Deuteronomy 22-26: Grace Obedience
March 21, 2020
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
This section is entitled in many Bible versions as “Various Laws” which does not particularly encourage the careful attention of the average reader! To be fair, though much of these chapters bespeak “various laws,” there is also an undergirding rationale behind it that comes right at the end of chapter 26. They are to obey these commandments, for the people of Israel are God’s “treasured possession,” and God will set his people “in praise and in fame and in honor high above all nations that he has made” (26:18-19). While, then, much of this is specific to the nation-state of Israel, its overall intention is to set apart a people as “holy” to God, with a special mission and responsibility, to be witnesses to God and honored by God throughout the world. The laws are many in this section, but the overall intention is solo: God’s glory through his people’s blessing.
Some of the instructions are to do with civil justice, or good neighborliness. Don’t ignore a brother’s ox if it is going astray (22:1). That is, if you see someone’s car with its lights on, go and let the owner know! Some are to do with the care of the natural world that they were intended to have: not taking the mother bird and her young together; otherwise, it will kill the generation to come (22:6-7). It would be good if we remembered such principles in our agricultural and natural interactions with the world of nature. Some are more specifically moral in nature (men don’t wear women’s clothing, and women don’t wear men’s clothing, 22:5), which itself underlines a common principle here of not “mixing together” cloths of wool and linen (22:11). Why are they told to wear tassels on the four corners of their garment (22:12)? Perhaps to indicate they are separate, different, and so point to their allegiance to God.
Then come laws regarding sexual morality particularly (22:13-30). There is mercy here—if a man in the countryside meets a woman who is betrothed and has relations with her, it is assumed that the engaged woman would have cried out for help but there was no one nearby to rescue her or hear her cries (22:25-27); therefore, only the man shall be punished by death. But generally tough laws are prescribed to guard the biblical value of marriage.
Chapter 23 has laws about what would exclude them from the assembly (23:1-8), as well as how to ensure lavatorial hygiene in the camp (23:12); permission to charge loans to a foreigner, but not to another member of the community (23:19-20); and how to keep the vows they make to God (23:21-23).
The famous laws about divorce come at the beginning of chapter 24. Given that Moses has already said a couple of times that they are married all their lives, this is rightly read more as an attempt to limit damage of a likely human reality. Or as Jesus put it, “because your hearts are hard” (24:1-4; Matthew 19:8). Laws then follow about how to collect a debt (24:10-13), and how not to allow someone to put a millstone up for collateral (24:6)—in other words, they were not to take something that was central to a person’s livelihood when they loaned money. Do not distort justice, and look after the sojourner or the foreigner (24:14-22).
Levirate marriage is described in chapter 25 (v. 5-10), and the brother of the deceased husband who refuses to marry his wife and so keep the line intact is ceremonially shamed for his unwillingness to comply with this mercy (25:10), while acknowledging that you cannot force someone to have a marriage in any real sense. Then laws about fair weights (25:13-15), and about being agents of God’s justice against the Amalekites (25:17-19).
Chapter 26 has a long account of the offering of the firstfruits with a historical rendition intended to be recited when the gift is made. This is to remind them of their humble past and God’s rescue of them. The section concludes on an edifying note: “And the Lord has declared today that you are a people for his treasured possession, as he has promised you, and that you are to keep all his commandments, and that he will set you in praise and in fame and in honor high above all nations that he has made, and that you shall be a people holy to the Lord your God, as he promised” (26:18-19).
In short, they were to obey God because he redeemed them, and this will be to their own great honor, blessing and eternal benefit, and so in turn glorify the God who rescued them.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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