Thursday, November 01, 2007

Deuteronomy 21:22–22:12

Deuteronomy 21:22–22:12: Various Laws

Synopsis

The NIV title for this passage—“Various Laws”—says it all: Moses simply hands down a number of seemingly unrelated laws in this passage.

And here they are:

  • Anyone convicted of a capital offense, who is executed and “hung on a tree” (verse 21:22), is not to be left hanging overnight. Since anyone who is hung on a tree is “under God’s curse,” the body is to be buried the same day, so that the Israelites will not “desecrate” the land (verse 21:23).
    • I’m not specifically sure what is meant by the phrase “hung on a tree,” in this passage. It may mean simply death by hanging, which the Israelites would presumably have done from a tree. However, this concept is also applied to Jesus’ death on the cross, in Galatians 3:13, in which Paul says that Christ became a curse for us, because he was hung on a tree.

      From what I know, I don’t think the Israelites were using crucifixion for punishment, but the phrase “hung on a tree” may be more general, and not just apply to death by hanging.
  • If somebody finds something that belongs to their “brother” (verse 22:1, 2, 3)—I assume that this is a more general term for any Israelite, and not just a biological brother—the person who found it is to return the item to the owner. If the owner doesn’t live anywhere near, or the person who found the item doesn’t know where the owner is, then the item is to be kept safe, until the owner comes looking for it.
    • The specific example given is if someone was to find someone else’s ox or sheep straying, but then in verse 22:3 it’s made more general: “Do the same if you find your brother’s donkey or his cloak or anything he loses. Do not ignore it.”
  • Similarly, if somebody finds a fellow Israelite’s livestock fallen on the road, he is to help the animal get back to its feet.
  • Women are not to wear men’s clothing, and neither are men to wear women’s clothing. Verse 22:5 says that the LORD “detests anyone who does this.”
  • If an Israelite comes across a bird’s nest, where the mother is sitting on the young (or eggs), s/he is not allowed to take the mother and the young. S/He is allowed to take the young, but the mother has to be allowed to go free, “so that it may go well with you and you may have a long life” (verse 22:7).
  • When a new house is built, it should have a parapet around the roof, so that the owner will not become guilty of bloodshed, from someone falling off the roof.
  • The Israelites are not to plant two kinds of seed in the same vineyard, are not to plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together, and are not to wear clothes made of both wool and linen woven together. Verse 22:9 says that planting two kinds of seed in the same vineyard would make the crops and the fruit of the vineyard “defiled,” although nothing specifically is said about yoking donkeys with oxen, or wearing garments of both wool and linen.
  • All cloaks worn by the Israelites are to have tassels on the four corners.
    • This is a reminder of a rule that was handed down in Numbers 15; it’s meant to prevent—or at the very least, reduce—lust.

Thoughts

Some of these rules are straightforward, and others are confusing.

I really don’t understand the rule about mother birds, and their young. My guess is that it’s an ecological thing; if you take the young, but leave the mother, at least she’ll still be able to have more young, and continue to propagate her species. If the Israelites got in the habit of taking the mothers and the young, at the same time, they would grow a greater risk of wiping out the species. I don’t know if that hypothesis holds any water, but it’s the one I came up with.

I also don’t understand the rules about mixing crops in a vineyard, or yoking donkeys with oxen, or wearing clothes made from wool and linen. Possibly, for the vineyard, God is worried about cross-pollination; maybe He doesn’t want the Israelites creating new species of grapes? And possibly, for yoking donkeys and oxen together, it has to do with the relative strength of the two animals—if, as I assume, oxen are much stronger than donkeys, than it would be very hard on a donkey to be yoked to an ox. Or maybe these rules have nothing to do with this reasoning. And I don’t have the faintest idea why the Israelites would be forbidden from wearing clothing made from linen and wool woven together.

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