Archive | January, 2019

God loves roof fences? [Should Christians Observe the Old Testament Law – Deuteronomy 21-25, part 4]

31 Jan

See the roof fence in this picture? It’s called a parapet. Did you know that God’s heart beats for parapets? Or does it? Does God care about that kind of thing? What does God’s heart beat for?

Do you know God’s heart? What makes God’s heart beat? Even in ancient laws created for the people of Israel over 3000 years ago, laws that might seem bizarre or even wrong upon first reading, we can and should find God’s heart under-girding those laws.

In this series of posts, we’re looking into how Christians can interact with the Old Testament Law. After introducing this topic in part 1, we began applying David Dorsey’s four steps that a Christian can use to interpret and apply every Old Testament Law. Step 1 was to remember that this law is not for us. Step 2 invites the Christian to do an investigation into the historical, cultural situation of the Israelites, so as to understand better what that law meant to them. Once we do the historical work, we arrive at Step 3, and that is to answer the question: What is the theological significance of this law?  In other words, what does that law show us about God’s heart?  Here we have to do a bit of creative thinking.  It can be easy to get way too literal. 

We’ve been referring to Deuteronomy 22:5 throughout this series of posts. There God says that it is detestable for women to wear men’s clothing, and for men to wear women’s clothing. Step 1 reminds us that this law is not for us. Step 2 revealed that Canaanite worship including cross-dressing, and God very much wanted Israel to steer clear of anything remotely connected to false worship. Now in Step 3, what does this reveal to us about God’s heart?

We could simply say, it reveals to us that God really wants men to wear only men’s clothing, and women to want only women’s clothing. But as I said before, that misses the heart of what he was hoping to accomplish in the lives of the Israelites.  Instead, what he really wanted was for them to remain faithful to him, worshiping him, and not getting mixed up in pagan religious practices.  His heart was for their purity and faithfulness to him. 

And that heart is something that we can carry over to our lives. 

Let’s try this method out with another law.  A few verses after the cross-dressing law, in Deuteronomy 22:8, God requires the Israelites to build parapets around their roofs.  Step 1 puts us in the right frame of mind: this law is not for us. Step 2, what it meant to them was that most dwellings in ancient Israel were built with flat roofs, and the people often used them as living space.  In the evening they would sleep there to get out of the sweltering heat inside.  As you can imagine, a flat roof is dangerous, especially for kids, and other accident prone people, because you can easily fall off the roof.  So the remedy is to build a fence around the roof, a barrier to keep people from falling off.  Was God concerned about fence building?  No.  He was concerned about their safety.  His heart was for the health and life of his people.  He didn’t want needless accidents.   Now that heart is something that we can carry over too.

See how we can learn God’s heart behind what seem to be strange laws? That brings us to step 4.  How can we apply that principle to our lives?  Check back in to part 5 of our series for that!

Hunger is the best pickle? [Should Christians Observe the Old Testament Law – Deuteronomy 21-25, part 3]

30 Jan
Photo by Jonathan Pielmayer on Unsplash

Hunger is the best pickle? Do you know what that means? Have you ever heard that saying before? Don’t google it just yet. Instead you’re going to need to time travel!

Think time travel is not possible? What we’re going to discover today is this if you want to understand the Old Testament Law, you need to travel back in time. Maybe not through a time machine, but certainly through research. While we might never be able to attain 100% understanding of the historical and cultural society of ancient Israel, we can and should learn about it if we want to understand the Old Testament Law. In this five-part blog series on the various laws in Deuteronomy 21-25, we are seeking to learn and apply David Dorsey’s four-step method for how Christians can interact with the Mosaic Law. After getting a firm grasp on Step 1, the idea that these laws were not meant for us, we now go to Step 2 asking, what did the law mean to the people of ancient Israel?  We have to investigate and seek to understand their time period, requiring some work, requiring removing, as much as possible, our contemporary filters, and stepping into the ancient world. We need time travel!

Michael Cosby illustrates this in his book Interpreting Biblical Literature when he mentions the quote above: “Hunger is the best pickle”?  Again, don’t google it yet!  Just look at it on screen.  Do you know what it means?  To understand what it means, it would help to know who said it.

Let me give you a clue: If you lived in the United States 250 years ago, you would probably know who said it, and you would know what it means. 

Ben Franklin said it.  One of our founding fathers, Franklin is famous for his humorous and wise sayings.  You can probably say a few yourself.  A penny saved, is a _____ ______?  But what about this one? “Hunger is the best pickle?”  What in the world is he talking about?

To understand what Franklin was talking about it would be really helpful to know something of the era that he lived in.  What about hunger and pickles is significant in the world of 1750s America?  Actually, we have a reference point right here in the county I live in, Lancaster, PA, in 2019.  If you live here, or if you have ever been here, you might have eaten at Isaac’s restaurants. What do they serve before the meal?  Little bowls of pickles, and pickled vegetables.  Most restaurants in our day and age, however, and most people in their homes, do not serve pickles as an appetizer.  Isaac’s does.  What you need to know to understand Franklin’s saying “Hunger is the best pickle” is that in his day and age in the American colonies that would become the USA, it was common practice for pickles to be served as an appetizer.  And what is the purpose of an appetizer?  To increase your appetite for the meal!  Now is the saying starting to make sense? 

Hunger, Franklin is saying, is the best appetizer!  He is kinda making fun of the whole practice of appetizers.  But you can’t know that unless you do a little work to understand Franklin’s time and culture. 

This practice of cultural investigation happens in our world today regularly.  When Michelle and I, and our son Connor, visited Michelle’s sister and brother-in-law and their family in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 2016, I experienced it.  My brother-in-law is the pastor of an international church there, and he asked me to speak, which was quite an honor.  I decided to adapt a sermon that I had preached here.  There was no way I could preach that sermon as is, even though I was preaching to Christians there just as I did here.  There, many of the people in the congregation are not from America.  In fact, they have 25 different nationalities in their congregation, speaking 40 different languages!  So I had to go through the sermon and remove a bunch of references to American or Lancastrian culture that they would not understand.  After the sermon, I got talking to an Iranian Christian, and our conversation eventually made its way to our cultural differences.  I told him that I had changed the sermon.  He asked me to give him an example of a change, to see if he could understand it.

I told him one, and I want to see if you can understand it.  Here’s what I said to him, “at one point in the sermon, I was talking about how it seems to me that the Apostle Paul is going down a bunny trail.”

Do I have to explain to you what a bunny trail is?  Nope.  You know it.  First of all, you are likely very familiar with rabbits.  You might have rabbits in your yard, and you might even have bunny trails in your yard.  You can picture it in your head.  When rabbits start hopping away from a perceived threat, they speedily dart around all over the place.  That is the literal depiction of bunny trails.  But you are also familiar with the figurative use of the concept.  Just like bunnies dart all over the place, we describe people who in their flow of thought or talk, get off track from the main idea, as going down a bunny trail.  If you are in school, you might have a teacher who loves to go down bunny trails.  Sometimes, students pick up on this, and try to get the teacher off track!  When I am talking about that kind of teacher, even though I am using the phrase “going down a bunny trail”, you know that I am no longer talking about actual bunnies and hopping.  Without having to explain all that to you, you have already made the jump from the literal image to the figurative application.  

Why am I saying all this about pickles and bunnies?  Because when we are trying to understand these Old Testament Laws, our first step is to remember that they are not for us, and our second step is that we have to figure out what they meant to the Israelites in their day and age and their culture! 

Let me give an illustration of this.  In part 1 of this series, I referred to Deuteronomy 22:5, the law that men should not wear women’s clothing, and women should not wear men’s clothing.  How should Christians interact this law?  It would be wrong for us to simply say, “Ok, I guess we Christians have follow that law,” because Dorsey’s Step One is “that law is not for us!”  Because it is not for us, we go to Step Two and ask what it meant to the ancient Israelites who were under a treaty and covenant with God.  This is when the historical work must happen.  What we find out when we do a bit of digging into their culture is that some of the pagan religions practiced by the people around them, the Canaanites, would sometimes cross-dress in their worship to false gods.  As we have seen, God wants Israel to have nothing to do with pagan religion.  His law for them, therefore, is no cross-dressing.  But take notice: God prohibits Israel from cross-dressing, not because God wants to create rules and regulations about what men and women wear, or because he is somehow preserving gender roles, but because he doesn’t want them to associate with pagan practices! 

If we Christians look at this law using our contemporary filter, we could easily believe that it tells us about how God feels about gender roles. We could very easily view a discussion that is happening now in our culture and apply it to Israel in a way God never intended.  That is dangerous.  If we did that, it would be called eisegesis.  That means “putting something into the text” that wasn’t originally there.  Instead we should practicing exegesis, which means “out of the text.”  That is when we do the work of discovering the message that comes out of the text.  In other words, we seek to answer, “What is the author trying to communicate to the original audience?”  That information is what we should be looking for.  That takes work sometimes, an investigation into the historical and cultural situation occurring when it was original written. The work, the investigation is worth it.

When we Christians seek to interact with each OT Law, after reminding ourselves of Step 1, that the law is not for us, we then move to Step 2, seeking to determine the historical and cultural situation that led to the creation of that law. After Step 2, we will be ready to proceed to Step 3, which we look at next in part 4 of our series.

The OT Law is not for us [Should Christians Observe the Old Testament Law – Deuteronomy 21-25, part 2]

29 Jan
https://www.crossroadsinitiative.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/ten-commandments-stone-tablets.jpg

Are Christians supposed to follows the laws found in the Old Testament? In part 1 of this series on the various in Deuteronomy 21-25, we saw that there are some very curious and bizarre laws, leaving us wondering why God would want his people to observe those laws.  Thinking about all the laws in the Old Testament and how they might apply today, why do Christians follow some and not others?  In part 1, I introduced David Dorsey’s four-part method which helps Christians understand every law in the Old Testament.  Today we look at Step 1.

Step 1: This law is not for us.  This law is part of God’s covenant with the ancient Israelites.  We are not them.  We are Christians, part of the body of Christ, the church, and we are under a different covenant with God.  Our covenant is called the new covenant. 

During worship at Faith Church on most communion Sundays I read from 1 Corinthians 11:23-25. In this text, written by one of Jesus’ earliest followers, Paul, we find Paul reflecting on Jesus’ words to the disciples at their last supper together before Jesus was arrested and crucified.

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

Did you hear that?  Jesus was saying that through his blood shed for us on the cross he was enacting a new covenant.  That means that through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we, his disciples, his church, are in a new covenant relationship or agreement or treaty with God through him. 

What is that New Covenant?  The book of Hebrews talks about it a bit more, and I think it is important that we read this.  Turn to Hebrews 8:6, where we are jumping into the middle of a longer discussion about Jesus’ role as priest and how he compares or contrasts with the priests of Israel who were under the Old Covenant.  I would encourage you to read Hebrews chapters 7, 8, 9, and 10 at some point. But before going any further with this post, please quickly glance through Hebrews 8:6-13.

The New Covenant is God’s agreement to transform our lives, as we believe in and follow him, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the gift of the Holy Spirit.  What that means is that we have a whole new agreement with God.  As the writer of Hebrews clearly says in 8:13, the Old Covenant is obsolete.  It does not apply to us.  We Christians need to hear that clearly.  We are not bound by the terms of the Old Covenant.  Any and every law in the Old Testament is obsolete for us.  The Old Covenant was in force for Israel, until Jesus died and rose again.  There is not a single law in the Old Testament that we have to follow, simply because it is in the Old Testament.  We follow the terms of the New Covenant, which is the teaching of Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament. 

Normally, when Christians here this, their first reaction is, “Well, yeah, that’s pretty much what we were always taught.  What’s the big deal?”  But then they start thinking about it a bit more.  They remember that I said above, “There is not a single law in the Old Testament that Christians have to follow.” 

They think, “Wait, you don’t mean the Ten Commandments, right? We certainly have to follow them.”  And I respond, just as Dr. Dorsey said, that the Ten Commandments were part of God’s covenant with Israel.  We do not have to follow them.  We are not bound by the Old Covenant.  Usually people hearing this are shocked at this point, still not sure if I’m serious.  But I’m serious.  Hebrews 8:13 leaves no wiggle room. The old is obsolete.  And that goes for every single part of the old. 

So am I saying that it is okay to murder or steal or lie, to break the Ten Commandments?  No, I am not saying that.  Here’s why: nine of the Ten Commandments are reaffirmed in the New Testament!  There is one that is not, though.  You know which one?  Sabbath.  Jesus actually gets into an argument with the Pharisees about the Sabbath Law.  He says that the Sabbath is made for man, not man for Sabbath.  Jesus’ point is that, even for Israel, God never intended Sabbath to be some rigid rule that he wanted his people to follow.  Yes, there were some clear specifics, like no working from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. But at the heart of the law was God’s desire for Israel to rest and trust in him.

Christians have no comparable Sabbath law.  If we say that Sunday is the new Sabbath, we are misinterpreting God’s word.  Therefore it was wrong for Christians, now and in the past, to say that it was sinful for Christians to work on Sundays.  If a person chooses not to work on Sunday, that is certainly up to them.  But Christians should not be judging or condemning one another for working on Sunday.  Many simply have job schedules that require Sunday work.  Further, the same goes for doing the laundry or mowing the grass on Sundays.  For some, doing those chores is actually restful. 

So when it comes to any Old Testament law, we simply have to go back to Dr. Dorsey’s Step 1, that every single one of the Old Testament laws are not for us.  They were, however, part of God’s covenant with Israel.  So no matter what rule you are reading about, parapets on roofs, tithing, charging interest, any of the 600+ laws in the OT, those rules are not part of our new covenant simply because they exist in the Old covenant. What Dr. Dorsey says, then, is that we can’t leave it there.  After getting a firm grasp on the idea that these laws were not meant for us, we now go to Step 2. More on that in our next post.

God cares about cross-dressing and fallen bird’s nests? [Should Christians Observe the Old Testament Law – Deuteronomy 21-25, part 1]

28 Jan
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

I wonder how many women reading this post are wearing some form of pants? Actually, what I should do is ask, how many of you are wearing clothing that is traditionally women’s clothing?  Some form of dress or skirt?

All of you wearing shorts, pants or jeans, why did you choose something so detestable?  You think I’m joking?  You’re not sure if I’m being serious. 

In Deuteronomy 22:5 we read very clearly that “a woman must not wear men’s clothing.”  Now it also says “nor a man wear women’s clothing.”  So men, are there any of you wearing women’s clothing?  If so, it seems that would be detestable too.

If this is true, then why do so many Christian women disobey this teaching?

Before we answer that, let’s keep reading more laws in Deuteronomy 22.

Look at verses 6-7, and God seems to have an interest in fallen bird’s nests.  If a nest falls from a tree, he says, you can take the young birds as your possession, but not the mother.  What could that be about?

And then in verse 8, he jumps to parapets around roofs.  You must build parapets on your roofs.  Reader, do you have a parapet on your roof? No…Neither do I. Are we disobeying God?

Then in verse 9, God commands them against planting two kinds of seed in one vineyard…not good…that will defile the fruit.  Again, what is God thinking here?

How about verse 10, any of you ever had to do plowing with animals?  Maybe some?  Well, take note…don’t plow with an ox and donkey yoked together. 

Verse 11, now check the tags on your clothing…any made with wool and linen mixed together?  Or in verse 12, any of you have tassels on the four corners of your cloak?  No???  Why not?

So many rules, and such a wide variety!

What do we do with these laws?  We’ve been studying the biblical book of Deuteronomy at Faith Church, and we’ve come to a section of the book, basically chapters 21-25, that lists a whole bunch of seemingly random laws. 

If you’ve read this blog for a year or two, you have most likely heard me talk about one of my seminary professors, Dr. Dave Dorsey.  He was a beloved, long-time professor of Old Testament at Evangelical Seminary in Myerstown, PA.  There were many things I learned from Dr. Dorsey, but perhaps the one that I go back to time and time again is related to these laws in the Old Testament.  If I were to guess, this comes every couple months at Faith Church somehow or another.  What I am referring to is Dr. Dorsey’s four-step method for describing how Christians can interact with the Old Testament Law. 

There are plenty of these of these laws that come up in our day and age, even though we are 3000+ years removed from them.  Above I listed some bizarre laws, but there are also familiar ones too, and we Christians can have strong opinions about them.

Jump over to chapter 23:19-20 – charge no interest.  We hear Christians talk about this as if Christians are bound to follow this.  I’ve encountered people appalled that Christians would charge interest of their brothers or sisters in Christ in their church family, as if the person who is charging interest is some greedy, abominable sinner.  Are they? 

But what about the Sabbath?  The idea of not working on the Sabbath.  That’s in the OT law. Shouldn’t we keep the Sabbath?

What about tithing?  The idea of giving ten percent. 

What about tattoos?  What about eating shellfish?  Pork?  On and on we could go.  Are Christians supposed to follows these laws?  Why do Christians follow some and not others?  What we are going to see in this series of post is that Dr. Dorsey’s four-part method helps Christians understand every law in the Old Testament.  Check back in for part 2 where we’ll get started!

Marriage: covenant vs. contract? [Deuteronomy 21-24]

22 Jan
Photo by Rawpixel on Unsplash

How is your marriage? Is your relationship with your spouse doing well? Or does it need improvement, even in some small way?

Our preaching series through Deuteronomy continued this past Sunday at Faith Church looking at numerous passages in chapters 21-24 related to marriage. As I was away most of the week at my denomination’s Pastoral Assessment Center, I asked my brother, Jeff Kime, to preach.

Jeff is the Executive Director of The Marriage Hub, a ministry whose mission is to help strengthen marriages, particularly those in crisis.  Jeff and his team regularly hold marriage intensive retreats designed to give couples hope and tools to transform their marriages in a godly direction.  Even if your marriage is vibrant, Jeff, in this sermon, teaches great principles for strengthening marriages.  Maybe you’re single and wondering if this sermon is not for you.  It is most certainly for you, too.  God may have marriage in your future, and it will be important for you to learn these principles that you could apply or share with others in your life who will marry.  So take some time and evaluate your marriage or relationship status.  Ask God to help you hear from him! And then listen to the sermon.

What you’re going to learn is the difference between a contract and a covenant, and why that matters so much to how we view marriage. This past weekend, there was possibility of a major winter storm, so Jeff created a video version of the sermon.

And if you know that your marriage needs help, but you don’t know where to turn, please contact Jeff at The Marriage Hub!

God wants to transform our mess [Crime & Punishment – Deuteronomy 21, part 5]

18 Jan
Photo by Zac Durant on Unsplash

From our murder mystery in part 1, into the bizarre dead body ritual of part 2 and part 3, and through the messiness of crime in part 4, what have we learned about God’s heart through the teaching of Deuteronomy 21 about crime and punishment?  God is serious about the purity of the land, and the purity of his people.  Because he is so passionate about purity, of course his heart beats for justice.  Even if the perpetrator of the crime is not discovered, as we saw in this passage, there is still a process for justice and atonement.  God’s justice and purity, therefore, are interrelated.  When impurity has occurred, he not only wants impurity to stop, but he also wants to bring justice to the situation. 

So how do we Christians apply these principles of purity and justice to our lives?

First, remember that this is not our covenant!  We are not the Old Testament nation of Israel, and thus we are not bound by their covenant.  Christians don’t have observe ancient Israelite rituals for handling dead bodies.  We don’t stone disobedient kids.  We are the church of Jesus, and we are bound by his New Covenant, which is the teaching of the New Testament.  What we can do with this Old Testament teaching is focus on those underlying principles of purity and justice. 

Let’s take a look at justice first. Christians should be actively pursuing a just society.  Justice in society touches many more issues than we can discuss in this one post.  Since Deuteronomy 21 is about crime and punishment, let’s talk briefly about crime and justice.  Crime is unacceptable in a just society, and it needs to be dealt with.  Right out of college I worked on staff for three years at what was then called Barnes Hall, Lancaster County’s Juvenile Detention Center.  During those years I got to have an up-close and personal view of the justice system, particularly the juvenile justice system.  We saw kids go to a variety of placement and treatment centers, including some who went to jail.  I was shocked to learn that almost nothing helped most kids.  80% would come back, eventually committing more crimes. 

I did some research this week on adults and prison, and here in Lancaster County, PA, 4 out 10 will return to prison in the first year after their release.  Thankfully, Lancaster has some very successful re-entry programs for people coming out of jail.  In the town of Leola, for example, the Potter’s House is a transitional discipleship ministry for former convicts.  Potter’s House and other similar organizations in the county have proven effective, dropping the recidivism rate to 15% for those who successfully complete their programs.  Lancaster’s model is so successful it has caught the eye of counties state-wide, including the city of Philadelphia.  It is amazing to see Christians actively involved in providing alternatives to crime and punishment.  This is right in line with God’s heart for justice.

But Deuteronomy 21 also reminds us about God’s heart for purity. There are many places in the New Testament that affirm that Christians should pursue holiness and purity. I am not saying that unless we are perfect all the time, something is drastically wrong with us.  We must remember that Christ is our atonement.  His birth, life, death and resurrection is the work of making things right.  Jesus defeated sin and death and the devil, and thus he set us free to pursue holiness. 

This is what Paul teaches in Romans 5 and 6. I encourage you to read that this week.  Paul says what Jesus did out of love for us is amazing.  God’s grace in our lives is wonderful.  God’s grace has come to us in the person and work of Jesus, and that has set us free to pursue righteousness!  In other words, disciples of Jesus do not abuse God’s grace, but we seek to purge the evil from among us.

So many people have experienced this transformation.  I recently heard the story of Carla Faye Tucker who was transformed from a killer on death row to an imprisoned preacher.  I also encourage you to read the Testimony articles at end of each issue of Christianity Today.  These are stories of God at work changing lives.  Finally, ask yourself: What impurity is there in your life?  What do you need to remove and deal with?  What will it look like for you to pursue God and his holiness?

The messiness of crime [Crime & Punishment – Deuteronomy 21, part 4]

17 Jan

Crime and punishment is so complex, messy and often frustrating. The third season of the podcast Serial does an excellent job exploring the nuances of the criminal justice, as seen through the lens of Cleveland, Ohio. It likely comes as no surprise to you that we humans have a conflicted history of dealing with crime. In this series on Deuteronomy 21 it has been no different for the ancient nation of Israel. Through it all we have seen God’s heart for purity.  Even when a crime is committed and they don’t know who the guilty party is, Israel still needs to atone for it.  Purity in the land, and purity in his people is vital before God. 

This theme continues in verses 18-21.  Here again we have another one of those passages that is hard for us to hear with our modern sensibilities. Parents were to take extremely disobedient kids to the town elders, who will stone them to death. Whew! 

I think it is important to note that this is not just a regularly disobedient kid.  We all can remember when we were kids and didn’t do what our parents wanted us to do.  How many of you have stories?  I do.  There was the time my parents gave me 50 cents before church one Sunday. I was to put it in a Sunday School class offering.  But I kept it in my pocket instead of putting it in the offering plate.  After church, my family went home, and at some point that afternoon, I went outside to play.  I waited a few minutes, came back inside, and told my parents I found two quarters on the sidewalk!  I then asked if I could go around the corner to the local convenience store to buy a pack of baseball cards.  In high school I once lied to them about which movie I was going to see with some friends, and at the theater, the whole way through I couldn’t enjoy the movie because I felt so awful.  Maybe you know what I mean.

That is disobedience, but it was not all out rebellion.  What we are reading here in Deuteronomy 21 is all out rebellion.  It’s not just a few instances, or even a lot of disobedience. It is far worse, and there is no stopping it.  Also, we read that it involves drinking and drunkenness.  So we’re not talking about a child, but at the youngest, a teenager, and perhaps more likely a young adult.  The word “profligate” is used to describe this person, and that is not a word I use much or hear much.  The Hebrew word used there is sometimes translated “gluttonous”, sometimes translated “despicable.”  It refers to a person who is out of control.  So this is way more than disobedient.  This is a criminal.  The person is not just disrespecting or disobeying their parents, but all of society.  And the punishment is death. 

Again I say, Whew.  Death?  The ultimate punishment!  The death penalty.  Like the war passages we studied in the previous series, it is hard to know how to react to this.  Isn’t there some other way to respond than the death penalty?  Is there a possibility for rehabilitation?   Why such decisive, final action?  We know that God dearly values human life, but here we have an instance where he commands them to take life away.  Is God inconsistent? 

When compared to the holy war passage we studied last week, this command to give the death penalty to a profligate son is entirely consistent.  Last week we saw God’s heart to keep Israel pure by eradicating the land of nations that were declared evil.  That was evil outside Israel.  Here God is purging the evil from within.  God wants purity in the land. 

Take a look at that last statement in verse 21.  He says that when they give rebellious people the death penalty, it will serve as a deterrent for the rest of the nation.  Implied in this command is that other people will be afraid, and thus those others will want to be pure. 

We hear these kinds of arguments made for the use of the death penalty in our nation, that it removes evil and provides a deterrent for others, supposedly motivating them to be pure.  As with the disagreement about war, there is among Christians major disagreement about the death penalty, and about crime and punishment in general.  In any church, I’m sure some support the death penalty, and I’m sure some Christians do not. I’m sure we have people who are for jail and imprisonment and those who would like to have significant prison reform.  These are conflicted issues that we will not solve in this post.  Instead I’d like to try to seek God’s heart in this passage. First, we see that God desires that children obey their parents.  Second, he desires that evil is dealt with and restrained, and third, he desires that his people to live lives of purity.

This theme will continue in verses 22-23.  The situation of the evil son in verses 18-21 means that there will be some who are put to death by the death penalty.  The situation in verses 1-9 relates as well, because if the murderer is eventually found, murderers are to be put to death too.  Now here in verses 22-23 what we read is a death penalty that was enacted by hanging.  But similarly to the unsolved murder in verses 1-9 this hanging presents a problem.  What do you do with the body? 

God says, don’t let it hang overnight, bury it the same day.  Those hung, he adds, are under God’s curse.  Why would he say this?  Practically speaking, there could be a physical side to this as the body would start to decompose.  In fact, one scholar says, “A dead body is the primary source of ritual impurity in the Bible, and if it were left to decompose, its parts would eventually be scattered by birds and animals, spreading the impurity.”[1]

What is the principle behind it?  Once again: Do not desecrate the land. What does this teach us about God’s heart?  Purge the evil from you.  God is a God of purity and holiness.  In part 5, we’ll consider the implications of these principles for our lives.


[1] Ibid.