Saturday, July 31, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 91, Miscellaneous Laws, Part Five

Today we'll be looking at the remainder of Chapter 24.

This first section has to do with capital punishment. "Parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will die for their own sin." (Deuteronomy 24:16) For example, if a man's son murders a person, the father cannot be held responsible for the crime of his son. No one can say to him, "You raised a murderer! You must have maintained an ungodly household. You must not have brought your son up to respect and obey the Lord. You are as guilty as your son is!" 

Most of us probably know a parent who raised their children in a loving, God-respecting household and yet one of their adult children rejects the Lord. Many of us know people who did everything they possibly could to love and care for their family and yet they have an adult child who is living a life of crime or serving time in prison. King David noticed that it seems like some people are determined to do wrong even from a very young age, no matter how they're brought up, and he said, "Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward, spreading lies." (Psalm 58:3) The Lord knows a parent may work hard to do the very best they can for their children and still end up with a wayward child who has no heart for the Lord and no regard for law and order. 

Even if the adult child came from a not-so-good family situation, it appears from verse 16 that they can't point the finger at their parents and claim, "It's not my fault I've committed a capital crime! I didn't come from a good home. I can't help being a lawbreaker. I wasn't given a fair shake in life." If this person is an adult and is mentally capable of understanding right from wrong, he or she is legally responsible for the crime they've committed. We have this same law in our own nation today. In our justice system we have several options for passing sentence on a capital crime; it may be the death penalty or it may be life in prison with or without the possibility of parole, depending on state laws and any mitigating circumstances. But we hold adults accountable for their own actions if they are sane and mentally capable of understanding that their actions were wrong. We don't drag their parents into court too and sentence the parents along with them. 

The Lord is concerned about the parents of a wayward child. He's concerned about the needy too, so He says, "Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of a widow as a pledge. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there. That is why I commanded you to do this." (Deuteronomy 24:17-18) A foreigner or a child without a father or a woman without a husband might be considered "easy prey" by people who are unscrupulous. A person with ill intentions toward them might think they have no defender. But the Lord is their defender! Just as the Lord defended and rescued the Israelites who were foreigners in Egypt, He will defend the cause of the foreigner in Israel. He will defend the cause of the orphan and the widow as well. David said of the Lord, "A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy dwelling." (Psalm 68:5) King Solomon warned people not to try to take advantage of the fatherless because, "Their Defender is strong; He will take up their case against you." (Proverbs 23:11) 

The Lord is concerned not only about the legal rights of the foreigner, the widow, and the fatherless, but He's also concerned about their daily needs. He doesn't want any of them to go without the basic necessities. He doesn't want them going to bed with empty tummies and He instructs the congregation not to be greedy when they harvest their fields and vineyards. They must leave something for the needy. "When you are harvesting your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this." (Deuteronomy 24:19-22) 

You'll recall from Deuteronomy 23:24-25 that a hungry person was allowed to enter a field or vineyard to eat enough to fill their tummy. In today's study we see that a hungry person was allowed to enter fields and vineyards that had already been harvested in order to glean anything that was left. Because the Lord sustained the Israelites in Egypt, they are to sustain their fellow man. They are to care about the foreigners in their midst. They are to care about the fatherless and the widows. The Lord had mercy on Israel; Israel is to have mercy on others.

You and I are to have this attitude too. The Lord has had mercy on us and we don't have the right to deny mercy to our fellow man. The Lord has provided for us and we should imitate Him; we must not be stingy toward those in need. We also should not be stingy with forgiveness either, for the Bible says, "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." (Ephesians 4:32)

Friday, July 30, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 90, Miscellaneous Laws, Part Four

I'm sorry for missing Bible study on Thursday. My little dog spent Wednesday night at the emergency hospital and then I had to leave home by 6:20am on Thursday to pick her up there before they closed and transfer her to my regular vet. She was able to come home yesterday evening.

We are still in the midst of the section of Deuteronomy called "Miscellaneous Laws". 

"When you make a loan of any kind to your neighbor, do not go into their house to get what is offered to you as a pledge. Stay outside and let the neighbor to whom you are making the loan bring the pledge out to you." (Deuteronomy 24:10-11) We might refer to this pledge as collateral. Or we could compare this transaction to the types of transactions that take place in pawn shops. If the person who takes the loan fails to pay back the loan, the person to whom he owes the money retains the item he was holding as a pledge.

When a person hands over an item in pledge, the person who is making the loan to him is to stand respectfully outside waiting for the pledge to be brought out to him. He doesn't have the right to barge into someone's residence to seize the pledge. I assume another reason he can't go into the house is so he can't change his mind about what he's agreed to accept as a pledge. For instance, suppose he is of a greedy nature and sees something in the house that's worth more than the amount of money he's lending. He might then insist on taking this item instead, in hopes the person will default on the loan and he will get to keep the item. The two parties to this deal are to make the deal outside of the house and that will help prevent the person in need from being cheated.

The person requesting the loan may be so poor that anything he uses as a pledge is one of his basic necessities, like a cloak. "If the neighbor is poor, do not go to sleep with their pledge in your possession. Return their cloak by sunset so that your neighbor may sleep in it. Then they will thank you, and it will be regarded as a righteous act in the sight of the Lord your God." (Deuteronomy 24:12-13) The person needing the loan may hand his cloak to the lender but the lender cannot hold it until the loan is paid back. He must give it back before sunset. Some scholars think the cloak is given back while the transaction is being agreed upon and that the lender does not even leave with it. The handing of the cloak back and forth is symbolic, if that's the case, like in modern times when two people might shake hands in agreement over a transaction.

"Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether that worker is a fellow Israelite or a foreigner residing in one of your towns. Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it. Otherwise they may cry to the Lord against you, and you will be guilty of sin." (Deuteronomy 24:14-15) Let's say a man goes out to hire extra workers to help him bring in his harvest. I picture him going into the city to a place where men in need of work as day laborers gather each morning in hopes of being hired on. He is to pay, every evening, the men he hires. The reason they are standing by the street hoping for work is because they are poor. They have no farms or businesses of their own. They have no regular jobs at this time. For whatever reason, they are currently living a hand-to-mouth existence and they need to be paid every evening so they can buy food to eat. If he withholds their pay they will cry out to the Lord for help and He will hear them. David praised the name of the Lord who hears the cry of the needy, saying, "Who is like You, Lord? You rescue the poor from those too strong for them, the poor and needy from those who rob them." (Psalm 35:10) And, "I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy." (Psalm 140:12) 

Tomorrow we will look at the remainder of Chapter 24.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 89, Miscellaneous Laws, Part Three

We are in a section titled "Miscellaneous Laws" and these are laws that Moses spoke to the congregation of Israel at various times which were then compiled into a list.

We begin today with a law that is similar to one we studied in Deuteronomy 20. "If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married." (Deuteronomy 24:5) Earlier in Deuteronomy, when looking at the reasons a man could be excused from war for a time, we learned that the officers of the army would ask the assembled men various questions to determine who could be excused from military service temporarily. One reason a man could be excused was if he had become engaged. He would be told to go ahead and marry the woman, presumably to stay home with her for this full year before he would be required to join the army. Here we see if a man had recently married he was to complete a full year of marriage at home before he could be called to war. 

This next verse regards a person unable to pay their debt. "Do not take a pair of millstones---not even the upper one---as security for a debt, because that would be taking a person's livelihood as security." (Deuteronomy 24:6) In order to recover their loss, the person to whom the debt was owed could in some cases seize certain types of property from the person delinquent in their payments. But items used in an occupation could not be taken; this would cause the debtor to become completely bankrupt. He has no hope of ever climbing out of debt if he can't continue his work.

"If someone is caught kidnapping a fellow Israelite and treating or selling them as a slave, the kidnapper must die. You must purge the evil from among you." (Deuteronomy 24:7) In some versions of the Bible this is referred to as "menstealing" and it is forbidden by the Lord. We can see that the brothers of Joseph were actually guilty of a capital crime in the eyes of the Lord when they sold him into slavery. The law that would have allowed the death penalty to be carried out on them was not in effect at the time, but they were still guilty of a heinous offense in the Lord's sight, and after this law was put in place during the days of Moses the death penalty could be enforced against persons who committed such crimes against their fellow citizens. In a list of crimes against the Lord and against humanity, the Apostle Paul condemned slave trading in a portion of Scripture that also condemns murder. (See 1 Timothy 1:8-11) This is how seriously he regarded the issue.

As we've pointed out before, this list known as "Miscellaneous Laws" contain items not necessarily related to each other. We move from the subject of slave trading to the subject of contagious skin ailments. "In cases of defiling skin diseases, be very careful to do exactly as the Levitical priests instruct you. You must follow carefully what I have commanded them. Remember what the Lord your God did to Miriam along the way after you came out of Egypt." (Deuteronomy 24:8-9) 

The regulations about defiling skin diseases are found in Leviticus 13:1-46. Moses' sister Miriam was stricken with leprosy after she spoke out against the leadership of Moses and against Moses' second wife who was black. As punishment for her prejudice against a person for their skin color, and as punishment for trying to incite rebellion against Moses, the Lord afflicted Miriam with leprosy. To facilitate forgiveness and reconciliation in the family, Moses and Aaron had to pray for the healing of their sister in order to have her health restored. Though the Lord removed the leprosy, the law regarding seven days of isolation still applied and Miriam had to stay outside the camp for seven days. Moses is saying in Deuteronomy 24:8-9 that the law about quarantining the contagious person must be observed no matter who the person is. Moses sent his own sister outside the camp. No exceptions are to be made in this matter; it is for the health of the community that these laws were put in place. If exceptions are made then all sorts of contagious illnesses will break out in the camp and infect many people. They might soon have an epidemic on their hands. 

Join us tomorrow as we continue through the list and see how the Lord asks the people to have compassion on the debtors, on the poor, and on the widows and the fatherless.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 88, Miscellaneous Laws, Part Two

Chapter 24 continues the segment titled "Miscellaneous Laws".

Today we look at information regarding divorce and remarriage in ancient Israel. "If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the Lord. Do not bring sin upon the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance." (Deuteronomy 24:1-4) 

The word translated "indecent" means "shame, disgrace, nakedness, impropriety". After beginning to live in holy matrimony with his wife, the husband has found her not to be the godly woman he thought she was. In Moses' day not all marriages were love matches; many marriages were arranged marriages. A man might not have known his wife for very long before marrying her. She may have come from a household that serves the Lord but it could turn out that she is not all that interested in righteous living. Even in cases where a man chooses his own wife, her true character cannot necessarily be known until he actually has to live with her day by day. If her husband finds out she's been unfaithful or if she's been deliberately behaving in provocative ways to invite the attention of other men or if she's engaging in some type of spiritual unfaithfulness to the Lord (taking part in idolatrous or occult practices) the man can divorce her. 

By Jesus' day men were being allowed to divorce their wives for all manner of frivolous reasons. A man could write his wife a certificate of divorce because he fell out of love with her or because she was a bad cook, for example. These things were never intended to be grounds for divorce, as Jesus pointed out. The grounds for divorce had to be based on a spouse's very serious moral failings or spiritual failings. A man couldn't just say, "Oh, she's a good old gal but I just don't feel about her the way I used to. I'm going to write her a certificate of divorce. Then she'll be free to remarry if she wants to and I'll be free to meet and fall in love with a new woman and get married again." Jesus said divorce was never intended to be used in this manner. The Lord would prefer that divorce never happens at all, for Jesus reminded His listeners that a husband and wife are a unit (one body) and He compared the breaking apart of this unit to the cutting in two of a human body. He said that if divorce occurs it must only be because of infidelity. (See Matthew 19:3-9 for the entirety of this passage. Also see Mark 10:12 which shows us it wasn't only a man who had the right to divorce a spouse; a woman could initiate a divorce as well.) The innocent party has the right to divorce the spouse guilty of adultery but the innocent party is not required to divorce the guilty party. If a husband and wife are able to reconcile with the help of the Lord and have a good marriage, that is a wonderful thing and a testament to the ability of the Lord to make beauty from ashes. 

In our text today Moses says that if a man divorces his wife and she remarries, and if she becomes divorced again or if her second husband dies, the first husband is not to take her back. I think this law is intended to make a man think very seriously about whether he wants to divorce his wife at all. Suppose he has found a serious moral or spiritual failing in her. Or suppose she has been unfaithful to him. Before immediately seeking a divorce because he is hurt and angry, perhaps he should see if the two of them can work things out. It could be that if he searches his own heart he'll realize he's neglected his wife emotionally, causing her to feel unloved and unappreciated. Perhaps he has not been attentive to her needs. He's been providing for her by putting a roof over her head and clothes on her back and food in her tummy, but maybe he's been emotionally or physically distant from her, causing her to be lonely and depressed. This doesn't mean her infidelity was justified, of course, but maybe the husband will conclude that both he and his wife could have worked harder on their marriage. Or maybe, faced with a potential divorce, the wife repents of her wrongdoing and renews her vow of faithfulness to her husband. Maybe he has been very good to her and she realizes she's treated him terribly. Knowing he can never remarry her if she has been married to someone else after their divorce, he will be compelled to think about whether he actually wants to divorce her at all and he may instead decide to accept her apology and go forward with her. 

I think this law is intended to facilitate reconciliation rather than divorce. Divorce is not to be taken lightly and neither is marriage or remarriage. If a person has already gone through a divorce and has remarried, the prohibition against remarrying a first spouse after having been married again helps to prevent the remarried person from taking their second marriage lightly. A man or woman can't say, "I was happier in my first marriage than in this one. I'll just divorce my second spouse and go back to my first spouse." 

The Lord would prefer marriages to last for a lifetime but He allows divorce when there has been unfaithfulness. I also believe He makes allowances when abuse (physical or emotional) is occurring in a marriage. In a case like that I don't feel the abused spouse is compelled to stay and take the abuse. There are a number of examples in the Bible of persons removing themselves from dangerous situations, and although none of these examples specifically regard marriage, I think these examples indicate that every person has the right to protect their health or their life from someone who means them harm. The Bible doesn't say whether or not an abused spouse can file for divorce; some ministers of the gospel believe separation is what's called for until their abusive partner gets help and changes their ways. Reconciliation is the goal but of course that depends on the abusive spouse seeing the error of their ways and wanting to change.

All in all, the Lord wants marriage taken seriously. It's to be considered a lifetime commitment. If mistakes were made in a first marriage and a second marriage has taken place, care must be taken not to make the same mistakes.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 87, Miscellaneous Laws, Part One

The remainder of Deuteronomy 23 contains a list of miscellaneous laws that are not related to each other. This appears to be a compilation of laws given to the congregation at various times.

"If a slave has taken refuge with you, do not hand them over to their master. Let them live among you wherever they like and in whatever town they choose. Do not oppress them." (Deuteronomy 23:15-16) There is some disagreement among scholars regarding the purpose of this law. Some believe it is speaking of slaves who have escaped from foreign lands and have run to Israel for asylum from cruel masters. This would explain why the Israelites are instructed not to "hand them over to their master". 

Other scholars think these are cases where slaves (belonging either to Israelites or to foreign masters) have come to the judges of Israel to have cases against their masters heard. These scholars believe that the judges would hear the charges the slave brings against his or her master and that the judges would investigate whether this is a case of ill treatment or whether the slave simply wants to obtain freedom through a false legal case. Slavery in the ancient world wasn't always the type we once had in the United States; you'll recall us talking earlier in our study of the Old Testament about how a person could become an indentured servant (often referred to by the term "slave" in the Bible) for a specific period of time in order to work off a debt they could not pay. If a person wanted to be set free of their indentured servitude, I suppose if they were of unscrupulous character they could claim their master was treating them cruelly in order to get out of serving the remainder of their time. If that's so, then the judges of Israel were not to hand them over to their masters until the case was heard and investigated. If cruelty was proven, then it appears the slave was not to be returned but was free to live wherever they pleased.

"No Israelite man or woman is to become a shrine prostitute. You must not bring the earnings of a female prostitute or of a male prostitute into the house of the Lord your God to pay any vow, because the Lord your God detests them both." (Deuteronomy 23:17-18) The heathen nations had shrine prostitutes as part of their idolatrous worship practices. The Lord is prohibiting not only sexual immorality but also idolatry with verse 17. In verse 18 the Lord is prohibiting anyone from bringing "dirty money" into His house. It doesn't honor the Lord when someone comes to His house and goes through the motions of worship while having a heart far from Him and putting ill-gotten gains into the offering plate. I believe the prohibition against dirty money would apply to income from all types of immoral/illegal trades. A lot of people who make their living by questionable methods go to church for reasons other than loving the Lord and are giving money that was made by doing things the Lord hates. I don't believe He takes any pleasure in such offerings. While it's true the church may be able to use this money to do good, I can't imagine the Lord blessing the unrepentant wicked person for bringing money made from immoral deeds or money made by cheating or oppressing their fellow man.

"Do not charge a fellow Israelite interest, whether on money or food or anything else that may earn interest. You may charge a foreigner interest, but not a fellow Israelite, so that the Lord your God may bless you in everything you put your hand to in the land you are entering to possess." (Deuteronomy 23:19-20) Their fellow Israelites are to be considered their brothers and sisters in the Lord. They are to think of themselves as one big family. Most of us would not ask our biological brother or sister to pay a loan back to us with interest. We might ask someone who is not related to us to do so, but out of our love for a sibling and out of our family connection to them we would probably give them quite flexible terms for repaying the loan and all we would want back from them is the original amount that was lent. The Lord says He will bless the Israelites for treating each other like brothers and sisters in the matter of lending and borrowing.

"If you make a vow to the Lord your God, do not be slow to pay it, for the Lord your God will certainly demand it of you and you will be guilty of sin. But if you refrain from making a vow, you will not be guilty. Whatever your lips utter you must be sure to do, because you made your vow freely to the Lord your God with your own mouth." (Deuteronomy 23:21-23) A person can make a freewill offering at their own discretion but if they make a vow to bring a particular amount of money to the Lord's house, for example, they are obligated to keep the vow. They are not obligated to make a vow in the first place, but once the vow is made they are bound by their words. The Lord wants His people to be people of their word. He doesn't want His people to be unreliable and untrustworthy. He wants them to be promise keepers because He is a promise keeper; a child of God should look like Him. A person is to think carefully before making a promise to the Lord or to their fellow man because their true character will be revealed by whether or not they keep their word. 

"If you enter a neighbor's vineyard, you may eat all the grapes you want, but do not put any in your basket. If you enter your neighbor's grainfield, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to their standing grain." (Deuteronomy 23:24-25) A hungry traveler is allowed to venture into a vineyard or grainfield along the way and eat enough to satisfy his hunger. He cannot, though, gather grapes in a container or harvest any grain to take with him. If he were allowed to do that then there would be many who abused this law by taking a lot more than they need. At that point it would become a deliberate act of theft. But the Lord cares about growling tummies and He made this law for those in need. 

The hungry disciples of Jesus were operating under the law of verse 25 when on the Sabbath they plucked some heads of grain to eat as they journeyed along the roadway. The Pharisees knew Deuteronomy 23:25 permitted this but in order to accuse Jesus of unrighteousness they accused Him of allowing His disciples to break the Sabbath by harvesting grain. They were not harvesting grain because they put no sickle into the grain. As usual, Jesus revealed their hypocrisy to them by shining a light on their unmerciful attitude. He pointed out that David and his men, when they were hungry, had been allowed to eat bread that only the priests were allowed to eat. (This passage is found in 1 Samuel 21.) The priest gave the bread to the men because mercy means more to the Lord than sacrifice does and because the Lord takes more pleasure in a person knowing and loving Him than in a burnt offering. (Hosea 6:6, Matthew 9:13). The disciples were not breaking the Sabbath, but even if they had been, the Lord would have allowed them to fill their empty bellies on the Sabbath. This is why the Lord Jesus quoted Hosea 6:6 to His enemies who found fault with Him healing on the Sabbath. Jesus pointed out that it was always lawful to do good deeds, no matter what day of the week it was.

Today is the Sabbath for many of us of the Christian faith. It is lawful for us to do good to our fellow man---today and every day. The Lord desires mercy. The Lord wants us to love our neighbor. The Lord wants us to care about the welfare of our fellow man. That is the reason He made the laws of today's text and all the other laws of the holy Scriptures. 

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 86, Uncleanness In The Army Camp

The remainder of Chapter 23 deals with sanitation rules and with a list of miscellaneous laws. Today we'll look at the rules for maintaining good hygiene when the army is encamped. 

When Israel goes to war and the army is camped in tents, sanitation rules must be observed. The men may be living rough while they are camped but good hygiene is still important for the health of the army. The saying, "Cleanliness is next to godliness," is not in the Bible but in our text today we'll see that cleanliness symbolizes godliness. The hearts of the soldiers are to be right with the Lord (inward cleanliness) and they are to practice hygiene rules to the best of their ability under the circumstances (outward cleanliness).

"When you are encamped against your enemies, keep away from anything impure. If one of your men is unclean because of a nocturnal emission, he is to go outside the camp and stay there. But as evening approaches he is to wash himself, and at sunset he may return to the camp." (Deuteronomy 23:9-11) Leviticus 15:16-17 discussed this and said the man must bathe his whole body with water along with any clothing or other material with the emission on it. He would be unclean until evening but then could go on with normal life.

For obvious reasons, it's important to locate the latrine outside the camp. The men aren't to relieve themselves wherever they please, and especially not within the camp. This presents a health hazard and a smell hazard. "Designate a place outside the camp where you can go to relieve yourselves. As part of your equipment have something to dig with, and when you relieve yourself, dig a hole and cover up your excrement." (Deuteronomy 23:12-13) 

The Lord is going to go with the army of Israel and the men are to behave just as they would if they could actually see their great General walking among them. Just because they are not at home doesn't mean they can have the attitude, "What happens in the camp stays in the camp." They are to observe certain rules about bodily purity wherever they are because if they become lax in maintaining bodily purity they will find themselves growing lazy about their spiritual purity. Would a man stand in his tent doorway and relieve his bladder from there if he thought the general of the army might pass by and see him? I doubt it. In this same way the men are to respectfully go a distance from the camp before performing such bodily functions, for the mighty General of Israel's army is present. "For the Lord your God moves about in your camp to protect you and to deliver your enemies to you. Your camp must be holy, so that He will not see among you anything indecent and turn away from you." (Deuteronomy 23:14)

Out of reverence for the Lord, the camp must be kept clean. Just as soldiers in the United States Army are to keep themselves and their barracks in tip-top shape, the soldiers of the Lord's army are to behave as if He will show up to do an inspection at any moment. He must not find them behaving slothfully. He must not find filth inside the camp. Imagine how offended a human army general would feel if he had to step around piles of human excrement while inspecting the camp. The Lord is holy and has far more power and authority than any human general. If He finds filth (literal filth or spiritual filth) inside the camp, He is going to be offended. He is going to feel disrespected. He may allow the men to lose a battle as discipline for their irreverence.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 85, Exclusion From The Assembly

We begin Chapter 23 with a section titled "Exclusion From The Assembly" and many scholars believe those Israelites who are said to be excluded from the assembly are not forbidden to take part in the general religious life of Israel but that they are forbidden to hold religious office in Israel. In the case of non-Israelites mentioned in our passage, I doubt they were ever allowed to hold religious office at all, but after a specified period of time they could take part in religious activities with the congregation. 

"No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the Lord." (Deuteronomy 23:1) This was mentioned in the book of Leviticus when the Lord provided Aaron the high priest with a list of defects that would disqualify some of his descendants from being priests. "For the generations to come none of your descendants who has a defect may come near to offer the food of his God. No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed; no man with a crippled foot or hand, or who is a hunchback or a dwarf, or who has any eye defect, or who has festering or running sores or damaged testicles." (Leviticus 21:17-20) The man could still worship the Lord and partake of the offerings but he could not hold the office of high priest. (Leviticus 21:22) Although Deuteronomy 23:1 sounds as if the man can't enter the assembly at all, in my background study it appears to be the general consensus that he can be a part of the congregation; he just can't be part of the leadership council.

Barring men with serious physical defects from holding office may symbolize the need for anyone holding office to not have serious spiritual defects. Or it could be that having priests and servers in the house of the Lord with visibly obvious physical problems was distracting to the congregation and took their focus away from worship. We discussed the possible reasons for these restrictions when we studied the book of Leviticus. Today we'll only look at the reason why men who are eunuchs are not allowed to hold office in Israel.

The main reason for this is likely linked to idolatry. Some of the heathen priests were castrated, either by choice or because it had been done to them in their youth when they were given the job of being "altar boys". In a lot of cases these eunuchs were used in the same manner as female temple prostitutes. Pagan kings would appoint eunuchs to guard their harems because they did not trust men who were sexually whole to refrain from having relations with the women. It was also a custom of heathen cultures to castrate young men they took captive after conquering their people in battle. It has been speculated that the males the Babylonians took captive from Jerusalem were made into eunuchs (Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and others like them). The Bible doesn't specifically say these young men were castrated but I believe many of those taken captive were, for Isaiah foretold it when speaking to King Hezekiah in 2 Kings 20:18, saying: "And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon." 

Another reason for exclusion from religious office is probably because a eunuch could not father children. He was not considered "whole" in the sense that he could continue his family line. A man with a defect this severe could not be a high priest of Israel because the office of high priest was handed down from one generation to the next. There would be no next generation for a man who was a eunuch. If the man's father was high priest, the father would have to appoint a different son to succeed him, not the son who had been born without normal testicles or who had suffered an emasculating injury.

We move on to the next category. "No one born of a forbidden marriage nor any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, not even in the tenth generation." (Deuteronomy 23:2) In the original language the word translated into English as "forbidden marriage" is actually something like "mongrel" or "illegitimate". A child born out of wedlock could not grow up to hold religious office. Neither could a child born as the result of incest or adultery or a child born from a marriage between an Israelite and a non-Israelite. 

"No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, not even in the tenth generation. For they did not come to meet you with bread and water on your way when you came out of Egypt, and they hired Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in Aram Naharaim to pronounce a curse on you. However, the Lord your God would not listen to Balaam but turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loves you. Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them as long as you live." (Deuteronomy 23:3-6) The descendants of Ammon and Moab, the sons Lot fathered with his own daughters, treated the Israelites cruelly. They were related to the Israelites by blood (Lot being the nephew of Abraham) but the Ammonites and Moabites wanted the Israelites wiped from the earth. In addition, these two tribes were idolatrous. They had forsaken the Lord and mixing with them was sure to bring idolatry into Israel.

Although the Edomites hadn't been very kind to the Israelites either, the Lord warns the Israelites not to hate them. "Do not despise an Edomite, for the Edomites are related to you." (Deuteronomy 23:7a) Edom was founded by Esau, the brother of Jacob, and the Israelites are therefore more closely related to the Edomites than they are to the descendants of Lot. 

The Israelites aren't to hate anyone for being an Egyptian either. "Do not despise an Egyptian, because you resided as foreigners in their country. The third generation of children born to them may enter the assembly of the Lord." (Deuteronomy 23:7b-8) Egypt was part of the Lord's plan. He allowed Joseph's brothers to sell him into slavery so He could raise Joseph to the position of second-in-command to Pharaoh. He did this so, when the famine came, Joseph would be in a position to bring all his family to Egypt and save them from starvation. For a long time the Israelites enjoyed the prosperity of Egypt until a king (or an entire dynasty) was prejudiced toward them and wrongly regarded them as a threat. This isn't to be held against an Egyptian who wants to convert to the God of Israel. Egyptians could "join the church", so to speak, after three generations had passed from the time of the exodus. This third generation rule also appears to apply to the Edomites since they are mentioned in the same verse with the Egyptians.

This concludes our section of Chapter 23.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 84, Violations Regarding Marriage And Engagement, Part Two

Our passage has to do with certain cases of sexual immorality in marriage and in betrothal contracts. Yesterday we studied penalties for violations of marriage. Today we'll look at cases regarding engagements.

We've talked before about how a betrothal contract was considered almost as binding as the marriage covenant in ancient Israel. Unfaithfulness could be treated as harshly as adultery. As we discussed yesterday, since things like paternity tests didn't exist in ancient times, a man who married a promiscuous woman was in danger of leaving his estate to a child that was not actually his. Aside from the fact that God says it is morally and spiritually wrong to engage in fornication or adultery, it was also a violation of the law because a man could be defrauded by an unfaithful woman into raising, providing for, and leaving his worldly goods to some other man's offspring. That's why violations of the betrothal contract and the marriage covenant were handled by the law and that's why the penalties could be very steep.

Now let's look at the first example Moses gives us. "If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death---the young woman because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man's wife. You must purge the evil from among you." (Deuteronomy 22:23-24) 

It is not clear whether or not the man knew she was already engaged but I believe it's indicated by the text because it says "he violated another man's wife". Though she is not yet married to her betrothed, she is referred to as a "wife" because she has already entered into a binding contract to be married. If the man who sleeps with her did not know she was promised to another, I don't think he would be penalized as an adulterer, so I feel we can safely assume he did know. This is why he is judged guilty. The woman is judged guilty of willingly cheating on her betrothed because she did not cry for help. Evidently the towns were so well-populated that someone would definitely have heard and come to the rescue if she had raised an outcry. Crying for help means she's being taken against her will and she will be judged innocent of any wrongdoing. 

In cases like this that occur in the countryside, the woman is not judged guilty because it cannot be proven whether or not she cried out for help. It is presumed that she is innocent of wrongdoing and that the man slept with her against her will. "But if out in the country a man happens to meet a young woman pledged to be married and rapes her, only the man who has done this shall die." (Deuteronomy 22:25) 

It looks as if a legal loophole exists in which it could be possible for the woman to willingly sleep with the man and then claim she screamed for help but there was no one around to hear her. I doubt this happened often---if at all---because if she were a willing partner then there was no reason for her to later accuse the man of anything. Both he and she would keep silent about the matter. The only way I can see her willingly sleeping with him and then getting away with accusing him of rape is if someone came by and caught them in the act and she began screaming as if she were being attacked. In that case I imagine questions would arise as to why she wasn't already screaming when the traveler came within earshot. The judges would want to know why she didn't start screaming until after she saw the person. I don't believe a woman could claim she was raped if she didn't report the incident as soon as possible, for if she found herself to be with child later on and decided to claim a man forced himself upon her (in order to keep herself from being accused of unfaithfulness), the judges would want to know why she didn't say anything right away. In a case like that I feel she would be judged guilty of sexual immorality.

Suppose a woman is walking home from the market along an empty stretch of road and is sexually assaulted by a man. Nothing is to be legally done to her even though is cannot be known beyond a shadow of a doubt whether she screamed for help or not. The man is to be treated as harshly as one who has attacked and murdered a neighbor. "Do nothing to the woman; she has committed no sin deserving death. This case is like that of someone who attacks and murders a neighbor, for the man found the young woman out in the country, and though the betrothed woman screamed, there was no one to rescue her." (Deuteronomy 22:26-27)

The next case involves a man sleeping with a woman who is not engaged. "If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives." (Deuteronomy 22:28-29) This is a substantial amount of silver and in addition to paying it to her father he must marry the woman and provide for her for the rest of her life. He cannot divorce her under any circumstances. However, the woman's father does not have to allow the two of them to marry; he can take the money and keep his daughter according to Exodus 22:17.

Who would want his daughter marrying a rapist? I think the word "rape" may be an unfortunate choice of translation because what is probably going on here is what is described in Exodus 22:16 when it is said that the man "seduced her" and "slept with her". Exodus 22:16-17 corresponds with Deuteronomy 22:28-29; our text is a restating of what was already said in Exodus about such situations. The man who must pay the girl's father fifty shekels of silver and then marry her is probably a man who already knew the young lady and who may even have already been courting her but was not engaged to her. Or perhaps he was a friend of the young lady's brothers and was at the family home regularly. Or he perhaps he was a hired hand who worked on the family property. I don't think verses 28-29 are speaking of a stranger who jumps out from behind the bushes, grabs a woman, and sexually assaults her. No father in his right mind would let his daughter marry a man like that. It's likely that the father already knows the man in question. 

The man, carried away by his intense attraction for the young lady, used smooth talk to entice her into sleeping with him. Many a young woman (and older woman too!) has fallen for that. Upon finding out his daughter and the man have slept together, the father may say to himself, "This young man talked my daughter into doing a foolish thing. But he's just a young person too and he let his attraction for her cause him to make inappropriate suggestions to her. He's a hard worker and comes from a good family. I think he will make a good provider for her so I'll let him marry her." Or the father may say, "This young man is a scoundrel. He parties all the time. He's not a good worker. He's not respectful to his parents. I don't want him as a husband for my daughter. He still must pay the price but I will keep my daughter in hopes that I can add the silver to her dowry and still find her a husband---a husband who is more suitable."

Our text concludes with an instruction we've seen before. "A man is not to marry his father's wife; he must not dishonor his father's bed." (Deuteronomy 22:30) If a man's father died, he could not marry his step-mother or any other type of secondary wife of his father's (a concubine). This was still considered a type of incest even though they were not related by blood.

Tomorrow we'll move on to causes for excommunication.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 83, Violations Regarding Marriage And Engagement, Part One

Our text today and tomorrow may seem archaic and even shocking to us in these modern times, although there are some cultures of the world today in which some of these penalties for sexual immorality are still carried out. Sexual immorality is wrong in any era, to be sure, and the Lord has not changed His opinion on adultery or sex outside of marriage. But in ancient times there were no such things as DNA tests. A man could not be certain a child was his if he had a promiscuous wife. Because establishing bloodlines and inheritance was so important, and because there was no scientific method for determining paternity, it was a very serious matter when a woman was unfaithful to her husband or to the man to whom she was legally betrothed. Likewise, because a woman's purity was so highly valued, she had the right not to have her reputation besmirched. If a man falsely accused his new bride of not being a virgin, he paid a high penalty for slandering her. If a man took sexual advantage of a woman who was not his wife, he paid a high penalty. 

While establishing paternity (and inheritance rights) is important, I believe what the Lord is most concerned with in the remainder of Deuteronomy 22 is that the entire nation abstain from sexual immorality. He does not want His people Israel to behave like the people of the heathen nations around them. Most of the pagan cultures of Moses' day had an "anything goes" attitude toward sex. Even their religious festivals often included sexual activity. In fact, you'll recall earlier in the Bible that a number of Israelite men attended an idolatrous feast and bowed on their knees to false gods because they lusted for the Moabite women. If the Israelites lower their standards where sex is concerned, they'll soon be lowering their standards in many other areas as well. It's bad enough to live in promiscuity, but in the ancient world it frequently led to idolatry because idolatry and sexual promiscuity were so often connected.

It will take us two days to look at this passage. Today's portion involves marriage violations. Tomorrow's portion involves engagement violations.

"If a man takes a wife and, after sleeping with her, dislikes her and slanders her and gives her a bad name, saying, 'I married this woman, but when I approached her, I did not find proof of her virginity,' then the young woman's father and mother shall bring to the town elders at the gate proof she was a virgin." (Deuteronomy 22:13-15) Moses makes it clear that the man is lying. This man has taken a bride and he probably chose this particular bride because he lusted very much for her physically. He could not sleep with her unless he married her so, carried away by the physical attraction he felt for her, he entered into the marriage covenant with her. But once his desire for her was slaked he didn't want anything more to do with her. He was like Amnon in 2 Samuel 13 who, after having had sexual relations with the woman with whom he was obsessed, no longer wanted anything to do with her. The Bible says that Amnon "hated her more than he had loved her". That's what has happened to the bridegroom of verses 13-15. He got what he wanted and now he doesn't want to live with this woman or provide for her. The only way out of the marriage is if he can prove he's been deceived.

But it appears as if there was a custom in which the bedsheet from the wedding night was given into the custody of the young woman's parents. This is still true in a few cultures today. So when the bridegroom accuses his bride of not having been a virgin, her parents take the bedsheet to the elders at the gate as evidence (due to the blood stain) that she was a virgin. Not only is their daughter's virtue being attacked, but their own character is being attacked as well. Women married quite young in Moses' day, often in their early to mid-teens, and it was a shocking thing indeed if a young lady of that age had already been having sexual relations. It meant her parents had not properly supervised her and protected her virtue. It meant they had left her unchaperoned in male company. The girl's parents would defend their honor and their daughter's honor by displaying the bedsheet to the elders at the gate who were gathered there to judge legal cases. "Her father will say to the elders, 'I gave my daughter in marriage to this man, but he dislikes her. Now he has slandered her and said, 'I did not find your daughter to be a virgin.' But here is the proof of my daughter's virginity.' Then her parents shall display the cloth before the elders of the town, and the elders shall take the man and punish him." (Deuteronomy 22:16-18) 

The word translated as "punish" can mean the man is chastised with words or with physical blows. Some scholars believe he is given a beating. Others believe he is shamed with a verbal beat-down. Either way, that's not the end of the matter. He must pay a hefty fine to the woman's father for slandering the godliness of her parents' house. He also cannot be released from his marriage covenant. He may have married in haste but, as the saying goes, he will repent at leisure. "They shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give them to the young woman's father, because this man has given an Israelite virgin a bad name. She shall continue to be his wife; he must not divorce her as long as he lives." (Deuteronomy 22:19) No matter what happens in their marriage, this man will never have legal grounds for divorce. He forfeited any rights he may have had under the law when he falsely accused her of impurity. 

Marriage is never to be entered into lightly. The case outlined above is a case involving a man who didn't think things through. He didn't take time to court the young woman and fall in love with her. He didn't make sure they would be compatible marriage partners. He was so carried away by her beauty and by the lust in his heart that he made a marriage offer without thinking past the wedding night. Once his passion for her was satisfied, he thought, "What have I done? How can I get out of this? I know! I'll accuse her of being an immoral woman. Then I can divorce her and be free of her." But the Lord never intended women to be used and discarded. The Lord wants men to treat women with respect. The Lord intends sex to be enjoyed only within the bonds of matrimony and that means a person must think very carefully about whether or not they're as attracted to someone's character as they are to their face and body. A marriage founded only upon sexual attraction, with nothing else in common, is not likely to be successful. But a marriage in which the partners are attracted to each other's character is a marriage likely to be happy.

The remainder of our text discusses two types of sexual immorality for which the ultimate penalty is paid. The first has to do with a situation in which, after marrying a woman, the husband is not lying about the immoral character of his new bride. "If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the young woman's virginity can be found, she shall be brought to the door of her father's house and there the men of the town shall stone her to death. She has done an outrageous thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father's house. You must purge the evil from among you." (Deuteronomy 22:20-21) 

We would not dream of handling such a matter in this way today, not in most cultures, although there are some places even in today's world where "honor killings" still take place. The passage does not specifically state that the woman was promiscuous after having entered into a betrothal contract with the man but many scholars believe that's why the penalty is as harsh as the penalty for adultery. We've discussed before that a betrothal contract was almost as binding as the marriage covenant. That's why in the New Testament we find Joseph wanting to break his engagement with Mary quietly when he finds out she is with child. He believes at first that she has been unfaithful to him during their engagement period. He has the right to accuse her publicly and bring shame upon her and upon her father's house. It could be that in his day the Israelites could still carry out the penalty of verses 20-21 if they chose, although under Roman rule they were forbidden to inflict capital punishment in civil cases. This is why the religious and political leaders said they could not execute Jesus on their own. However, I think they probably could have gotten away with executing Him if He had not been so famous that an uprising might have ensued. The Roman government had nothing to say when the Israelites stoned Stephen to death in the book of Acts. Stephen was not a famous religious figure or political figure and I think Rome generally turned a blind eye to executions carried out by Israelites upon their fellow Israelites when the cases were of a religious nature.

In verses 20-21 the woman who was unfaithful to her betrothed is stoned to death in the doorway of her father's house. This shows her father shares some of the blame. Remember, we pointed out earlier that women married quite young in ancient Israel. In fact, it wasn't that long ago that American women married quite young; my maternal grandmother and all her sisters married around the ages of 15-16. Even in my grandmother's day, it would have been shocking for a bridegroom to find out his bride of 15 was not a virgin. Nowadays it sadly is not uncommon for teens that young to be having sexual relations, but in my grandmother's day and certainly in ancient Israel it was considered a father's duty to protect the virtue of his daughters. He had to make sure his daughters were not alone with teen boys or men. This served to protect her from any male's dishonorable intentions and to protect her from herself, for teen girls don't always make the best choices. If a young lady managed to be promiscuous while living in the household of a godly and protective father, it is assumed she went out of her way to be promiscuous. Perhaps she snuck out a window at night to meet a boy, for example. That's why Moses could say, "She has done an outrageous thing." However, the father still bears some of the blame because it happened under his watch. He has failed somehow and that's why some of the blame is laid literally at his door.

Adultery was an offense punishable by death in ancient Israel. Being unfaithful during an engagement was treated as seriously as being unfaithful after marriage, which is what Moses speaks of next. "If a man is found sleeping with another man's wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel." (Deuteronomy 22:22) We found this law stated previously in Leviticus 20:10. The man who sleeps with a married woman, whether he is single or married himself, is to be put to death along with the unfaithful woman. Both of them have committed adultery even if only one of them is married. Aside from the immorality involved, there is a practical reason for why it is such a sin to sleep with a married woman: the husband of the married woman could not know whether an expected child was his or not. If his wife were found to be with child at or around the time the infidelity was taking place, he could not ask for a DNA test. He could never be certain, unless the child looked exactly like him, that it was a legitimate heir. Even if he felt confident the child was his, other family members might not and might contest the disposition of his property. 

It's important to note that the adulterous man and woman had to be caught in the very act. They could not be brought before the judges upon suspicion alone. If that were the case, many a jealous man could have had his wife put to death. Or a man who no longer loved his wife could be rid of her by bringing false charges against her. I assume two or more people had to catch the guilty people in the act since it was the law that two or more witnesses were required when accusing someone of a capital crime. Under these rules it's doubtful that adulterers were put to death very often. The very nature of adultery requires secrecy and stealth; the utmost care is taken not to be caught.

Why then is the woman who was unfaithful during her betrothal allowed to be put to death? I can't say for certain but I assume that the bridegroom's testimony that she was not a virgin counts as one witness and the unbloodied sheet from the wedding night counts as the other witness. As we've seen, she could not be put to death on the husband's word alone. If her parents could provide visible proof of her virginity in the form of the bloody sheet, the sheet itself (though it was not human and did not have a voice) was giving testimony against the husband's claims. If the sheet could not prove her virginity, it was a testimony against her. 

The thing to keep in mind is that the times and the culture were very different when these laws were put in place. Sexual immorality is still wrong but we have different ways of dealing with the outcome. Paternity can be established scientifically now. Inheritance rights can be established by proving whether or not someone is a blood relative. The inheritance rights of the firstborn are not part of the modern culture; a person can leave his or her estate to anyone they want, regardless of any family connection. If a person needs to prove they are the next of kin in order to claim an inheritance, a simple DNA test can be done. No man has to fear his wife's unfaithfulness has led to him raising a child that is not his; paternity tests can be performed even while the child is still in the womb. Men in modern countries don't have to fear a wife's infidelity will lead to him raising a child that is not his. They don't have to stone a cheating wife to death out of fear she'll bear a child that is not theirs.

The wages of sin is death. Technically speaking, we are all worthy of death if we have ever committed a sin. We were all under the penalty of death but Christ came to set us free. 


Monday, July 19, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 82, Various Laws, Part Three: Safety Railings, Things That Cannot Be Mixed, And Tassels On The Cloak

We'll conclude the portion titled "Various Laws" today by looking at the last three things on this list.

"When you build a new house, make a parapet around your roof so that you may not bring the guilt of bloodshed on your house if someone falls from the roof." (Deuteronomy 22:8) In those days the roofs of houses were usually flat and were often used as extra living space. A roof could be a nice cool place to sleep on summer nights and could serve as a guest room. 

Several examples are provided in the Bible of people using the flat roofs of their houses. In the book of Joshua we'll find Rahab of Jericho hiding the two Jewish spies on her roof under some stalks of flax. In 1 Samuel 9 we'll find the prophet Samuel talking to King Saul on the roof of Saul's house. In 2 Samuel 11 David was walking around on the roof of his palace at night when he accidentally spotted the beautiful Bathsheba bathing. In 2 Samuel 16, when trying to usurp his father's authority as king, David's son Absalom slept with all of David's concubines in a tent on the palace roof so all Israel would know he intended to take his father's place. In 2 Kings 4 a woman set up a room on the roof of her house in which the prophet Elijah could stay whenever he was in town. There are a number of other examples but we can see that the flat rooftops were utilized extensively. That's what made a railing around the roof so important. A responsible homeowner had to take such a precaution so he would not be responsible for someone accidentally falling from his roof. I work in the insurance industry and one thing we check for when inspecting a property is to make sure the porches and steps have railings. It's a liability issue if they do not, and that is what is in view here in verse 8: it is a liability issue if a person doesn't put a railing around his rooftop space.

Next we'll look at examples of things that must not be mixed together. "Do not plant two kinds of seed in your vineyard; if you do, not only the crops you plant but also the fruit of the vineyard will be defiled. Do not plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together. Do not wear clothes of wool and linen woven together." (Deuteronomy 22:9-11) We previously saw these prohibitions in Leviticus 19:19. It is believed that the primary reason for such restrictions is to serve as a perpetual reminder to the Israelites that they are not to mix closely with unbelievers. They are not to make political alliances, business partnerships, or marriage partnerships with heathen idolaters. The Apostle Paul said a similar thing to the members of the Christian church in 2 Corinthians 6:14-16: "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God." 

The final item on the list of "Various Laws" is this: "Make tassels on the four corners of the cloak you wear." (Deuteronomy 22:12) This is the perfect way to sum up all the previous laws because this is the purpose of these tassels: "You will have these tassels to look at so you will remember all the commands of the Lord, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by chasing after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes. Then you will remember to obey all My commands and will be consecrated to your God." (Numbers 15:39-40) All day long a person would see these tassels swinging on the edges of their cloak and would be reminded of their obligation to obey the Lord. 

This concludes the segment regarding various laws. Tomorrow we'll look at some of the laws of ancient Israel regarding marriage and engagements.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 81, Various Laws, Part Two: Animal Rights And Dressing Like The Opposite Sex

The title of today's study may seem like it contains two things that don't go together. A verse regarding men's and women's garments is right in the middle of a passage about looking after animals. I don't know why Chapter 22 is laid out this way but many scholars believe the section of Deuteronomy we are studying, which is titled "Various Laws", is thought to be a compilation of miscellaneous regulations given to the congregation by Moses. He didn't necessarily provide this whole list of regulations on the same day or in any particular order.

We begin by discussing what is to be done when a person comes across a missing or injured animal. I've referred to this as "Animal Rights" although Moses may have intended this information to be regarded more as property rights. He may have been looking out for the owner of the animal more than for the animal itself, but I believe the Lord cares deeply about the animals He created and we'll compare our passage today with a passage from Exodus 23 which I feel backs up the idea that the Lord has in mind not only the rights of the animal's owner but the rights of the animal itself.

"If you see your fellow Israelite's ox or sheep straying, do not ignore it but be sure to take it back to its owner. If they do not live near you or if you do not know who owns it, take it home with you and keep it until they come looking for it. Then give it back. Do the same if you find their donkey or cloak or anything else they have lost. Do not ignore it." (Deuteronomy 22:1-3) It would be easy for a man going about his business to spot a loose ox or sheep and say to himself, "I don't have time for this. I've got so much to do today and I'm behind already. I'm just going to pretend I didn't see this." But the Lord says that's a wrong attitude. A person ought to care about the welfare of animals. Solomon said that a righteous person cares about an animal's needs. (Proverbs 12:10) A person ought to care about the welfare of his fellow man too. The Apostle Paul said to the church: "In humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others." (Philippians 2:3b-4)

Exodus 23:4 takes the law regarding a wandering animal even further. "If you come across your enemy's ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to return it." I believe this verse displays the Lord's concern for animals. It's not the animal's fault his owner has made himself someone's enemy. The animal may belong to a bad guy but if someone finds the animal running loose, he is still to get it back to its owner safely. Obeying this rule is a way of obeying a couple of other rules, namely: "Love your enemies," (Matthew 5:44) and, "Do to others what you would have them do to you." (Matthew 7:12) Returning an enemy's animal to him fulfills these laws of love.

If a person's animal has fallen in the roadway, a person passing by is not to ignore its predicament. He is to help the animal and its owner even if its owner is his enemy. "If you see your fellow Israelite's donkey or ox fallen on the road, do not ignore it. Help the owner get it to its feet." (Deuteronomy 22:4) This verse corresponds to Exodus 23:5, "If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help them with it." Helping the animal of one's enemy not only supplies much-needed aid to the animal but may also facilitate peace between the two people. If nothing else, the kindness shown to one's enemy in the name of the Lord might help to thaw his cold heart toward the Lord. Someday in the future he may think on the kindness a child of the Lord showed him and begin thinking about the kindness of the Lord Himself. 

Next we look at a verse regarding clothing which has been inserted at this point in the list. "A woman must not wear men's clothing, nor a man wear women's clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this." (Deuteronomy 22:5) Some scholars think this is a reference to pagan practices in which during certain festivals the women would don the battle armor of men and the men would wear the robes and accessories of women. Since a great deal of these types of pagan festivals involved sexual immorality, it's possible that the cross dressing was a part of the orgies they indulged in, but we can't say for certain. Either way it's the general consensus of most mainstream scholars that the heathens of the land of Canaan indulged in such shenanigans.  

I think we have to take into account the time period and the culture in which verse 5 was spoken. The Israelites of Moses' day would primarily have worn long robes, and this goes for men and women both. Men probably wore a different style of garments when going into battle, but in their everyday lives the clothing of everyone was quite similar. It wasn't a culture in which women only wore dresses and men only wore slacks, so a lot of their clothing was not specific to either sex. I think what's intended by verse 5 is to prohibit the deliberate blurring of the differences between the sexes. I don't believe it's intended to prohibit women in modern cultures from wearing pants, for example, because in most developed countries pants are not considered a garment only of men. If we lived in a culture where only men were supposed to wear pants, then an argument could be made that a woman is trying to look like a man if she puts on a pair of pants. But I personally feel there's nothing wrong with a woman wearing pants in a culture where pants are a garment common to both sexes. Likewise, while in the United States we might consider a skirt to be a woman's garment, in other cultures it's perfectly acceptable for a man to wear a kilt or a long flowing robe which to our eyes might resemble a dress. In those cultures a kilt or a robe is not exclusively a female garment. A man is not trying to look like a woman just because he's wearing this type of garment. 

I'm not going to get into a discussion here in the study about anyone being a transvestite or about anyone who is transgendered. (I must ask that no one post a comment under the study link on Facebook that has anything to do with these subjects either. The last thing I want is for anyone to feel that they are not welcome to read the Bible study and learn about the Lord.) I'm also not going to apologize for what the word of God says in verse 5. Moses knew the Israelites might see some heathen festivals in the promised land and that in these festivals the pagans were rebelling against the way God created human beings. It was perhaps a way of spitting in the face of God by deliberately pretending to be something they were not, by saying, "I don't care who or what I was created to be. No one---not even the God who made me---has the right to tell me who I am."

The best explanation I've heard for what's going on here (masquerading as the opposite sex) is something I heard on a Christian radio program some years ago. I don't recall which program it was or who the speaker was but he said he thinks the main reason the devil wants to see the lines blurred between the sexes is because the relationship between Christ and His church is compared to marriage between a man and a woman. Christ is the husband; the church is the wife. Christ is the male in the relationship and the church (although it's made up of members both male and female) is spoken of in a feminine context. Behaving as if we are all one sex, or as if our identity is fluid and changeable, or as if we shouldn't use male or female terminology at all, takes something away from the beautiful picture of Christ and His church in which He is the strong male provider and protector of His beloved wife and in which His adoring wife respects Him and responds to His love. 

Now we'll move on to the last verse we'll look at today and it is another verse regarding animals. "If you come across a bird's nest beside the road, either in a tree or on the ground, and the mother is sitting on the young or on the eggs, do not take the mother with the young. You may take the young, but be sure to let the mother go, so that it may go well with you and you may have a long life." (Deuteronomy 22:6-7) Why is the promise of a long life connected to this law? Probably because if a person cannot obey the Lord in small matters, he will fail to obey the Lord in big matters. If a person is unwilling to extend mercy to a small and common creature like a bird, he will scarcely be able to extend mercy to his fellow man. 

Because man needs to eat, he is permitted to gather what food he finds along the journey, but he is not to distress the mother bird further by capturing her along with her young. She is not to witness the end of life of her young. Preserving the life of the mother shows restraint---a refusal to be greedy---and it allows the mature female bird to go on to produce more offspring, thus helping to preserve her species. 

Tomorrow we'll continue the section called "Various Laws" and will look at the restrictions against mixing certain things together.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 80, Various Laws, Part One: A Body Hanged On A Tree

The remainder of Chapter 21 and the first part of Chapter 22 is simply titled "Various Laws" and contains an assortment of laws that are not necessarily related to each other but have been lumped together in a grouping of miscellaneous regulations.

Chapter 21 ends like this: "If someone guilty of a capital offense is put to death and their body is exposed on a pole, you must not leave the body hanging on a pole overnight. Be sure to bury it that same day, because anyone who is hung on a pole is under God's curse. You must not desecrate the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance." (Deuteronomy 21:22-23) 

These two verses are not a reference to the use of crucifixion as a method of capital punishment. Crucifixion is believed to have been invented by the Persians somewhere around 300 BC- 400 BC, about a thousand years after the lifetime of Moses, so Moses isn't talking about crucifixion but about the ancient practice of displaying the dead body of a person who has been executed for a capital offense. The purpose of displaying the body was so it could serve as a warning to anyone else contemplating the same crime. But in Israel the body was not to be left for days on end in the manner of other nations. Some cultures would display a carcass until it completely rotted and fell apart or was pulled down and dragged apart by wild animals. The Lord doesn't intend for such displays to take place in Israel; the body is to be taken down and buried before nightfall. This is an act of mercy upon the body of the executed person and upon the loved ones of the executed person. Leaving a body hanging until it decomposed was heaping insult upon injury, so to speak, and the pagan cultures regularly did this. But once capital punishment has been carried out in Israel, that is to be the end of the matter. Nothing is to be gained by prolonging this display; it only hurts the innocent relatives of the executed person and it creates a stench and a potential health hazard. 

Although Moses isn't speaking of the practice of crucifixion, which did not exist in his day, the Apostle Paul took the words of Moses and applied them to Jesus Christ. We will take a look at how Paul was not twisting the text of the Old Testament when he applied Moses' words to Christ even though crucifixion was not known by Moses. Paul spoke of the "curse" of living under the law because no man could perfectly keep the law. He contrasted living under the law with living in the era of grace---the era in which Christ has redeemed mankind from the law---saying: "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.'" (Galatians 3:13) Paul was saying, "Christ took the curse upon Himself so we would not have the curse of our sins placed upon us. We deserved to be hanging on the cross instead of Him but He offered Himself in our place. God put all our guilt on His shoulders." 

The Apostle Peter put it like this: "He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by His wounds you have been healed." (1 Peter 2:24) Peter was quoting the words of the prophet Isaiah, who foresaw the death of Christ and said: "Surely He took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered Him punished by God, stricken by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:4-6)

Why did those who observed Christ on the cross consider Him punished and stricken and afflicted by God? Because Moses said that cursed is anyone who is hung on a pole---meaning cursed by God. Many who saw Jesus on the cross believed He was getting what He deserved, that He actually was a sinner who had blasphemed the name of God by claiming to be the Son of God, and they felt that God was punishing Him for His sins. But what was actually taking place was that He willingly took our place. The curse we deserved was given to Him instead. Because Christ allowed our sins to be placed on Himself, He was bearing the curse that should have been ours. He stood in our place like a sacrificial lamb, but because He was the holy and spotless Lamb of God, His sacrifice was capable of saving the soul of every person for all eternity. This is something a sacrificial animal could not do. And because Christ was the Lamb of God, no grave could hold Him. Isaiah foresaw not only the death of Christ but also the resurrection of Christ. He said that all was not as it seemed, for the death of Christ on the cross was not an ending, but a beginning: "Yet it was the Lord's will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer, and though the Lord makes His life an offering for sin, He will see His offspring and prolong His days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in His hands. After He has suffered, He will see the light of life and be satisfied." (Isaiah 53:10-11a)

You and I don't have to be under a curse today. We can live in the grace of the Lord instead. We can look in faith to what Christ did on the cross and accept that He became a curse in our place. He bore our iniquities. He accepted our punishment. He "canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; He has taken it away, nailing it to the cross". (Colossians 2:14) Christ bore our sins in His body on the cross, nailing our sins to the cross and leaving them there! Those charges will no longer be read against us if we have trusted in Jesus Christ as our Savior. We won't stand before a holy God someday and be condemned for our sins. He will not bring any charges against us because they were left way back behind us, on the cross of Christ, and now when He looks at us He sees His Son in us. He will declare us "not guilty"---not because we aren't guilty but because Christ took our place and because we have put our trust in Him.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 79, The Rebellious Son

Yesterday we talked about how a man could not take away the double portion of inheritance due a firstborn son even if that firstborn son belongs to a less-loved wife than another of his sons. I think today's passage is closely related to yesterday's. Many scholars assume the verses we'll study today apply to a firstborn son or, if the firstborn son has passed away or has disinherited himself by wickedness, to the son who was next in line for the double portion.

The son featured in today's passage is called "stubborn and rebellious" although it's not talking about the typical rebelliousness of a child or teen who may occasionally disobey his parents or talk back to his parents. This son is a grown man, not a child, which is something we have to fix firmly in our minds and keep in our minds as we go through the text. The penalty for his attitude is quite harsh and would never be carried out on someone under the age of majority. In addition we need to keep in mind that there is no record anywhere in the Bible of this penalty being carried out. It could be imposed but we don't know whether it ever was imposed.

In my opinion, the reason Moses supplies the advice given in Deuteronomy 21:18-21 to the congregation of Israel is probably because, after he laid down the law regarding firstborn sons, he faced some questions about what the parents are to do if the firstborn son is morally/spiritually incapable of leading the family. The birthright of the firstborn son involved more than inheriting the largest share of his father's estate. It also placed him in a leadership role. That leadership role meant he had to be a wise and responsible steward of the family finances. It meant he had to be the spiritual head of household as well. 

Jacob's brother Esau is an example of a firstborn son who did not have what it takes to be the leader of the family. This is why the Bible says he was carnally minded and a blasphemer who despised his birthright. He treated his birthright so casually that he sold it for a bowl of stew, which shows us how little he valued the honor of serving the Lord as spiritual leader of the family.

I believe some of the congregation asked Moses, "What if the firstborn son is a rebellious sinner? What if we can't trust him to manage the financial and spiritual welfare of the family wisely? What if he is a drunkard and a glutton who will spend every dime fulfilling his carnal desires with wine and women and wild parties? We try to bring our children up right but sometimes they won't listen. Sometimes they despise wise instruction and have no regard for the Lord. Sometimes they will not turn to the Lord and obey Him no matter what we say or what we do. It's not safe to leave a son like this in charge of the family."

Moses replied, "If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. They shall say to the elders, 'This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.' Then all the men of his town are to stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid." (Deuteronomy 21:18-21)

You may be thinking: "WHAT?" I know. This is a harsh sentence Moses is giving the congregation his permission to impose. But as we said earlier, we have to keep in mind that although the Israelites could impose this penalty on a sinful son who has no respect for his parents or for the Lord, it doesn't mean the Israelites ever did have any of their rebellious sons executed. However, the Lord has already said in Exodus 21:17 and in Leviticus 20:9 that anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death. A son (a grown son) who cursed his father and mother---who broke the commandment which says he must honor them---was a man who would not obey the Lord either. He was a man who despised the instruction of the Lord and was rebellious toward Him. In fact, the rebellion toward the Lord was the main problem. A son who wanted to obey the Lord would obey the commandment that he must respect his parents and care about their welfare. Presumably his parents brought him up in the fear of the Lord and taught him right from wrong, but when he was grown he said, "No more! I don't have to do what you say because I am no longer under the age of adulthood. I don't have to live the way you've taught me to live. I don't have to worship the Lord or obey Him either. I'm a grown man and I will make my own decisions. I will do what I please when I please. You can like it or not; I don't care. I'm done with you."

Jesus quoted the passages from Exodus 21:17 and Leviticus 20:9 when criticizing the religious leaders of His day for allowing a man to let his parents go without basic necessities. He said they were keeping the law that says anything devoted to the Lord cannot be taken back (a man could pledge money to the Lord and his pledge could not be undone) but they were allowing men to use this law to break the commandment that says he was to honor his father and mother. A man who didn't care about his father and mother could pledge to the Lord the money that should have been used to provide his parents' needs. The laws and commandments were being twisted to suit people's evil desires and Jesus called them out on it. The Lord took no pleasure in having money put into the treasury that should have gone to support a man's parents. That didn't honor the Lord at all, so we see how closely intertwined are the commandments to honor the Lord and honor one's parents. 

The parents of a sinful, rebellious, dishonorable grown son could take him to the elders at the gate of his town and say, "We've never been able to do anything with him. He despises the Lord and he despises us. His life revolves around the pleasures of sin. Money flows through his hands like wine flows through his lips. He will lose his inheritance as quickly as he gets it. The whole family will suffer financially, morally, and spiritually if he is put in charge. He was brought up in the fear of the Lord and taught the difference between right and wrong but he has no heart for the Lord and he cares nothing about doing what's right. He will bring this family to ruin if he inherits the birthright."

Some scholars believe the death penalty was never actually carried out but that the words of Moses were intended to serve as a warning---so that "all Israel will hear of it and be afraid". Other scholars believe this penalty was carried out from time to time and that hearing of the fate of a rebellious son was intended to prevent other sons from going down the wrong path. They were to take the rebellious son's fate to heart and change their ways. 

Something to keep in mind is that we are all sinners and that "the wages of sin is death". (Romans 6:23) The Lord could have rightfully put every single human being to death as soon as each person committed his first sin. If the rebellious son of today's text was put to death, we can't say he wasn't being paid the wages he earned for himself. But the Lord didn't want to put the human race to death and I am sure most parents didn't want their rebellious sons put to death either. It's likely that most of the time they simply disinherited a sinful firstborn son, just as Jacob didn't give the birthright to his firstborn son, Reuben, who committed such a rebellious and immoral act that he disqualified himself as leader of the family. 

In modern times a parent can leave the bulk of their estate to whichever child they please, regardless of birth order. A parent can choose to leave everything to only one child, or to leave nothing to one child and split the inheritance among the remaining children, or disinherit all the children and leave the estate to someone else or to a charity. But in ancient Israel the inheritance rights were very clear because the genealogical records had to be very clear in order to keep the proper territories within the proper tribes. A man had to be able to prove his pedigree, so to speak, not only to make a case for property rights but to claim which tribe he belonged to. This was important for so many reasons that we don't have time and space to discuss them all, but these reasons were of financial, political, and religious natures. A man couldn't serve at the tabernacle (and later at the temple) unless he could prove he was from the tribe of Levi, for example. Because the inheritance rights in ancient Israel were so important, the character of a man's primary heir mattered a great deal. Because the character of the primary heir was so important, there had to be a way to prevent giving the bulk of the estate to a profligate firstborn son. 

In today's text we've seen the harshest measures of all described to us. We don't know whether anyone ever resorted to these measures or whether they simply disowned such a rebellious firstborn son. As we've said, Jacob set a precedent for disinheriting a firstborn son from receiving the double portion. We might argue that the law of Moses wasn't in place during Jacob's time on earth, and that's true, but I believe the Lord always allows room for mercy. If a parent of a wicked son had grounds to have him put to death but did not want to have him put to death, I don't believe the parent was under obligation to bring his son to the elders at the gate. I think the parent could disinherit him and give the birthright to the next oldest son. If the penalty of today's text was ever carried out in Israel, I believe it was only in the most extreme cases---cases in which the firstborn son was so exceedingly wicked that he presented a danger to his family. Disinheriting him would not have made his family safe from him. The ultimate penalty may have been imposed in such cases.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 78, The Rights Of The Firstborn

Today we'll see that a firstborn son cannot be disinherited due to being the son of a less-favored wife. Of course it is not the Lord's best plan for men to have more than one wife, but the law of Moses did not forbid a man having more than one wife. In yesterday's passage we learned that a man could take as his wife a foreign woman from among the captives of a conquered city, and there was no mention made of him being prohibited from doing this if he already had a wife. But it was never the Lord's best plan for marriage for a man to have multiple wives. In the Bible we'll find a number of men who had more than one wife and we'll usually find mention of trouble and strife in those households. A man cannot be a good husband to more than one wife. It's doubtful a man can be a good father under these circumstances either. In households of the Bible where men had children by more than one wife we tend to see jealousy among the children and we find the children harboring bitterness toward their father.  

The patriarch Jacob is an example of a man who had difficulty being a good husband and a good father due to having more than one wife. While it's true he was deceived at his first wedding when Rachel's father substituted Leah for Rachel, it was not Leah's fault and yet Jacob never treated her as well as he should have. Leah was used as a pawn in her father's game. She was a victim of the times in which she lived, when women had very few rights in most cultures and could be married off to anyone of their father's choosing. But she was never loved by her husband or given all the honor and respect that was due a first wife. 

Jacob's family situation may be what's in mind in today's passage. He didn't love his first wife Leah and didn't make any real attempt to hide that fact. He preferred Leah's sister Rachel, whom he also married. (He ended up married to Leah's maid and Rachel's maid too, but we won't go into detail about that today.) He would have preferred his firstborn had come from Rachel because he cared about her the most but the Lord took pity on Leah and blessed her with the firstborn son and five more sons, plus a daughter. Rachel eventually bore Joseph and Benjamin to Jacob, and the Bible makes it very clear that Joseph was Jacob's favorite son, but this doesn't mean it would have been okay for Jacob to take the rights of the firstborn away from his true firstborn and give them to Joseph. Reuben lost his birthright due to his own sinful actions but Jacob didn't take it away from him due to favoring a different son. That would have been wrong and Moses makes sure the congregation knows it would have been wrong. For all the generations to come they are to abide by the principle that the firstborn gets a double portion of his father's estate. Unless the firstborn son does something to disinherit himself, there's no getting around this law.

"If a man has two wives, and he loves one but not the other, and both bear him sons but the firstborn is the son of the wife he does not love, when he wills his property to his sons, he must not give the rights of the firstborn to the son of the wife he loves in preference to his actual firstborn, the son of the wife he does not love. He must acknowledge the son of his unloved wife as the firstborn by giving him a double share of all he has. That son is the first sign of the father's strength. The right of the firstborn belongs to him." (Deuteronomy 21:15-17) 

Why might a man have a wife he doesn't love and a wife he does love? It could be that his first marriage was an arranged marriage. He may have married her out of duty but later married a second woman out of love. It could be he and his first wife have grown to despise each other over the years and, having no legal grounds to divorce her, he takes a second wife instead of asking the Lord to help him fix his unhappy marriage. It could be that his first wife was unable to bear children for the first several years of marriage and, believing her to be barren, he took a second wife hoping to continue his family line through her, yet his first wife ended up having a child by him before his second wife did. Another example might simply be that, since he can afford multiple wives, he indulges his carnal desires by having multiple wives. Or he is a high official who makes political alliances by marrying the daughters of several influential men. Or he wants to flaunt his wealth by having everyone see he is able to support several wives and many children. There are a lot of reasons why men of ancient times had more than one wife, and none of them were good reasons in my opinion, but men weren't forbidden by the law to have more than one wife. 

In order to secure the inheritance rights of firstborn sons and to keep the genealogical records clear and to keep the proper territories within the proper tribes, the Lord had to make a rule that the firstborn son was to be the father's primary heir. If the Lord had not made this rule then all sorts of sinful actions would have taken place. It's bad enough for a man to take a second wife while his first wife is still living; it compounds his mistake if he treats the children of a later wife better than the children of the first wife.

A firstborn son can disinherit himself but a father can't disinherit a firstborn son on the basis of not loving the son's mother. Jacob's first three sons (all by Leah) committed sins which kept them from receiving the rights of the firstborn. But this didn't mean Jacob could give the rights of the firstborn to Rachel's oldest son Joseph, for Judah (born to Leah) was next in line. It is through the tribe of Judah that the Lord's own firstborn Son came, so we see that the Lord chose the family line of Jacob and Leah over the family line of Jacob and Rachel. I believe the Lord would have chosen Leah to be Jacob's one and only wife if Jacob had consulted Him when he began thinking about marriage. Instead Jacob was captivated by the beauty and sexual allure of Rachel, disregarding her character flaws which we studied earlier in the Bible, and he preferred her over the less beautiful but more godly Leah. 

Before the Israelites go into the promised land to receive the territories the Lord plans to give them, Moses feels it's important to remind them that they can't disinherit a firstborn son even though they don't love the son's mother. Disinheritance is a serious matter that can only be undertaken in serious circumstances.

Join us tomorrow as we'll study a passage regarding a son who is so rebellious that his father can not only disinherit him but can also have him put to death.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 77, Marrying A Captive Woman

In our previous chapter we learned that, when the Israelites would attack a city at a distance from them (not the cities that the Lord commanded to be completely destroyed), they were to put to death all the enemy soldiers and take as plunder the women, children, livestock, and other possessions of their enemy. 

A man of Israel could marry one of these women if he chose. "When you go to war against your enemies and the Lord your God delivers them into your hands and you take captives, if you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife." (Deuteronomy 21:10-11)

This doesn't mean he can grab up a woman, throw her across his saddle so to speak, and ride off with her into the sunset. Certain procedures must be followed. The human dignity of the woman must be respected. Particular rights are granted to the woman under these conditions.

It is believed by many Christian and Jewish scholars that permission to marry foreign captive women was given by the Lord so the men would not engage in immoral sexual relations with the women. While marrying a woman from another culture was not ideal, it was better than having sex outside the bonds of matrimony and it was better than treating the foreign woman like a sex slave. That type of behavior defiled everyone involved. Our passage today seems to make it clear that if an Israelite soldier is attracted to one of the captured women from an enemy town, he may not have sexual relations with her unless he makes her his wife. He cannot make her his wife in every sense of the word until a whole month has passed, as we'll see momentarily.

A number of scholars propose that the woman is giving her consent to go home with the man to become his wife. If she consents to marry him, she will integrate into the culture and religion of Israel and will become---for all intents and purposes---an Israelite. She will have the rights of a wife; she will not be a slave. 

The Israelite man evidently proposes to make her his wife, at which point she goes home with him as his espoused wife but the two of them do not sleep together until a thirty-day period of time has passed. She must first make a clean break with her past and mourn the death of her old life. This doesn't necessarily mean she's going to be unhappy with her new life, just that it's natural to grieve for her old home and old culture. She will not be returning to the place of her childhood. She will not live with her parents or siblings ever again. She may have lost loved ones in the battle. She will be giving up the customs and religion of her old life and taking on the customs and religion of the Israelites. She needs time to adjust before she begins living as a foreign man's wife. Here is what the man is to do after she agrees to go home with him: "Bring her into your home and have her shave her head, trim her nails and put aside the clothes she was wearing when captured." (Deuteronomy 21:12-13a) 

Shaving one's head was often a sign of mourning but it was also used as part of a cleansing ritual. For example, we saw this earlier in the Bible when we studied what a person was to do after being healed of a communicable disease. They had to shave their heads (beards too, in the case of men) and bathe and change into clean clothes. The foreign woman who agrees to be the wife of a man of Israel must, after coming into his home, shave her head and clip her nails. Then she is given new garments and told to go bathe and change into them.

She is in mourning but she is also undergoing a cleansing ritual because she is coming from an idolatrous culture. She may have worn her hair differently than the Israelite women. She may have worn a different style of clothes. She may have worn the extra long nails of a woman of status who never performed any domestic chores. If she is going to become the wife of an Israelite she must look like the wife of an Israelite and not like a pagan woman. If she is going to serve the God of Israel she must dress in a godly and modest manner that befits a woman of the Lord. She must look like a woman capable of running a home and raising children. 

While she is learning how to integrate into the lifestyle of the Israelites, she is allowed to mourn her losses and make her peace with them. "After she has lived in your house and mourned her father and mother for a full month, then you may go to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife." (Deuteronomy 21:13b) The woman has enough to deal with during the first thirty days without having to immediately become the wife of a foreign man she's never seen before in her life. The Lord is protecting her from too much culture shock. During those thirty days in the man's house she gets to know him and become comfortable in his presence. This thirty-day period protects the man too. It keeps him from marrying a woman solely on the basis of physical attraction. Perhaps during the thirty days he realizes he dislikes her personality. Or perhaps he can tell the two of them will never get along. She may display no inclination to even try to like and respect him as her partner in life. He may decide he doesn't want to live with her and raise children with her. There may be all sorts of reasons why, when the thirty days are up, the man will feel this can never be a happy marriage. 

In that case he is to let her go as a free woman. "If you are not pleased with her, let her go wherever she wishes. You must not sell her or treat her as a slave, since you have dishonored her." (Deuteronomy 21:14) The man took her from her culture and integrated her into his own. Just as if she is a person from his own nation, he cannot sell her. An Israelite could not sell a fellow Israelite into slavery; we'll get to that portion of Scripture later in Deuteronomy. He also cannot use her as his own slave. He can't say, "Since I took you captive from another culture but you aren't going to be my wife, I'll make you into my servant instead. I'll put you out of my house and put you with the other captives." She has already been elevated above that status and cannot be returned to it. 

Because he engaged himself to her (and an engagement in ancient Israel was a legal contract almost as binding as marriage) and now wants to break up with her, he owes it to her to let her leave and go wherever she wants. He is ending their engagement not on the basis of her having been unfaithful to him, which any man could rightfully do, but simply because he no longer wants to marry her. She has been dishonored (disrespected, shamed) by his rejection and in return for making her feel this way he must grant her freedom. He has no rights over her anymore. She can go and marry another man if she wants.

This is, in essence, a divorce. Since engagement was a legal contract, breaking an engagement was also a legal procedure. You'll recall from the New Testament that when Joseph thought his fiancee Mary had been unfaithful to him, he intended to "put her away" (divorce her). They had not actually taken their marriage vows and were not having sexual relations with each other but still there was a divorce-type of legal procedure that was necessary to sever their relationship. It wasn't simple like in modern times where a person can say, "I'm not in love with you anymore. A marriage between us would be a mistake. I'm breaking up with you." In ancient Israel the man had to legally declare their union dissolved and give her divorce papers. This allowed her to marry someone else if she chose. It also, in the case of a woman who had been taken captive, served as proof of her status as a free woman. 

The Lord would have preferred Israelite men to marry only Israelite women, I'm sure, because there was always the danger that the foreign wife would cling spiritually to her old ways and perhaps entice the husband away from the Lord. But because the Lord knew some of the men would find the captive women attractive, and because He knew some of the men would give in to the temptation to sleep with these women outside the bonds of matrimony, He made allowances for the weakness of the flesh. A man could marry a foreign woman under the conditions outlined in our passage today.