Thursday, January 27, 2011
Changing the Society of Humanity
"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." -Deuteronomy 21:17
In these two chapters we see the beginnings of a transformation from a pagan social structure to one that is beginning to be influenced by God's Kingdom. There is much in this section that seems foreign. The military practices in ancient times had no influence from moral boundaries that have been put in place by the influence of a Christian value system. Things such as treatment of civilians, torture, and treatment of captives of an opposing military force have changed since these ancient times among many nations. Our current standards of how to treat military enemies is radically different from ancient times (20:13-17). The treatment of women and the concept of slavery in ancient times have also been transformed by the teachings of Christ and the New Testament values as referred to in the study notes on Deuteronomy 21:11-14. The abolition of slavery and equal rights for women were both the end result of the growing influence of the teachings of Christ.
For us today it's hard to imagine living in a social structure like the one referred to in the Old Testament. But as far as we've come in modern society, we still have a long way to go. The progressive influence of the teachings of Christ is a beacon of light in a world of darkness. Christ's commandment that we be lights in this world is still paramount. Living in this fallen world, we will have war, poverty, injustice, and crime until Christ's return. How followers of Christ respond to these issues is one of the vital ways we reveal the superior wisdom and design for life found in Christ. Let us be light and let us be salt.
NKJV Bible Text
Principles Governing Warfare
1 "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. 2 So it shall be, when you are on the verge of battle, that the priest shall approach and speak to the people. 3 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; 4 for the LORD your God is He who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.'
5 "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. 6 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. 7 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.'
8 "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.' 9 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.
10 "When you go near a city to fight against it, then proclaim an offer of peace to it. 11 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. 12 Now if the city will not make peace with you, but war against you, then you shall besiege it. 13 And when the LORD your God delivers it into your hands, you shall strike every male in it with the edge of the sword. 14 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. 15 Thus you shall do to all the cities which are very far from you, which are not of the cities of these nations.
16 "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, 17 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, 18 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.
19 "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. 20 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.
The Law Concerning Unsolved Murder
1 "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, 2 then your elders and your judges shall go out and measure the distance from the slain man to the surrounding cities. 3 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. 4 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. 5 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. 6 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. 7 Then they shall answer and say, ‘Our hands have not shed this blood, nor have our eyes seen it. 8 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. 9 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.
10 "When you go out to war against your enemies, and the LORD your God delivers them into your hand, and you take them captive, 11 and you see among the captives a beautiful woman, and desire her and would take her for your wife, 12 then you shall bring her home to your house, and she shall shave her head and trim her nails. 13 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. 14 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.
Firstborn Inheritance Rights
15 "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, 16 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. 17 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.
The Rebellious Son
18 "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, 19 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. 20 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.' 21 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.
22 "If a man has committed a sin deserving of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, 23 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.
Principles Governing Warfare
v. 1 battle against your enemies – In this chapter, rules are issued with the purpose of governing Israel when they go into war. Further instruction is also found in 21:10-14 and 23:9-14.
do not be afraid – Israel was a small nation, both in stature and in numbers, compared to the nations they were soon go to war against in order to occupy the Promised Land. Therefore, the first principle God reveals to them is that when they are faced with overwhelming odds in battle and are tempted to be afraid, they should trust in the Lord. He is their deliverer and He will give them the victory as long as He is leading them. He also reminds them to remember His deliverance of Israel from Egypt, a far superior military power than they, as reminder of the faithfulness and power of the Lord in giving His people victory.
v. 2 the priest – The next principle God reveals concerning the day on which Israel goes to war is that before they advance onto the battlefield the priests are to address the people and issue words of strength and comfort in the Lord. Numbers 1:47-53 instructs Israel never to take the priests out onto the battlefield as warriors. But here we learn that they are to still play an important part in leading Israel to victory.
v. 5 the officers shall speak – The next group to address Israel before the armies go out to war are the officers, most likely not military officers as we have today but heralds set aside to record and publish the events of the wars of Israel.
built a new house – The officers are to give the soldiers an opportunity to return home if they have reason not to want to fight. The four exemptions from service in Israel's army included: a home that nearly built but not yet finished and never lived in, a vineyard labored in but not yet harvested, a marital engagement not yet consummated, and a heart too fearful to advance into battle.
v. 10 proclaim an offer of peace to it – The Lord begins to reveal further principles meant to guide Israel in times of war, this time concerning the cities they would fight against. Here, God describes the rules of conduct that they are to follow when, after they had occupied the land of Canaan and were settled, there was an occasion when they must go to war with other nations around them. It is important to note that the wars they would fight against the Canaanites were considered holy wars and were not to fall into this category (v. 16-18). But when they later faced other nations, they were to first offer those cities terms of surrender and peace. If those cities agreed, they became tributaries of Israel (v. 11), or cities that submitted to the governance of Israel in return for having a military alliance with them. This had the added benefit of bringing them into contact with the God of Israel, and lead to their salvation and blessing. Verse 12, however, goes on to instruct that if the cities are not willing to surrender, they are to be besieged and overcome. They are to strike the males of the city with the sword, but leave the women and children unharmed. They are also permitted to take the plunder of the cities for themselves, which would help pay for the cost of battle.
v. 16 as an inheritance – The Lord addresses the treatment of the seven nations of the Canaanites who, as has been described before, are to be wiped out because of the religious and moral abominations (v. 18) which were described earlier in Deuteronomy.
v. 19 shall not destroy its trees – Israel is not to be like many of the other nations around them, typically lay waste the landscape of every city they came against in war. Here, God tells them that they are not to destroy the fruit-bearing trees surrounding the cities, which were necessary for sustaining human life. In addition to the common sense of this statute, it would have ensured that Israel remained level headed, discretionary, and kind, even when going to war.
v. 20 siegeworks – It was common to cut down the trees surrounding a city in order to build the tools necessary to besiege it, including bulwarks (defensive walls), catapults, and battering rams. Again, however, the Lord commands Israel to use discretion and kindness, and not to cut down any tree that was useful for the city's food just to make war against it.
The Law Concerning Unsolved Murder
v. 1 the land – The various laws laid out in the Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy) are intimately associated with the idea of the Land of Promise. Consistently, Moses points out that these laws must be applied in "the land." The law code given throughout the first five books of the Bible were meant as a set of civic laws to be enforced once the nation of Israel inhabited the land of Canaan.
v. 3 heifer – This term refers to a calf not quite of a mature age, and which a man had never used for farm work. That is, this heifer must not have ever been yoked to a plow and used to till the fields. Once an animal had been used in the fields it became ritually unclean and could not be used in ceremonial events. An animal that was sacrificed or given to the Lord had to be completely dedicated to the Lord. No part of it could be used for the benefit of the original owner, because people would then give the Lord animals that had been worn out and used. The Lord always demanded a real sacrifice.
v. 4 elders – Each of the tribes and the cities of Israel was overseen and governed by a group of elders chosen by the Lord through his servant Moses (and later Joshua). These elders functioned as city and tribal judges and magistrates and ensured that the laws were observed and enforced.
Break the heifer's neck – The offering of the heifer was not a sin or trespass offering, but served two purposes: 1. It served to demonstrate to the Lord that the city nearest the dead body was not involved in the murder of the deceased. 2. It served as a representation of the murderer and fulfilled a teaching role to the people of the city, indicating that this was what would happen to the murderer should he be found and to anyone else who committed a similar crime.
v. 5 priests, the sons of Levi – All priests were descendants of Aaron, the brother of Moses. Both Aaron and Moses were descended from the third son of Israel named Levi.
Chosen to minister – These sons of Aaron were chosen to minister to the Lord in the Tabernacle of God where the Ark of the Covenant rested and where the glory of God settled.
Every controversy – The priests served as judges in the land of Israel.
v. 6 wash their hands – The elders washed their hands to indicate that they were not guilty of the murder.
v. 8 atonement – "Kaphar" means "to provide a covering" and was often used of lids that covered the tops of boxes or chests. The lid of the Ark of the Covenant was also called the kaphar. In this context, the elders of the city ask the Lord to cover this sin of murder and not blame the people of the city or the nation of Israel for it. Note that at the end of the verse, Moses states plainly that the covering will be given when asked.
v. 11 beautiful woman – This term comes from two Hebrew words signifying both beauty in the woman and loving affection in the eyes of the one who takes her to be his wife.
Take her for your wife – Common practice in the ancient world was to do one of two things when an enemy was utterly defeated: 1. The conquering army killed everybody in the city they had taken. 2. They killed all the men of fighting age and took the women and children captive as slaves. Those taken captive served the remainder of their years as slaves in the land of their captors. A woman found among the captives who a man of the conquering people desired was usually taken by force. Here God gives some rules to protect the woman in question.
v. 12 shave her head and trim her nails – Shaving the woman's head and trimming her nails was done as a sign of ritual purification and symbolized a cutting away of the past and the beginning of a new life under God's covenant (Lev. 14:8, Num 8:7). This was done to show the world that this woman no longer belonged to a pagan nation but was about to be included among the Jews as one of God's covenant people.
v. 13 mourn her father and mother a full month – God puts this provision in the law to protect the heart of the woman. Again, in most cases such as this, the man simply took the woman whenever he wanted. But the Lord had mercy on her, insisting that the Israelites allow her a month to grieve over the loss of her family before being made the wife of one of her enemies.
v. 14 set her free...because you have humbled her – The practice of taking a woman in captivity was an everyday thing 3,000 years ago. A woman taken in such a way had absolutely no rights. She was a slave in every sense of the term, and, if a man decided he didn't like her after taking advantage of her sexually, he could retain her as a servant in his house, which would have been a terrible fate because most likely he would give her grueling tasks and treat her contemptibly, or he could sell her to somebody else. Here the Lord refuses to allow that cruel practice and insists that a man who sleeps with a captive woman must either marry her or set her free. God points out that the man owes her at least that much given how terribly he has shamed her.
When considering the Old Testament Law, you must always remember a very important principle that Jesus taught in Matthew 19:3-10. In that passage, Jesus teaches on divorce. He plainly says that people cannot divorce for just any reason, as the Pharisees were teaching. In response to Jesus' teaching, the Pharisees ask why Moses commanded people to write certificates of divorce if it was wrong for people to do so. Jesus responds that Moses allowed divorce because "of the hardness of your hearts." But Jesus goes on to explain that divorce is not God's original intent. We see an important principle here that can explain a great deal about the Old Testament laws. God, knowing that people are evil and hard hearted, gave laws that do not express His best for them, but that make allowance for certain things in order to prevent worse things from happening. Divorce is wrong and is not God's original design for people, but God allowed it because He knew people would do it anyway, and He wanted to provide some protection for the people involved. He did it in order to prevent men from abandoning their wives without leaving any means for a woman to take care of herself. So too with the laws given above; it is not good to take a woman captive and force her to be your wife. But because people were going to do it, God gave a law to protect the woman from being treated as badly as she would in another culture. Simply stated, the principle guiding the Lord in these laws is mercy.
Firstborn Inheritance Rights
v. 16 firstborn status – In the ancient oriental world, the law of Primogeniture was the dominant principle of inheritance. In every family, the firstborn son was given the birthright. Therefore, upon his father's death he stood to inherit the vast majority of his father's belongs as well as all of his father's land, and, at the same time, be declared head of the family household.
He must not bestow firstborn status on the son of the loved wife – When a man has two wives, one loved and the other unloved, he is not allowed to give the birthright to the first son of his loved wife just because he loves her more. He must give the birthright to the firstborn son regardless from which wife he came. This, again, is an act of mercy by the Lord. He is protecting the unloved woman so that she will be well taken care of. The story of Jacob and his wives Leah and Rachel found in Genesis 29-37 illustrate the reasoning behind this law.
The Rebellious Son
v. 18 stubborn and rebellious – This refers to a son who is openly defiant even after receiving correction from his parents. This does not set up a paradigm of perfection for children, nor does it set up a standard demanding absolute obedience to parents. Rather, this law concerns those sons who remain rebellious and are incorrigible even after receiving every possible opportunity to change.
v. 21 so you shall put away the evil from among you – An incorrigible son was put to death in ancient Israel to keep such behavior from spreading throughout the society.
v. 23 his body shall not remain overnight – It was common practice among ancient societies to desecrate the bodies of enemies and criminals by committing various outrages to the bodies. Sometime bodies were dismembered or dragged through the streets. Those hanged were left out for days, etc.
He who is hanged – God points out that a body that has been hanged is accursed and will defile the land. God demonstrates that the worldly mindset of desecrating bodies is evil and brings a curse upon the people. This is very contrary to the way of the world at this time.
Accursed of God – Paul points out in Galatians 3:13 that this verse applies to Christ who was, in a manner of speaking, "hanged on a tree" when he was crucified on a wooden cross at Calvary. Paul compares this verse with Deuteronomy 27:26, which curses everyone who does not do everything found in the law. Paul's main point is that because nobody has ever perfectly upheld the commands of the law, God curses everybody, as Deuteronomy 27:26 states. But Jesus Christ who is the one person who perfectly upheld the law was cursed as well because he was hanged on a tree. Because this perfect person was cursed when he ought not to have been, God is free to remove the curse from those who put faith in Jesus Christ.