Deuteronomy 21-25 deals with many miscellaneous laws that have to do with human relationships. Moses tried to answer many of the "What if?" situations that may arise for the people of Israel in the Promised Land.
Deuteronomy 21:1-9 deals with the atonement for an unsolved murder. The whole community was held responsible for the unsolved crime. The declaration of innocence on the part of the closest town was done by breaking the neck of a young heifer. This symbolized that the crime deserved capital punishment, and the washing of the elders' hands was a declaration of innocence. (In Matthew 27:24, Pilate washed his hands to declare himself innocent of the shedding of Jesus' blood.) The animal sacrifice and petition of the elders made atonement by turning away God's wrath from the people.
Deuteronomy 21:10-21 deals with family laws regarding:
- Marrying a captive woman - I thought it was interesting to note that the woman should shave her head. One commentary I read said that this might make her unattractive. Therefore, the man might have second thoughts about his initial decision to have her. I laughed and thought that this commentary was obviously written by a man! Another commentary suggested the shaving of the head was indicative of the woman leaving her former manner of life and beginning a new life or symbolic of mourning (Jeremiah 47:5; Micah 1:16) or humiliation.
- Right of the firstborn son - Although monogamy was the ideal in the Old Testament (Genesis 2:20-24), polygamy was practiced by some. It was never seen in a positive light however. We have already seen that in the case of Rachel and Leah in Genesis 30! Even though the second born might be the child of the loved wife, the father was to honor the rights of the firstborn.
- A rebellious son - Failure to follow the fifth commandment to "Honor your father and mother" (5:16) was punishable by death. This was not an occasional lapse into disobedience but a consistent pattern of rebellion. There is no extra biblical literature or archaeological evidence to indicate that this punishment was ever carried out. It was there to deter such behavior so that "Israel might hear of it and be afraid" (21:21).
Paul does so in order to support the doctrine of Christ's penal substitutionary death for sinners. Christ was under God's curse and this enabled Him to redeem "us from the curse of the Law."
When we first covered this in 2008, we read Deuteronomy 21 right after a Father's Day sermon by my wonderful pastor, Steve Lee, about the prodigal son in Luke 15.
The elder brother of the prodigal did not like the father's response and would have liked to invoke the application of the law in this chapter regarding the rebellious son, but the father did not have the same idea.
Somehow I like the picture of God in Luke so much better than the picture I have in Deuteronomy: the loving, forgiving father running with arms open wide toward his once rebellious son versus the Father who asks His people to stone a rebellious son. We live in the New Testament reality today. A rebellious son would not receive a stone, but he would receive stones of fervent prayer!
Even though we live in a New Testament reality, both stories are pictures of the many facets of the character of God. I have said this before, and I will say it again: understanding what we really deserve --God's wrath -- helps us to truly understand the miracle and wonder of God's amazing love and forgiveness. We deserve death, but we get the Father running toward us with His arms open wide, ready to forgive and throw a party. His justice cannot be separated from his love. They have to go hand in hand. For we all deserve death, but Jesus averted that wrath and allowed us to have that open arms relationship with the Father through His death on the cross. Amazing.
Perhaps you have a prodigal in your life? Here is a website of hope and encouragement for you: Praying the Prodigals Home
Also, praise God for God's loving, forgiving arms around you!
Lord, thank You for Your love and justice. Thank You that we have a way to reconcile with You through the blood of Jesus Christ. I pray for all who read the BBC and have prodigal sons or daughters, that You would give them comfort, hope, and perseverance as they continue to pray for their loved one who have rebelled against You. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.