“Love and Human Value” – Deuteronomy 21:1-23

December 17th, 2017

Dt. 21:1-23

Love and Human Value”

Aux Text: Hebrews 2:5-18

Call to Worship: Psalm 8


Service Orientation:  God loves humans.  They are created in His likeness and image and are the pinnacle of His creation.  We are to give high regard, respect and value to humans dead or alive.


Memory Verse:  O LORD, what is man that you care for him, the son of man that you think of him? —  Psalm 144:3


Background Information:

  • (v. 3) Yahweh requires a heifer that has not been worked or put to the yoke (cf. 15:19; Nm 19:2); otherwise people might kill an old beast that had outlived its usefulness. (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 593)
  • (v. 3) Since the action results in the death of the animal, it probably involves a blow to the neck with a large pole or axe. Presumably this method was prescribed to avoid bloodshed, which might explain why a young cow was needed.  Seasoned draft animals develop strong neck muscles, making it difficult to break the neck and perhaps necessitating slitting the jugular–which is to be rigorously avoided in this ritual.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 490)
  • (vss. 5-6) The wider principle is that, in a divinely ordered society, all must work together, for the good of all, as the description of the Church as the “body” of Christ makes clear (1 Cor 12:12-27; Eph 4:12-16). (David F. Payne, The Daily Study Bible Series: Dt, 124)
  • (v. 8) These instructions recall Nm 35:29-34. However, that text focused on expiation for land by means of the blood of the murderer, while this passage provides for purgation when the murderer cannot be identified.  The prayer is the key to the passage, expressing confidence that Yahweh will act with mercy when he hears the declaration of innocence, their pleas for atonement, and their reminder of their status with him.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 491)
  • (v. 10) When we first read the next section, it looks like Moses is advocating the ill-treatment of captured women. But the intent of these instructions is exactly the opposite.  This law is written in the interests of captive women and seeks to restrict the power of victorious soldiers.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 499)
  • (v. 11) Israelite men took foreign wives throughout their history. Joseph married the daughter of an Egyptian priest, who bore him Ephraim and Manasseh (Gn 41:50-52); Moses married the daughter of a Midianite priest (Ex 2:16-22; cf. Nm 12:1); and Solomon married women from everywhere, his Ammonite wife bearing him Rehoboam (1 Kgs 14:21).  But Solomon violated Mosaic law by marrying a Sidonain, who was a Canaanite.  (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 597-8)
  • (v. 11) In wartime, particularly if defeat was imminent, women would dress up in their finery to make themselves attractive to enemy soldiers. But the woman envisaged here is possessed of natural beauty and therefore has a better than average chance of escaping the indignities commonly suffered by women in wartime.  The Israelite man, for his part, simply wants the beautiful captive for a wife.  (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 598)
  • (vss. 18-23) The next two laws balance each other. The first protects a son from an unfair father; the second protects parents from an unruly son.  Together they illustrate the balance of rights and responsibilities that exist in a family, and even more so, in wider society.  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 235)
  • (v. 21) No record in the Bible indicates that this punishment was ever carried out. The fear of death apparently deterred Israelite children from becoming stubborn and rebellious.  (John C. Maxwell, The Preacher’s Commentary, Dt, 238)
  • (v. 21) If it was put into effect, it would be a control over parents who, in the heat of passion, wanted to put their children to death. This would be disallowed, with capital punishment entrusted to the whole community.  If may also serve as a reminder to parents of the need to discipline their children and discipline them effectively, so their behavior might be corrected before things get to the point where there is no remedy left.  (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 608)
  • (vss. 22-23) The verb tālâ denotes “to hang up” the corpse of someone already executed. Displaying the body of a criminal by hanging it in a public place served two purposes:  to shame the individual even after his death, and to deter others from committing the crime.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 501)
  • (v. 23) The Philistines appear to have allowed the corpses of Saul and Jonathan to hang for more than a day, although here the brave men of Jabesh-Gilead, when they heard of the indignity, traveled all night to Mount Gilboa to take the bodies down (1 Sm 31:10-13). In the NT, we read that the body of Jesus was taken down from the cross in the evening, and then buried (Mt 27:57-60; Mk 15:42-46; Lk 23:50-54; Jn 19:31-42).  (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 610)
  • (v. 23) Is the person cursed because his body is hung from a tree, or is he hung from a tree because he is cursed? Since the person who hangs from a tree has suffered the sentence of death, it appears the person hangs for all to see because he is cursed of God.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 502)


The question to be answer is . . . Why does God through Moses give all these seemingly unconnected laws about murder, captives, primogeniture, rebellious children and dead bodies?


Answer:  Because each one gives us insight into the intrinsic value God wants us to place on human life.  By showing we are to value even the least of these, it is understood that all human beings have value to God.


Those of us who live in an era that has viewed our planet from the perspective of spacecraft, as a tiny globe of blue and green suspended in the unimaginable vastness of the universe, have trouble believing that we matter.  Ironically, it was our most advanced technological accomplishments, such as the Hubble telescope, that exposed our cosmological tininess.  Ernest Becker says that we carry in our breast “the ache of cosmic specialness,” wondering how we can be an object of primary value in the universe.  (Philip Yancey; The Bible Jesus Read, 35)


All human things are trivial if they exist for nothing beyond themselves.  The real value of anything depends on its aim.   If we eat simply for the sake of eating, we become gluttons, and it is likely to do us far more harm than good; if we eat to sustain life, to do our work better, to maintain the fitness of our body at its highest peak, food has a real significance.  If a man spends a great deal of time on sport simply for the sake of sport, he is at least to some extent wasting his time.  But if he spends that time in order to keep his body fit and thereby to do his work for God and men better, sport ceases to be trivial and becomes important.  The things of the flesh all gain their value from the spirit in which they are done.   (William Barkly; Commentary on John Vol. 1, 227)


Every area of education has been infected by this value-neutral philosophy.  This is not only tragic but ironic:  At one time the pursuit of virtue was the specific goal of education.  “If you ask what is the good of education,” said Plato, “the answer is easy–that education makes good men, and that good men act nobly.”  We have lost the ideal of educating for virtue.  (Charles Colson, A Dangerous Grace, 266)


The assertion that man is made in God’s image shows each man his true dignity and worth. As God’s image-bearer, he merits infinite respect. God’s claims on us must be taken with total seriousness.  No human being should ever be thought of as simply a cog in a machine, or mere means to an end.

The assertion points also to each man’s true destiny. Our Maker so designed us that our nature finds final satisfaction and fulfillment only in a relationship of responsive God likeness—which means, precisely, that state of correspondence between our acts and God’s will which we call obedience.  Living that is obedient will thus be teleological—progressively realizing our telos (Greek for “end” or “goal”).

Also the assertion confirms the genuineness of each man’s freedom. Experience tells us that we are free, in the sense that we make real choices between alternatives and could have chosen differently, and theology agrees. Self-determining freedom of choice is what sets God and his rational creatures apart from, say, birds and bees, as moral beings.  (James Packer, Your Father Loves You)


Hunter Lewis, in A Question of Values, defines values as “personal beliefs that propel us to action, to a particular kind of behavior and life.” (Stuart Briscoe; Choices for a Lifetime, 12)


I was thinking today (8-25-97) that everything we hold dear in this culture is protected.  We put up heavy guards for the Declaration of Independence, we put limits on when and how we can use the land, what can and what cannot be used on the land and we prohibit those things that we know to be destructive.  But what kind of limits do we put on human behavior or on human experience?   We have very few limits. Why?  Do we not value human life?  (We protect the emotional and physical tenaciously, but we neglect protecting the spiritual.)  — Pastor Keith


The Word for the Day is . . . Honor


If life is sacred because we are created in the likeness and image of God; then all of these laws make sense.   But, if there is no god and we are the product of some kind of random cosmic accident; then having no laws would make more sense; because there is no intrinsic value in human life that is worth  protecting through law and there is no Transcendent Being to have authority to impose obligation to any law.  — Pastor Keith


Things only have the value that we give them.  — Jean-Baptiste Poquelin Moliere


The land of promise is desecrated by a lack of respect for human life.  (Doug McIntosh, Holman OT Commentary: Dt, 253)


How does God demonstrate the value of human life in Deuteronomy 21?:

I–  Even the bodies of murder victims or executed criminals are to be regarded as having dignity because they are human.  (Dt 21:1-9, 22-23)


The purpose of this unit is not to show how to solve the murder, but how to resolve the spiritual crisis that an unsolved murder creates for the community.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 488)


The elders wash their hands, probably as a sign of innocence (Ps 26:6; Mt 27:24).  This is reinforced by the prayer and the final comment (vss. 8-9), which shows that the aim of the whole process has been to protect the community from the guilt of shedding innocent blood, and the consequences of it.  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 329)


The strangeness of this rite should not blind our eyes to the values that lie behind it.  God was concerned for even one unknown and unclaimed life in Israel.  Any wrongful death produced a moral stain on the whole nation.  The guilt of innocent blood was not to be dismissed but purged by prescribed ritual.  (Doug McIntosh, Holman OT Commentary: Dt, 250)


Human beings, no matter how low morally, are still image-bearers of God, and the desecration of the image by mutilation of the body or allowing scavenging creatures to mutilate it is surely a biblical taboo.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 509)


The elders were to take a heifer, one that had never been worked, down to a valley which had never been cultivated.  By a flowing stream they were to break the animal’s neck (vv. 3-4).  The cruel killing of a heifer symbolized the tragedy of a man’s having been murdered.  This dramatic exercise would deepen their sense of the sin of murder.  (John C. Maxwell, The Preacher’s Commentary, Dt, 234)


“Keeping a comatose person who has an incurable disease alive on a machine when he is irreversibly dying is unnecessary,” says evangelical theologian Norman L. Geisler in his book Christian Ethics.  “In fact, it could be viewed as unethical…Extraordinary efforts to fight the divinely appointed limits of our mortality are really working in opposition to God.”  (Joni Eareckson Tada; When Is It Right To Die?, 114)


That the body of one who had been executed was to be publicly hanged was no mere mark of cruelty or sadism, or even of vengeance or the desire to deter other malefactors.  It came from the recognition that he whose sin was worthy of death had defiled both himself and his community.  No man sins to himself.  What we do involves others, and the group bears the shame of our wrongdoing.  When one Christian falters, all Christians share his guilt before the world.  Even Christ Jesus was not exempt from the truth that we are members one of another.  “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Mt 25:40).  (George Arthur Buttrick, The Interpreter’s Bible Vol 2, 462-3)


6-9 Atonement was made for the bloodshed when the elders broke the heifer’s neck and washed their hands over the heifer’s body while they declared that they, representing the people, were innocent of the homicide.  Then they prayed that the Lord’s redeemed people would be held guiltless.  This action, described as “right in the eyes of the LORD” (v. 9), purged the people from the guilt of spilling innocent blood.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 3, 131)


What, then, is the real issue?  I have often said that when we talk about abortion, we are talking about two lives—the life of the mother and the life of the unborn child.   Why else do we call a pregnant woman a mother?   I have also said that anyone who doesn’t feel sure whether we are talking about a second human life should clearly give life the benefit of the doubt.  If you don’t know whether a body is alive or dead, you would never bury it.  I think this consideration itself should be enough for all of us to insist on protecting the unborn. (Ronald Reagan; Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation, 21)


The real question today is not when human life begins, but What is the value of human life?  The abortionist who reassembles the arms and legs of a tiny baby to make sure all its parts have been torn from its mother’s body can hardly doubt whether it is a human being.   The real questions for him and for all of us is whether that tiny human life has a God-given right to be protected by the law—the same right we have. (Ronald Reagan; Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation, 22)


An exposed corpse defiles the land; burial cleanses it.  One must also remember that a corpse hung for long will bring birds to eat the flesh (Gn 40:19; Jer 7:33; 16:4), not to mention the unpleasant stench it will make after a day in the sun.  On a corpse spoiling the appearance of the land more than excrement in the war camp, see Note for  21:1 and cf. Jer 9:21 (22).  (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 611)


In the Bible the issue is purging the guilt of innocent blood from the people.  The fact that they did not know who did it did not take away their responsibility because of the Biblical understanding of community solidarity, which is a strong emphasis in Deuteronomy (see 5:3-5; 9:16, 17; 15:2, 3).  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 497)


The elders of the city accepting responsibility for the dead man washed their hands over the heifer (v. 6).  The hand washing symbolized the community’s freedom from the guilt attached to the crime; it gave public testimony of their innocence.  (John C. Maxwell, The Preacher’s Commentary, Dt, 234)


Outside Israel, magical and superstitious rites were commonplace in such circumstances, for fear that bad luck would fall upon the community.  Israel too, as this passage indicates, felt obliged to carry out a carefully organized religious ceremony.  The heifer’s death was thought, in some unexplained way, to purify the community.  Without some such ceremony in the name of Yahweh, we may be sure ordinary citizens would have turned to pagan rites simply to ward off any bad luck.  (David F. Payne, The Daily Study Bible Series: Dt, 120-1)


In a situation where human beings were helpless to bring about justice, the community in its own way handed the problem over to God.  It is interesting to notice that their prayer was not that God would identify or punish the guilty person for them, but that God would forgive the community.  It was a true insight that the welfare of the whole society is important.  (David F. Payne, The Daily Study Bible Series: Dt, 121)


(a) It represents a vicarious execution of the unknown criminal.  The cow is a symbolic substitute for the murderer.  Killing it, therefore, is not a sacrifice (there is no altar and probably no shedding of blood since the neck was broken instead), but an “execution.”  Nevertheless, it has some of the effect of a sacrifice by achieving atonement (a “covering” or “wiping away”) for the guilt. . . . (b) Alternatively, the ritual has been explained as a symbolic reenactment of the murder in an uninhabited place, which, by first transferring the guilt away from the human settlement and then “flushing it away” in the running water, removes all its threat from the community.  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 232-33)


We are informed by it how precious to God is the life of man; for, if a murder had been committed by some unknown person, He requires an expiation to be made, whereby the neighboring cities should purge themselves from the pollution of the crime.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, vol. III, 26)


Let those who seek death with dignity beware, lest they lose life with dignity in the process.  (C. Everett Koop, M.D., Surgeon General USPHS as quoted by  Joni Eareckson Tada; When Is It Right To Die?, 12)


Death with dignity is a phrase that tries to say one thing but means another.  After all, death is the final indignity of losing all that one commands in life.  Death remains, in the words from the Bible, the last enemy.  (Joni Eareckson Tada; When Is It Right To Die?, 59)


The rite substituted the death of the heifer for the death of the murderer.  By killing the animal, the community displayed their recognition of the need to cleanse the land of such offenders.  (Doug McIntosh, Holman OT Commentary: Dt, 250)


Just as the blood of the animal was washed away by the flowing stream, the bloodguilt of the community was cleansed by the rite.  In favor of the second suggestion is the location prescribed and the ritual of hand-washing by the elders (cp. v. 6).  In this respect the rite of atonement resembles other prescribed rituals for the elimination of guilt (cf. The released bird in Lv 14:1-7 and the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement in Lv 16:20-22).  (Doug McIntosh, Holman OT Commentary: Dt, 250)


Moses does not here speak generally, but only of those malefactors who are unworthy of the honor of burial; yet the public good is regarded in the burial even of such as these, lest men should grow accustomed to cruelty, and thus become more ready to commit murder.   Moreover, that they may take more careful heed in this matter, he declares that the land would be defiled, if the corpse should be left hanging on the cross, since such inhumanity pollutes and disgraces the land.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, vol. III, 47)


Moses prescribes the treatment of the criminal’s body that has been hung from a tree from two sides (v. 23a-b).  Negatively, the people may not let the corpse hang overnight.  Positively, they must bury any criminal on the day of execution.  Whereas Israel’s neighbors would leave human corpses exposed to be eaten by birds and other scavenging animals, Deuteronomy considers this a most severe curse (28:26).  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 501)


The ritual raises the whole question of corporate guilt.  There is a sense in which the whole nation is corporately responsible for some sins.  Today we see examples of racial discrimination, neglect of the underprivileged, and a variety of other social evils that bring wide-spread tragic consequences.  These are a result of national indifference or neglect or irresponsibility.  Deuteronomy again declares, “We are community.”  (John C. Maxwell, The Preacher’s Commentary, Dt, 235)


The goal of the ritual is to restore the symbiotic relationships among Yahweh, Israel, and her land.  The reference to land indicates that murder is not merely a crime against a human being but also a crime against Yahweh, for the land is the object of Yahweh’s special care (cf. 11:1-120 and the gift he graciously grants to Israel (19:10, 21:23).  Murderous acts violate its sanctity.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 488)


This passage shows us how important it is for a nation to deal adequately with crime.  Crime dishonors a nation; it makes it guilty and unclean.  To ignore it would be to degrade the nation, thus proclaiming that in this nation goodness is not good, important, and valued and that evil is not evil.  An individual act of evil harms some people and as such is an act against the society.  But the ignoring of an act of evil is a serious violation of what is good in a society.  It says that justice is not important.  It leaves the society filthy and vulnerable to serious aberrations of justice.  So in a sense ignoring a crime may be more serious than the crime itself.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 497)


Our passage emphasizes this fact in no uncertain terms by affirming that if a life is taken, something must be done to purge the society of blood-guilt even if the murderer is not found.  Nothing is said about the person who has been killed.  He may have been a good person or a bad person.  But that is beside the point.  Murder is not permitted.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 497)


II-  Even conquered enemies are to be regarded with dignity and value.  (Dt 21:10-14; see also: Josh 8:29; 10:26-27)


The Lord gave this law to remind Israel that he wanted them to treat women with respect and human dignity, especially those who were victims of violence and warfare.  God made us to love people and use things, but sinners have had a long history of loving things and using people.  If Israel was to be a priestly nation, attracting their neighbors to the true God by their behavior, Israel’s men would need to follow laws like this one.  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 190-1)


If we ask whose interests this law serves, the answer is clearly the female captive.  If we ask whose power is being restricted, the answer, equally clearly, is the victorious soldier.  The law is thus a paradigm case of the OT’s concern to defend the weak against the strong, war being one of the most tragic human expressions of that situation.  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 234)


If an Israelite soldier genuinely desired one of the captives, he could have her only through marriage.  This helped protect the dignity of the women captives and the purity of the Israelite soldiers.  Israelites were not to rape or otherwise mistreat captives as other armies of the ancient Near East did.  (John C. Maxwell, The Preacher’s Commentary, Dt, 235)


This text reminds contemporary readers, especially males, that whether native or alien, women in general and wives in particular must be treated with dignity and respect for their personhood and their identity.  The biblical paradigm of marriage and family is clearly patricentric, but this offers God’s people no grounds whatsoever for denying women their rights, disregarding their dignity, or treating them as property.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 506)


Medical authorities determine a person to be “alive” if there is either a detectable heartbeat or brain-wave activity.  With that in mind, it is eye-opening for some to realize that unborn children have detectable heartbeats at eighteen days (two and one-half weeks) after conception and detectable brain-wave activity forty days (a little over five and one-half weeks) after conception. What is so shocking is that essentially 100 percent of all abortions occur after the seventh week of pregnancy.  (Charles Swindoll; Sanctity of Life, 11-12)


The cultural environment for a human holocaust is present whenever any society can be misled into defining individuals as less than human and therefore devoid of value and respect.  (William Brennan as quoted by Ronald Reagan; Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation, 29)


There are four ways in which this law benefits the captured woman.  (a) She is not to be raped or to be enslaved as a concubine, but is to be accorded the full status of a wife (vv. 11, 13).  The instruction in Hebrew is quite clear that only marriage is intended.  (b) She is to be given time to adjust to the traumatic new situation and to ritually mourn for the parents who are now dead as far as she is concerned.  This is to take place within the security of her new home, not in some prisoner or refugee camp.  (c) The law compassionately restricts even the soldier’s “bridegroom’s  rights,” by postponing any sexual intercourse with the woman until this month of mourning and adjustment is over.  (d) If the man finally changes his mind and will not undertake marital responsibility toward her, she is to leave as a free woman.  He can take no further advantage over her by selling her as a slave.  Thus, the physical and emotional needs of the woman in her utter vulnerability are given moral and legal priority over the desires and claims of the man in his victorious strength.  The case could be written up as a matter of human rights.  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 234-5)


God’s laws dealt with life in the real world.  Although we might wish for a world without war, crime, and prisoners of war, the Hebrew Scriptures deal with the realities rather than the utopian vision.  This law for the treatment of female prisoners of war benefitted the vanquished and placed restrictions upon the victors.  (Doug McIntosh, Holman OT Commentary: Dt, 251)


Israel is to maintain respect for life in every form and recognize that it always issues from God.  The victors and the strong must respect the rights of the vanquished and the weak, and each must recognize God’s interest in the others.  (Doug McIntosh, Holman OT Commentary: Dt, 253)


Scholars have long recognized the attention that Deuteronomy pays to women’s rights in its concern for widows (10:17-18, et passim), the involvement of women in worship (12:12, et passim), the manumission of female slaves (15:12), and military exemptions for newly married husbands (20:7).  This is the first in a series of texts that focuses on protecting women’s dignity within the household.  These texts assume that the way men treat women is a barometer of the spiritual climate of the nation.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 502)


Symbolic of casting off her former life, the woman was to remove the clothing she wore when captured (v. 13a), shave her head and trim her nails (v. 12), and put on new clothes.  These cleansing rites (cf. Lv 14:8; Nm 8:7; 2 Sm 19:24) initiated the woman into the Israelite family, but she would have a full month to mourn her separation from her father and mother before she became the wife of the Israelite (v. 13b).  She was also protected from being sold for money or treated as a commodity.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 3, 132)


Some Christian men have been known to exploit the vulnerability of women subordinates.  They make off-color jokes in their presence.  They make provocative statements of a sexual nature.  They touch them where they should not.  And some even go into more overt physical acts of a sexual nature.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 500-1)


An Israelite was permitted to marry “a beautiful woman” from the captives if that battle was against “the cities which are very far from you, which are not of the cities of these nations” (20:15).  The prospective wife could not be a Canaanite woman since there was a prohibition against marrying Canaanite people (7:1, 3-4).  (John C. Maxwell, The Preacher’s Commentary, Dt, 235)


The captive bride must be allowed to express her pain at being torn from her people and forced to join an alien community.  While having her shave her hair, trim her nails, and remove her native clothing appear to be insulting demands, these actions symbolize her change of status.  When her hair and nails grow and she puts on new clothes, she emerges as a new person, with a new identity and new status; she hereby declares nonverbally what Ruth declared verbally to Naomi (Ruth 1:16).  The actions also remind her new husband that he is not to treat her as an alien or a slave.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 496)


This month long quarantine expresses respect for the woman’s ties to her family of origin and her own psychological and emotional health, providing a cushion from the shock of being torn from her own family.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 496)


The fact of her marriage to a free Israelite means that she must be treated as a free Israelite herself.  The final clause, “because you have had your way with her,” uses a verb that typically means “rape” or “humiliate.”  In this case it may mean specifically that the sexual relationship that came with enforced marriage to the free man has conferred social equality on her (Braulik 1992a, 155).  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 330)


Similarly, the absolute necessity to protect and uphold human life and dignity is represented here in the law concerning the captured woman, and in the limitation on retribution that prevents any but the criminal himself being executed for murder.  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 333)


She must be allowed to mourn for the deaths in her family.  Only after that can they truly become man and wife.  This is not what we see happening today.  Male soldiers rape women at will all over the world.  Soldiers have power, and there is a close connection between physical power and giving in to lust.  When soldiers know they have the power to abuse a women to satisfy their lusts, they find the opportunity irresistible.  This kind of behavior is roundly condemned by decent society everywhere today, even though it still happens frequently.  But in those days there was no such talk about the human rights of captive women.  Moses’ recommendation here is a revolutionary departure from prevailing practice.  Captive women who are “taken” (21:10) by men must be treated just as if they were respectable women in their own nation.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 499)


What if they do not want to go with this man?  We are not told what happens in such a situation, possibly because it rarely happened in those days.  Women generally complied when a man was proposed to them.  Actually, the proposal would have first been made to the parents of the woman.  It could well be that if the woman absolutely refused to marry the man she was given the freedom to free herself from this marriage.  But we are not told anything about that here.  What we are told is that the woman must be treated with dignity.  Thankfully in most parts of the world today the woman has a say in the choice of a husband.  This development could be traced in part to the dignity that the gospel gave to women by treating them as equal in status to men.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 499-500)


III-  Your affections, values, and desires do not change the value of human life.  (Dt 21:15-17)


A man’s oldest son typically received a double share of his father’s inheritance.  Receiving the double portion of an estate not only guaranteed greater wealth but also indicated that the father was handing on the leadership of a clan or tribe to that son.  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 192)


This law is given to guard against letting natural inclinations and emotional feelings get the better of us in dealing with the rights of people.  We may feel like doing some things to some people because we like them, and thereby we could deprive others of their legitimate rights.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 502)


Either life is always and in all circumstances sacred, or intrinsically of no account; it is inconceivable that it should be in some cases the one, and in some the other. (Malcom Muggeridge quoted by Ronald Reagan; Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation, 34)


Agape doesn’t love somebody because they’re worthy.

Agape makes them worthy by the strength and power of its love.

Agape doesn’t love somebody because they’re beautiful.

Agape loves in such a way that it makes them beautiful.  (Rob Bell; Sex God, 120)


The Moral question for us is not whether the suffering and the dying are persons but whether we are the kind of persons who will care for them without doubting their worth.  (A. J. Dyck “The Value of Life: Two Contending Policies,” Harvard Magazine, Jan 1970, 30-36 quoted by Ronald Reagan; Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation, 60)


It’s called strengthening the character of a helping society.  When people observe perseverance, endurance, and courage, their moral fiber is reinforced.  Conversely, your choice to bow out of life can and does weaken the moral resolve of that same society. . . . If you believe your decision is private and independent, your choice to speed up the dying process is like playing a delicate game of Pick Up Sticks.  You carefully lift a stick hoping not to disturb the intricate web.  But just when you think you’ve succeeded, your independent action ends up jiggling the fragile balance.   (Joni Eareckson Tada; When Is It Right To Die?, 71-2)


Your self-determination to die has strings attached if it adversely affects the rights of others.  That’s why more than half the states in our country have laws against aiding a person in suicide.  Think it through:  If everybody ended their lives as a solution to problems, the very fabric of our society would ultimately unravel, and with it all the other individual rights you enjoy.  (Joni Eareckson Tada; When Is It Right To Die?, 72)


We have misplaced our values as a society.

In 1999, Princeton University selected Peter Singer, a world renown animal rights activist from Australia, to serve as the chair of bioethics at its Center for Human Values.  Singer has been teaching at the university ever since.  According to a New York Times article, “To Singer, a newborn has no greater right to life than any other being of comparable rationality and capacity for emotion, including pigs, cows, and dogs.”  Singer claims, ‘Some members of our species are persons; some members of our species are not.”  Peter Singer wants to determine which is which.  He has gone so far as to suggest a 28-day trial period in which parents can decide whether of not their baby deserves to live.  George McKenna of City College, New York made this statement, “Princeton has declared as legitimate, as academically respectable, a line of reasoning that could culminate in a moral catastrophe.”  Singer has defined a wide range of “living human beings whose lives may be intentionally terminated.”  That list includes the newborn and the handicapped, the elderly and the infirm and, of course, the unborn.  Yet, Singer is passionate about defending the rights of animals.  Today, Peter Singer continues to advance his corrupt agenda, by suggesting that it is perfectly moral for humans to crossbreed with animals.

The president and co-founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said, “Six million Jews died in concentration camps, but six billion broiler chickens will die this year in slaughterhouses.”

The president of an animal rights group called United Poultry Concerns was quoted as saying it is “speciest to think that the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center was a greater tragedy than what millions of chickens endured that day and what they endure every day because they cannot defend themselves against the concerted human appetites arrayed against them.”

Joseph Farah, writing for WorldNetDaily, reported, “The latest issue of Animal Times, the quarterly publication of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, announces the group’s grants to companies developing human embryo testing as one of the alternatives to the use of rats and other beasts in product safety tests.”

In Michigan, Senate Bill 605 was designed to punish people who abused or killed animals by charging them with a felony, giving them a jail term and a steep fine.  A supporter of the bill said, “We need to protect those in our society who cannot protect themselves.  We need to protect those in our society who cannot speak for themselves.”  (Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My! But what about the babies…, a Right to Life of Michigan publication May 2002)


Abraham Lincoln recognized that we could not survive as a free land when some men could decide that others were not fit to be free and should therefore be slaves.   Likewise, we cannot survive as a free nation when some men decide that others are not fit to live and should be abandoned to abortion or infanticide.  My administration is dedicated to the preservation of America as a free land, and there is no cause more important for preserving that freedom than affirming the transcendent right to life of all human beings, the right without which no other rights have meaning.  (Ronald Reagan; Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation, 38)


Society will ascribe to physically fit and intellectually capable people a very high quality of life, despite the fact that they are sometimes the most miserable.  Yet society will ascribe a very low quality of life to poor, debilitated people, despite the fact that they are sometimes the most content.  (Joni Eareckson Tada; When Is It Right To Die?, 62)


If the father substituted another son in the place of his first-born, it was unquestionably a kind of theft.  But, since it rarely happens that a father unnaturally degrades his first-born from his precedence, if all are born of the same mother, God reminds us that He did not enact this law without cause; for, where polygamy was allowed, the mind of the husband was generally most inclined to the second wife; because, if he had loved the first with true affection, he would have been contented with her as the companion of his life and bed, and would not have thought of a second.  When, therefore, the husband grew tired of his first wife, and desired a second, he might be coaxed by her blandishments to leave away from the children of his first marriage what naturally belonged to them.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, vol. III, 174)


Firstborn sons of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who were Ishmael, Esau, and Reuben, all lost their birthrights (Gn 21:10; 25:29-34; 1 Chr 5:1-2; cf. Gn 49:3-4), and in two cases wives played a key role:  Sarah favored her son Isaac (Gn 21:8-10) and Rebekah favored her son Jacob (Gn 25:28; 27).  But it was Jacob who favored Rachel’s son Joseph (Gn 33:2; 37:3) and later favored Ephraim over Manasseh (Gn 48:13-20).  Yaron says that maternal influence is evident when Bathsheba prevails on the aged David to have her son Solomon made king (1 Kgs 1).  So in his view the rules favoring the rights of the firstborn needed strengthening, which is what the present law does.  (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 602)


Why was such a law promulgated?  Perhaps simply to put an end to all the scheming that had gone on in the past.  The law may also seek to preserve a man’s first marriage, discouraging him from taking another wife if he is no longer delighted with his first wife or with the firstborn son of his first wife.  If so, the law somewhat parallels the preceding law about taking war brides, where it is imagined that the man may lose interest in such a woman and send her away.  That law had built in safeguards for a man’s first wife and the eldest son of his first wife.  (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 604)


Two hundred years ago, utilitarianism was proposed as a purely rational ethic to replace Christian ethics.  It defines good behavior as behavior that accrues the most benefits–health, wealth, happiness, whatever.

But utilitarianism has proved to be a cold and heartless ethic.  It justified slavery on the grounds that it was good for the economy.  Today it justifies abortion on the grounds that it reduces welfare rolls.  It supports euthanasia because it cuts medical costs.

No, we’ve seen utilitarianism in action, and it is utterly inhumane.  The truth is, you can’t quantify morality and run it through a computer program.  True right and wrong are based on God’s holy character.  (Charles Colson, A Dangerous Grace, 164-5)


People base their self-worth on their net worth and that is not worth a thing in the eyes of other people.”  (Chuck Colson; Session 5.1 Wide Angle)


IV-  Anyone who defiantly diminishes or obscures God’s high regard for human life is to be executed.  (Dt 21:18-21; see also: Ex 21:15; Lev 20:2-9; Dt 5:16; 27:16; 2 Sam 4:12; 2 Kings 2:23-25; Prov 23:13-14; Rom 13:1-7)


Today the instances of parents handing over their sons to the police are rare, though in our work with drug addicts this happens fairly often.  Today parents, especially mothers, are coerced by their rebellious children not only to not punish them but also to steal or beg in order to supply what they want for their addiction to drugs or alcohol.  Difficult as it may seem, the parents may need to hand over their children to the authorities so that the harm they do could be forcibly stopped.  This passage teaches that if sons are a serious threat to society, then parents have the responsibility to ensure that something is done to prevent the harm that they might do.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 503)


Clearly this is not a simple case of a “naughty boy” with whom the parents are frustrated.  He has become a threat to society.  He has violated one of the key features of the covenant lifestyle that go into making a stable society–respect for parents.  Implied here is that he has also broken the laws of the land.  We see later that the death penalty is decreed, which was done only for very serious wrongs.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 502-3)


The law only states that the parents will try to correct their son’s behavior, but will not succeed.  The OT contains numerous proverbs about the need to discipline one’s son (Prv 19:18; 22:15; 23:13-14; 29:17), which is not a sign of hatred, but of love (Prv 13:24).  Similarly, Yahweh must discipline Israel (Dt 8:5).  Sometimes, however, discipline does no good.  Amos and Jeremiah both complained later that God’s prior discipline of the covenant people had been to no good effect (Amos 4:6-11; Jer 5:3).  (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 606)


“If the God of life does not respond to the culture of death (21st century western civilization—abortion) with judgment, then God is not god.   If God does not honor the blood of hundreds of millions of innocent victims of this culture of death, then the God of the Bible, the God of Abraham, the God of Israel, the God of the prophets, is a man-made myth, a fairy tale, a comfortable ideal as substantial as a dream.

But, you may object:  Is not the God of the Bible forgiving?

He is!  But, the unrepentant refuse forgiveness.  Forgiveness being a gift of grace, must be freely given and freely received.  How can it be received by a moral relativist who denies that there is anything to forgive, except unforgiveness; nothing to judge but judgmentalism; nothing lacking but self-esteem?  How can a Pharisee or a pop-psychologist be saved?

But, you might object:  Is not the God of the Bible compassionate?

He is!   But, He is not compassionate to Molech and Baal and Ashtoreth, and to the Canaanites who do their work who cause their children to pass through the fire.  Perhaps your god is compassionate to the work of human sacrifice, the god of your demands, the god of your religious preferences.  But, not the God of the Bible.  Read the Book.  Look at the data.  (Peter Kreeft  lecture, “Culture War”)


21:18 The words stubborn and rebellious are terms for serious and persistent rejection of authority, in this case tantamount to a renunciation of the parental bond.  They are used frequently of Israel’s disobedient response to Yahweh (e.g., Ps 78:8; 106:7; Neh 9:29; Isa 1:23; Jer 5:23; Hos 9:15).  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 238)


We cannot tell if Moses’ instructions regarding incorrigible children were ever applied in Israel.  Eli’s sons go their own ways (1 Sm 2:12-17), refusing to heed the rebuke of their father (2:22-25) and eventually losing their lives for their crimes (2:25, 27-36; 3:10-14; 4:10-18), but the narrator never portrays their crimes as persistent rebellion against their father; it was directly against Yahweh.  Samuel’s sons also depart from their father’s course (1 Sm 8:1-3), but this is not cast as rebellion against Samuel.  The nearest the narratives come to an event like that envisioned here involves the young lads who mock Elisha as a “baldhead,” for which they are mauled and killed by two female bears (2 Kgs 2:23-25).  However the episode does not involve parents and sons, but a prophet and someone else’s children.  These are not young adults characterized by stubbornness, rebellion, gluttony, and drunkenness, but naughty small boys mocking a prophetic representative of Yahweh.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 503-4)


The crisis is not caused by naughty children, but by a young man who refuses to grow up and take his rightful place at home and in society.  Domestic dysfunction has become a public issue; the son’s conduct undermines the social order and communal peace.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 500)


The double share of the inheritance compensates the bekôr status, turns against his parents and wastes his life with rebellion and profligate living.  The foundation for these instructions have been laid in the Decalogue (5:16), echoes of which are heard in the twofold reference to both father and mother in verses 18 and 19.  The fate of the rebellious son represents the opposite of the blessing that is presented as the reward for honoring one’s parents–“that it may go well with you.”  By having his life cut off, this son experiences the ultimate curse.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 498)


The participle suggests the recalcitrance is neither occasional nor isolated, but a pattern by a young man who, while under the roof of his parents, should be assuming his share of the responsibilities within the household.  The last clause of verse 18 adds to this image.  Despite discipline by his parents, he refuses to listen.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 499)


Deuteronomy continually points to the stability of the family as the foundation for a strong society.  An extreme violation of the Fifth Commandment, “Honor your father and your mother” (5:16), was to be punished by death.  This harsh penalty did not refer to an occasional lapse into disobedience but a persistent rebellion against his father and mother even after the son had been warned by the parents of the consequences of his rebellious actions (v. 18).  After the parents had tried everything within their power to bring their son under parental authority, they could bring the issue before the elders of the city.  If the elders found the son guilty, the sentence was death by stoning.  (John C. Maxwell, The Preacher’s Commentary, Dt, 237)


Too often in the church today, when a person is confronted with his own disobedience to biblical commands, he or she is more likely to “hear and sneer” than to “hear and fear.”  Why?  The church body lacks discipline.  The greatest deterrent to sin in a society is that the people love God and fear (reverence) Him by obeying His commands.  Love without fear is mush.  Fear without love is legalism.  Only the two together in proper balance will bring about the obedience required by God.  (John C. Maxwell, The Preacher’s Commentary, Dt, 238)


By the Roman law the power of life and death over his children was given to the father, because it was not probable that fathers would be carried away by such senseless inhumanity as to deal cruelly with their own bowels; but, since sometimes fathers are found who are not unlike wild beasts, and examples shew us that many, blinded by hate or avarice, have not spared their own children, this concession of the Roman law is justly to be repudiated.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, vol. III, 15)


While we must be cautious about arguing from silence, and while we recognize that the OT narratives do not provide an exhaustive picture of ancient Israelite life, it is striking that the OT provides no hints that these instructions were ever carried out.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 508)


Alexandr Solzhenitsyn rightly insisted that a clear sign of the decadence of a culture is the loss of respect for the older generation.  This problem is particularly acute in the modern Western world, where youthfulness rather than maturity is viewed as the ideal, and where, if children are valued, families have become pedocentric.  This has produced a narcissistic society, with the individual at the center of the universe, and one’s responsibility to the community is diminished.

Texts like this not only place the burden of training children rightly on parents, but they also admit the potential for pain and disappointment, as children make free choices to rebel.  The ultimate goal in parenting is to promote a healthy community beyond the nuclear family.  Indeed, this text raises questions about the validity of the notion of a “nuclear family” itself.  It does indeed take a village to raise godly children.  In a healthy community, the well-being of every child is everyone’s business, and parents with rebellious children should not need to carry the burden alone.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 508-9)


This son was not only stubborn and rebellious, he was incorrigibly disobedient.  No hope remains for such a person.  His parents made their accusation before the elders sitting in the place of judgment in the gate of the city, and the punishment of being stoned to death was meted out by the townspeople so that evil would be purged from among them (v. 21; 17:7, 12).  The fear of punishment was expected to restrain each filial rebelliousness (13:11; 17:13; 19:20).  This kind of rebelliousness was strictly forbidden by the fifth commandment (5:16; Ex 20:12; notice also Ex 21:15).  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 3, 133)


The case of the rebellious son goes beyond matters of family alone, for, as we have seen (on the Fifth Commandment, 5:16), the family unit is an essential part of the larger political and religious fabric.  Respect for parents was therefore a basic element in a right attitude to the whole society and indeed to God.  A law in Ex 21:15 demands the death penalty for “striking” father or mother; the word “strike” can mean “kill,” but need not, and a special law requiring death for parricide would probably be superfluous.  Lv 20:9, which prescribes death for “cursing” parents (cf. Dt 27:16), shows that lesser crimes against parents were regarded as meriting the supreme penalty.  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 331)


Along with this basic postulate goes the need to protect the inheritance of individual Israelites and their families within the land.  This is at the heart of the law of the rebellious son, which poses a threat to his family’s foothold in its inheritance.  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 332-3)


Notice that the son referred to here has been warned and disciplined, but he continues to be stubborn and rebellious.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 502)


In our studies of chapters 17 and 19 we saw how diligent inquiries are conducted to ensure that justice is served.  But if the elders agree that the country has been seriously polluted by this person’s behavior, then he must be put to death.  Moses says of this action, “So you shall purge the evil from your midst” (21:21b).  The result is:  “. . . and all Israel shall hear, and fear” (21:21c).  We have often discussed how fear of sin and its consequences is a key to a healthy lifestyle (see 5:29; 6:2, 3; 10:12, 13).  A healthy, happy community has a fear of sin and its consequences.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 503)


Chris Wright informs us that there is no account in the Bible of this law being applied and a son being put to death for disobedience.  This does not mean it never happened.  But if it did happen it must have been very rare.  The law must have served as a deterrent to serious disobedience!  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 503)


Worship Point:  God created you to worship.  God created everything for our enjoyment (1 Tm 6:17) and sent His Son Jesus to restore us back to our glorious design so as to encourage your worship.  So worship!  (Ps 100; 115:8)


Humanity, having been created in God’s image, and with a sense of deity indelibly written on its heart, is inescapably religious.  However, since the fall, our tendency is to attempt to create God in our own image and thus worship ourselves rather than the one in whose image we were made.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Give Praise to God A Vision for Reforming Worship, 59)


The worth and value of our soul is measured by what we love.  If we love corrupt and wicked things we become corrupt and wicked.  But the person who loves God spiritually grows and matures until he becomes like the One he loves.  What a person loves is constantly on his mind.  And what we think about has a power to transform our soul.  We become like what we behold.    (Henry Scougal and Robert Leighton; God’s Abundant Life, 39)


A proper sense of God’s holiness sheds light on our unworthiness (cf. Isa 6;1-5; Luke 5:8).  (Frank E. Gæbelein; Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 667)


Self worth, a feeling of respect and confidence in one’s being, has merit, as we shall see.  But an ego-centered, “let me feel good” self-esteem can ignore our failures and need for God.  (Os Guinness; No God but God, 96)


It is as impossible for a man to live without having an object of worship as it is for a bird to fly if it is taken out of the air.  The very composition of human life, the mystery of man’s being, demands a center of worship as a necessity of existence.  All life is worship…The question is whether the life and powers of man are devoted to the worship of the true God or to that of a false one. (G. Campbell Morgan, The Ten Commandments)


A peasant shut up in his village only partially knows his wretchedness, but let him see rich palaces, a superb court, and he will realize all the poverty of his village.  He cannot endure its hovels after a sight of so much magnificence.  It is thus that we see our ugliness and worthlessness in the beauty and infinite grandeur of God.  (Fenelon, Christian Perfection, 145-6)


Man was created in the image of God and can only know his true identity when he is rightly related to God.  Schizophrenia or having multiple personalities, is perpetuated by a frustrated sense of identity.  The schizophrenia of man is increasing as he moves farther from the One in whose image he was made.  Conversely, as we draw closer to Him, we come to know clearly who we really are.  As we draw closer to Him, we will become the most consistent, decisive, stable people the world has ever known.  External situations and social pressures will no longer end us and shape us.  (Rick Joyner, There Were Two Trees in the Garden, 41)


Gospel Application:  Cursed is everyone who does not follow completely everything written in God’s Law (Dt 27:26; Ezra 7:26; Jer 11:3; Gal 3:10-13).  God loved us so much that He put His curse on Jesus (Jn 3:16; Acts 5:30; 10:39-40; Rom 5:8-10; Gal 3:10-13; 1 Pt 2:24) and hung Him on a tree so Jesus could remove the curse from us (Rom 6:23; 2 Cor 5:21).


In a most amazing twist we find in this difficult passage a doorway to understanding the nature of God.  Dt 21:18-21 portrays God’s asking a father to bring his rebellious son for execution in order that the nation may be kept pure.  People would ask, “What kind of God would permit a father to hand over his own son for execution?”  We answer, “The God who himself handed over his own son to be a curse for us all.”  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 504)


Just as the corpse of a condemned criminal publicly displayed the curse of God, so Christ hanging on the Cross as a condemned and executed criminal publicly exhibited the judgment of God.  He bore the same shame as every executed criminal and was publicly exhibited as one who was accursed of God.  To free us from the curse of the law Jesus Himself had to become accursed.  (John C. Maxwell, The Preacher’s Commentary, Dt, 238)


The first and possibly most fundamental characteristic of divine grace is that it presupposes sin and guilt. Grace has meaning only when men are seen as fallen, unworthy of salvation, and liable to eternal wrath…

Grace does not contemplate sinners merely as undeserving but as ill-deserving… It is simply that we do not deserve grace; we do deserve hell!  (Jerry Bridges; Transforming Grace; Living Confidently in God’s Unfailing Love, 32)


But Paul never lost sight of his own unworthiness, even when exercising his office of apostleship. He never forgot he held that office by God’s mercy. Here we see the biblical relationship between a sense of one’s utter unworthiness on the one hand, and the courage to undertake a ministry for God on the other. To lose sight of our unworthiness is to risk exercising our gifts and fulfilling our ministries in a spirit of presumptuous pride, as if God were fortunate to have us on His team. But to focus too much on our unworthiness, to the neglect of God’s grace, will effectively immobilize us for His service. That attitude is also an expression of pride because we are still focusing on ourselves and our worthiness, as if God were dependent on some innate quality within us equip us for His Service. (Jerry Bridges; Transforming Grace; Living Confidently in God’s Unfailing Love, 158)


Our happiness is directly tied to our feelings of self-worth.  But the old trap is always set:  do well in your vocation and you are worthwhile; fail and you are worthless.  It is the devil’s denial of God’s grace.  (Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.; Assurances of the Heart, 83)


Paul emphasizes that human nature can become the dwelling place of the spirit of God (Rom 8:11), whose role in human life is that of deliverer “from this body of death” (Rom 7:24) and of imparter of the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal 5:22, 23).  (Merrill C. Tenney, Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 4, 53)


Seen within the context of grace, the NT view of man is neither fully pessimistic nor largely optimistic, but rather melioristic.  Man is not what he may become; he is dependent and unfulfilled, and no genuine realization of his potentialities is possible apart from the restoration of his fractured relationship with his Creator through Jesus Christ.  Man normally exists in society, in human community.  Within this context, he is loved by an everlasting Heart which seeks to draw him into a higher community, through the transformation of his nature by the agency of the divine Spirit, for whose indwelling he has a basic capacity which survived the Fall.

In the Incarnation, the eternal Logos appeared in human form to show what redeemed man might become.  In One who was “very God and very man” man beholds the Image to which he is to be conformed through being transformed by Him who, for us men, shared our common life in the days of His flesh.  In Him man can glimpse human nature as it ought to be, and as it will be when He brings many sons to glory.  (Merrill C. Tenney, Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 4, 53)


Apart from God’s saving work in Christ, man is doomed to futility.  He can never be true man.  His frantic search for autonomous humanity can end only in the denial of humanity.  As man has been irrevocably set in the context of this world, so life in this world has been irrevocably set in the context of life in the world to come.  Anthropology can never be divorced from eschatology because it can never be divorced from Christology.  If man tried to set up an independent anthropology, the fact that God has become man in Christ, and invaded this sphere, has negated this attempt once and for all.  The fulfillment of humanity does not lie in fallen Adam, but exclusively in the Second Adam, the Lord from heaven.  It is the life of the new man in Him.  (Geoffrey W. Bromiley, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol 1, 135-6)



For, since all mankind is implicated in the curse, there was no other mode of deliverance, except that Christ should substitute Himself in our place.  Nor was God unmindful of His sentence, when He suffered His only-begotten Son to be crucified.  Hence it follows that He submitted Himself to our condition, in order that we might receive God’s blessing; since He was “made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor 5:21).  (John Calvin, Commentaries, vol. III, 48)


No creature that deserved Redemption would need to be redeemed.  They that are whole need not the physician.  Christ died for men precisely because men are not worth dying for; to make them worth it.  (CS Lewis, The World’s Last Night, 86)


John Newton, a minister, once wrote a letter to a man who was very depressed.  Take note of what he said:

You say you feel overwhelmed with guilt and a sense of unworthiness?  Well, indeed you cannot be too aware of the evils inside of yourself, but you may be, indeed you are, improperly controlled and affected by them.  You say it is hard to understand how a holy God could accept such an awful person as yourself.  You then express not only a low opinion of yourself, which is right, but also too low an opinion of the person, work, and promises of the Redeemer, which is wrong.  You complain about sin, but when I look at your complaints, they are so full of self-righteousness, unbelief, pride, and impatience that they are little better than the worst evils you complain of.  (John Newton, The Works of the Rev. John Newton, Vol. VI, 185)  (Timothy Keller, King’s Cross, 90)


Spiritual Challenge:  Contemplate how much God values you.  Do you actively value other human beings as God does?  Repent and ask God to forgive you and remove your guilt and make you a new creation.


Christians must raise their voices whenever the value of human life is cheapened.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 498)


The gospel according to Moses and the gospel according to Jesus call on the redeemed to treat all human beings with the respect due them as image-bearers of God.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 507)


Postmodernism and its dogmatic tolerance can lead only to despair, as Sayers wrote and as we witness in the lives of so many today.  Despair in turn leads to slothfulness, and slothfulness to boredom.  In spite of our great technological advances and the highest level of education and material advances any society has ever achieved, we have managed to suck all of the meaning out of life, to destroy any basis for human dignity or human rights, to undermine moral and rational discourse–to leave ourselves adrift in the cosmos.  (Charles Colson, The Good Life, 210)


In all the wars in which Americans have participated, about 1.1 million of our citizens have been killed.  Since the Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973, more than 28 times that number have been exterminated through abortion.  According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute (the research arm of Planned Parenthood), over 95% of the abortions in America take place for reasons of convenience–not because of incest, rape, or the threatened health of the mother.  (Doug McIntosh, Holman OT Commentary: Dt, 249)


Some see this text in the background of Hosea’s portrayal of Israel as a rebellious son in Hosea 11.  Despite Yahweh’s tender care and sustaining love (11:3-4), the son has gone after other gods (v. 2) and persists in turning from him (vv. 5-7).  In describing Yahweh’s agony over his options, and whether or not to inflict Israel with the ultimate punishment as spelled out in the covenant curses, Hosea offers a rare window into the internal turmoil in Yahweh’s mind:

How can I give you up, Ephraim?

How can I hand you over, Israel?

How can I treat you like Admah?

How can I make you like Zeboiim? (Hos 11:8a)

In the end his compassion wins out over his fury:

My heart is changed within me;

All my compassion is aroused.

I will not carry out my fierce anger,

Nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim.

For I am God, and not man–

The Holy One among you.

I will not come in wrath. (11:8b-9)

There is no authority to whom Yahweh can appeal, and he surely has the legal right to punish his son.  In the end compassion wins out over wrath, restoration is preferred over judgment.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 504-5)


The practice of symbolic removal of sin and its guilt is found when, for example, Christians are invited to write down their sins or besetting failures of the past, and then burn the paper or nail it to a symbolic cross.  Any benefit of such action lies, of course, not in the ritual itself or any kind of sympathetic magic, but in the objective basis of God’s atoning grace.  In the same way, the elders pray for God’s forgiveness of the people, not merely because of the ritual they have carried out, but on the basis of God’s historical redemption and the covenant relationship (your people Israel, whom you have redeemed, O LORD; v. 8).  The same covenant faithfulness of God’s character provides the hope of forgiveness when Israel’s sins will be metaphorically hurled into “the depths of the sea” (Mic 7:18-20), just as the guilt of an unknown crime is flushed down the flowing stream.  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 233)


How scandalous it is that life is so cheap in our supposedly sophisticated and advanced world today!  “Undesirable” humans are eliminated, and only a few people rise up in protest.  Perhaps the most shocking fact is the millions of unborn children who are eliminated through abortion annually.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 497)


What if being human means to keep vigil, to long to be free, to battle with pain, to be discontented with the fallen world in which we live to weep, to hunger, thirst, to mourn to wait.  What if to become inhumane is to accept this fallen world as the norm?  (Paraphrase of Henri Nouwen; Reaching Out, 24)


Criminals are indeed responsible for the crimes they commit, but they are not solely responsible.  When a person violates the righteous standards of God, unless the community responds to the crime, the guilt of the individual rests on the heads of all.  We may be calloused to the culture of death in which we live–expressed in four thousand abortions per day in this country, the senseless killing by drug dealers and users, the exploitation of violence in the media–but God is not.  It is time to wake up to the curse that hangs over our land, and God’s people should lead the way in promoting rituals that will remind us of our sinful condition and the hope of catharsis.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 492-3)


So What?:  Your life will be richer, your witness will be stronger, your love and gratitude to Jesus will be greater as you contemplate the intrinsic human dignity we all enjoy as creatures created in God’s image and likeness.  (Job 7:17; 15:14; Psa 8:4; 139:14; Heb 2:6)


Life has no meaning the moment you lose the illusion of being eternal. — Jean-Paul Sartre


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 penitence.  We have lost not only any concept of corporate responsibility for blood guilt (having rejected a sovereign moral God to whom we might be corporately-responsible), but we have increasingly lost any sense of the sanctity of life itself.  We (or at least our emergency services) can cope with hundreds of thousands of road deaths.  We can tolerate millions of abortions.  What need have we for rituals of cleansing that would acknowledge responsibility even where personal guilt cannot be assigned?  Shedding innocent blood (v. 9) has become a fact of life, silently sanitized by statistics.  Symbolic reenactment is left to the commercialized catharsis of cinema and television.  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 233-4)


Martin Luther King Jr. made this famous statement in his Nobel Peace Prize lecture:

Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral.  I am not unmindful of the fact that violence often brings about momentary results.  Nations have frequently won their independence in battle.  But in spite of temporary victories, violence never brings permanent peace.  It solves no social problem:  it merely creates new and more complicated ones.  Violence is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all.  It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding:  it seeks to annihilate rather than convert.  Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather then love.  It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible.  It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue.  Violence ends up defeating itself.  It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers.  (http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1964/king-lecture.html.)  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 498






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