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)