Posts referencing the book of Proverbs

That Seems a Little Drastic

August 28, 2012

I was recently asked what kind of God tells His people to kill their intransigent children. I knew the answer, but it’s a long one, so I decided to move that over here, because it’s an interesting study on one of the more hard-to-believe rules that God set out for the Israelites. This command is found in Deuteronomy 21:18-21.

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.’ 21Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear."

Deuteronomy 21:18-21 (ESV)

At first glance, this appears to be pretty drastic; and, as with many first impressions, this does not get much better. This passage provides a plan for parents to deal with sons who did not respond to their rearing or their discipline. They are required to “purge the evil” from their camps. However, this is not the preference, as we’ll see towards the end.

First up, let’s look at the plan. If parents had a son, and this son rebelled, and they tried to discipline him to correct his behavior, and he still didn’t respond to that correction, the parents were expected to make a tough call. If they felt that he would not respond to their correction, they were to go to the elders of their son’s city and inform them that their son was rebellious and impenitent. Then, the elders would listen and, if they agreed, they would go get the son, take him outside the city, and stone him to death. The son’s behavior was a violation of the fifth commandment (Exodus 20:12), and this penalty directly implemented the inverse of the blessing promised in the last half of that verse.

That was the plan, but equally important is what the plan was not. First, this is not something that parents do to a young child, out of the frustration of childish rebellion. Notice that these parents are to go to his city’s elders - the son in this scenario is not living with his parents, and may be living in an entirely different city. It is a last resort for parents who had done their dead-level best to rear their son in the way the Lord had commanded, but despite their best efforts, their son chose not to follow his upbringing.

Second, this outcome was to be prevented if at all possible. Twice in Proverbs, Solomon exhorts parents to do what it takes to make sure their direction to their children sticks.

18Discipline your son, for there is hope;
do not set your heart on putting him to death.

Proverbs 19:18 (ESV)

13Do not withhold discipline from a child;
if you strike him with a rod, he will not die.

Proverbs 23:13 (ESV)

Third, this outcome was not intended to be used very often. According to the end of verse 21, the reason given for this is that “all Israel shall hear, and fear.” Just as many of our laws are written so as to deter the behavior they punish, that is the case with this law. God did not want to see large mounds of dead sons outside every city; He wanted people to see that He was serious about His commandments. Sometimes, the only thing that keeps people doing the right thing is the knowledge of the consequences of their actions.

The plan is a tough one, but the goal is even tougher - “purge the evil from your midst” (v. 21). This is not the first time we see this in Deuteronomy; in fact, there are 7 instances of that phrase. What 6 other things are considered evil that needs to be purged?

In each of these cases, the offense can be traced back either to a direct offense against God Himself, His appointed legal or parental authorities, or those who attempted to unjustly affect or subjugate the life of another. The son would have run afoul of both God and his parents. God was serious about not keeping bad influences around that would pull His people astray. This sentiment was echoed at least twice by Paul in the New Testament.

33Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”

1 Corinthians 15:33 (ESV)

11But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler - not even to eat with such a one. 12For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

1 Corinthians 5:11-13 (ESV)

While a purge was commanded, the preference is much different. We’ve already seen that the Bible told parents to do whatever they could to make sure that this outcome never occurred. God’s desire was not to have a bunch of dead kids and sad parents; His desire was to have a people who were following Him, free from corrupting influences of those who were not interested in following Him or doing what He commanded.

This punishment was harsh, no doubt. This harshness illustrates God’s lack of tolerance for sin. However, this should also make us even more grateful for the grace that He provided through His Son. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf, if we accept His payment for our sins, we are no longer under the law. Although a large part of the Mosaic law is no longer actively enforced, it has never been struck down (according to Jesus Himself).

17"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

Matthew 5:17-20 (ESV)

How can our righteousness exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees? There is no way we can do that in our own strength; in fact, that was the key problem with the scribes and Pharisees. They were so focused on the letter of the law that they had completely missed its spirit. (They also had some pride issues.) The only way to live up to verse 20 above is to truly know Jesus, and accept His payment for your sins.

Parents are still to do their best to rear their children, and even Israel no longer enforces this law. This is now quite literally up to God; He is now the one who decides when a son has had enough time to repent. The recorded law exists to give us an insight into His view of sin, how serious He considers it to be, and as a reminder to us of the amazing grace that is available to us today, free for the asking.

Mount Up with Wings

May 23, 2007

Today’s Scripture is from Isaiah 40:26-31.

26Look up and see:
who created these?
He brings out the starry host by number;
He calls all of them by name.
Because of His great power and strength,
not one of them is missing.

27Jacob, why do you say,
and Israel, why do you assert:
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my claim is ignored by my God”?

28Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Yahweh is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the whole earth.
He never grows faint or weary;
there is no limit to His understanding.

29He gives strength to the weary
and strengthens the powerless.

30Youths may faint and grow weary,
and young men stumble and fall,

31but those who trust in the Lord
will renew their strength;
they will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary;
they will walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:25-31 (HCSB)

It is very easy to get discouraged in life. We may try our hardest to do something that we think is good and right, and yet we feel like we’re just spinning our wheels. Then, we may look at others who are not following God, and they seem to be doing well. This quandry is not unique to the Christian of the 21st century; even Jeremiah the prophet asked God, “Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do the treacherous live at ease?” (Jeremiah 12:1)

The Jews had forgotten the promise made to their father Abraham; “He took him outside and said, ‘Look at the sky and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ Then He said to him, ‘Your offspring will be that numerous.’” (Genesis 15:5) Isaiah reminds them of this in verse 26, that not only did God create the stars, He knows each one by name. Then, in verse 27, he asks them “why do you assert: ‘My way is hidden from the Lord…?’”

In verses 28 and 29, Isaiah continues to remind them of the absolute power (omnipotence) of God. It is He Who gives “strength to the weary and strengthens the powerless.” (v. 29) These words also speak to our need of yielding to Him. If we try to do everything within our own power, we will not be able to use His power through us. Remember that Jesus said, “You can do nothing without Me.” (John 15:5) When we admit that we are powerless on our own, we can allow God to use us as an instrument of His power. And, once we let go of the controls, we can also let go of worrying about the results - how liberating!

In verse 30, Isaiah reminds us that even young people fade. If you have been around toddlers, you have seen this for yourself. They have a seemingly endless supply of energy; yet, at some point, they crash and have to sleep. I’ve often wished I had that much energy! But even that falls far short of the power that God gives to His children, as verse 31 tells us.

This last verse is the most well-known verse in this passage. It does encourage us that we will be able to continue our Christian life without growing weary or tired. But the picture of an eagle is quite intriguing. We’ve all heard the saying “you can’t see the forest for the trees.” Eagles fly very high and smooth, and from their vantage point, they can see more than just where they are now. Seeing the “big picture” is one way that God uses to keep us encouraged, and to reveal to us His plan for our lives. Proverbs 29:18 says “Without revelation, the people run wild.” Instead of running around in circles, we can follow God’s direction.

Be encouraged. No matter what is going on in your life, it is not happening unnoticed to God. He is in control of everything in your life, and “all things work together for the good of those who love God…” (Romans 8:28) Pray that He will give you the strength to endure, and that He will reveal His will for your life and His purpose in your circumstances.