Deuteronomy 25 – More Laws on Various Subjects
A. Two laws to protect criminals and animals.
1. (1-3) A limit on corporal punishment.
If there is a dispute between men, and they come to court, that the judges may judge them, and they justify the righteous and condemn the wicked, then it shall be, if the wicked man deserves to be beaten, that the judge will cause him to lie down and be beaten in his presence, according to his guilt, with a certain number of blows. Forty blows he may give him and no more, lest he should exceed this and beat him with many blows above these, and your brother be humiliated in your sight.
a. They justify the righteous and condemn the guilty: This is the simple responsibility of all government and courts. As Paul described the role of government in Romans 13:4: For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.
b. If the wicked man deserves to be beaten: Apparently, God considers that some criminals are wicked and deserve to be beaten. We seem to have a justice system today that considers itself more compassionate and kind than God Himself, yet we can’t say that we live in a more just or safe society.
i. “Among the Mohammedans there are very few law-suits, and the reason is given… because they that sue others without just cause are to be whipped publicly.” (Trapp)
c. Forty blows may he give him and no more: Though sometimes a beating was the appropriate punishment, God also agrees with the idea that there is a such thing as excessive punishment, and this was intended to prevent excessive punishment. Additionally, the beating was to be administered in the presence of the judge (and be beaten in his presence), so he could make sure the punishment was not excessive.
i. In 2 Corinthians 11:24, Paul listed this among his “apostolic credentials”: From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. The forty stripes minus one means Paul was beaten by the Jewish authorities with thirty-nine blows on five different occasions. Paul did not receive 40 blows, as according to Deuteronomy 25:3 because as a common practice, the Jews only allowed 39 blows to be administered. This was to both show mercy and to scrupulously keep the law – one blow was left off to protect against a miscount.
2. (4) The command to not muzzle the ox.
You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.
a. You shall not muzzle an ox: This law simply commanded the humane treatment of a working animal. In those days, grain would be broken away from its husk by having an ox walk on it repeatedly (usually around a circle). It would be cruel to force the ox to walk on all the grain, yet to muzzle him so he couldn’t eat of it.
b. You shall not muzzle an ox: In 1 Corinthians 9:9 and 1 Timothy 5:18 Paul applied this principle to the minister’s right to be supported by the people he ministers to. In fact, 1 Corinthians 9:9-10 leads us to believe that this is the real point God is making in this verse, because in that passage Paul asked, is it oxen God is concerned about? Or does He say it altogether for our sakes?
B. Two laws dealing with family matters.
1. (5-10) The marriage obligation of surviving brothers.
If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the widow of the dead man shall not be married to a stranger outside the family; her husband’s brother shall go in to her, take her as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. And it shall be that the firstborn son which she bears will succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel. But if the man does not want to take his brother’s wife, then let his brother’s wife go up to the gate to the elders, and say, “My husband’s brother refuses to raise up a name to his brother in Israel; he will not perform the duty of my husband’s brother.” Then the elders of his city shall call him and speak to him. But if he stands firm and says, “I do not want to take her,” then his brother’s wife shall come to him in the presence of the elders, remove his sandal from his foot, spit in his face, and answer and say, “So shall it be done to the man who will not build up his brother’s house.” And his name shall be called in Israel, “The house of him who had his sandal removed.”
a. One of them dies and has no son: In ancient Israel it was seen as a great tragedy for a man to die without leaving descendants to carry on his name, and to give his family inheritance to. Therefore, if a man dies and has no son, it was the responsibility of one of his brothers to take the deceased brother’s widow as a wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her.
i. “The practice of levirate marriage… was not peculiar to Israel, for it was practiced among the Hittites and Assyrians as well as in countries such as India, Africa and South America.” (Thompson)
b. The firstborn son which she bears will succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel: When a son was born to this union, it would not be counted as the son of the surviving brother, but as son to the deceased brother.
i. Son here may simply mean child. “In the history of the interpretation of this Deuteronomic law, difference of opinion existed among Jewish expositors whether ben in v.5 meant ‘son’ or ‘child.’ The LXX and Josephus render it ‘child.’ Moses had already established that when no male heir existed, daughters would be heirs or their father’s property (Num 27:1-8).” (Kalland)
c. He will not perform the duty of my husband’s brother: If the brothers of the deceased man refused to take this responsibility, they were to be called to open shame by the widow. The shame was compounded as they would remove his sandal and the widow would spit in his face.
2. (11-12) Wives forbidden to interfere in their husband’s fights.
If two men fight together, and the wife of one draws near to rescue her husband from the hand of the one attacking him, and puts out her hand and seizes him by the genitals, then you shall cut off her hand; your eye shall not pity her.
a. Then you shall cut off her hand: In this difficult passage, various suggestions have been made as to why such a severe punishment was commanded. “Possibly it was representative of similar offences and provided a standard for judgment in all such cases. Perhaps also, the law arose from the desire to protect the reproductive organs and thus obviate anything that might prevent a man leaving descendants.” (Thompson)
b. Your eye shall not pity her: “Partly because of the great mischief she did to him, both to his person and posterity, and partly to deter all women from immodest and impudent carriages, and to secure that modesty which is indeed the guardian of all the virtues, as immodesty is an inlet to all vices, as the sad experience of this degenerate age shows; and therefore it is not strange that it is so severely restrained and punished.” (Matthew Poole, 1683)
C. Two laws commanding justice.
1. (13-16) God commands weights and measures be just.
You shall not have in your bag differing weights, a heavy and a light. You shall not have in your house differing measures, a large and a small. You shall have a perfect and just weight, a perfect and just measure, that your days may be lengthened in the land which the LORD your God is giving you. For all who do such things, all who behave unrighteously, are an abomination to the LORD your God.
2. (17-19) God commands Israel to justly destroy Amalek.
Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you were coming out of Egypt, how he met you on the way and attacked your rear ranks, all the stragglers at your rear, when you were tired and weary; and he did not fear God. Therefore it shall be, when the LORD your God has given you rest from your enemies all around, in the land which the LORD your God is giving you to possess as an inheritance, that you will blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. You shall not forget.
a. Remember what Amalek did: The Amalekite attack on the Israelites is recorded in Exodus 17. In response, Joshua led the armies of Israel in victory over the Amalekites as Moses prayed for them, assisted by Aaron and Hur.
b. Blot out the remembrance of Amalek under heaven: Because of God’s strong command to battle against Amalek until they were completely conquered, many see the Amalekites as a picture of our flesh – which constantly battles against the spirit and must be struggled against until completely conquered (Galatians 5:17).
c. When the LORD your God has given you rest: Israel was to make this war against the Amalekites later, when they were at rest in the land. Some 400 years later, God directed Saul to make war against the Amalekites, and his failure to completely destroy them was the primary act of disobedience which cost Saul the throne (1 Samuel 15:2-9; 28:18).
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
Deuteronomy 24 – The Law of Divorce and Other Various Laws
A. Divorce, remarriage and marriage.
1. (1) The law of divorce in ancient Israel.
When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house,
a. A certificate of divorce: According to these laws, divorce was allowed in Israel, but carefully regulated. Under God’s law, the marriage contract cannot be simply dissolved as soon as one partner wants out; there must be cause for a certificate of divorce.
i. Even with cause, divorce was never to be seen as a preferred or easy option. The Hebrew word translated divorce has as its root the idea of “a hewing off, a cutting apart” – it is the amputation of that which is one flesh.
ii. “(Christians) all regard divorce as something like cutting up a living body, as a kind of surgical operation. Some think that the operation is so violent that it cannot be done at all; others admit that it is a desperate remedy in extreme cases. They are all agreed that it is more like having your legs cut off than it is like dissolving a business partnership or even deserting a regiment.” (C.S. Lewis)
b. He writes her a certificate of divorce: God commands here that any divorce be sealed with a certificate of divorce. In other words, it was not enough for a man to just declare, “we’re divorced” to his wife. The divorce had to be recognized legally just as the marriage had been, so a certificate of divorce – a legal document – must be issued, and properly served (puts it in her hand).
c. She finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her: This describes the grounds of divorce and indicates that a certificate of divorce could not be written for just any reason. It had to be founded on these two important clauses.
i. There has to be some uncleanness in her. Some later Rabbis defined uncleanness as anything in the wife which might displease the husband. At the time of Jesus, some Rabbis taught that if a wife burned her husband’s breakfast, he could divorce her.
ii. But Jesus carefully and properly defined what uncleanness is in Deuteronomy 24:1. He said, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery (Matthew 19:9). Jesus rightly understood that uncleanness refers to sexual immorality, a broad term referring to sexual sin, which includes, but is not restricted to, sexual intercourse with someone who is not your spouse. The Hebrew word translated uncleanness in itself implies the meaning of sexual immorality; it is literally, “nakedness of a thing.”
iii. So, if a husband finds some uncleanness in her, he has the right to give his wife a certificate of divorce. But he is not obligated to do so. It must also be that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her. In other words, it must be that the husband is so troubled at his wife’s sexual immorality that he simply cannot look upon her with favor in his eyes any more. The lack of favor in his eyes must be because of her uncleanness.
iv. This helps us understand what Jesus said in Matthew 19:8: Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. If a woman did not have a hard heart, she would never commit sexual immorality against her husband, and there would be no need for divorce. If a husband did not have any hardness in his heart, he could forgive and still look upon his wife with favor in his eyes, even though she was guilty of sexual immorality. But because God knows there is hardness in our hearts – both in the offending and offended parties – He grants permission for divorce.
v. In the days of Jesus, Rabbis taught that it was the duty of a godly man to divorce his wife if she displeased him. Both Moses and Jesus make it clear that God permits divorce in certain circumstances, but never commands it.
vi. Yet, if someone has Biblical grounds of divorce (which, according to 1 Corinthians 7:15, includes abandonment by an unbelieving spouse), they certainly do have permission to divorce, and God does not “hold it against them,” unless of course, He has specifically told them to not divorce and they are disobeying His specific word to their lives.
d. He writes her a certificate of divorce: Most people think that in ancient Israel, only husbands had the right to divorce their wives, and wives did not have the right of divorce. But what is said here may be intended to be applied to both husband and wife. Jesus, in Mark 10:12 says and if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, clearly saying that in His day, a wife had the right to divorce.
2. (2-4) The law of remarriage in ancient Israel.
When she has departed from his house, and goes and becomes another man’s wife, if the latter husband detests her and writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her as his wife, then her former husband who divorced her must not take her back to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the LORD, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance.
a. Her former husband who divorced her must not take her back: This is a strong law, saying that if a divorced woman marries again, she could not return to her first husband, should her second marriage end through divorce or death. To break this law was an abomination before the LORD.
b. An abomination before the LORD: It seems that it might be a good thing for the first husband and wife to get back together. But this command is made because God wanted both marriage and divorce to be seen as serious, permanent things. One couldn’t be married or divorced casually; it had to be carefully thought out because it was permanent.
i. This law would also strengthen the second marriage; it would discourage a spouse from thinking they might as well just leave their second marriage and go back to their first partner.
3. (5) The law honoring marriage.
When a man has taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war or be charged with any business; he shall be free at home one year, and bring happiness to his wife whom he has taken.
a. He shall be free at home one year: This was God’s way of honoring and blessing the marriage covenant. He allowed men who were newly married to be exempt from military or other state service for one year.
b. Bring happiness to his wife: This is an important job for every husband. Even as before the LORD, we find our lives by losing them (Matthew 10:39), so a husband will find the most happiness if he will bring happiness to his wife.
i. As the role of the husband in Ephesians 5 is described, we see that God emphasizes the essential oneness between husband and wife. The husband cannot make his wife happy without also bringing happiness into his own life. Conversely, he cannot bring misery into the life of his spouse without also bringing misery into his own life.
ii. A happy wife is the foundation for a happy home; a bitter or contentious wife makes for a miserable home. A continual dripping on a very rainy day and a contentious woman are alike (Proverbs 27:15). Better to dwell in a corner of a housetop, than in a house shared with a contentious woman. (Proverbs 21:9). Better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and angry woman (Proverbs 21:19).
B. Other various laws.
1. (6) Do not take someone’s livelihood as a pledge.
No man shall take the lower or the upper millstone in pledge, for he takes one’s living in pledge.
a. No man shall take the lower or the upper millstone in pledge: A millstone was something essential to a family’s livelihood, therefore it was forbidden to take it as a guarantee for a loan.
i. This warns Israel against taking advantage of each other in times of great need. We must take care that we never unfairly profit from the poverty or difficulty of others.
b. For he takes one’s living in pledge: Non-essential items could be taken as a pledge. Although interest could not be charged on a loan to an Israelite in need, a pledge could be taken – collateral to guarantee the repayment of the loan. This command forbids the taking of collateral that would take away a man’s ability to provide for his family and get himself out of debt.
2. (7) The punishment for kidnapping.
If a man is found kidnapping any of his brethren of the children of Israel, and mistreats him or sells him, then that kidnapper shall die; and you shall put away the evil from among you.
a. If a man is found kidnapping any of his brethren of the children of Israel: Kidnapping was usually done in the ancient world not so much for return and ransom, but so that one could sell the one abducted to slavery, just as was done to Joseph by his brothers (Genesis 37:28).
b. That kidnapper shall die: This crime was serious enough before God, so as to command the death penalty.
3. (8-9) The command to act swiftly when leprosy breaks out.
Take heed in an outbreak of leprosy, that you carefully observe and do according to all that the priests, the Levites, shall teach you; just as I commanded them, so you shall be careful to do. Remember what the LORD your God did to Miriam on the way when you came out of Egypt.
a. Take heed in an outbreak of leprosy: Leviticus 13 and 14 describe in great detail how God wanted lepers examined and quarantined. Because leprosy was such a dreaded disease, God commands here that they take heed in an outbreak of leprosy, so it would not become a plague throughout Israel.
b. Remember what the LORD your God did to Miriam: In Numbers 12, Miriam led her brother Aaron in a rebellion against Moses, and for it, God struck her with leprosy. Though Moses prayed for her to be healed, God let her be a leper for seven days before healing her, and she was shut out of the camp seven days (Numbers 12:14). If someone as prominent as Miriam was quarantined as a leper, it showed that every other leper in Israel should also be quarantined.
4. (10-13) Handling a pledge rightly.
When you lend your brother anything, you shall not go into his house to get his pledge. You shall stand outside, and the man to whom you lend shall bring the pledge out to you. And if the man is poor, you shall not keep his pledge overnight. You shall in any case return the pledge to him again when the sun goes down, that he may sleep in his own garment and bless you; and it shall be righteousness to you before the LORD your God.
a. You shall not go into his house to get his pledge: When a pledge was taken for a loan, it had to be received in a way that kept the poor man’s dignity.
i. God does not condemn the principle of taking a pledge, only commanding that it be received humanely. The idea of taking collateral for a loan is valid because it encourages personal responsibility in the one receiving the loan.
b. You shall not keep his pledge overnight: Assuming the pledge was something to keep the man warm (such as a garment or a blanket, which would often be the only pledge a poor man could make), the pledge had to be returned so the man could use it to keep warm overnight.
i. “The Jews in several cases did act contrary to this rule, and we find them cuttingly reproved for it by the Prophet Amos, chap. ii. 8.” (Clarke)
5. (14-15) The command to pay your workers.
You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether one of your brethren or one of the aliens who is in your land within your gates. Each day you shall give him his wages, and not let the sun go down on it, for he is poor and has set his heart on it; lest he cry out against you to the LORD, and it be sin to you.
a. You shall not oppress a hired servant: A servant might be oppressed by not being paid, or by brutal or unsafe working conditions. God commanded employers to treat their employees fairly and kindly.
b. Lest he cry out against you to the LORD: The LORD hears the cry of the oppressed. James 5:4 warns the rich man who oppresses his workers: Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Saboath.
6. (16) Each shall bear his own sin.
Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall the children be put to death for their fathers; a person shall be put to death for his own sin.
a. A person shall be put to death for his own sin: God commanded that each individual be responsible for his or her own sin. A father cannot be blamed and responsible for the sin of their (grown) children, and the children cannot be blamed and responsible for the sin of their parents.
i. It is wrong for a parent to automatically blame themselves for their wayward children; though they may have a part in the problem, it isn’t always the case.
b. For his own sin: There are instances when God commands that a whole family be punished for sin, such as with the family of Achan in Joshua 7:16-26. When God deals with a whole family, it shows that there must have been some conspiracy between family members, for each is responsible for his own sin.
7. (17-18) A command to be compassionate and fair.
You shall not pervert justice due the stranger or the fatherless, nor take a widow’s garment as a pledge. But you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this thing.
a. You shall remember: If Israel kept remembering how much God had done for them, it would make them more compassionate and fair in dealing with others. We must always deal with others remembering how much God has blessed and forgiven us.
8. (19-22) Leave behind some of the harvest for the poor.
When you reap your harvest in your field, and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not glean it afterward; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this thing.
a. It shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow: This was one of God’s welfare programs for Israel, establishing the right of the gleaner. Farmers were instructed to not completely harvest their fields, so that some would be left behind for the hard-working poor to gather for themselves.
b. Therefore I command you to do this thing: This was a wonderful way of helping the poor. It commanded farmers to have a generous heart, and it made the poor to be active and work for their food. It made a way for them to provide for their own needs with dignity.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
Deuteronomy 23 – Instructions to the Assembly, Various Laws
A. Those excluded from the congregation of Israel.
1. (1) Eunuchs are excluded from the congregation of Israel.
He who is emasculated by crushing or mutilation shall not enter the assembly of the LORD.
a. By crushing or mutilation: This refers to those emasculated by either birth defect, accident, or by deliberate emasculation.
b. Shall not enter the assembly of the LORD: When we read this term, it usually refers to the nation gathered before the LORD in worship, such as when they were gathered at Mount Sinai (Deuteronomy 5:22, 9:10, 10:4, and 18:16). But it doesn’t always have this sense.
i. Deuteronomy 31:30 refers to all the congregation of Israel, while Deuteronomy 31:28 makes it clear that “all the congregation” was gathered through all the elders of your tribes, and your officers. So, in some contexts, the congregation can refer to elders and officers. It may very well be that these exclusions from the assembly of the LORD are exclusions not from the religious life of Israel, but from the political life of the nation.
ii. Poole suggests that the idea of the assembly of the LORD is the leadership, or the rulers of Israel. These people were barred not from the religious life of Israel, but from the political life of the nation. Trapp agrees, saying on shall not enter the assembly of the LORD: “Shall not go in and out before the people as a public officer.” Clarke adds, “If by entering into the congregation be meant the bearing a civil office among the people, such as magistrate, judge, &c., then the reason of the law is very plain.”
iii. Isaiah 56:3-5 shows that even eunuchs and foreigners could be accepted before the LORD if they would obey Him, and they would be accepted before the “normal” people who disobeyed God.
c. Shall not enter the assembly of the LORD: Eunuchs were excluded because God’s covenant with Israel was vitally connected with the idea of the seed, and emasculation is a “crime” against the seed of man. Additionally, most eunuchs were made to be so in pagan ceremonies where they were dedicated to pagan gods.
2. (2) Those of unknown parentage are excluded from the assembly of Israel (civil leadership in Israel).
One of illegitimate birth shall not enter the assembly of the LORD; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the LORD.
a. One of illegitimate birth: It is difficult to define exactly what is meant by the term of illegitimate birth. Some later Jewish writers defined this as someone who was born of an incestuous relationship between Jews; others said it refers to those born of mixed marriages between the people of Israel and their pagan neighbors (as in Nehemiah 13:23).
3. (3-6) Ammonites and Moabites are excluded from the congregation of Israel (civil leadership in Israel).
An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter the assembly of the LORD; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the LORD forever, because they did not meet you with bread and water on the road when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you. Nevertheless the LORD your God would not listen to Balaam, but the LORD your God turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the LORD your God loves you. You shall not seek their peace nor their prosperity all your days forever.
a. An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter the assembly of the LORD: The Moabites and the Ammonites not only treated Israel cruelly on their way to the Promised Land, but they also were a people with a disgraceful beginning. Moab and Ammon were the two sons born to the daughters of Lot through their incest with their father (Genesis 19:30-38).
4. (7-8) Edomites and Egyptians (of the third generation) are permitted to be among the congregation of Israel (civil leadership in Israel).
You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother. You shall not abhor an Egyptian, because you were an alien in his land. The children of the third generation born to them may enter the assembly of the LORD.
a. You shall not abhor an Edomite: The Edomites were ethnically related to Israel, because Israel’s brother Esau was the father of the Edomite peoples. Therefore, Israel was commanded to not abhor an Edomite.
i. Interestingly, one of the most famous Edomites in history was abhorred by Israel – Herod the Great. Many of his spectacular building projects in Judea were intended to not only glorify his own name, but to win the favor of the Jews who despised him as an Edomite.
b. You shall not abhor an Egyptian: The Egyptians were also to receive more favor than the Moabites or Ammonites, because Israel was a guest in Egypt for almost 400 years. Though the years Israel spent in Egypt were hard, God had a great purpose for them. Egypt was like a mother’s womb for Israel; they went in as a large family and came out as a distinct nation.
B. Miscellaneous laws.
1. (9-14) Cleanliness in the camp.
When the army goes out against your enemies, then keep yourself from every wicked thing. If there is any man among you who becomes unclean by some occurrence in the night, then he shall go outside the camp; he shall not come inside the camp. But it shall be, when evening comes, that he shall wash with water; and when the sun sets, he may come into the camp. Also you shall have a place outside the camp, where you may go out; and you shall have an implement among your equipment, and when you sit down outside, you shall dig with it and turn and cover your refuse. For the LORD your God walks in the midst of your camp, to deliver you and give your enemies over to you; therefore your camp shall be holy, that He may see no unclean thing among you, and turn away from you.
a. When the army goes out against your enemies, then keep yourself from every wicked thing: God commanded ceremonial cleanliness among the army of Israel. Some occurrence in the night probably refers to nocturnal emissions, and the cleansing ceremony for this is described in Leviticus 15:16-18. After observing the ceremonial washing, he may come into the camp again.
b. And you shall have an implement among your equipment: God commanded sanitary cleanliness among the army of Israel; each soldier was to carry some type of shovel, with which he could cover [his] refuse.
i. This command was given, “Partly, to prevent the annoyance of ourselves or others; partly, to preserve and exercise modesty and natural honesty; and principally, that by such outward rites they might be inured to the greater reverence of the Divine Majesty, and the greater caution to avoid all real and moral uncleanness.” (Poole)
ii. Some ancient rabbis taught that the holy city of Jerusalem should be considered “the camp of the LORD.” Under this reasoning, one had to go outside the camp to relieve one’s self. However, for many people, the trip outside the large “camp” of Israel (the city of Jerusalem) was longer than what would be permitted on the Sabbath. Therefore, as a practical matter, the rabbis prohibited a Jew from relieving themselves on the Sabbath day.
2. (15-16) Israel to provide asylum for the foreign escaped slave.
You shall not give back to his master the slave who has escaped from his master to you. He may dwell with you in your midst, in the place which he chooses within one of your gates, where it seems best to him; you shall not oppress him.
a. You shall not give back to his master the slave who has escaped from his master to you: “The refugee slave referred to had evidently come from a foreign land. Otherwise there would have been legal complications, since slaves were a valued possession.” (Thompson)
3. (17-18) Sacred prostitution banned.
There shall be no ritual harlot of the daughters of Israel, or a perverted one of the sons of Israel. You shall not bring the wages of a harlot or the price of a dog to the house of the LORD your God for any vowed offering, for both of these are an abomination to the LORD your God.
a. Ritual harlot: This refers to a female prostitute. The term perverted one refers to a male prostitute, both of which were common among the pagan religions of the Canaanites and others in the ancient world.
i. Later, in the reigns of Asa (1 Kings 15:12) and Josiah (2 Kings 23:7) we are told that the perverted persons (male prostitutes) were expelled from Israel. This means that for some period of time before they were expelled, they were allowed to practice their “holy prostitution,” which was an abomination to the LORD your God.
b. You shall not bring the wages of a harlot or the price of a dog to the house of the LORD your God: The pay of a female prostitute (the hire of a harlot) and the pay of a male prostitute (the price of a dog) were never to be offered to the LORD. This was a common practice among the sacred prostitution cults that abounded in the ancient world.
i. A reminder of the principle that the work of the LORD does not need money from immoral or ill-gotten gains.
ii. Even in its most gross forms, this kind of practice has been allowed in the institutional church. “And what a stinking shame is that, that stews and brothel-houses are licensed by the Pope, who reaps no small profit by them?” (Trapp, writing in 1659)
4. (19-20) No interest to be charged to the family of Israel.
You shall not charge interest to your brother; interest on money or food or anything that is lent out at interest. To a foreigner you may charge interest, but to your brother you shall not charge interest, that the LORD your God may bless you in all to which you set your hand in the land which you are entering to possess.
a. You shall not charge interest to your brother; interest on money or food: The mention of food, and the similar command in Exodus 22:25, leads most to understand that interest was prohibited on loans made to the poor for their basic needs, and did not prohibit the taking of interest on loans that were not for relief of the poor.
b. To a foreigner you may charge interest: “But since merchants from other nations might come for business reasons to Israel, or make loans on interest to Israelites, foreigners could be charged interest.” (Kalland)
5. (21-23) The importance of keeping our vows.
When you make a vow to the LORD your God, you shall not delay to pay it; for the LORD your God will surely require it of you, and it would be sin to you. But if you abstain from vowing, it shall not be sin to you. That which has gone from your lips you shall keep and perform, for you voluntarily vowed to the LORD your God what you have promised with your mouth.
a. You shall not delay to pay it: A vow before God is no small thing. God expressly commanded that Israel should be careful to keep its vows and to fulfill every oath made, for the LORD your God will surely require it of you, and it would be sin to you.
i. In many circles today, the breaking of an oath is just standard business practice – but before God, it is simply sin.
b. If you abstain from vowing: Many wonder if vows or oaths are permitted for a Christian today.
i. Some think not, because of what Jesus said in Matthew 5:34-37: But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one. (See also James 5:12)
ii. But, in context of the rest of Scripture, we see that Jesus was not forbidding oaths, as much as telling us that we should be so filled with integrity in our words that an oath is unnecessary.
iii. Jesus answered under oath in a court (Matthew 26:63-64), and God Himself swears oaths (Luke 1:73, Acts 2:30, Hebrews 3:18, 6:13, 17).
c. But if you abstain from vowing, it shall not be sin to you: God never requires vows; many times, it is better not to make a vow.
d. That which has gone from your lips you shall keep and perform: This shows how important it is to keep a vow once made. As it says in Ecclesiastes 5:4-5, When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it; for He has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you have vowed. It is better not to vow than to vow and not pay.
i. Many vows are just plain foolish – “I’ll never do that again” is a foolish vow, and it is foolish and unwise to demand such a vow from someone else.
ii. Of course, there is a vow we all can and should make – a vow to praise God: Vows made to You are binding upon me, O God; I will render praises unto You (Psalm 56:12). So I will sing praise to Your name forever, that I may daily perform my vows (Psalm 61:8).
6. (24-25) The right to glean is given to travelers.
When you come into your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat your fill of grapes at your pleasure, but you shall not put any in your container. When you come into your neighbor’s standing grain, you may pluck the heads with your hand, but you shall not use a sickle on your neighbor’s standing grain.
a. When you come into your neighbor’s vineyard: The idea is that, as one traveled they had the right to pick off a few grapes or heads of grain to eat along the way. It wasn’t the right to harvest from your neighbor’s fields, but to provide for your own immediate needs.
b. You may pluck the heads with your hand: This is the law Jesus and His disciples were operating under when they plucked heads of grain and ate them, rubbing them in their hands (Luke 6:1-5). They were accused by the Pharisees of breaking the Sabbath, but not of stealing grain, because the Pharisees knew this law in the book of Deuteronomy.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
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)
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
Deuteronomy 21 – Various Laws
A. The law of unsolved murders.
1. (1) The presence of an unsolved murder.
If anyone is found slain, lying in the field in the land which the LORD your God is giving you to possess, and it is not known who killed him,
a. If anyone is found slain: Presumably, death from natural causes had been ruled out and it was evident that the deceased had been murdered; yet, it was not known who killed him.
b. It is not know who killed him: This was important based on a principle stated in Numbers 35:33-34. This passage shows that the blood of unsolved, unavenged murder defiles and pollutes the land. Therefore, if there is a murder unavenged, some kind of cleansing is necessary, so the land will not be defiled.
2. (2-6) The procedure for atoning for murder-polluted land.
Then your elders and your judges shall go out and measure the distance from the slain man to the surrounding cities. And it shall be that the elders of the city nearest to the slain man will take a heifer which has not been worked and which has not pulled with a yoke. The elders of that city shall bring the heifer down to a valley with flowing water, which is neither plowed nor sown, and they shall break the heifer’s neck there in the valley. Then the priests, the sons of Levi, shall come near, for the LORD your God has chosen them to minister to Him and to bless in the name of the LORD; by their word every controversy and every assault shall be settled. And all the elders of that city nearest to the slain man shall wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the valley.
a. The elders of the city nearest to the slain man: First, the matter of jurisdiction had to be settled. These elders were responsible to make the sacrifice to atone for and cleanse the murder-polluted land.
b. A heifer which has not been worked: Then, appropriate sacrifice had to be made. This heifer was sacrificed by the sons of Levi in the presence of the city elders, who washed their hands over the sacrificed animal.
i. This washing of the hands, done in the presence of the sons of Levi, who by their word every controversy and every assault shall be settled, was a powerful proclamation by the elders: “We have done all we could to settle this case, but cannot. We are clean from all guilt in the matter of this slain man.”
ii. Of course, this ceremony of washing the hands over the sacrificed animal meant nothing if the elders had in fact not done what they could to avenge the murder; apart from that, this washing of the hands was just as much an empty gesture as Pilate’s washing of his hands at the trial of Jesus (Matthew 27:24).
3. (7-9) The prayer said by the elders as they washed their hands.
Then they shall answer and say, “Our hands have not shed this blood, nor have our eyes seen it. Provide atonement, O LORD, for Your people Israel, whom You have redeemed, and do not lay innocent blood to the charge of Your people Israel.” And atonement shall be provided on their behalf for the blood. So you shall put away the guilt of innocent blood from among you when you do what is right in the sight of the LORD.
a. Provide atonement, O LORD: Again, Numbers 35:33-34 makes the principle clear, that unavenged murders defile and pollute the land and atonement must be made for the land itself.
b. So you shall put away the guilt of innocent blood: When Israel followed God’s instructions for atonement, He honored His word by taking away their guilt. But the removal of guilt was always based on blood sacrifice, on a substitutionary atonement – looking forward to the work of Jesus on the cross for the entire world.
B. Laws relevant to family and home situations.
1. (10-14) Laws regarding the taking of a wife from conquered peoples.
When you go out to war against your enemies, and the LORD your God delivers them into your hand, and you take them captive, and you see among the captives a beautiful woman, and desire her and would take her for your wife, then you shall bring her home to your house, and she shall shave her head and trim her nails. She shall put off the clothes of her captivity, remain in your house, and mourn her father and her mother a full month; after that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife. And it shall be, if you have no delight in her, then you shall set her free, but you certainly shall not sell her for money; you shall not treat her brutally, because you have humbled her.
a. And you see among the captives a beautiful woman, and desire her: In the ancient world, it was not uncommon for a man to take a wife from among the captives, especially if she was a beautiful woman. Yet obviously, this was open to great abuse, so God give specific guidelines to govern this practice in Israel.
b. Shave her head and trim her nails: First, the captive woman had to be purified and humbled. This denoted a complete break with her past, and the willingness to start anew, humbly as a child.
c. Put off the clothes of her captivity, remain in your house: Second, the captive woman had to show a change of allegiance. This showed that the captive woman no longer regarded her former nation and her former family; now she was a citizen of Israel.
d. Mourn her father and mother a full month: Third, the captive woman had to mourn her past associations. This would be time when she could resolve issues in her heart regarding her family, and when her husband-to-be could live with her a month without intimate relations – so he could see if he really wanted to take this woman as a wife, and to make sure he was not making a decision based only of physical appearance or attractiveness.
e. You certainly shall not sell her for money; you shall not treat her brutally: After the month of mourning, the potential husband was free to marry the captive woman – yet, he did not have to. But if he decided not to, he had to set her free with dignity. This was a remarkable protection of the rights of a captive woman.
2. (15-17) The protection of inheritance rights.
If a man has two wives, one loved and the other unloved, and they have borne him children, both the loved and the unloved, and if the firstborn son is of her who is unloved, then it shall be, on the day he bequeaths his possessions to his sons, that he must not bestow firstborn status on the son of the loved wife in preference to the son of the unloved, the true firstborn. But he shall acknowledge the son of the unloved wife as the firstborn by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the beginning of his strength; the right of the firstborn is his.
a. If a man has two wives: Obviously, there are going to be problems in a home like this, especially if there is one loved and the other unloved. Yet, God commanded that the inheritance rights of the firstborn son be respected, even if he were the son of the unloved wife.
b. A double portion of all that he has: This was the right of the firstborn in ancient Israel; the firstborn son was to receive twice as much inheritance as any other son. For example, if there were three sons, the inheritance would be divided into four parts, with the firstborn receiving two parts, and the other three sons each receiving one part.
3. (18-21) The penalty for a rebellious son.
If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and who, when they have chastened him, will not heed them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city, to the gate of his city. And they shall say to the elders of his city, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.” Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death with stones; so you shall put away the evil from among you, and all Israel shall hear and fear.
a. A stubborn and rebellious son: This does not mean a small child, or even a young teen – but a son past the age of accountability, who sets himself in determined rebellion against his father and mother.
b. Who, when they have chastened him, will not heed them: The parents must have done a good job raising the son, calling him to obedience, and chastening him as appropriate before the LORD.
c. Bring him out to the elders of his city: Such a stubborn and rebellious son was to be put on trial before the elders of the city. If they determine him to be chronically rebellious, then the son was to be stoned to death.
i. It is important to note that the parents could not, by themselves, execute this penalty. They had to bring the son on trial before impartial judges. This is in contrast to ancient Greek and Roman law, which gave fathers the absolute right of life or death over their children. This was a control of parental authority more than it was an exercise of it.
ii. The parents had to take the boy to the elders of the community; not only because the decision of life or death should be taken out of their direct hands, but because the guilt of the stubborn and rebellious son was not only against his parents, but against the whole community. He sowed the seeds for cultural suicide in Israel.
d. And all Israel shall hear and fear: This law was clearly intended to protect the social order of ancient Israel. No society can endure when the young are allowed to make war against the old.
i. Perhaps just the presence of this law was deterrent enough; we never have a Scriptural example of a son being stoned to death because he was a stubborn and rebellious son.
ii. “Yet the Jews say this law was never put into practice, and therefore it might be made for terror and prevention, and to render the authority of parents more sacred and powerful.” (Poole)
iii. “Stoning was the punishment appointed for blasphemers and idolaters; which if it seem severe, it is to be considered that parents are in God’s stead, and entrusted in good measure with his authority over their children; and that families are the matter and foundation of the church and commonwealth, and they who are naughty members and rebellious children in them, do commonly prove the bane and plague of these, and therefore no wonder if they are nipped in the bud.” (Poole)
iv. “If such a law were in force now, and duly executed, how many deaths of disobedient and profligate children would there be in all corners of the land!” (Clarke)
4. (22-23) The curse upon one who hangs on a tree.
If a man has committed a sin deserving of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day, so that you do not defile the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance; for he who is hanged is accursed of God.
a. And you hang him on a tree: In the thinking of ancient Israel there was something worse than being put to death. Worse than that was to be put to death and to have your corpse left exposed to shame, humiliation, and scavenging animals and birds.
i. Hang him on a tree does not have the idea of being executed by strangulation; but of having the corpse mounted on a tree or other prominent place, to expose the executed one to disgrace and the elements.
b. His body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day: Therefore, if anyone was executed and deemed worthy of such disgrace (and you hang him on a tree), the humiliation to his memory and his family must not be excessive. This was a way of tempering even the most severe judgment with mercy.
i. “It is worthy of remark that in the infliction of punishment prescribed by the Mosaic law, we ever find that Mercy walks hand in hand with Judgment.” (Clarke)
c. For he who is hanged is accursed of God: The punishment of being hanged on a tree, and left to open exposure, was thought to be so severe, that it was reserved only for those for which is was to be declared: “this one is accursed of God.”
i. Paul expounds on Deuteronomy 21:23 in Galatians 3:13-14: Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. Jesus not only died in our place; but He also took the place as the accursed of God, being hung on a “tree” in open shame and degradation. He received this curse, which we deserved, and He did not, so that we could receive the blessing of Abraham, which He deserved, and we did not.
ii. We are redeemed from the curse of the law by the work of Jesus on the cross for us. We no longer have to fear that God wants to curse us; He wants to bless us, not because of who we are, or what we have done, but because of what Jesus Christ has done on our behalf.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
Deuteronomy 20 – Instructions Concerning Warfare
A. The spiritual and practical preparation of the army.
1. (1) The command to trust in God.
When you go out to battle against your enemies, and see horses and chariots and people more numerous than you, do not be afraid of them; for the LORD your God is with you, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.
a. When you go out to battle against your enemies, and see horses and chariots and people more numerous than you: Israel, a small nation surrounded by great empires, was rarely in a strategically superior position. In battle, they usually saw horses and chariots and people more numerous than you.
b. Do not be afraid of them: Despite the clear danger, they also had a clear command from God to not fear. Israel was commanded to not fear what any logical military man would fear: superior numbers, superior technology, and superior equipment.
c. For the LORD your God is with you: Yet, Israel was given a reason to not fear. God did not deny that the enemies of Israel would usually have more horses, chariots, and people than Israel. But God asked them to recognize a greater fact: That the LORD your God is with you.
i. As Paul said it in Romans 8:31: If God is for us, who can be against us? One with God makes an unbeatable majority.
d. Who brought you up from the land of Egypt: Israel was also given evidence for faith. God didn’t ask Israel to have a “blind” trust in Him. They could trust Him as they went into battle because He had proven Himself mighty and faithful before. He had a track record which could be trusted.
2. (2-4) The command to encourage people before battle.
So it shall be, when you are on the verge of battle, that the priest shall approach and speak to the people. And he shall say to them, “Hear, O Israel: Today you are on the verge of battle with your enemies. Do not let your heart faint, do not be afraid, and do not tremble or be terrified because of them; for the LORD your God is He who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.”
a. When you are on the verge of battle: At this critical time, it was the job of the priest to encourage the soldiers to trust in God. Though the priests were not normally to go into battle themselves (they were not numbered among the fighting men of Israel, Numbers 1:47-53), the priests still had an important job when Israel went to war – to spiritually teach and encourage the soldiers!
b. The LORD your God is He who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you: This was the reason for courage. When Israel was obedient, and trusting in God, they could never lose. But when they were disobedient, or not trusting, they could never win – even if they had superior forces.
3. (5-9) How to shrink an army and make it more effective.
Then the officers shall speak to the people, saying: “What man is there who has built a new house and has not dedicated it? Let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man dedicate it. Also what man is there who has planted a vineyard and has not eaten of it? Let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man eat of it. And what man is there who is betrothed to a woman and has not married her? Let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man marry her.” The officers shall speak further to the people, and say, “What man is there who is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go and return to his house, lest the heart of his brethren faint like his heart.” And so it shall be, when the officers have finished speaking to the people, that they shall make captains of the armies to lead the people.
a. What man is there who has built a new house and has not dedicated it: God first told the officers of the army of Israel to send home all the soldiers who had unfinished business at home: a home he has not used, a vineyard he has not harvested, or an engaged woman he has not married – let them go home.
b. What man is there who is fearful and fainthearted: Next, the officers of Israel were to send home all who were fearful and fainthearted. They might just make the others fearful also! In the spiritual army of God, He only wants willing, brave soldiers.
c. When the officers have finished speaking to the people: God was perfectly willing to use those who were left after the officers had excused all of those under the previous two conditions. Both of these exemptions – remarkable among any army – were a powerful testimony that Israel trusted in God for military victory, not in their own ability to raise a mighty, large army.
i. To God, the size of the army wasn’t important; the heart of the army was far more important. He didn’t want people who might be distracted from the real battle by worrying about the cares of everyday life (their home, their vineyard, their fiancée’); nor did He want people who were not really trusting Him. God could do more through a smaller army that was really committed to Him than through a bigger army that was full of compromise.
ii. The story of Gideon (Judges 7) is a powerful illustration of this; Gideon started with an army of 32,000, but it was too big – so he sent home those who were afraid, and 22,000 left! But it was still too big, so God had him send home 7,700 more, so he only had an army of 300 to fight against a Midianite army of 135,000! Yet God gave him the victory.
d. Make captains of the armies to lead the people: God commanded that His army have leadership. No matter how good the soldiers were, they needed to have good leadership.
B. Instructions for battle.
It is important to note that God gave instructions to Israel on how to conduct war. There are, in God’s way of doing things, rules for war. It cannot be conducted in any way conceivable or in any way that might bring victory. These principles are reflected in the ancient Christian teachings regarding just war.
1. (10-11) The offer of peace.
When you go near a city to fight against it, then proclaim an offer of peace to it. And it shall be that if they accept your offer of peace, and open to you, then all the people who are found in it shall be placed under tribute to you, and serve you.
a. When you go near a city to fight against it: The following verses describe the normal battle procedures for Israel. There were many times when God gave specific instructions which would supersede these normal instructions, such as with the battle of Jericho or the conquest of Canaan in general.
b. Proclaim an offer of peace: It was important that Israel did not fight unnecessarily. If the city would agree to terms of peace, then they should come to an agreement.
c. It shall be placed under tribute to you: The conquered city would be made a tribute city to Israel, subservient to the nation of Israel.
2. (12-15) Conquering a city through siege and battle.
Now if the city will not make peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it. And when the LORD your God delivers it into your hands, you shall strike every male in it with the edge of the sword. But the women, the little ones, the livestock, and all that is in the city, all its spoil, you shall plunder for yourself; and you shall eat the enemies’ plunder which the LORD your God gives you. Thus you shall do to all the cities which are very far from you, which are not of the cities of these nations.
a. You shall besiege it: Typically, a walled city was conquered by use of the siege. Enemy armies surrounded a city and cut off all their supplies and contact with the outside world. When the city was sufficiently weakened through hunger or thirst, they either surrendered or were conquered. Sometimes a siege would last for years.
i. There are a few horrific sieges described in the Scriptures, such as a siege of Samaria in 2 Kings 6:24-33.
b. You shall strike every male: It was simply understood in the ancient world that any surviving male would be a perpetual enemy of the people who had conquered his city. Prisoners of war were often not taken in ancient warfare; enemies were simply killed.
c. You shall plunder for yourself: Plunder provided the wages for the army in ancient warfare and underwrote the expenses for the battle.
3. (16-18) The command to utterly destroy the Canaanites.
But of the cities of these peoples which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance, you shall let nothing that breathes remain alive, but you shall utterly destroy them: the Hittite and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite, just as the LORD your God has commanded you, lest they teach you to do according to all their abominations which they have done for their gods, and you sin against the LORD your God.
a. You shall let nothing that breathes remain: The previous commands regarding warfare did not apply to the upcoming conquest of Canaan. There, not only was Israel not to offer peace to the cities, but they were also to destroy everything, not only the adult males. This was a unique war of judgment, more than a war of conquest or defense.
b. Lest they teach you to do according to their abominations which they have done for their gods: This explains why such a complete destruction was commanded. The culture of the Canaanites was so corrupt – socially, morally, and spiritually – that God considered it irredeemable, and ripe for judgment. In this unique war, the armies of Israel were to bring that judgment upon the Canaanites.
4. (19-20) The command to save trees for food during a siege.
When you besiege a city for a long time, while making war against it to take it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them; if you can eat of them, do not cut them down to use in the siege, for the tree of the field is man’s food. Only the trees which you know are not trees for food you may destroy and cut down, to build siegeworks against the city that makes war with you, until it is subdued.
a. When you besiege a city for a long time: When an army surrounded a city during a siege, the army would forage around the countryside for supplies. Needing wood for building and fuel, it would be common for the besieging army to cut down trees in the area around the city.
b. Only the trees which you know are not trees for food you may destroy and cut down: However, God commanded Israel against cutting down trees for food when they besieged a city. They had to take a long-term view (one good for the ecology) and see that their immediate need for wood was less important than the long-term good of the area.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
Deuteronomy 19 – Concerning Criminal Law
A. Cities of refuge to be provided.
1. (1-3) Three special cities.
When the LORD your God has cut off the nations whose land the LORD your God is giving you, and you dispossess them and dwell in their cities and in their houses, you shall separate three cities for yourself in the midst of your land which the LORD your God is giving you to possess. You shall prepare roads for yourself, and divide into three parts the territory of your land which the LORD your God is giving you to inherit, that any manslayer may flee there.
a. You shall separate three cities for yourself in the midst of the land: God instructed Israel to make three cities of refuge in the Promised Land, and instructed them to make them “centrally located” (in the midst of the land).
i. There are two other important passages dealing with the cities of refuge: Numbers 35:9-28 and Joshua 20:7-8; a full understanding of the purpose and practice of the cities of refuge must be based on all of these passages.
ii. Moses had already established Bezer, Ramoth, and Golan as the cities of refuge on the east side of the Jordan River (Deuteronomy 4:41-43); this command is to establish three more cities of refuge on the west side of the Jordan.
b. Prepare roads for yourself: The people of Israel were to make good roads to each city of refuge, so the cities would be accessible.
i. “The Jews inform us that the roads to the cities of refuge were made very broad, thirty-two cubits; and even, so that there should be no impediments in the way; and were constantly kept in good repair.” (Clarke)
2. (4-7) The purpose for the cities of refuge.
And this is the case of the manslayer who flees there, that he may live: Whoever kills his neighbor unintentionally, not having hated him in time past; as when a man goes to the woods with his neighbor to cut timber, and his hand swings a stroke with the ax to cut down the tree, and the head slips from the handle and strikes his neighbor so that he dies; he shall flee to one of these cities and live; lest the avenger of blood, while his anger is hot, pursue the manslayer and overtake him, because the way is long, and kill him, though he was not deserving of death, since he had not hated the victim in time past. Therefore I command you, saying, “You shall separate three cities for yourself.”
a. The case of the manslayer who flees there, that he may live: The cities of refuge were for the protection of the person who killed another accidentally or in self-defense. In ancient Israel, when one was killed, it was the responsibility of the avenger of blood to make certain the murder was punished.
i. This practice was based upon a correct understanding of Genesis 9:6: Whoever shed’s man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God, God made man.
b. Lest the avenger of blood: The avenger of blood was an appointed member of the family (the goel), designated to protect the honor and lives of the family. His interest would not be in gathering evidence, but in avenging the honor of the family – so, in the case of an accidental killing, the manslayer would need protection from the avenger of blood.
i. The case study given illustrates the point: Two men are working together, chopping down trees, when one man takes a swing of an ax and the ax head flies off, striking the other man in the head and instantly killing him. The surviving man had good reason to believe the avenger of blood from the dead man’s family would track him down and kill him, believing the death was murder.
ii. Therefore, such a man could flee to a city of refuge – an appointed Levitical city, where he could stay, safe from the avenger of blood, until the issue was settled, and he could leave the city of refuge safely.
3. (8-10) Appointment of additional cities of refuge.
Now if the LORD your God enlarges your territory, as He swore to your fathers, and gives you the land which He promised to give to your fathers, and if you keep all these commandments and do them, which I command you today, to love the LORD your God and to walk always in His ways, then you shall add three more cities for yourself besides these three, lest innocent blood be shed in the midst of your land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, and thus guilt of bloodshed be upon you.
a. Now if the LORD your God enlarges your territory: As Israel expanded, there were to be more cities of refuge. If a city of refuge was too far to be readily reached by the manslayer, it did him no good – the avenger of blood would overtake him before he could reach the city of refuge.
b. Then you shall add three more cities for yourself: Ultimately, there were to be six cities of refuge; with three on each side of the Jordan River. Each of the three cities on either side would be positioned as north, central, and south.
i. Joshua 20:7-8 tells of the actual cities chosen; they fulfilled the plan of being evenly distributed perfectly.
4. (11-13) What to do with the guilty who seeks protection in the city of refuge: your eye shall not pity him.
But if anyone hates his neighbor, lies in wait for him, rises against him and strikes him mortally, so that he dies, and he flees to one of these cities, then the elders of his city shall send and bring him from there, and deliver him over to the hand of the avenger of blood, that he may die. Your eye shall not pity him, but you shall put away the guilt of innocent blood from Israel, that it may go well with you.
a. But if anyone hates his neighbor, lies in wait for him, rises against him and strikes him mortally: We can easily imagine that those truly guilty of murder would, at some time or another, seek protection in the city of refuge. So, whenever a manslayer came to seek protection at a city of refuge, the elders of the city were to judge his case and determine if he was truly worthy of protection.
b. Deliver him over to the hand of the avenger of blood: If it was determined at this trial that the man was really guilty of murder, then he would be delivered to the hand of the avenger of blood, that he may die. There was no protection of the guilty within the walls of a city of refuge.
c. Put away the guilt of innocent blood from Israel, that it may go well with you: God was just as concerned that the guilty be punished as He was that the innocent be protected (lest innocent blood be shed in the midst of your land, Deuteronomy 19:10).
5. The cities of refuge as a picture of Jesus.
a. The Bible applies this picture of the city of refuge to the believer finding refuge in God on more than one occasion:
i. Psalm 46:1: God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. More than 15 other times, the Psalms speak of God as being our refuge.
ii. Hebrews 6:18: That by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.
b. Both Jesus and the cities of refuge are within easy reach of the needy person; they were of no use unless someone could get to the place of refuge.
c. Both Jesus and the cities of refuge are open to all, not just the Israelite; no one needs to fear that they would be turned away from their place of refuge in their time of need (Numbers 35:15).
d. Both Jesus and the cities of refuge became a place where the one in need would live; you didn’t come to a city of refuge in time of need just to look around (Numbers 35:25).
e. Both Jesus and the cities of refuge are the only alternative for the one in need; without this specific protection, they will be destroyed.
f. Both Jesus and the cities of refuge provide protection only within their boundaries; to go outside meant death (Numbers 35:26-28).
g. With both Jesus and the cities of refuge, full freedom comes with the death of the High Priest (Numbers 35:25).
h. A crucial distinction: The cities of refuge only helped the innocent; the guilty can come to Jesus and find refuge!
B. Other legal principles.
1. (14) The principle of the landmark.
You shall not remove your neighbor’s landmark, which the men of old have set, in your inheritance which you will inherit in the land that the LORD your God is giving you to possess.
a. You shall not remove your neighbor’s landmark: God here established and supported the basic right to private property. When your neighbor has a lawful landmark, you must respect it – and are forbidden to change it as you might please.
i. This command supports an important foundation for human society: The right to personal property. God has clearly entrusted certain possessions to certain individuals, and other people or states are not permitted to take that property without due process of law.
b. Which the men of old have set: This law also reflects an important spiritual principle: It isn’t wise to ignore what the men of old have set when doing the work of the LORD. Many a young man, or a new man, has greatly hindered his own work by being a revolutionary – and ignoring the “landmarks” which the men of old have set.
2. (15-20) The principle of true and false witness.
One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established. If a false witness rises against any man to testify against him of wrongdoing, then both men in the controversy shall stand before the LORD, before the priests and the judges who serve in those days. And the judges shall make careful inquiry, and indeed, if the witness is a false witness, who has testified falsely against his brother, then you shall do to him as he thought to have done to his brother; so you shall put away the evil from among you. And those who remain shall hear and fear, and hereafter they shall not again commit such evil among you.
a. One witness shall not rise: One witness was never enough to establish a fact in a Biblical court of law. One needed two or three witness to establish a matter.
i. This isn’t just because it is possible for one witness to lie without having his story corroborated. It is because one witness can be confused, or mistaken in his testimony. It is a basic measure of reliability that it must be more than a simple case of “my word against theirs.”
ii. Some have carried this principle to modern courts by saying that two independent lines of evidence can be valid “witnesses.” For example, if there were a murder which no one witnessed with their eyes, yet there was a murder weapon with clear fingerprints, and additional blood evidence each pointing to one suspect, this would be counted as two independents “witnesses.”
b. If a false witness rises against any man to testify: False witness was discovered by careful examination (the judges shall make diligent inquiry) and was punished by giving the false witness the same penalty which would have gone to the man he falsely accused (you shall do to him as he thought to have done to his brother).
i. At the trial of Jesus, many false witnesses rose up against him, and were demonstrated to be false witnesses by their confused and contradictory testimony (Matthew 26:59-60). The false witnesses, under Jewish law, should have been put to death, because that is the punishment they sought for Jesus.
c. And those who remain shall hear and fear: Many modern people doubt that the punishment of others is an effective deterrent to crime; but the Bible clearly says that it is. Weak or inconsistent punishment does not deter crime, but effective punishment does.
3. (21) Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.
Your eye shall not pity: life shall be for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
a. Your eye shall not pity: This was an important principle for the Biblical court of law; here, connected to the punishment described for false witness, it shows that whatever evil was planned or practiced against another, a similar punishment should be brought against the false witness.
b. Life shall be for life, eye for eye: However, retribution was always limited by the eye for eye principle. This law was meant to be a check to our desire to revenge, not a license for revenge.
i. Our tendency is to want to do more to the offending party than what they have done to us. But we cannot punish from a motive of revenge, only from a motive of justice.
ii. “Far from encouraging vengeance it limits vengeance and stands as a guide for a judge as he fixes a penalty suited to the crime. The principle was thus not license or vengeance, but a guarantee of justice.” (Thompson)
c. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth: In Matthew 5:38-39, Jesus quoted this passage in His teaching on the true interpretation of the law. He does not say that the eye for eye principle is wrong; rather, He simply condemns the use of it to make it an obligation to exact revenge against someone who has personally offended me.
i. Many Rabbis in Jesus’ day taught that the eye for eye law meant you were obligated to avenge yourself of a personal insult or attack brought against you. Jesus rightly disallowed the application of this law in our personal relationships; it was a law intended to guide the judges in the law courts of Israel, not to guide our personal relationships.
ii. “Jesus’ criticism of this law (Mt. 5:38f.) arose from its use to regulate conduct between individuals. He did not reject it as a principle of justice which should operate in the courts of the land. For private relationships He proposed the ideal of brotherhood, a strong principle throughout the book of Deuteronomy. To extend the lex talionis to this interpersonal domain was to destroy the law of God.” (Thompson)
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
Deuteronomy 18 – Priests and Prophets
A. The provision for priests and Levites.
1. (1-2) The inheritance of the Levites.
The priests, the Levites; all the tribe of Levi; shall have no part nor inheritance with Israel; they shall eat the offerings of the LORD made by fire, and His portion. Therefore they shall have no inheritance among their brethren; the LORD is their inheritance, as He said to them.
a. The priests, the Levites; all the tribe of Levi; shall have no part nor inheritance with Israel: The Levites – those of the tribe of Levi, who were the paid ministers for the nation of Israel – shall have no inheritance among their brethren. In other words, they were not to have allotted portions of land for their own possession.
b. They shall eat the offerings of the LORD made by fire, and His portion: Instead, the Levites were to be supported by the gifts and offerings of God’s people. The Levites were permitted to receive at least a portion of most animals sacrificed to the LORD, and thus were provided with meat for food.
2. (3-5) The specific portions of the sacrificial animal set apart to the Levites.
And this shall be the priest’s due from the people, from those who offer a sacrifice, whether it is bull or sheep: they shall give to the priest the shoulder, the cheeks, and the stomach. The firstfruits of your grain and your new wine and your oil, and the first of the fleece of your sheep, you shall give him. For the LORD your God has chosen him out of all your tribes to stand to minister in the name of the LORD, him and his sons forever.
a. And this shall be the priest’s due from the people, from those who offer a sacrifice: From a typical sacrifice, the priests received the shoulder, the cheeks, and the stomach. The rest of the animal would either be burnt before the LORD or returned to the one bringing the sacrifice, so he could enjoy his own fellowship meal with the LORD.
b. Your grain and your new wine and your oil and the first of the fleece of your sheep: The priests also received these offerings of firstfruits from the people.
3. (6-8) All the Levites had equal rights to the offerings.
So if a Levite comes from any of your gates, from where he dwells among all Israel, and comes with all the desire of his mind to the place which the LORD chooses, then he may serve in the name of the LORD his God as all his brethren the Levites do, who stand there before the LORD. They shall have equal portions to eat, besides what comes from the sale of his inheritance.
B. Prescriptions for prophets.
1. (9-11) The command to reject all the occult practices of the Canaanites.
When you come into the land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead.
a. You shall not learn: God knows that many people have a natural curiosity regarding the occult, and that curiosity often leads them to gain knowledge God commands them to leave alone.
b. Anyone who makes his son or his daughter to pass through the fire: This refers to the debased worship of the Canaanite god Molech, to whom children were sacrificed by burning.
c. Or one who practices witchcraft: The word witchcraft here seems to be a broad word, describing a variety of occult activities. Basically, anything that makes contact with the demonic or dark spiritual world.
i. Thompson on practices witchcraft: “A variety of devices were in use in various lands, but all were designed to discern the will of the gods. The same word in Ezekiel 21:21 refers to the practice of whirling arrows in a quiver and deciding the answer to the question by the first arrow thrown out.”
ii. There is a modern revival of witchcraft, or Wicca, and many people claim that “white” witchcraft (as opposed to “black” witchcraft) is a use of spiritual powers for good, as well as being a more feminist, ecology-friendly understanding of god and spirituality. But whether a witch claims to be “white” or “black,” they are still using occultic powers.
iii. Some claim that white, or “right hand path” witches are in the majority today. They worship elements and nature deities, the “Mother Goddess,” Gaia, Ashtarte, Isis, Osiris, and a host of other names for the Goddess. Characteristically they are active in “Saving the earth” activities, due to the fact that they are pantheists (those who believe the divine life force is in everything: ever see the bumper sticker picturing a globe bearing the legend “Love Your Mother”?). They deny the existence of Satan, calling him an invention of the Christian Church. They claim to use their powers (and they do have powers) for good: sending healing energies to the sick, affirmations which bring prosperity, and loudly proclaiming their creed, “As it harm none, do as thou wilt.” It’s ironic how their creed sounds so similar to that of a man who referred to himself as “The Beast, 666” – Satanist Aleister Crowley, who wrote, “Do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.”
iv. Of course, there are black, or “left hand path,” witches. These are witches who originally were into white witchcraft and got hungry for more power. As their teachers noticed this power lust, they were taken aside and told, “You are now ready to go after the higher power, and there is only one way to achieve this power. Satan is its source.” Thus, comes the white witch’s abrupt surprise: either give up your witchly ambitions, or go for the higher power. The bottom line is that the power behind all kinds of witchcraft is Satan. He is the author of all deception, and all rebellion. To practice or approve of witchcraft is to serve Satan.
v. And this Satanic power kills. Ronald Baker was a 21-year-old student at UCLA, and was found stabbed to death at the mouth of a railroad tunnel in the rocky hills above Chatsworth Park. Police first thought the mangled body was of a transient hit by a train; but they then found an occult connection in Baker’s death. The killing took place on the night of the summer solstice, and the tunnel near the park is known to police as a gathering place for devotees of the occult. Baker was involved with Wicca (described as “benevolent witchcraft”), often wore a pentagram pendant, and belonged to a UCLA metaphysical group known as Mystic Circle (from a July 1990 news article).
vi. Some who call themselves Christians are buying into this deception. Take the case of a woman who calls herself Starhawk, who is a practitioner of Wicca – a witch. She first learned about Wicca at an anthropology course at UCLA when she was 17, and she took the name Starhawk in 1975 when it came to her in a dream. After a master’s degree in psychology, she began teaching at universities. She is a licensed minister of the Covenant of the Goddess and performs marriages and other ceremonies. She views the earth as a sensitive, living organism which she calls “the Goddess.” Mary Elizabeth Moore of the Claremont School of Theology said of Starhawk: “Many Christians, especially women and others who are trying to reclaim creation-centered theology, find her work to be compatible with, or at least adaptable to, Christian teaching.” Starhawk was scheduled to speak at the First Christian Church in Santa Monica on a Friday evening (from a June, 1993 news article).
d. Or a soothsayer: This has reference to astrological-type divination, predicting the future or seeking guidance through the stars, planets, clouds, or weather.
i. Kalland says that the soothsayer: “Is… predicting the future by means of physical signs (astrology).” Thompson points out “it seems to refer to divination by reading clouds, or from a root which occurs in Arabic meaning ‘to make unusual noises’, ‘croon’, ‘hum’, in which case it may refer to some kind of incantation.”
ii. Even though Astrology is unscientific – it is based on the supposition that the sun circles the earth, and the positions of the planets and stars have shifted, and are never consistently uniform; therefore, the houses of the Zodiac have shifted – despite all that, thirty-two million Americans believe in Astrology! There are 10,000 full time and 200,000 part time astrologers in America. Three out of four American newspapers carry a horoscope column.
iii. So where does the real “power” of astrology come from? From what most astrologers call “intuition” – but is really psychic knowledge and ability. Astrology is idolatry and stems from the demonic. It leads people away from trusting in God and encourages them to put trust in what God created. And isn’t that Satan’s goal: To replace confidence in God with a dependence on anything else?
iv. Therefore, the Bible clearly forbids us to participate in astrology, which includes reading your horoscope, studying your sign, and computing a natal chart. It is an occult art, meaning that it involves “knowledge of hidden things”, seeking spiritual knowledge apart from God’s revelation. It is a foundational art, which means it is the building block for all occultists. It is studied by witches and magicians alike. Every Christian should renounce any involvement they have ever had with astrology!
e. Or one who interprets omens: The word comes from the root “to hiss” or “to whisper” and refers to psychics and fortune-tellers who use “aids” other than naturally created things to gain knowledge, tell the future, and cast spells.
i. Today, these people are the tarot card readers, crystal ball seers, tea-leaf readers, palm readers, Ouija board users, and the like. A Christian has no business participating or approving of any of these practices, because either they are money-grubbing frauds (at best!), or worse, they gain their knowledge from satanic, demonic, spiritual sources.
ii. This is why it is dangerous for people – especially kids – to break out the Ouija board, or do a little séance, or little “dark” magic tricks. They are tapping into a source of spiritual power that is real – yet evil, and unspeakably dangerous. Many, many people have been ruined on the rocks of “innocent” occult or fortune telling games, and the fact that there is a real power behind those things should make us all the more concerned.
iii. There is a demand for this kind of thing; why else would a homeless man in New York be arrested for stealing skulls from a Brooklyn cemetery and selling them for use in occult ceremonies? A skull can bring as much as $4,000 (from an August, 1991 news article).
iv. It is worth noting that Satan or his demons cannot absolutely know the future; but they can reasonably predict the future based on their superior knowledge of people and circumstances or predict events that they can have a hand in shaping through their own demonic influence.
f. Or a sorcerer: This has reference to those who use drugs or potions to cast spells, gain spiritual knowledge, or enter into altered states of consciousness. Modern drug abuse easily falls into this category, and the use of drugs has a definite occult connection that the drug taker may not want but is exposed to nonetheless.
i. Clarke says of sorcerer: “Those who by means of drugs, herbs, perfumes, and so forth, pretended to bring certain celestial influences to their aid.” Thompson adds, “derived from the root… ‘to cut up’, may denote one who cuts up herbs and brews them for magical purposes (cf. LXX pharmaka, drug). The term is used in Micah 5:12 for some such material as drugs or herbs used superstitiously to produce magical effects.”
g. Or one who conjures up spells: This is literally, “A charmer of charms” and refers to those who cast spells or charms for good or evil upon others with spiritual powers apart from God.
i. It is a glorious thing to bless another in the name of the LORD; or even to pray to God against the evil of another person. But it is always and forever wrong to use demonic, dark, pagan, or occult powers to cast spells or charms.
h. Or a medium: The idea is of someone who “stands between” the physical world and the psychic world; they channel knowledge from the psychic world into the physical world.
i. Thompson notes that the medium: “Spoke from within a person (Leviticus 20:27) with a twittering voice (Isaiah 29:4). Those who practiced this art called up the departed from the realm of the dead, or rather, professed to do so.”
ii. Those who practice such powers are really among us. In May of 1990, after a man died in the City of Industry, his corpse remained at the home of a spirit medium that had convinced his family that he could revive the man. Friday, LA County coroner’s investigators picked up the decomposing body at the home of the family. The unidentified medium apparently gave the corpse back after being unable to revive the deceased.
i. Or a spiritist: Literally, this word refers to the “knowing ones” – those who claim unique occult or psychic knowledge and powers – such as those on the many psychic hotlines that one can pay to call. Again, a Christian has no business participating or approving of any of these practices, because either they are money-grubbing frauds (at best!), or worse, they gain their knowledge from satanic, demonic, spiritual sources.
j. Or one who calls up the dead: This refers to the practice of necromancy, which is the conjuring up or the contacting of the dead.
i. This refers to “One who investigates, looks into, and seeks information from the dead.” (Kalland) This is much on the increase in our culture; “The proportion of adults who say they have been in touch with the dead has risen from 27% to 42% during the past 11 years. Close to 20 million Americans now report mystical experiences.” (McDowell, 1989)
2. (12-14) Why rejection of all these occult actions is commanded.
For all who do these things are an abomination to the LORD, and because of these abominations the LORD your God drives them out from before you. You shall be blameless before the LORD your God. For these nations which you will dispossess listened to soothsayers and diviners; but as for you, the LORD your God has not appointed such for you.
a. For all who do these things are an abomination to the LORD: God did not take these occult actions lightly then, nor does He now. It is consorting with the power of darkness, and always to be rejected by Christians.
i. Our culture is becoming more and more accepting of these occult themes and practices, while it is becoming more and more intolerant of Biblical Christianity. In 1991, a ninth grade Junior High Student in Dickson, Tennessee, sued the school board because his teacher wouldn’t accept a research paper written on the life of Jesus. Students were allowed to write on topics such as the occult, reincarnation and spiritualism, and the teacher originally only said that the topics must be “decent.” The student was given a zero on her paper when the topic was declared unacceptable (from an August, 1991 news report).
ii. “It may be pertinent to comment that in our own day, when spiritualism, astrology, teacup reading and the like are widely practiced, these injunctions given to ancient Israel have a particular relevance. Not only is it impossible to discover the future by such practices, but the practices themselves are forbidden by God to men who call themselves members of the covenant family.” (Thompson)
b. Because of these abominations the LORD your God drives them out from before you: God’s judgment was upon the Canaanites because of these occult practices, and if Israel took up the same occult practices, they could also expect the judgment of God.
i. Yes, the Canaanites were sex-worshippers (in their service of the goddess Ashtaroth); and yes, they were money and success worshippers (in their service of the god Baal). But other peoples given over to sex and greed haven’t been judged as severely. What made the Canaanites particularly ripe for judgment was their occult practices, practices the people of God were strictly forbidden to imitate.
c. You shall be blameless: more than being a general call to a holy walk, this is a solemn warning to keep from any involvement with these detestable practices of the occult. The LORD your God has not appointed such for you!
i. We are to be blameless in regard to such things, even as the Ephesian Christians, who destroyed all things that marked the occult in their lives (Acts 19:19-20). This is why it is dangerous for people to seek or approve of the occult, even if they don’t really believe it – even if they just kind of think it is “cool.”
ii. For example, rock singer Ozzy Osbourne says that his satanic image is all an act. “We wrote a couple of songs about black magic, so what? I hammed it up, but I’m not the devil. I don’t put curses on people.” But in the same interview, Osbourne refers to “the him,” who is a “malevolent voice in his head that transmits destructive and self-loathing messages.” Osbourne said of this voice inside him, “He’s there all the time… I’ve always had a haunted head.” “Innocent” involvement with the occult didn’t protect him. Satan doesn’t really care if you are a true believer in him or not; just as long as he has you.
3. (15-19) The promise of a true Prophet to come.
The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear, according to all you desired of the LORD your God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, “Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, nor let me see this great fire anymore, lest I die.” And the LORD said to me: “What they have spoken is good. I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him.”
a. The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me: Moses, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, promised a prophet to come; a prophet that would first be like me – that is, like Moses.
b. From your midst, from your brethren: Like Moses, this Prophet would be from the midst of Israel. This not only meant that He would be an Israelite, but that He would be a “man of the people” – He would be one of them.
c. Him you shall hear: Like Moses, this Prophet would command the attention of the nation. This means both that Israel should listen to this Prophet, and that they would listen to this Prophet.
d. According to all you desired of the LORD your God in Horeb: Like Moses, this Prophet would be a mediator, representing God to the people, and representing the people before God.
e. Will put My words in His mouth: Like Moses, this Prophet would speak God’s Word.
f. I will require it of him: Like Moses, this Prophet’s message would only be rejected at a great penalty.
g. I will raise up for them a Prophet: People looked for this Prophet in Jesus’ day (John 6:14, 7:40) and some thought that John the Baptist might be this Prophet (John 1:19-21). But the New Testament plainly tells us that Jesus is this Prophet (Acts 3:19-26, Acts 7:37).
4. (20-22) The penalty for a false prophet.
“But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.” And if you say in your heart, “How shall we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?”; when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.
a. But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name: There are those who would presume to speak a wordin God’s name. Therefore we must always, always, guard against presumption when we say, “The LORD told me.”
i. “The difference was that, whereas the true prophet spoke for God, the false prophet spoke presumptuously, i.e. he blurted out personal opinions for which there was no backing from Yahweh.” (Thompson)
b. Which I have not commanded him to speak: Some may genuinely hear from the LORD, but it is not a word that He has commanded him to speak. Just because God tells us something doesn’t mean we should tell others.
c. Or speaks in the name of other gods: Obviously, those who presumed to “prophecy” in the name of Baal or Ashtoreth, or any number of the other false gods of the Canaanites were false prophets.
d. That prophet shall die: Simply stated, the penalty for false prophets was death. Presumptuous speaking in the name of the LORD, disobedient speaking in the name of the LORD, and speaking in the name of false gods was simply never to be tolerated in Israel.
e. How shall we know: It is easy to tell if a prophet speaks in the name of Baal or Ashtoreth; but how can one know if a prophet speaking in the name of the LORD is speaking presumptuously or disobediently? Simply by their accuracy.
f. If the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken: If a prophet says, “Thus says the LORD,” claiming that something will happen, and it does not happen, then that prophet must be held accountable for that false prophecy – and we are no longer to regard that person as a prophet.
i. Not too long ago there was a great emphasis on the “prophets” in some Christian circles, and many would prophesy that something would happen – and it did not. However, those people excused their false prophesies by saying they were “learning” and “experimenting” and “under grace,” therefore, we should not regard them as false prophets.
ii. While it is true that one may need to learn how to flow in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, no one should say something is from God unless they are assured that it is – and if they are wrong, then their own discernment and ability to hear from God are rightly called into question.
iii. Besides, if prophets were held to this standard under the Old Covenant, are we to have a lesser standard under the New Covenant? Is there more of an outpouring of the Holy Spirit now, or less? Under the New Covenant, are we more intimately guided by God, or less? It is true we are under grace, so we no longer stone false prophets – yet, we shouldn’t respect them or give them the title or position of “prophet” if they are false prophets.
iv. Instead, the New Testament says all prophecy – any time someone says, “The LORD told me” – all prophecy should be judged: Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge (1 Corinthians 14:29; see also 1 John 4:1). It is far better to be humble and say, “I think the LORD may have said to me” instead of being too confident in one’s ability to hear from the LORD.
v. Tom Stipe, in the foreword to Counterfeit Revival, speaks powerfully about the problem of false prophets in the church:
After only a couple of years, the prophets seemed to be speaking to just about everyone on just about everything. Hundreds of… members received the ‘gift’ of prophecy and began plying their trade among both leaders and parishioners. People began carrying around little notebooks filled with predictions that had been delivered to them by the prophets and seers. They flocked to the prophecy conferences that had begun to spring up everywhere. The notebook crowd would rush forward in hopes of being selected to receive more prophecies to add to their prophetic diaries.
Not long after ‘prophecy du jour’ became the primary source of direction, a trail of devastated believers began to line up outside our pastoral counseling offices. Young people promised teen success and stardom through prophecy were left picking up the pieces of their shattered hopes because God had apparently gone back on His promises. Leaders were deluged by angry church members who had received prophecies about the great ministries they would have but had been frustrated by local church leaders who failed to recognize and ‘facilitate’ their ‘new anointing.’
After a steady diet of the prophetic, some people were rapidly becoming biblically illiterate, choosing a ‘dial-a-prophet’ style of Christian living rather than studying God’s Word. Many were left to continually live from one prophetic ‘fix’ to the next, their hope always in danger of failing because God’s voice was so specific in pronouncement, yet so elusive in fulfillment. Possessing a prophet’s phone number was like having a storehouse of treasured guidance. Little clutched notebooks replaced Bibles as the preferred reading material during church services.
vi. We must always guard against letting an emphasis on the “prophetic” overshadow a simple emphasis on God’s Word: The prophet who has a dream, let him tell a dream; And he who has My word, let him speak My word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat?” says the LORD. (Jeremiah 23:28)
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
Deuteronomy 16 – The Three Major Feasts
A. The observance of Passover.
1. (1-2) The sacrifice of the Passover.
Observe the month of Abib, and keep the Passover to the LORD your God, for in the month of Abib the LORD your God brought you out of Egypt by night. Therefore you shall sacrifice the Passover to the LORD your God, from the flock and the herd, in the place where the LORD chooses to put His name.
a. You shall sacrifice the Passover to the LORD… in the place where the LORD chooses to put His name: At the first Passover, each family in Israel sacrificed the Passover lamb at their home. But when Israel came into the Promised Land, the sacrifice was to be made at the tabernacle (and later, the temple).
b. For in the month of Abib the LORD your God brought you out of Egypt by night: Exodus 12 describes the first Passover, when Israel was delivered from Egypt, and God sent His judgment upon the firstborn of Egypt. God passed over the homes which obediently sacrificed the Passover lamb and applied its blood to the door posts of the home.
c. Keep the Passover to the LORD: Prophetically, the feast of Passover clearly presents Jesus as our Passover (1 Corinthians 5:7), the Lamb of God who was sacrificed, and whose blood was received and applied, so the wrath of God would pass over us.
2. (3-4) The Feast of Unleavened Bread, associated with Passover.
You shall eat no leavened bread with it; seven days you shall eat unleavened bread with it, that is, the bread of affliction (for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste), that you may remember the day in which you came out of the land of Egypt all the days of your life. And no leaven shall be seen among you in all your territory for seven days, nor shall any of the meat which you sacrifice the first day at twilight remain overnight until morning.
a. For you came out of the land of Egypt in haste: For the first Passover, the unleavened bread was a practical necessity; they left Egypt in such a hurry there was no time to allow for the dough to rise.
b. And no leaven shall be seen among you in all your territory for seven days: But the Feast of Unleavened Bread, following Passover, continued to be important. Leaven was a picture of sin and corruption, because of the way a little leaven would influence a whole lump of dough, and also because of the way leaven would “puff up” the lump – even as pride and sin makes us “puffed up.”
i. Significantly, God called them to walk unleavened after their initial deliverance from Egypt; symbolically, they were being called to a pure walk with the LORD.
ii. Some suggest there was also a health aspect in getting rid of all the leaven; that since they used a piece of dough from the previous batch to make the bread for that day, and did so repeatedly, that harmful bacteria could take hold in the dough – so it was good to remove all leaven and start all over at least once a year.
iii. The purity of the feast of Unleavened Bread followed upon the blood-deliverance of Passover; we can only walk in purity before the LORD after we have had the blood-deliverance at the cross.
c. You shall eat no leavened bread with it: Prophetically, the feast of Unleavened Bread relates to the time of Jesus’ burial, after His perfect, sinless sacrifice on the cross, during which He was received by God the Father as holy and complete (the Holy One who would not see corruption, Acts 2:27), perfectly accomplishing our salvation.
i. We may regard the burial (or actually, entombment) of Jesus as a small thing in God’s redemptive plan; but it was an essential part of Paul’s gospel: For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
3. (5-8) Regulations for Passover.
You may not sacrifice the Passover within any of your gates which the LORD your God gives you; but at the place where the LORD your God chooses to make His name abide, there you shall sacrifice the Passover at twilight, at the going down of the sun, at the time you came out of Egypt. And you shall roast and eat it in the place which the LORD your God chooses, and in the morning you shall turn and go to your tents. Six days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a sacred assembly to the LORD your God. You shall do no work on it.
B. The observance of the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost).
1. (9-10) The Feast of Weeks.
You shall count seven weeks for yourself; begin to count the seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the grain. Then you shall keep the Feast of Weeks to the LORD your God with the tribute of a freewill offering from your hand, which you shall give as the LORD your God blesses you.
a. From the time you begin to put the sickle to the grain: The Feast of Weeks (or Pentecost) was a feast associated with the joy of harvest, during which Israelites brought a freewill offering unto the LORD, as a demonstration of the thanks in their heart.
2. (11-12) The joy of Pentecost.
You shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite who is within your gates, the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are among you, at the place where the LORD your God chooses to make His name abide. And you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and you shall be careful to observe these statutes.
a. You shall rejoice: There was no ritual of sacrifice commanded at Pentecost. Instead, it was a time of joyful thanksgiving for the harvest, and heart-response to God.
b. You shall remember: The joy of Pentecost was intensified by remembering the bondage Israel had escaped.
c. And you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and you shall be careful to observe these statutes: Leviticus 23:15-21 describes how, at the feast of Pentecost, Israel was to celebrate by bringing a new grain offering to the LORD and by waving two loaves of leavened bread unto the LORD. Prophetically, this is a powerful picture of the work of God in the New Covenant, fulfilled at the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2.
i. No atoning sacrifice was necessary because the price had already been paid by Jesus.
ii. There was a great harvest unto God, and great thanksgiving for that harvest.
iii. The response to God on the day of Pentecost was not done out of obligation to a particular law. It was the joyful heart-response of God’s people unto Him.
iv. The church, founded on the day of Pentecost, would include the “leavened bread” of the Gentiles, waved as holy before God – made holy by the work of Jesus the Messiah.
C. The observance of the Feast of Tabernacles.
1. (13-15) How to observe the Feast of Tabernacles.
You shall observe the Feast of Tabernacles seven days, when you have gathered from your threshing floor and from your winepress. And you shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant and the Levite, the stranger and the fatherless and the widow, who are within your gates. Seven days you shall keep a sacred feast to the LORD your God in the place which the LORD chooses, because the LORD your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you surely rejoice.
a. You shall observe the Feast of Tabernacles seven days: This was to happen on the fifteenth day of the Jewish month Tishri (on the Jewish ceremonial calendar). The Feast of Tabernacles was a time to rejoice in God’s deliverance and provision for Israel during the time of wilderness wandering; a time when having come into the Promised Land, looking back with gratitude on all God had done to deliver and provide in the tough times of the wilderness.
i. Leviticus 23:39 says of the Feast of Tabernacles, on the first day there shall be a sabbath-rest, and on the eighth day a sabbath rest.The Feast of Tabernacles began and ended in rest; it was all about celebration and rest and refreshment, remembering what God had done.
b. Your manservant and your maidservant: We see here also the great social good God intended in the Sabbath and in the Feasts; in other ancient cultures, there was no day off, and there were no holidays. Here, God commands both holidays and “vacation days” – all centered on Him!
c. Observe the Feast of Tabernacles: Prophetically, the feast of Tabernacles speaks of the millennial rest of comfort of God for Israel and all of God’s people; it is all about peace and rest, from beginning to end.
i. Tabernacles is specifically said to be celebrated during the millennium (Zechariah 14:16-19).
2. (16-17) The command to observe each of these three feasts.
Three times a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God in the place which He chooses: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Tabernacles; and they shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed. Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD your God which He has given you.
a. Three times a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God in the place which He chooses: These were only three (four, actually, counting the feast of unleavened bread as a separate feast) of the seven feasts of Israel. Not mentioned in this chapter are the feasts of trumpets, of firstfruits, and of the Day of Atonement.
b. All your males: Yet, the feasts mentioned in this chapter were the most important feasts in Israel – and every Jewish man, to the best of His ability, was to go to the place of the tabernacle (or later, the temple) and celebrate this feast with the whole nation of Israel.
i. Jesus was obedient to this command; He made the trip from Galilee to Jerusalem to be at these feasts (Luke 2:41, John 7:2, 10).
3. (18-20) The appointment of judges and officers.
You shall appoint judges and officers in all your gates, which the LORD your God gives you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with just judgment. You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show partiality, nor take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous. You shall follow what is altogether just, that you may live and inherit the land which the LORD your God is giving you.
a. You shall appoint judges and officers in all your gates: God knew the importance of just judges and officials to a nation. Therefore, God commanded that they shall not pervert justice… nor show partiality… nor take a bribe; instead, they were to follow what is altogether just. A judge has the responsibility to do justice.
4. (21-22) Prohibition of idol trees and pillars.
You shall not plant for yourself any tree, as a wooden image, near the altar which you build for yourself to the LORD your God. You shall not set up a sacred pillar, which the LORD your God hates.
a. You shall not plant for yourself any tree, as a wooden image, near the altar: Such sacred totems were common among the Canaanites. Israel might have been tempted to be “seeker sensitive” and add such items to their worship of the God of Israel. He wanted none of it. God says of such thing, which the LORD your God hates.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
Deuteronomy 15 – Laws Regarding the Poor
A. Laws regarding the poor.
1. (1-6) Release of debts every seventh year.
At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release of debts. And this is the form of the release: Every creditor who has lent anything to his neighbor shall release it; he shall not require it of his neighbor or his brother, because it is called the LORD’s release. Of a foreigner you may require it; but you shall give up your claim to what is owed by your brother, except when there may be no poor among you; for the LORD will greatly bless you in the land which the LORD your God is giving you to possess as an inheritance; only if you carefully obey the voice of the LORD your God, to observe with care all these commandments which I command you today. For the LORD your God will bless you just as He promised you; you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow; you shall reign over many nations, but they shall not reign over you.
a. You shall grant a release of debts: In Israel, money was always loaned with the understanding that every seventh year, debts would be canceled. So there was no long-term debt in this sense – money could never be borrowed, or owed, for more than six years.
b. It is the LORD’s release: This was an important matter to God; the release was said to be the LORD’s release. As Israel obeyed this command, there would never be a permanent under-class in Israel. Some might go through a bad period but would have the opportunity to rebuild their lives financially on a regular basis.
c. When there may be no poor among you: God established an economic system wherein no one had to be chronically poor. If people would obey the LORD, He would bless (both sovereignly and as the natural result of the obedience), and they would not be poor.
i. However, Deuteronomy 15:11 – just a few verses down – states: For the poor will never cease from the land. Is God contradicting Himself? Not at all. He knows that He has established a system where no one must be chronically poor, yet He knew that because of disobedience, some would, and there would always be the poor in Israel.
ii. So, God did not guarantee prosperity for any one in Israel; but He did guarantee opportunity for prosperity for an obedient Israel.
d. You shall lend to many nations: If Israel obeyed and the individual citizens of Israel enjoyed the blessing of God’s prosperity, then they would as a nation be prosperous, and blessed above other nations.
2. (7-11) The command to be generous to the poor.
If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs. Beware lest there be a wicked thought in your heart, saying, “The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand,” and your eye be evil against your poor brother and you give him nothing, and he cry out to the LORD against you, and it become sin among you. You shall surely give to him, and your heart should not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the LORD your God will bless you in all your works and in all to which you put your hand. For the poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying, “You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land.”
a. You shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother: The law of release in the seventh year was never to be used to discourage giving to those in need. The law might discourage lending to the poor, therefore God wanted Israel to be generous givers to those in need.
b. Of your brethren: This reminds us of Galatians 6:10 – Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith. Our charitable giving is to begin with those brothers and sisters closest to us, though it certainly can extend outward from there.
3. (12-15) The command to release slaves every seventh year.
If your brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you and serves you six years, then in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. And when you send him away free from you, you shall not let him go away empty-handed; you shall supply him liberally from your flock, from your threshing floor, and from your winepress. From what the LORD has blessed you with, you shall give to him. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this thing today.
a. In the seventh year you shall let him go free from you: Even as debts were to be canceled every seventh year, so were slaves to be freed. The slaves thought of here are those who have had to sell themselves into slavery because of their debt. This made certain that a “bankruptcy” did not harm an Israelite all their life. The worst that could happen is they would have to serve someone without pay for six years.
b. You shall not let him go away empty-handed: God commanded generosity to the departing slave, giving him something to start his new life with. This would give the slave about to be freed hope and greater incentive to please his master.
4. (16-18) The law of the bond-slave.
And if it happens that he says to you, “I will not go away from you,” because he loves you and your house, since he prospers with you, then you shall take an awl and thrust it through his ear to the door, and he shall be your servant forever. Also to your female servant you shall do likewise. It shall not seem hard to you when you send him away free from you; for he has been worth a double hired servant in serving you six years. Then the LORD your God will bless you in all that you do.
a. If it happens that he says to you, “I will not go away from you”: If a slave loved his master, and wanted to continue to serve him, he was not required to leave his master at the seventh year.
b. Because he loves you… you shall take an awl and thrust it through his ear to the door: The willing slave could stay, and his status was declared by piercing through his ear lobe with an awl at the door of his master’s home. In this, he declared his love and devotion to his master – a willing slave, who was free to choose and yet chose his master.
i. Jesus is the great fulfillment of this willing slave. Jesus said prophetically in Psalm 40:6: My ears You have opened, it speaks of this “opening” of the ear in the bond-slave ceremony. He was the willing bond-slave of God the Father.
ii. Isaiah 50:5-7 shows that Jesus’ character as the willing slave was most perfectly shown in His sufferings at the cross: The Lord GOD has opened My ear; and I was not rebellious, nor did I turn away. I gave My back to those who struck Me, and My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard; I did not hide My face from shame and spitting. For the Lord GOD will help Me; therefore I will not be disgraced; Therefore I have set My face like a flint, and I know that I will not be ashamed.
iii. The Christian is also to be a willing slave of God. The common New Testament word doulos describes this kind of slave. Hiebert says of doulos, “a slave, a bondservant, one who is in a permanent relation of servitude to another… Among the Greeks, with their strong sense of personal freedom, the term carried a degrading connotation.”
c. He shall be your servant forever: Once agreeing to be a bond slave, that one was committed to their master forever. It was a permanent relationship.
i. Pagans had a custom of branding the slave with the name or the sign of the owner; Paul refers to himself as just such a slave in Galatians 6:17: From now on, let no one trouble me, for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. Paul was a slave for life to Jesus.
B. The law of the firstborn.
1. (19) The principle of the firstborn.
All the firstborn males that come from your herd and your flock you shall sanctify to the LORD your God; you shall do no work with the firstborn of your herd, nor shear the firstborn of your flock.
a. Sanctify to the LORD: This means to “set apart to the LORD”; the firstborn was to be set apart to God. The firstborn animal was not to be used as regular domesticated animal – you shall do no work with the firstborn of your herd, not shear the firstborn of your flock.
b. All the firstborn males: This was for three reasons. First, because Israel was God’s firstborn (Exodus 4:22), and this honored that fact. Second, because the firstborn was thought to be the best, and the best was always given to God. Finally, it was to be a reminder to all generations of when God redeemed Israel, His firstborn.
2. (20-23) What to do with the giving of the firstborn.
You and your household shall eat it before the LORD your God year by year in the place which the LORD chooses. But if there is a defect in it, if it is lame or blind or has any serious defect, you shall not sacrifice it to the LORD your God. You may eat it within your gates; the unclean and the clean person alike may eat it, as if it were a gazelle or a deer. Only you shall not eat its blood; you shall pour it on the ground like water.
a. You and your household shall eat it before the LORD your God: When the firstborn animal was brought to the tabernacle (or later, the temple) and given to the priests for sacrifice unto the LORD, a portion of the sacrifice went to the family that brought the animal. It was given so that they could eat a joyful ceremonial meal before the LORD.
b. If there is any defect in it: If this was the case, the animal was given to the priests, but not sacrificed unto the LORD – or, it was redeemed for money and the money given unto the LORD.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
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