Deuteronomy 21 (English Standard Version)
Atonement for Unsolved Murders
1“If in the land that the LORD your God is giving you to possess someone is found slain, lying in the open country, and it is not known who killed him, 2then your elders and your judges shall come out, and they shall measure the distance to the surrounding cities. 3And the elders of the city that is nearest to the slain man shall take a heifer that has never been worked and that has not pulled in a yoke. 4And the elders of that city shall bring the heifer down to a valley with running water, which is neither plowed nor sown, and shall break the heifer’s neck there in the valley. 5Then the priests, the sons of Levi, shall come forward, for the LORD your God has chosen them to minister to him and to bless in the name of the LORD, and by their word every dispute and every assault shall be settled. 6And all the elders of that city nearest to the slain man shall wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the valley,
First, the matter of jurisdiction had to be settled. These elders were responsible to make the sacrifice to atone for and cleanse the murder-polluted land. Then, appropriate sacrifice had to be made. This heifer was sacrificed by the sons of Levi in the presence of the city elders, who washed their hands over the sacrificed animal. This washing of the hands, done in the presence of the sons of Levi, who by their word every controversy and every assault shall be settled, was a powerful proclamation by the elders: “We have done all we could to settle this case, but cannot. We are clean from all guilt in the matter of this slain man.”
Of course, this ceremony of washing the hands over the sacrificed animal meant nothing if the elders had in fact not done what they could to avenge the murder; apart from that, this washing of the hands was just as much an empty gesture as Pilate’s washing of his hands at the trial of Jesus (Matthew 27:24).
7and they shall testify, ‘Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it shed. 8Accept atonement, O LORD, for your people Israel, whom you have redeemed, and do not set the guilt of innocent blood in the midst of your people Israel, so that their blood guilt be atoned for.’ 9So you shall purge the guilt of innocent blood from your midst, when you do what is right in the sight of the LORD.
–from New International Biblical Commentary: Deuteronomy
by Christopher Wright
What ought to strike us from this law is not the oddity of a cow with a broken neck in an uninhabited wadi, but the expected response of a whole community through its civic, judicial, and religious leaders to a single human death. In our society, a violent death has to be particularly gruesome or shocking (e.g., of a child or of the defenseless aged) to become even newsworthy, let alone a matter for public penance. We have lost not only any concept of corporate responsibility for blood guilt (having rejected a sovereign God to whom we might be corporately responsible), but we have increasingly lost any sense of the sanctity of life itself.
Marrying Female Captives
10“When you go out to war against your enemies, and the LORD your God gives them into your hand and you take them captive, 11and you see among the captives a beautiful woman, and you desire to take her to be your wife, 12and you bring her home to your house, she shall shave her head and pare her nails. 13And she shall take off the clothes in which she was captured and shall remain in your house and lament her father and her mother a full month. After that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife. 14But if you no longer delight in her, you shall let her go where she wants. But you shall not sell her for money, nor shall you treat her as a slave, since you have humiliated her.
Inheritance Rights of the Firstborn
This law protects a son from an unfair father; the following law protects parents from a delinquent son.
15“If a man has two wives, the one loved and the other unloved, and both the loved and the unloved have borne him children, and if the firstborn son belongs to the unloved, 16then on the day when he assigns his possessions as an inheritance to his sons, he may not treat the son of the loved as the firstborn in preference to the son of the unloved, who is the firstborn, 17but he shall acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the unloved, by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the firstfruits of his strength. The right of the firstborn is his.
A Rebellious Son
18“If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them, 19then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, 20and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ 21 Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones.
Perhaps just the presence of this law was deterrent enough; we never have a Scriptural example of a son being stoned to death because he was a stubborn and rebellious son.
So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear.
Proverbs 1:8-9 (NIV)
Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction
and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.
They will be a garland to grace your head
and a chain to adorn your neck.
A Man Hanged on a Tree Is Cursed
22“And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, 23 his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God.
In the thinking of ancient Israel there was something worse than being put to death: to be put to death and to have your corpse left exposed to shame, humiliation, and scavenging animals and birds.
You shall not defile your land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance.”
Galatians 3:10-13 (NIV)
All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.” The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, “The man who does these things will live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.”
HERE Michael W. Smith sings “Wonderful Cross” which includes the hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.