Call to Worship February 22 2020
Thoughts on Deuteronomy 21:
Once again this chapter in Deuteronomy considers some distresses of life and how the Israelite community is to handle those matters. “The distress concerns,” according to Raymond Brown, “a murdered man (1-9), a captured woman (10-14), a deprived son (15-17), a depraved son (18-21), and an executed criminal (22-23).” (Brown, 203) Each of these instances concerns governance, religion, family, and community in the Holy Land given to the Israelites by God.
The first issue was an unresolved murder. How should this be handled? Moses indicated the whole of the community was involved. All the civil and religious servants were expected to carry out their roles; elders, judges, and priests. Since the murder was unresolved they must first figure out the proper jurisdiction. This may seem strange in some ways, but really is quite simple. We have town, city, and county limits today. So a crime is primarily investigated inside of those particular jurisdictions. The Israelites did not have particular boundaries with lines drawn on a map between different towns quite the way we do, so proper jurisdiction was settled first.
The judges, elders, and priests worked on behalf of their particular community to rectify the issue before God and man. The murder brings sadness and shame to the community as God’s land has been soiled with murdered blood. No killer has been found by the civil servants. So, judges and priests were unable to pronounce the proper judgement of the death penalty. (Brown, 204-203, Merrill, 289) Therefore, the priests were to preside over the religious rites in accordance with God’s command. The community may be deemed ceremonially clean by the sacrifice in a case where other proper judgment was not available. (J.G. McConville, 327-328) If an investigation had yielded evidence of a murderer, then judgement was pronounced and the person was to be executed by hanging. The end of chapter 21 commands that their body be taken down on the same day, so the land is not defiled. So the problem of defilement is properly handled in both situations.
The chapter further considers domestic relations in three specific scenarios. Recognize God did not prescribe these happenings as right. They were descriptive of life among sinners. God knows the sinfulness of man and prescribed how the people of Israel should mange themselves in such situations. Verses 10-14 expose an issue of warfare and captivity. If a soldier saw a beautiful woman, from one of the distant captive cities, and desired her, he may marry her, but not forcefully take advantage of her. She was to be given time to mourn her past life and the death of loved ones killed in battle. In order to show her willingness to marry she displayed outward signs of shaving her head and so forth. (E.H. Merrill, 291) Polygamy is not mentioned in these verses, yet if that were the case then it would not change how God desired for the woman to be treated. God prescribed her treatment in stark contrast from the treatment she would have received from the pagan nations. (Brown, 207) His prescription included graciousness in pre-marital status or even post-marital status. If the marriage was ended the woman was to be set free as an Israelite woman.
The second domestic matter specifically included a polygamous marriage. Once again Moses described a scene that must be appropriately considered although God was not pleased with polygamy. The verses speak of two wives, one loved and the other unloved. No reasons are given for the one wife being unloved because it does not matter in the council given. God knows the human heart and considered any reason would be linked to sinfulness at some point. Yet, the unloved wife bore the first son to the husband. Both wives bore sons, but God knew the tendency would be to treat the first son of the loved wife as the first born. God prescribed that these sons be treated according to right order and dignity. The first born was to be given what was rightfully his by law. (E.J. Woods, 235) To do otherwise would be disobedient and unmerciful. Both the captive woman and the firstborn son of an unloved wife are to be treated with the dignity that is due them as God’s human creatures.
The last domestic issue regarded a rebellious son. (Exodus 20:12, 21:15, Lev. 20:9, Deut. 27:16) The son would not obey or listen to his parents even when he was chastised. He was charged as a glutton and drunkard. This means he was intemperate, immoderate, and perhaps lazy with no self-control. We may imagine how this type of parent/child relationship spiraled downward in due time. If this were true of the son, it would have been known by the community. So judgement was pronounced by the elders of the city and the son was stoned to death. This is an issue of purity in God’s holy land among his called out holy people. This was to be a display of the future kingdom where no rebellion would exist. Furthermore, it was to produce a healthy fear of God and proper authority among the people of Israel. (McConville, 331) Rebelliousness toward parents and other authority reflects a rebellious soul toward God.
Each one of these issues, in Deuteronomy 21, prescribes particular thinking to the people of God. God is holy and defilement against his holiness is serious business. God created with order in mind, so God’s people are to act in an orderly manner according to God’s precepts. Furthermore, there should be orderliness involved even after sin is committed. Also, human life and dignity are very important in the created order. In addition, sin has consequences and justice is involved in the created order. The people of God should neither take sin lightly nor God’s plans, precepts and purposes to deal with it. All of God’s word reveals His nature and character. Therefore we must value who God is and His testimonies revealed in His word for the good of His people.
Brown, Raymond, The Message of Deuteronomy, ed. J. A. Motyer and Derek Tidball, The Bible Speaks Today (England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1993).
McConville, J.G., Deuteronomy, ed. David W. Baker and Gordon Wenham, Apollos Old Testament Commentary, (Downers Grove, IL. Inter-Varsity Press, England, Apollos, 2002).
Merrill, Eugene H., Deuteronomy: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture NIV Text, ed. E. Ray Clendenen, The New American Commentary, ( Broadman & Holman, 1994).
Woods, Edward J., Deuteronomy: An Introduction and Commentary, ed. David G. Firth and Tremper Longman III, Tyndale Old Testament, Commentary Series, vol. 5, (Downers-Grove, IL, Inter-Varsity Press, 2011).