More and more laws. Some of them seem peculiar and others are self-explanatory. Unsolved murder has always posed problems regarding jurisdiction. Here the city closest to the dead body was responsible for making atonement for the death, even though they did not cause it or witness the death. Breaking the heifer’s neck did not provide atonement. It was symbolic of the horrendous crime. God Himself graciously forgave. Killing an innocent person was an extremely serious offense in ancient Israel. Unless the crime was solved or the rite performed, there would be no real rest for the community. And rest here does not mean a nap. Rest in scripture often means peace, the kind associated with no fighting.
Sometimes when the Israelites went to war, they were instructed to totally destroy everything...people, livestock, houses. They were to leave nothing alive and nothing standing. Other times they could take spoils. Always they were told what they could and could not take as spoils. There are a myriad of rules concerning women, those captured in war, those who were married, those who were raped. Women had precious few rights. The list of a man’s possessions included his wife, servants, slaves, goods, and animals. Even the phrase ’to marry a woman’ was derived from a phrase that meant to become the master of a wife. Although she would address her husband in subservient terms, a wife did hold a higher status than the rest of the household. Her primary responsibility was to bear children, preferably sons. And the more sons she had, the higher her position not only in the family but the community. A captured woman’s clothes would be set aside because they often had pagan overtones that could lead the Israelites astray. It wasn't uncommon to have two wives, but the father was required to honor his firstborn son when it came time to assign his inheritance, regardless of who the oldest son's mother was.
The punishment of a rebellious son here seems harsh, but we are not talking about a one- or two-time offender here. This rebellious son was a habitual offender of immoral behavior. The parents took their son to the city gate where all business was conducted and presented the charges. It was probably a formality. If the son was a habitual offender, it is likely most people already knew what he had been doing. Charging him as a glutton and a drunkard was an expression for a good for nothing. Because all the men of the community had a responsibility to be examples and could correct another's behavior, all the men were responsible for executing the rebellious youth. They could not allow him to spread his immoral practices among others in the camp. After all, Holy God walked among His people in the camp and the camp needed to be purged from sin.
Hanging was not actually practiced in ancient Israel. Hanging was actually an impaling of the body on a large pole or skewer. And it was often done after a person had already been stoned to death as a public example and deterrent. A person was only left hanging for one day and then removed and buried. They did not want the camp defiled by the body that had been hung, and they did not want a person on display long enough that they became heroes. We also see that anyone who was hung on a tree was cursed. This act reminded people that God cursed those who committed capital crimes. In Galatians 3:13 Paul applied this truth to Jesus’ death on the cross, saying, “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us.” So not only did Jesus bear our sins, take God's wrath and pay the ransom for our sins, He also became a curse in our place.
Chapter 22 is a hodgepodge of various laws, many of which deal with mixing two things. Because the Israelites were God's chosen people, they were to be separate from other nations. That meant they acted different than other nations. They lived different and set apart. Their customs and traditions were different, and they were to worship only one God. Mixing things here is an analogy about the Israelites intermingling and inter marrying other nations, cultures and faiths. It was not to be done and doing so would make them unclean and unacceptable to God. A good majority of us have violated these rules today, the mixing and matching. The major principle is the separation from the world and a recognition of God’s order for His people. Yoking different kinds of animals meant often yoking one clean animal and one that was unclean. The ox was a clean animal, and the donkey was not. They have different temperaments that can cause problems. Sowing different kinds of seeds together was a part of the fertility rites of pagan worship.
The beginning of chapter 23 is painful! These men were called eunuchs. This practice was done to men who were put in charge of harems to prevent any relations with the women in the harem. It was also a pagan religious practice. Being excluded from the assembly meant restriction from full participation in religious rites. Remember it was a privilege to be a member of the Jewish nation and share in the blessings of God's covenant. The prophet Isaiah looked forward to the day when eunuchs would be welcomed into the kingdom and be blessed by God. Isaiah 56:3-5. The good news today is that all are welcome before the Lord.
Both the Ammonites and Moabites were descendants of Lot, the nephew of Abraham. The Lord would not allow the Israelites to attack them, but they would forever be excluded from the blessings that Israel knew. The phrase, “cleanliness is next to godliness,” did not come directly from scripture, but we see in chapter 23 that keeping the camp clean was a must. For the Israelites, holiness was indeed identified with hygiene. Only the ritually clean person could approach the Lord in worship. And keeping the camp clean prevented the spread of disease.
There are many more rules and laws. Let me highlight just a couple more. Taking someone's millstone was akin to stealing their livelihood. They were used for grinding grain every day so the family could eat. To take one of the two stones would keep them from the daily essentials of life. To remove one's sandal was a sign of the loss of their rights in the community and maybe even a loss to walk on their own land in extreme cases. To spit in someone's face was an act of strong, public contempt. Such a public disgrace discouraged men from shrinking from their duty as a brother-in-law. Since the living brother refused to maintain the name of his deceased brother, he was in danger of losing the memory of his own name in the community. Two men fighting is an invitation for more trouble. It would be better to find a different way to settle disputes. It is understandable that a wife would want her husband to win but this method of assistance was shameful, unfair, and grossly offensive. Moses was prohibiting all indecent methods of combat by both men and women. And the penalty would certainly make you think twice.
Finally, Moses turns once again to tithing, returning to the Lord a portion of what He has blessed us with. Since this has been repeated several times, that means it is important. God's people are to not forget to say thank you for their many blessings. It is as true for the Israelites then as it is for us today. We may have different levels of blessing, but God has blessed each of us richly, especially if you consider the gift of forgiveness and eternal life we have in Jesus Christ. We have much to be thankful for.
In His Grip,
Pastor Matt W.