The people of Israel are standing at the edge of the promised land, preparing to enter into God’s promises. Moses is delivering his final sermons, instructing the people so that they will be successful when they enter. In Deuteronomy 14-18 the Lord through Moses has given a picture of what he has come to do for his people and what he expects of his people. God’s people are called to be holy because they are his children (14:1-2). The Lord will do great things for his holy people. He will cancel their debts and set them free from their self-inflicted slavery. He will give them leaders who will rule with justice and righteousness. They will have a king appointed by the Lord and priests who will dedicate their lives to work on behalf of the people. Then, one day, they will have a prophet like Moses arise who they will listen to. These are the pictures found in the last section of Deuteronomy. Now the Lord through Moses will give the people pictures of what life will look like in the land they are about to enter. What we are going to see in Deuteronomy 19-25 is the call for the people to act righteously and to love each other.
Deuteronomy 19-20 reveal various pictures of justice that will exist when the people are in the land. Cities of refuge will be set in the land for those who accidentally kill another person (19:1-13). Property boundaries in the land are not to be moved (19:14) and a single witness is not enough to convict a person of a crime. There must be two more more witnesses for a charge to be established for fear of someone who would give false testimony to convict a person (19:15-21). Witnesses are not a person telling others about a crime but actual people seeing the sin or the crime being committed.
Then the Lord gives the rules for war when they live in the land. First, the people have nothing to fear (20:3) because the Lord will fight for them and give them the victory (20:4). God’s presence is all the people need. The Lord also gave allowances for those who would not have to go into battle. This list of people included those who just bought a house, planted a vineyard that was not harvested, those who were betrothed to get married, and those who were just afraid to go (20:5-8). Verses 10-20 give very important rules for the wartime that lied ahead. First, terms of peace were supposed to be offered when they came near to a city to fight against it (20:10-11). The destruction of peoples did not need to happen if the nation or city agreed to the terms of peace. However, the Lord makes it very clear in verses 16-17 that none of the cities in the land of Canaan can be offered peace because God’s judgment had fallen on them for their sins (20:17-18). Further, they were not to destroy the land in the process of besieging a city (20:19-20).
Protecting People (21-23)
In chapters 21-23 God gives various laws that are protections for the people. Directions are given for handling unsolved murders (21:1-9), marrying captives (21:10-14), and how to handle the rights of the firstborn son (21:15-17). Notice in verses 18-21 gives directions for how to handle a rebellious child. A rebellious child who will not listen to the voice of the father or mother, though the child is disciplined, is to be taken by the parents to the elders of the city. They are to tell the elders of the city that the child is stubborn and rebellious. The child will not obey their words. The child is a glutton and a drunkard. Then all the people of the city are to stone the child to death to purge the evil from their midst.
I think there are a couple of points that are important to note. First, rebellious children are not cute or acceptable to God. God does not offer lenience to rebellious children, saying, “Boys will be boys,” or “You know how teenagers are.” Rebellion, regardless of one’s age, is not acceptable or tolerated by God. If the child listens to no one and does whatever he or she wants, that child was to be stoned by the elders of the city for the rebellion. Children are to obey their parents.
Second, I would like to also observe something very important. Notice the text says that the parents are disciplining the child but the child is still refusing to listen. I think it is important to express that this is possible. We have created a false construct that if you teach your children God’s ways that you will never have a rebellious child. But God disagrees with this. Yes, parents bear a critical responsibility to teach their children in the way of the Lord. Further, rebellious children can come about because of faulty parenting and not leading and instructing your children properly. I do not want to undermine this truth at all. What I want us to see is that it is possible to teach your child and discipline your child and the child still be rebellious. This is what we see here in this law. The parents have done everything they can and all that is left is for the child to be brought before the elders of the city, under the condemnation of rebellion. Such a scenario is possible and we need to realize that this could be the case.
As we come to chapter 22 we see that acting righteously and justly includes loving others. Righteousness and justice does not exclude the need to love one another. Deuteronomy 22:1-4 gives what we have come to call today the “Good Samaritan rule.” God’s people are to help those who need help. You cannot ignore the need. Nor were you allowed to say, “Finders keepers, losers weepers.” You were to give back to someone what they had lost.
It is also important for us to look at verse 5 in our culture today that gender distinction is to be maintained. A woman is not to wear men’s clothes and a man is too to wear woman’s clothes. Let me make another important observation. This means that there is such a thing a “men’s clothes” and “women’s clothes.” We have a culture that is trying to erase this idea but it is important for us to see that God even defines such an idea. There are things that are considered for men and things that are considered for women.
Much of Deuteronomy 22 are laws regarding sexual immorality. The people were not to make false accusations about their spouse (22:13-18). A person was stoned for sexual immorality (22:20). The death penalty was given for adultery (22:22), sexually violating a betrothal (22:23), and for raping a betrothed person (22:25). Penalties were given for raping a virgin (22:28). No incest was allowed (22:30). The whole message is that there is to be purity in preparation for marriage and in the marriage covenant. No sexual immorality before being married and no sexual relations with others once married. Chapter 23 continues the pictures of holiness for the people and acting righteously and fairly with one another. Chapters 24-25 does the same by describing the physical punishments for crimes committed and how to act righteously and fairly with each other.
Now it is important to keep in mind what we observed in chapter 22 regarding marriage and sexual immorality as we approach Deuteronomy 24:1-4. The teaching in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 cannot undermine or undo the laws given elsewhere in the scriptures. These four verses describe a situation that would arise. I think it is important to notice that there is nothing in this that shows God’s approval of what the people were doing in their marriage. Jesus confirms this by declaring that this law was given “because of their hardness of heart” (Matthew 19:8). Amazingly, some Jewish teachers took this law to mean that you could divorce for any reason, as we see the Pharisees saying to Jesus in Matthew 19. Rather than allowing for divorce, this was protecting the woman from further defiling. A man was not to divorce a woman, allowing her to marry another, so that later on you could change your mind and take her back. God was preventing this from happening. God was communicating the seriousness of marriage and the seriousness of divorce. Divorce is always the result of hard hearts and always the result of sin. This is why Malachi calls divorce “hatred,” “violence,” and “faithlessness” or “treacherous” (cf. Malachi 2:16). Divorce is never the plan for marriage and is not to occur.
New Testament Message
There is one big picture that I would like for us to consider in this lesson as it relates to us today. First, this section of Deuteronomy contains an important picture about Jesus. Turn to Deuteronomy 21:22-23.
“And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance.” (Deuteronomy 21:22–23 ESV)
A crime that was punishable by death was to be carried about by hanging the person on a tree. But there were rules for this. The body was not to remain on the tree all night but the body was to be buried on the same day. A person who was executed in this fashion was to be considered cursed by God. Leaving the body overnight would be a defilement to God’s holy land. The apostle Paul quotes this text in Galatians 3 to make an important point about Jesus, our Savior.
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3:10–14 ESV)
Now this is the amazing thing. Remember that this law in Deuteronomy is given in a section about justice and righteousness in the land. The apostle Paul applies it to grossest injustice in human history. The perfect Son of God, in whom there was no wrong, nothing defiling, and nothing evil, and yet he was put to death as someone convicted of a crime and worthy of death. As Isaiah prophesied, he was despised and rejected by people. He was despised and we did not value or esteem him. His death would cause all people to consider him to be cursed of God. In fact, this is what some of the people are reviling as they watch Jesus die. “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God’” (Matthew 27:42-43). Jesus endured a curse so that we would not have to. We are cursed because we have not done all that is written in the book of the Law. But Jesus did. Yet he was put to death as if he did not. The curse Jesus endured was in the way he died. This is the power of the cross. Through Jesus’ death on the cross, by hanging on the tree, the blessing promised to Abraham and his offspring also comes to us as Gentiles so that we can receive the promised Spirit by faith. The cross must be everything to us because through the cross we are able to access the promises of God by faith. It is because of this that we strive to live as God’s holy people, loving our neighbors, doing good to others, being righteous and just toward them, while displaying the love of Jesus to all. This is why we care to listen to the voice of our loving God and Father. His cross gave us life.