Thursday, 13 March 2014

(73) March 14: Deuteronomy 20-22 & Mark 14:26-50

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­­
As you read consider how each law actually protected people.

To ponder:
At first read these laws are hard. But we have seen God’s goodness, justice and mercy already displayed throughout his law. So we can be confident of these same things when these laws are considered in their original context. To properly deal with them, this is a longer post!
           When Israel go to war they are to be reminded they need not fear as God fights for them. Their faith in this is to be displayed by allowing the army to be diminished through permitting any not wholly committed to return home. And mercy is seen in offering peace to Canaanite cities outside the land God is giving. Those accepting this peace would then serve Israel; whereas those refusing would have all their men killed, and women, children and everything else taken. Although difficult to contemplate, this means God’s judgement is actually tempered, saving these cities from the utter destruction of those in the area Israel would actually inhabit. Although all sin deserves death (Rom 3v23), God takes no delight in it (Ezek 18v23). The only reason the closer cities are to be totally destroyed is so Israel are not led by them into idolatry and sin, bringing God’s judgement upon themselves.
            Various laws follow: Upholding the principle of “a life for a life,” an unsolved killing requires the elders from the nearest town to take an unworked heifer through untouched (so clean) land to a stream. Before Levites, they are then to wash their hands and break its neck, declaring their innocence and asking the LORD to accept the heifer as atonement. This reminds us God’s justice must always be satisfied, just as it is most supremely in Christ (Rom 3v25-26).
            Where the men of an enemy city outside Israel’s inheritance are killed, the women and children would be left without any to care for them. Whereas Israelites are not normally allowed to marry Canaanites, in this instance they are permitted to. The woman is to shave, cut her nails and put aside her clothes, probably to show she is leaving her old life behind and beginning a new one within God’s covenant people. And she must be respected. Rather than being raped or enslaved, she is to be given a month for mourning before marriage. And if her husband is displeased with her, she cannot be sold, but must be allowed to go “wherever she pleases.” The word “dishonoured” means “had your way with.” The sense is that the man’s taking of the woman is the reason she can’t be traded, because it gives her the status of an Israelite. Paul’s teaching that unbelieving spouses are “sanctified” by marriage to Christians doesn’t mean they are saved, but may reflect a similar principle (1 Cor 7v14). They benefit from being amongst God’s people and are set-apart by God for his purposes within that family.
            In polygamous marriages, favouritism with the inheritance is not to be shown to a specific son (21v15-17). And because God’s promise depended on the passing on of his commands to children, the obedience of each generation, and the headship of men, persistently rebellious sons are to be stoned to death - if the elders agree. The particular reason is to “purge” the evil from Israel and also deter others from the same through fear. One expects it therefore to be rarely applied. In being called “a profligate and drunkard” this law seems to refer to older sons.   
            Those put to death were hung on a tree to show they were under God’s “curse” (judgement), and probably also to deter others. Just as uncleanness marked the sort of imperfections stemming from the curse of Genesis 3, the cursed body must be taken down at night so the land is not made unclean by its presence. Jesus was effectively hung on a tree to demonstrate that he was bearing God’s curse. Yet through that made us wholly clean (Gal 3v13, 1 Pet 2v24).
            Laws follow affirming responsibility for one’s neighbours property (22v1-4), the importance of maintaining gender differences in appearance, care even for the smallest animals, health and safety in building and the importance of tassels as reminders to keep the law (Num 15v37-41). The reasons for the distinctions in 22v9-11 are uncertain. They may be a rejection of Egyptian agricultural practice, working clean and unclean animals together, and wearing the sort of clothes worn by prostitutes. Or they may simply affirm that with God especially present, the distinctions of creation must be maintained as a testimony to his holy perfection and order.
            The law on proving virginity seems degrading but was to protect new wives from being rejected by husbands who simply “dislike” them. However, if virginity when married is not proved, the penalty is death for the immorality, but perhaps for deceiving the husband too. Being stoned at the “door of her father’s house” showed he was implicated, maybe in his parenting, or in not speaking when there was no proof of his daughter’s virginity on her wedding night.
            The penalty for sleeping with a betrothed virgin is the same as for adultery, as she is already treated as “another man’s wife.” Both must therefore be put to death if this occurred in a town, as the woman’s failure to scream (presumably during or immediately following the act) is taken as consent. This shows how serious Mary’s pregnancy would have been regarded. If it occurred in the country however, only the man should die as the girl could not shout for help. If she is not betrothed, the rape is not adulterous and so the man must pay what was probably the bride price, and marry and not divorce the girl. This would be a deterrent, but also protected the girl and any child that might result. The chapter ends with a reminder a man cannot marry his stepmother.

Praying it home:
Thank God for his concern to protect the needy and ensure justice. Pray that these things would be increasingly reflected in our culture.

Thinking further:
None today.

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