March 1st

Deuteronomy 21-23

  • 21:1-9—It’s interesting that even though no one knows who committed the sin, people still have to do something to purify themselves of the guilt for it.
  • 21:10-14—It’s easy for us to be disturbed by God allowing his people to force captive women to be their wives; remember: these are women whose fathers and brothers have been killed (husbands to, if they were married), which means they have no place to live and nobody to feed them. Their options are to be beggars in the streets, or to be prostitutes. By marrying them, the Israelite men provide them with a home and, eventually, with children- in the ancient world, this is by far the best situation a woman from a conquered city could hope for.
  • 21: 15-17 – To have a more beloved wife was not uncommon in this society. Think back to Jacob’s wives Leah and Rachel and how Rachel was much more loved and her sons were favored by Jacob. Notice again that this isn’t God approving of or recommending polygamy- it’s actually evidence of the fact that having multiple wives is a bad thing. God is creating laws that govern how people can react to the bad situations they’ve created for themselves.
  • 21:18-21—Parents, feel free to read this verse to your kids the next time they give you any trouble.
  • 21:22-23—This is why, on the day when Jesus was crucified, the Roman soldiers broke the legs of the two criminals crucified with him and stabbed Jesus in the side with the spear- they had to make sure the bodies were taken off the crosses before the sun went down, and so they had to make sure that the men died before then.
  • 22:1-4—Different translations of the bible will use the word “brother” or “neighbor” here; either way, these laws describe how the Israelites are supposed to treat anyone in their community.
  • 22:6-7—Very few animals will actually sacrifice themselves for their young- for most species, it’s a better survival strategy for the parents to escape with their lives and let their children die since the adults can always produce more children, and most animals die before reaching adulthood anyway. In other words: in the animal kingdom, adults are more valuable than eggs. God’s command in this verse is a way of making sure that His people respect His creation.
  • 22:8— The roofs of houses in the ancient middle east were part of the living space- people ate and slept on the roof quite often. So, God commands his people to build walls around the edge of every roof so that nobody falls off and dies- because there’s always that idiot at the party who gets too close to the edge of the roof…
  • 22:17—This is referring to the cloth on which the couple consummated their marriage on their wedding night. The idea is that if she was a virgin when she was married, there should be some spots of blood left behind on the cloth. Obviously, we know now that this isn’t a surefire way to actually prove a woman’s virginity- even though this method is still practiced in some parts of the world- but this was the best method they had. We can certainly hope that, in light of the fact that not every virgin would leave behind such evidence on that cloth, God would somehow have intervened in these situations.
  • 22:22—The implication here is that both the man and the woman were willingly having an affair- not that the man forced himself on the woman
  • 22:23-24—Likewise, the implication is that the woman was not being raped, but that she willingly slept with a man who was not her husband, because if she hadn’t been willing, she could have cried out for help and someone would have heard her- towns at the time were small places, and several people would have been within hearing distance.
  • 22:25-27—In contrast, the woman is given the benefit of the doubt if the affair happens outside of the town, because there’s no way to know if she had cried out for help or not. These laws about how to treat women in cases of extra-marital sexual encounters are radically different from surrounding cultures in which it simply didn’t matter whether or not a woman had been a willing participant or not- in those cultures, any woman who had sex with a man other than her husband, even if it was rape, was considered defiled. At the very least, she would have been divorced, and in many places she would have been killed.
  • 22:28-29—Because this woman would no longer be a virgin, it would be almost impossible for her to find a husband- by forcing the man to marry her, God is ensuring that she will have food, shelter, and children to take care of her.
  • 22:30—This is an example of a Canaanite practice that God refuses to allow his people to adopt.
  • 23:15-16—Even though God seems to tolerate his people owning slaves, these verses are a clear indication that God does not condone slavery: any slave who escapes from slavery is free, period.
  • 23:19-20—Christians in Medieval Europe would adopt a similar law about loaning money to fellow Christians- this resulted in Jews becoming the primary money lenders, and therefore the primary bankers, in Europe for centuries. Christians couldn’t charge other Christians interest on loans, and the majority of Europeans were Christians, so, European Christians were rarely able to make money as bankers. Jews, meanwhile, couldn’t charge interest to other Jews, but they were a minority- they could, however, charge interest to Christians, and so they were able to earn a lot of money as bankers. This is where the stereotype of the “greedy Jew” that fueled European antisemitism for centuries came from.

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