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."
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.
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.”
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.”
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."
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.
In this passage, Paul is illustrating the access that we now have to the Lord by contrasting it with Moses’s encounter with God when he received the Ten Commandments, along with plans for the Tabernacle and other laws. Here is the description of this from Exodus:
18Then Moses said, “Please, let me see Your glory.”
19He said, “I will cause all My goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim the name Yahweh before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” 20But He answered, “You cannot see My face, for no one can see Me and live.” 21The Lord said, “Here is a place near Me. You are to stand on the rock, 22and when My glory passes by, I will put you in the crevice of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. 23Then I will take My hand away, and you will see My back, but My face will not be seen.”
29As Moses descended from Mount Sinai - with the two tablets of the testimony in his hands as he descended the mountain - he did not realize that the skin of his face shone as a result of his speaking with the Lord. 30When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face shone! They were afraid to come near him. 31But Moses called out to them, so Aaron and all the leaders of the community returned to him, and Moses spoke to them. 32Afterwards all the Israelites came near, and he commanded them everything the Lord had told him on Mount Sinai. 33When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face. 34But whenever Moses went before the Lord to speak with Him, he would remove the veil until he came out. After he came out, he would tell the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35and the Israelites would see that Moses’ face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil over his face again until he went to speak with the Lord.
This is a very interesting story. In the first part, Moses has been taking down laws from God for quite some time (in the Scripture, since the bottom of chapter 20), and he asks to see Him. God tells him that he can’t look on His face and live, but he can see His back. In the second part, every time Moses spoke with God, he had to wear a veil on his face afterwards, because the people could not look on him due to how radiant his face was! In some sense, one’s closeness to God determined how much of His glory one could see. Only when Moses had entered into the inner part of the Tabernacle could he remove this veil.
Now, we come to the time after Jesus has come and given His life for us. Let’s look at today’s verse in its context.
12Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness - 13not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel could not look at the end of what was fading away. 14But their minds were closed. For to this day, at the reading of the old covenant, the same veil remains; it is not lifted, because it is set aside [only] in Christ. 15However, to this day, whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their hearts, 16but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18We all, with unveiled faces, are reflecting the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.
Let’s skip verse 12 for now, as verses 13-15 describe the way it “was” instead of the way it “is.” Moses put a veil over his face due to the closed-mindedness of the Israelites. In verse 15, “reading Moses” refers to the reading of the first five books of our Bible, what we call the Pentateuch, but Hebrews call the Torah - to this day, the Torah is read as part of traditional orthodox Judaism. It does not recognize Christ as having fulfilled the law, so the focus is continually on following the law given in these Scriptures. Paul says that when this happens, the veil remains.
Verse 12 and verses 16-18 describe the way it “is” now. We can use boldness because the veil has been removed. Verse 17 describes this as “freedom,” translated in the King James Version as “liberty.” We don’t have to go through a “closer-to-holy” intermediate person like Moses in order to get to God, and it’s not a one-way God-to-us communication either. We can go directly to Him, and He can speak directly to us, either in our hearts or through His Word. When Jesus was crucified, God even gave a symbol of this.
50Jesus shouted again with a loud voice and gave up His spirit. 51Suddenly, the curtain of the sanctuary was split in two from top to bottom…
This curtain was the entrance to the Holy of Holies, the inner part of the temple that was restricted to priests once a year to offer the sacrifices for the people. Jesus’s payment for our sins was complete - we are no longer restricted when coming before Him!
Finally, in verse 18, we see the reason for this. We come before God with no veil, and can view His glory directly. We benefit from this, as we are transformed and become closer to the image of God. However, this also benefits others - we, like Moses, should reflect this glory! Others should be able to look at us and see Him. This is my prayer this week - that we will become so close to God that we will reflect His glory to the world around us.
It isn’t actually circular reasoning - I believe that there are two different things we can take from this. The first of these reminds us of Jesus’ words, when asked what the greatest commandment was.
34When the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they came together in the same place. 35And one of them, an expert in the law, asked a question to test Him: 36"Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?"
37He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38This is the greatest and most important commandment. 39The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. 40All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments.”
Both parts of the greatest two commandments, according to our Lord, deal with love. This is the second principle we can see in this passage. Even looking back at the Ten Commandments, we can see this.
2I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery.
3Do not have other gods besides Me.
4Do not make an idol for yourself, whether in the shape of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. 5You must not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the fathers’ sin, to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6but showing faithful love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commands.
7Do not misuse the name of the Lord your God, because the Lord will punish anyone who misuses His name.
8Remember to dedicate the Sabbath day: 9 You are to labor six days and do all your work, 10but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. You must not do any work - you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the foreigner who is within your gates. 11For the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything in them in six days; then He rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and declared it holy.
12Honor your father and your mother so that you may have a long life in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
13Do not murder.
14Do not commit adultery.
15Do not steal.
16Do not give false testimony against your neighbor.
17Do not covet your neighbor’s house. Do not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male or female slave, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
Think about it - if you love the Lord, you won’t have other gods, you won’t worship idols, you won’t misuse His name, and you’ll set aside a day to remember what He has done for you. By the same token, if you love your fellow man, you’ll honor your parents by recognizing what they’ve done for you; you won’t murder your fellow man; you won’t steal from them, whether their spouse or an earthly good; you won’t lie about them; and you won’t be jealous of the blessings they have received from God.
So, you see, it’s not really circular at all. Love is the command, and the command is love. May God grow in us His love, both for Him, and our fellow man.
Daniel is a man who wants to be used of God however He sees fit.