Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Deuteronomy 27:1–8

Deuteronomy 27:1–8: The Altar on Mount Ebal

Synopsis

This is another short passage, which is really just setting up the next couple of passages. In a way. But not really. I was going to just quote it verbatim, as I sometimes do, but I think I get more out of these blog postings if I talk about what’s happening, instead of just copying the text and pasting it here.

First off, Moses and the elders command the people to obey all of the commands that have been given to them. (I assume this means all of the laws that we’ve read about, in the book of Deuteronomy.)

Once the Israelites have crossed over the Jordan River into the Promised Land, they are to get some large stones, cover them in plaster, and write all of the words of the law on them. (They’ll have to be very large stones. Or there will have to be a lot of them. Especially since verse 8 instructs the people that the words of the law are to be written “very clearly.”) They are to set the stones up on Mount Ebal. (I tried looking for Mount Ebal on BibleMap.org, to show where it is, but it didn’t recognize it.)

They are also to set up an altar on Mount Ebal, made of stones—specifically, “fieldstones” (verse 6). (They aren’t allowed to use iron tools on the stones.) Once the altar is set up, they are to offer fellowship offerings there, and eat the offerings and rejoice in the presence of the LORD.

Thoughts

When the Israelites finally enter the Promised Land, the first thing they are to do is rejoice. And not just to rejoice at what the LORD has done for them, but simply to rejoice in His presence.

I’m not sure why they weren’t allowed to use iron tools on the stones they used for their altar. This isn’t the only case where this rule is given, there have been—or will be, I can’t remember which—other altars where they weren’t supposed to use iron tools.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Deuteronomy 26:16–19

Deuteronomy 26:16–19: Follow the LORD’s Commands

Synopsis

This passage is yet one more reminder to the Israelites to obey the LORD, and a promise that He will take care of them, if they do. It’s a short passage, so I’ll just quote it:

The LORD your God commands you this day to follow these decrees and laws; carefully observe them with all your heart and with all your soul. You have declared this day that the LORD is your God and that you will walk in his ways, that you will keep his decrees, commands and laws, and that you will obey him. And the LORD has declared this day that you are his people, his treasured possession as he promised, and that you are to keep all his commands. He has declared that he will set you in praise, fame and honor high above all the nations he has made and that you will be a people holy to the LORD your God, as he promised. (verses 16–19)

Thoughts

Once again, God has to remind the Israelites to obey His commandments. It’s not enough to just give them the laws, they have to be given the laws and constantly urged to follow them.

But there is also a genuine warmth here between God and His people. They are his “treasured possession,” and He will set them “in praise, fame and honour” above all of the other nations. They will also be holy to Him.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Deuteronomy 26:1–15

Deuteronomy 26:1–15: Firstfruits and Tithes

Synopsis

In this passage Moses hands down specific instructions for thanking the LORD for the first produce/crops the Israelites receive in the Promised Land, once they have arrived. In other words, once they go into the Promised Land, settle there, and begin farming, they are to remember who it was that provided the land and the food, and thank Him for it.

When they get to this point, they are to take some of the firstfruits from their crops/produce, put them in a basket, and bring them to the “priest in office at the time” (verse 3). (I’m not sure if this means the High Priest.) Interestingly, an amount is not specified, for produce the Israelites are to bring; it just says they are to bring “some.”

When they have brought the offering, they are to say to the priest, “I declare today to the LORD your God that I have come to the land the LORD swore to our forefathers to give us” (verse 3b). The priest is then to place the basket with the offering in front of the altar, and then the Israelites have another ceremony:

Then you shall declare before the LORD your God: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, putting us to hard labor. Then we cried out to the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with miraculous signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, O LORD, have given me.” (verses 5–10a)

The Israelites are then to rejoice in all of the good things the LORD has provided them.

This is for the first crops/produce the Israelites receive, once they take over the Promised Land. But then, in the third year, it will be the Year of the Tithe. So the Israelites are to set aside a tenth of all of their produce, to go to the Levites, and the aliens, fatherless, and widows. And again, the Israelites have a speech:

Then say to the LORD your God: “I have removed from my house the sacred portion and have given it to the Levite, the alien, the fatherless and the widow, according to all you commanded. I have not turned aside from your commands nor have I forgotten any of them. I have not eaten any of the sacred portion while I was in mourning, nor have I removed any of it while I was unclean, nor have I offered any of it to the dead. I have obeyed the LORD my God; I have done everything you commanded me. Look down from heaven, your holy dwelling place, and bless your people Israel and the land you have given us as you promised on oath to our forefathers, a land flowing with milk and honey.” (verses 13–15)

Thoughts

This is sort of a good news/bad news chapter. It’s good because the ceremonies being introduced here are specifically geared towards thanking the LORD for what He has provided.

It’s bad news just in the sense that the human heart makes this necessary. In 21st Century North American churches, we don’t like too much ceremony—I think it’s partially a knee-jerk reaction to churches/religions/denominations that put too much emphasis on ceremony, instead of faith—but we see quite a bit of ceremony happening in the Old Testament. Every Year of the Tithe the Israelites are not just to set aside their offerings, they are also to recite a little speech, reminding them of what the LORD has done for them. That’s not a bad thing. (I think saying grace before meals is probably the equivalent to this.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Deuteronomy 23:15–25:19

Deuteronomy 23:15–25:19: Miscellaneous Laws

Synopsis

This is a very long passage, in which Moses peppers the Israelites with many laws to obey. There doesn’t seem to be much of a relation between many of these laws; there isn’t a “theme” being followed.

  • If a slave takes refuge with the Israelites, they are to let him live among them, wherever he likes, and they are not to oppress him. They are not to hand him over to his master.
This is a very interesting law. It’s so difficult for me to get my mind around the fact that God even allowed slavery in His laws, but just when I start to get used to the idea, I see a law like this, which turns things on their head. Is it possible that God permits slavery, because of the wickedness of the Israelites’ hearts, even though He considers it bad/wrong? But if so, why didn’t He simply tell them to change their ways, and disallow slavery altogether? These are questions I can’t answer.

  • No Israelite—man or woman—is to become a shrine prostitute.
  • Earnings from prostitutes—male or female—are not to be brought into the house of the LORD to pay a vow, “because the LORD your God detests them both” (verse 23:18).
I’m assuming, for that second rule, that Moses is still referring to shrine prostitutes. Often, when the Old Testament is talking about prostitution, it’s talking specifically about shrine prostitutes. These are prostitutes that have sex with people as part of the worship of other gods. (For example, I think there were some gods of “fertility,” and it was believed that having sex with a shrine prostitute in the worship of these gods would help to increase crops, or possibly help you have male children, or that type of thing. There may have been other examples where shrine prostitutes would be used.) Of course these prostitutes are abhorrent to God, because they’re part of the worship of other gods, which is breaking His first commandment. I’m not saying that non-shrine prostitutes are/were okay, I’m just trying to be precise.

  • Israelites are not to charge fellow Israelites interest. They may charge foreigners interest, but not fellow Israelites.
To me, this is just part of being one of the “chosen people” of God. The Israelites were set aside as His people, and were to be different from the peoples around them. I can’t charge my brother interest, because he is part of God’s chosen people.

  • The Israelites are to be careful about making vows to the LORD. If they do make a vow, they are not to be slow to pay it, or the LORD will hold them guilty of sin. Verse 23:22 says that if they refrain from making a vow, they will not be guilty, which indicates to me that it would be better not to vow anything to the LORD, unless sure of being able to pay it. As it says in verse 23:23:

    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.
To a certain extent, this rule is just plain common sense: Don’t vow to do something, unless you can really do it. But there is also another reasoning behind this, in which God wants the Israelites to realize that their vows to Him are important, and must be honoured. It can be tempting sometimes to say things like, “LORD, if you get me out of this mess, I’ll give you all of my money for a month!” Or to simply say things to make a point. But God is not pleased with this kind of unthinking vow.

  • If an Israelite enters a fellow Israelite’s vineyard, he can eat all of the grapes he wants. He’s not allowed to put any in his basket—which, to me, is just a way of saying that he’s not allowed to collect any—but while he’s there, he can eat them.
  • The same rule applies to a grainfield; kernels can be picked by hand, but an Israelite wouldn’t be allowed to use a sickle on his neighbour’s grain.
These rules are very cool. I love this. Talk about welfare! God is providing rules so that the poor can be fed, and yet at the same time preventing people with crops from being ripped off. And, really, a vineyard has a lot of grapes in it; even if I walk into a vineyard and fill up on grapes, the person who owns the field will barely miss them.

  • The next rule is kind of complex, so I’ll just quote it:

    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. (verses 24:1–4)
This is interesting, to me. I marry a woman, and then divorce her—because I have found something “indecent” about her—and then she gets married to someone else. Later on she becomes single again. But if I were to marry her again, this would be detestable in the eyes of the LORD. I’m not allowed to marry her again after she has been “defiled,” but I’m not sure which part was the part that defiled her; was it the “indecent” thing I found about her that caused me to divorce her in the first place? Or the divorce itself? Or was it the second marriage? My guess—and this is only a guess—is that this is really hinging on the “indecent” thing the first husband discovers about his wife. If he marries her again, one of two things is happening:
  1. The “indecent” thing he discovered about her wasn’t really indecent at all. In this case, he has maligned a good woman’s name by divorcing her for no reason.
  2. Or, if the thing he discovered really was indecent, then he shouldn’t be marrying her.
Neither of these thoughts are really properly formed, in my mind.

  • When a man gets married, he is to have a full year with his wife, “to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married” (verse 24:5). During this time, he is not to be sent to war, or have any other “duty” laid on him.
This is a rehash of a rule that was given in Deuteronomy 20.

  • When an Israelite makes a loan, he is not to take the person’s millstone as collateral, because that would be taking away the person’s livelihood.
I’m pretty sure, for this rule, that the rule is referring to a millstone as an example, and not an absolute. That is, I’m assuming that you can’t take away the person’s livelihood, regardless of what it is. At first glance, this is just common sense; if you take away the person’s means of making a living, how would they ever be able to pay you back? But there is something more insidious, that the loanees are being protected from: sometimes, people will make loans in such a way that it’s impossible to pay the loan back, in which case they basically get an indentured labourer working for them—someone who will always be in their debt. Laws like this one try to prevent that from happening.

  • If an Israelite kidnaps a fellow Israelite, to make him a slave or to sell him, the one who committed this crime is to be executed.
Sounds pretty straightforward to me. Next…

  • When an Israelite gets a skin disease, s/he is to carefully obey all of the instructions of the priests, as the LORD has commanded them. Verse 24:9 gives a warning, which refers back to Numbers 12:

    Remember what the LORD your God did to Miriam along the way after you came out of Egypt.
Verse 24:8 actually says “leprous diseases,” but the footnote indicates that the Hebrew word “leprous” was “used for various diseases affecting the skin—not necessarily leprosy.” I find it interesting that God specifically includes a rule where he instructs the Israelites to obey His other rules. Shows us something about the sinfulness of the human heart.

  • When a loan is made, and the person borrowing offers a pledge in return for the loan, the person making the loan is not go to into the loanee’s house, to get the pledge; the man is to go into his own house, and get the pledge, to bring out to the loaner.
  • If the person taking the loan is poor, the person giving the loan is not to keep the pledge overnight; verse 24:13 says that the person’s cloak is to be returned to him by sunset, so that he may sleep in it.
  • If this is done properly, the person receiving the loan will thank the person giving the loan, and God will regard it as a righteous act.
The first rule given here seems, to me, to be about letting the person accepting the loan keep his dignity. The second shows God’s concern for the poor, and His desire for His people to treat the poor properly. The third isn’t a rule at all; it’s just a prediction of what will happen, if people follow the rules properly.

  • The Israelites are not to take advantage of hired workers who are poor and needy—fellow Israelites or aliens—by withholding their wages. Wages are to be paid each day, before sunset, because the people are counting on these wages to live.
  • If an Israelite does withhold wages from a hired worker, that worker may cry out to the LORD, who would hold the boss guilty of sin.
Again, a nice law that shows God’s concern for the poor. As with the rules above, the second point is not a rule, but a prediction of what will happen if bosses don’t follow the rules.

  • Fathers are not to be punished for the crimes of their children, and neither are children to be punished for the crimes of their fathers. Each are to be punished for their own sins.
Verse 24:16 actually says that fathers are not to be put to death for the crimes of their children, and children not put to death for the crimes of their fathers. I’m assuming, though, that this would also apply to other crimes, that don’t deserve the death penalty.

  • A very general rule comes next:

    Do not deprive the alien or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this.(verses 24:17–18)
The reasoning behind this rule is interesting. God doesn’t just say, “be just because it’s the right thing to do,” or even, “be just because I am just” (although He does say that elsewhere, or at least something like it). He says, “put yourself in their place; would you want to be deprived of justice? Remember what it felt like in Egypt, when the Egyptians treated you cruelly? Then you shouldn’t do the same to someone else!”

  • When the Israelites are harvesting their fields, or beating the olives from their olive trees, or harvesting the grapes from their vineyards, they are only to go over the crops once. They are not to go back over the field/tree/vineyard again, looking for anything they missed—they are to leave that for the poor. (Verse 24:19 uses the phrase that gets used a lot in the Old Testament: “the alien, the fatherless and the widow.”)
  • Verse 24:22 instructs the Israelites, again, to remember that they themselves were slaves in Egypt, and says that that’s why God is giving this command.
So again, we see God’s concern for the poor, and a very interesting form of welfare.

  • Disputes are to be taken to court, where the judges will decide the case. They are to acquit the innocent and condemn the guilty.
  • If the guilty man deserves to be beaten, the judge is to decide the number of lashes, based on his crime. But the number is never to exceed forty, so that he won’t be degraded in his fellow Israelites’ eyes.
Aside from the fact that we don’t have flogging in our 21st Century North American legal systems, I find it interesting that even though the guilty man is being punished for his crime, God doesn’t want him to be degraded in the eyes of his fellow Israelites. Also, the passage doesn’t mention what types of disputes are to be brought to the courts; I would assume that simple matters would be handled by the men themselves, instead of bringing it to court.

  • While an ox is “treading out the grain”—I assume this is something the Israelite farmers would be familiar with—it is not to be muzzled.
My first thought is that it’s not just humans that God has concern for; it’s animals, too. But that being said, this rule (verse 25:4) is quoted twice in the New Testament, and indications are that it’s really a metaphor:

The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.” Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning. (1 Timothy 5:17–20)

and

Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk? Do I say this merely from a human point of view? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more? (1 Corinthians 9:7–12a)

I’m especially looking at the part that says, “Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he?” It’s written even more explicitly in other versions:
  • ESV: “Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not speak entirely for our sake? It was written for our sake…”
  • NASB: “God is not concerned about oxen, is He? Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written…”
  • KJV: “Doth God take care for oxen? Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt…”
I was thinking that God is writing a law for oxen, but also using it as a metaphor for humans. But Paul seems to be indicating that it’s just a metaphor. And, depending on the version of the Bible you happen to have, he seems to be saying that more or less explicitly. So… sorry, oxen.

  • When a man marries, but then dies before producing a son, his wife is to marry one of the dead husband’s brothers, who is to “fulfil the duty of a brother-in-law to her” (verse 25:5)—in other words, he is to help her produce a son.
  • The son, when he is born, will be considered to be a son of the dead husband, rather than the brother-in-law. He will carry on the dead man’s name, so that it won’t be “blotted out from Israel” (verse 25:6).
  • If the brother-in-law refuses to marry the woman, she is to go to the elders, and tell them so. The elders are then to summon him and try and talk some sense into him (my words), but if the man still refuses, the woman is to go up to him, take off one of her sandals, spit in his face, and say, “This is what is done to the man who will not build up his brother’s family line” (verse 25:9b)
    • If that happens, the brother-in-law’s family line will be known in Israel as “The Family of the Unsandaled” (verse 25:10).
The first part of this, about the duty of the brother-in-law, doesn’t really hold much meaning for me, because we don’t have the same sense of maintaining a family line, in my culture. (Of course, for the Old Testament Israelites, it was even more important, because the family line would also dictate what land you owned.) The second part, about the rules for a brother-in-law who doesn’t fulfil his obligation, sounds very strange to me; Like I say, I don’t get the reasons for the rule in the first place, but the penalty sounds almost… silly. To me.

  • If two men are fighting, and the wife of one of the men tries to protect her husband by grabbing the other man’s private parts, she is to have her hand cut off. Verse 25:12 says that she is not to be shown pity.
This is a very interesting one. I think the intent of the rule is this: a woman is not to be touching the private parts of any man but her husband, with no exceptions. Even in the case where it’s not meant in a sexual way at all, like in this case, no exception is to be made. (If that’s the case, of course, one might wonder why there isn’t a similar rule written for men.) I’m not convinced that this is the reasoning behind this rule, but it’s a theory.

  • The Israelites are to be honest in their buying and selling. They’re not to have two sets of weights, or two sets of measures, for buying and selling. They’re to have one, accurate, set of weights, and one, accurate, set of measures.
  • If they are honest in their dealings, they will live long in the land that the LORD is providing them.

    For the LORD your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly. (verse 25:16)
This may be self-evident, but just in case it’s not, I’ll explain: Many merchants, in that day and age, would have two sets of weights or measures, and both would be inaccurate. For example, if I had a weight that was supposed to measure 1kg, I would have one that was slightly less than 1kg, and one that was slightly more than 1kg. If I wanted to buy 1kg worth of sugar, I’d measure it using the weight that weighed more than 1kg, and I’d end up paying for 1kg of sugar, and getting more. On the other hand, if I were selling 1kg worth of sugar, I’d measure it using the weight that’s slightly less than 1kg, and would get paid for 1kg of sugar, but give away less. But, as mentioned, the LORD doesn’t like this. It’s not “good business,” it’s just dishonest. His people are to value Him more than they are to value a profit.

  • Because of what the Amalekites did to the Israelites—see Exodus 17—the Israelites are to “blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven” (verse 25:19). (I think it’s pretty safe to say that this means the Israelites are to destroy the Amalekites.) Once the LORD has given the Israelites rest from all of the enemies within the Promised Land, they are to turn their attention to the Amalekites, and carry out God’s judgement.
This is one of those instances where God proves that He doesn’t forget, but is patient to carry out His promises—even if those promises are negative. God promised in Exodus 17:14 that He would blot out the memory of the Amalekites, and this passage in Deuteronomy is a reminder to the Israelites that He is going to use them as His tool in doing so.

Thoughts

Again, I have to wonder if I’m wandering into sacrilegious or blasphemous areas to say that I “like” some rules and “don’t like” others. But I’m humble about it, in my own heart; I know that when I don’t understand something, it’s my own lack of understanding, not God’s rules that are messed up.

I really didn’t expect to write so much about a simple verse like 25:4, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” But that’s one of the benefits of blogging your way through the Bible: sometimes you have to stop and examine a verse more closely, when you would have been tempted to simply skim over it, reading it in your bedroom before bed.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Deuteronomy 23:9–14

Deuteronomy 23:9–14: Preventing uncleanness from entering the camp

Synopsis

In this passage, Moses talks about some things the Israelite soldiers are to do, when they are encamped against their enemies, to prevent uncleanness from entering their camp. The main theme is summed up in verse 9:

When you are encamped against your enemies, keep away from everything impure.

But there are really only two rules given in this passage.

First, if one of the men in the camp becomes unclean because of a “nocturnal emission” (verse 10)—what we would commonly call a “wet dream”—he is to go outside of the camp for the day. He is to wash himself in the evening, and then he will be allowed to return to the camp at sunset.

Second, there is to be a designated place, outside the camp, for the men to relieve themselves. They are also to have an implement for digging as part of their standard equipment, so that when they relieve themselves, they can dig a hole, and then cover up their excrement.

Why?

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. (verse 14)

Thoughts

People sometimes get an idea that the Bible shies away from talking about certain things; that you never see anybody in the Bible going to the bathroom, for example. However, this is simply untrue. (See, for example, 1 Samuel 24, in which Saul does—gasp!—go to the bathroom.) This passage is another example, where the rules being handed down to the Israelites even go as far as covering going to the bathroom, and nocturnal emissions.

The first time I read this, or maybe the first few times, it did raise another question for me: Why would the LORD turn away from the Israelites because of their bodily waste? I understand that He is holy, but going to the bathroom is not sinful; why would He have a problem with that? But it just emphasizes again that He is far above us, and that we could never get to Him on our own. Our waste is just one more proof that we could never enter His presence. Which is why He had to do all of the work for us, in saving us from ourselves.

This also means that nocturnal emissions are probably not “sinful,” either. Just because they make the man unclean, it doesn’t mean that he has sinned when it happens.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Deuteronomy 23:1–8

Deuteronomy 23:1–8: Exclusion from the “Assembly”

Synopsis

In this chapter, Moses gives the Israelites rules about people who are to be excluded from the “assembly of the LORD.” Unfortunately, I’m not completely sure what the “assembly of the LORD”—also called the “congregation of the LORD” in the King James Version—is. I’m assuming it’s participation in Israelite religious activities, that involve going to the Tabernacle/Temple.

But here is the list of people who are to be excluded:

  • Anyone who has been emasculated
  • Anyone “born of a forbidden marriage” (verse 2), which can also be translated as “one of illegitimate birth.” Even this person’s descendants, down to the tenth generation, are to be excluded.
  • No Ammonite or Moabite, even down to the tenth generation, can enter the assembly. Why?

    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.
On the other hand, the Israelites are not to “abhor” Edomites or Egyptians (verse 7); Edomites because they are the Israelites’ brothers, and Egyptians because the Israelites lived as aliens in Egypt. They can’t get into the assembly right away, though; only after the third generation of children may they enter the assembly.

Thoughts

You may have noticed that everything listed here, that would make someone excluded from the assembly, is outside of that person’s control. It hardly seems fair; after all, if my parents weren’t married when I was born, that’s not my fault, is it? I can see them being excluded from the assembly, but why me?

However, these rules aren’t about the Israelites, they’re about the LORD. As a Holy God, He demands perfection, and won’t permit imperfections to come near Him—regardless of their cause.

The rules make a lot more sense to me when I look at it from my point of view: I was born sinful, and, therefore, could never have entered into God’s presence. Aside from church, or the “assembly,” there would eventually have come a time for me to die, and when I did, I wouldn’t have been able to enter His presence. Although I am responsible for my own sins, there is also a sense in which I couldn’t have prevented myself from committing sins, because I’m a slave to sin (Romans 6, 7:7–25, Galatians 4–5). (It’s not a perfect analogy, because I am responsible for my sins, whereas someone who was born a bastard had no control over the situation.) But this is part of why grace is called “grace:” God didn’t have to save me, but He did. And although I don’t deserve to enter His presence, one day I will.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Deuteronomy 22:13–30

Deuteronomy 22:13–30: Marriage Violations

Synopsis

I haven’t been looking forward to blogging about this passage, because there are some things in here that I simply don’t like reading in the LORD’s Holy Bible. This is very similar to my thoughts on Deuteronomy 21:18–21; I think there are cultural issues that I don’t understand, as well as not having a proper perspective—meaning the LORD’s perspective—on these rules.

That being said, this passage deals with a number of things that the NIV heading classifies as “marriage violations.” I usually save my own thoughts and perspectives until the end of the post, for the Thoughts section, but for this passage, I’ll have some thoughts throughout the post, too.

  • First, the rules deal with a man who marries a woman, lies with her, and then decides that he doesn’t like her. If he tries to claim that she wasn’t a virgin, when he married her, but the girl’s father is able to provide proof that she was a virgin, the man is to be punished for slandering her. The punishment for the husband is that he has to pay the woman’s father 1 kilogram of silver. However, she must continue to be his wife; he is not allowed to divorce her.
    • This means, of course, that when a man and woman get married, and lie with each other the first time, the woman has to provide to her father the sheet (or cloth) on which they had sex, for the proof that she was a virgin.
Note that the part about not divorcing her is key, and it’s part of the whole cultural situation in which these rules are written: women, in the Israelite society, didn’t really have lives of their own, outside of being a daughter or a wife. A single Israelite woman wouldn’t really have an opportunity to go and get a job, and live on her own; the women were completely dependent on their fathers, and then on their husbands, to live. In this case, if the man were to divorce the woman, she would be completely destitute, and have nowhere to turn for survival. Not to mention that no other man would want to marry her—so even if she were to return to her father’s house, her father would eventually die, and she would still have nobody to take care of her. So when these rules forbid the man from divorcing the woman, it’s for her benefit.

  • The rules then talk about the flip side to this situation; what if the woman can’t prove that she was a virgin, when she married? In that case, she is to be brought to the door of her father’s house, and she is to be stoned to death. Verse 21 says that “… She has done a disgraceful thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father’s house. You must purge the evil from among you.” This seems draconian to me, but again, it just means that the LORD takes promiscuity more seriously than I do. (This shouldn’t be too surprising; living in 21st Century North America, I’ve been raised to think that promiscuity is no big deal.)
  • Similarly, if a man is caught sleeping with a married woman, both the man and the woman are to be executed. (No method of execution is mentioned, but I’m assuming it’s stoning again.)
The next three rules I’m going to do out of order:

  • If a man rapes a virgin, who is not pledged to be married, he is to pay the girl’s father 0.6 kilograms of silver, and marry the girl.
Being “pledged to be married” is a state akin to being “engaged,” but more legally binding.

This rule surprised me. I had been expecting that a man caught raping a woman would be executed. And the fact that the girl now has to marry the man who raped her… well, it seems counterintuitive to me. However, the cultural context is again very important here: If the man were executed, what would happen to the girl? Since she would no longer be a virgin, no man would want to marry her, and so she’d have no means of supporting herself. (And, along those lines, I’m sure the Israelites had as much of a tendency to “blame the victim” as we do in 21st Century North America—there would always be a lingering doubt, in men’s minds, as to whether she was really raped or not.)

  • If a man is out in the country—as opposed to being within a city—and comes across a girl who is pledged to be married, and he rapes her, he is to be executed. Again, no method of execution is given.
This one makes more sense to me than the previous one. The man rapes a woman, and he is executed for it. It “feels” more like justice to me, and doesn’t leave the lingering uncomfortableness that the previous rule left. However, in my mind, this law also depends on the man who is currently betrothed to the woman going through with it, and marrying her, even though she is no longer a virgin. If he didn’t, then again, the woman would be destitute, and would have nowhere to turn to provide for herself.

  • On the other hand, if the same thing happens, but within a city, both the man and the woman are to be executed: “the girl because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man’s wife” (verse 24).
And again, this one leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I don’t understand it. Even if the woman were being raped within a city, what are probably going to be the first words out of the man’s mouth? I’m guessing something along the lines of, “scream and I’ll kill you.” If I were writing the laws—and this is heresy, I realize that—I would have had the man executed, just as he was in the previous law.

Finally:

  • A man is not to marry his father’s wife—since it’s worded this way, I assume this means that a man cannot marry his mother or his step-mother—because this would “dishonor his father’s bed” (verse 30).

Thoughts

When I say things like, “this law makes sense to me,” or, “that law doesn’t make sense to me,” don’t think that I’m offering judgements on God’s law; I mean just what I’m saying: whether or not the laws make sense to me. As I’ve been saying in other posts, if it doesn’t make sense to me, the problem is with me, and my understanding, not with the law.

I don’t know if I’m overstating the case, when I talk about women not being able to support themselves on their own. For the most part, I’m inferring that, from other passages, and rules such as the ones in this passage.

As life goes on, and I read the Bible over and over again, I’ll continue to come to passages like this, that I don’t understand, and hopefully God will provide more understanding as time goes by.