Deuteronomy 22

More misc laws, with the theme of community. You are bound to care about other people’s property, so if you find lost property, you need to try and return it.

There is an odd ban against transvestism that uses a condemnatory word that is usually reserved for pagan temple practises… Scholars think that is what that is about. 

Some more sharing and caring community rules… Make fences on balconies, don’t take a greedy share of the wild bird life to eat. 

Then a bunch of “anti mismatch” rules that seem metaphorical about not adding the local culture. 

Then some rules about marriage relationships that are horribly harsh by today’s standards, but have a certain rough justice to them in a society where women would have otherwise had very few rights. It’s a society where which already pretty much discarded women who weren’t virgins at marriage… From that starting point this makes sure there is some fairness.

So to a remarkable degree of detail we have a model society of the time which is to care for every member like one large family, and is to keep itself distinct. Is the larger themes of God’s plan for Israel, down to a level of detail.

Deuteronomy 21

We entering 6 more chapters of heavy duty lists of laws. They are no longer directly relevant because they were about a contract with a specific people that had a unique purpose. That’s before you even get to the allowance for a vastly different culture.

They are often revealing of the beauty of God’s compassion, and the inevitability of his plans and absolute nature of his judgment.

The first here is a probably a practical matter in a tribal society, dealing with unsolved murders. It’s deemed attributable to the nearest town, and they have a ritual for atoning for it. The theme, as with kosher rules, is that blood, life, means something. God given life has been shed by someone other than God. Just because there is no one to blame does not mean there is no price.

There are rules for marrying captive foreign women, which treat them as people – it takes a custom of the time and injects a degree of humanity into it.

 Then a rule that rebellious, drunkard, gluttonous sons can be stoned to death. There is no record of this being enforced. It should be noted that the problem is to be referred to the elders at a certain point. It’s managed by the community, which in some cases would be a protection to the son. Harsh but!

Ends with rules about bodies of those given capital punishment not being left to hang but quickly buried.

Deuteronomy 20

Law about war.

The Israelites aren’t naturally warlike, but they are uniquely chosen in human history and God is promising to be on their side.

There are numerous exemptions from being part of the army, including being “faint hearted”. God likes to win with less rather than more manpower to make his God power clear. ┬áHe only wants the motivated true believers who have no distractions.

The rules are relatively merciful (given that it’s war) for towns they need to conquer that aren’t in the promised land. There must always be a peace offer first, the women and children are spared.

But the towns within Canaan are under God’s judgment, the Israelites are mere vehicles of it, and nothing is to be spared. The Israelites did not have the stomach for that and their compromise was the downfall of their society.

The rules for selecting the army show God being supportive and compassionate… If you’ve just married or just built a house, you don’t have to fight.

The rules for standard warfare show God bringing fairness to the affairs of men. If war must be, the standard operation is reasonable, much moreso than the surrounding nations would have been I’m sure.

The rules for taking the land are those of a god who is mighty, has plans beyond our understanding, of our creator and our judge.

It’s all the one God. We can love and find joy in his compassion and fairness, but we also need to fearfully respect his greatness and power over us as his creatures and trust the wisdom of his plans.

It’s who he is, he lets us like him or lump him.

Deuteronomy 19

The word for this chapter is “just”. They are to have a just society. Previous chapters could have the words “God fearing” “humble” “caring”. 

This is about the refuges cities. We’ve heard of them before but the reason is drawn out more, that it is about stopping the shedding of innocent blood. The measures discourage escalation of revenge killings between tribes and families.

Then detailing that the legal system is to represent a genuine quest for truth, with multiple witnesses and thorough investigations of facts.

It’s so familiar these ancient texts. Despite lots that is culturally remote, the core of what we still regard as an ideal society is being laid out in God’s word here. No wonder there were times when Israel fell in love with the law.

Deuteronomy 18

We’re laying the ground rules for Israelite society. Last chapter law and government, now religion.

The priests are to be supported and honoured as full time ministers. They have no land, God is their inheritance. And prophets will continue Moses’ role of speaking the words of God.

This is compared to the occult practises already rampant in the land, and there is reference to why they are so detestable, child sacrifices etc. 

They have the voice of God, they don’t need to consult the dead or search for truth by elaborate divination rituals. 

Deuteronomy 17

Another warning against other Gods, this time nature worship, the sun and moon.  

And another layer of the legal system. Impossible cases can go to the levites, the priests. Strangely enough our legal system still has a vestige of that, a branch of the law, equity, is based on the church courts in England where people could go to relieve the hardship of the civil courts. 

Two capital offences, for worshipping other Gods and not accepting the Law.

Then a page on how an Israelite king should be, one of the people, not amassing great wealth and many wives. I didn’t even think God wanted them to have a king… They went through the period of judge/leaders and kings were given to them as a second best. But here as they are about to enter the promised land is assumed they will have a king. .

Maybe it was like the walk to the prmised land, they had to drift for a while with no king because they ignored God’s word.

It’s a picture of a society with God over all that doesn’t place is trust in great men. It’s a society with lots of capital offences, yes, which is troubling. But within that, it’s one of equality, justice, rights and humility. It’s strikingly different even in our world, let alone the ancient.

Deuteronomy 16

The festivals chapter, I always love this (we’ve had it a couple of times by now in the Bible)

Passover, beginning and end of harvest. Everyone is to celebrate, foreigners, the needy, all in. God commands partying!

And the a fair legal system. 

Evangelicals have at times undermined celebrating. Harvest festivals are seen as quaint or irrelevant. But a simple connection between our gratitude, and pleasure in God’s Bounty is a great thing!

Deuteronomy 15

There need be no poor/you will always have poor.

The lord loves us and provides enough for mankind. Society will always have inequality, but we are to actively minimise it. 

Here are the rules by which all debts were to be cancelled every 7 years. God wanted all his people to do well, not a stratified society.

Beyond that, they are told to live by the spirit of being an open-handed and generous society. So to exploit the rules by being less generous because you know the 7th year approaches is a sin. 

And servants are to be allowed the choice to be free. They are all descended from slaves, their society cannot support involuntary slavery. Think how that must have affected the life of servants every day, knowing that they could be free after 7 years.

God’s vision of society is just and generous. We were all slaves. All we have comes from him, we aren’t to hoard it or lord it.

Deuteronomy 14

The next few chapters recycle rules from Leviticus, but they are a little bit more urgent and practical, because occupation of the promised land is so imminent. And there is a bit more explanation of what they mean about God.

He are the rules about kosher food, and beyond being described as clean or unclean, the reason is described as being “because you are God’s treasured possession”

It’s clear there is not always anything inherently wrong with unclean food. For example, animals that are already dead are unclean, everything must be ritually slaughtered for purpose. But they can be cooked or sold for foreigners. It’s just about remembering how much God loves his people.

This chapter also covers tithes. They are a social welfare system, they end up supporting the priests and also widows, fatherless, and foreigners. There is a practical edge to it too, how to cope if they live too far from the temple.

It’s setting up a generous society of high prosperity and low inequality. The society of people who are treasured by God. That is my society.

Deuteronomy 13

Woah, more extreme rules… I’m having Leviticus flashbacks. Any worship of other Gods in Canaan is to be punished by stoning, burning, complete erasure from existence. 

We find it extreme today, they found it extreme then. Israel did worship other Gods, they never did love the lord with all their heart.  They never stoned people for it as far as I know, or at least they very often didn’t.

Jesus our it this way: the wages of sin is death.

So after the shock of the violence, there is also the sadness that of course it didn’t work, it exists to show us it didn’t work, it still doesn’t. We fail and fail to love our creator.