She did not value her virginity at the time she gave it up, yet she wanted to claim the benefits of it by deceiving her husband.
ii. All this simply reinforces the principle that virginity was valued, highly valued, in Israel. Today, far too many people – especially women – sell themselves cheaply by easily giving away their virginity. A man illustrated this with a true story about a friend who owned an antique store and had a table for sale. The table was worth $600 but was marked down to $300. A man tried to bargain her down to $200, and not only did she refuse, but she realized the true value of the table, and upped the price to its true worth – even when offered $300. The man finally bought the table for $600, and certainly treated it like a $600 table – because its worth had been fought for. Many women who know they are being treated shabbily by men have contributed to the problem by selling themselves cheaply.
2. (22) The penalty for adultery.
If a man is found lying with a woman married to a husband, then both of them shall die; the man that lay with the woman, and the woman; so you shall put away the evil from Israel.
a. Both of them shall die: God commanded the death penalty for adultery. This was primarily because of the exceedingly great social consequences of this sin. Therefore, God commanded the ultimate penalty against it.
i. God also specifically instructs: both the man that lay with the woman, and the woman. Adultery was not to be condemned with a double standard; if it was wrong for the woman, it was wrong for the man, and vice-versa.
b. Then both of them shall die: As a practical matter, this death penalty was rarely carried out, as is the case in most of the situations where capital punishment was commanded. This is because any capital crime required two or three witnesses, and the witnesses had to be so sure of what they saw that they were willing to “cast the first stone” – that is, initiate the execution (Deuteronomy 17:6-7).
i. So, particularly in a case of adultery (or other sexual sins) there would rarely be two eyewitnesses willing to initiate the execution – and so capital punishment would not be carried out.
ii. This also helps us to understand what Jesus was doing when confronting the crowd who brought to Him the woman taken in adultery. By their presence and words, they claimed to have caught the woman in the act – but why then did they not bring the guilty man as well? And who was willing to cast the first stone – that is, initiate the execution? (John 8:1-12)
c. So you shall put away the evil from Israel: Though the death penalty for adultery was carried out rarely, it still had value. It communicated loudly and clearly an ideal that Israel was to live up to, and it made people regard their sin much more seriously. Today, we have done away with this ideal, and people don’t care much about adultery – and society suffers greatly as a result.
3. (23-29) Laws concerning rape.
If a young woman who is a virgin is betrothed to a husband, and a man finds her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry out in the city, and the man because he humbled his neighbor’s wife; so you shall put away the evil from among you. But if a man finds a betrothed young woman in the countryside, and the man forces her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. But you shall do nothing to the young woman; there is in the young woman no sin deserving of death, for just as when a man rises against his neighbor and kills him, even so is this matter. For he found her in the countryside, and the betrothed young woman cried out, but there was no one to save her. If a man finds a young woman who is a virgin, who is not betrothed, and he seizes her and lies with her, and they are found out, then the man who lay with her shall give to the young woman’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife because he has humbled her; he shall not be permitted to divorce her all his days.
a. If a young woman who is a virgin is betrothed to a husband: If a man had intimate relations with a virgin who was betrothed to a husband, and it happened in the city (and no one immediately hears the woman cry out in an attempt to stop the man), then both were to be executed.
i. The woman was to be executed for disgracing her virginity; the man was to be executed because he humbled his neighbor’s wife. Interestingly, the woman was considered the wife of another man, even though she was only betrothed, and was still a virgin, having not yet consummated the marriage.
b. But if a man finds a betrothed young woman in the countryside: If a man had intimate relations with a virgin who was betrothed, and it happened in the countryside (where no one could hear the woman, even if she should cry out), then only the man was to be executed, because the woman was presumed to be the victim of rape.
i. Significantly, the woman was not blamed for the rape, and it was presumed that she was innocent in this circumstance.
c. If a man finds a young woman who is a virgin, who is not betrothed: If a man had intimate relations with a virgin who is not betrothed, then he must pay a fine and was obligated to marry the woman (presumably, if she will have him), and he forfeited his right to divorce her in the future.
i. Some Jewish commentators note that the fifty shekels of silver were to be paid in addition to the dowry.
4. (30) A law concerning incest.
A man shall not take his father’s wife, nor uncover his father’s bed.
a. A man shall not take his father’s wife: This probably described the case of a son marrying his stepmother after his father had died. This was considered incest, even though there was not a blood relation, because he was considered to have had uncovered his father’s bed.
b. Nor uncover his father’s bed: Significantly, this was exactly the same kind of immoral relationship that the Corinthian church accepted, and Paul had to rebuke them about – that a man has his father’s wife! (1 Corinthians 5:1-2)
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