THE PENTATEUCH PART V: DEUTERONOMY
Lesson 11: Chapters 21-23
Moses' Second Homily: The Deuteronomic Code (Ethical Stipulations of the Covenant Treaty Continued)
Holy and Eternal Father,
You placed Your natural law of justice and equality on the hearts of all men and women at Creation and gave them a conscience to guide them toward holiness in thought and action. Sadly, sin in the world and man's attraction to sin can corrupt the barometer of a human conscience to the point where wrong can be justified as right and the rights of others can be dismissed as unimportant. It is for this reason that You gave Your covenant people Your laws of holiness to guide them in right living. As we study the Law that governed Your covenant people, help us to understand that true holiness does not come simply by man's human desire to do goodness for the sake of goodness but that true holiness is a product of living life in submission to the Holy Spirit who fills and indwells a soul that is empowered to do good by the love of the Most Holy Trinity. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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By acting thus,
you have taught your people that the upright must be kindly to his fellows, and
you have given your children the good hope that after sins you will grant
repentance ... Thus, you instruct us, when you punish our enemies in moderation,
that we should reflect on your kindness when we judge, and, when we are judged,
we should look for mercy.
Wisdom 12:19, 22
And you shall not
pollute the land which you are in, for blood pollutes the land. And no ransom
is to be taken for the land for blood which is shed in it, except for the blood
of him who sheds it. And you shall not defile the land in which you live, in
the midst of which I dwell, for I, YHWH, dwell in the midst of the sons of Israel.
Numbers 35:33-34 (The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, page 453).
Chapter 21: Miscellaneous Laws
Deuteronomy 21:1-9 is the last of this section of laws dealing with the responsibilities of Israel's leaders. Moses' instruction in Deuteronomy 17:8 and 19:1-13 dealt with distinctions between manslaughter and murder and the manner of bringing justice to the victim and his family in such cases. Moses' instruction in this section seeks to protect the nation from the destructive vengeance of blood-feuds between families and the religious implications of a murder or manslaughter in which the killer is unknown.
The Law Concerning an Unsolved Murder
1 'If, in the country [land] which Yahweh your God gives you as your possession, a victim of murder [the one pierced] is found lying in the open country [field] and it is not known who has killed that person, 2 your elders and scribes [judges] must measure the distance between the victim and the surrounding towns, 3 and establish which town is the nearest to the victim. 4 The elders of that town must then take a heifer that has not yet been put to work or used as a draught animal under the yoke. The elders of that town must bring the heifer down to a permanently flowing river, to a spot that has been neither ploughed nor sown, and there by the river they must break the heifer's neck. 5 The priests, the sons of Levi, will then step forward, these being the men whom Yahweh your God has chosen to serve him and to bless in Yahweh's name, and it being their business to settle all cases of dispute [riv] or violence. 6 All the elders of the town nearest to the victim of murder must then wash heir hands in the stream, over the slaughtered heifer [the heifer whose neck was broken]. 7 They must pronounce these words, "Our hands have not shed this blood and our eyes have seen nothing. 8 O Yahweh, forgive your people Israel whom you have redeemed, and let no innocent blood be shed among your people Israel. May this bloodshed be forgiven them!" 9 You must banish all shedding of innocent blood from among you, if you mean to do what is right in the eyes of Yahweh. [..] = literal translation (The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, vol. I, page 515-16).
Since under the Law the shedding of blood incurred guilt upon the whole land (Num 35:33), action had to be taken to absolve the land of the blood-guilt: You must banish all shedding of innocent blood from among you, if you mean to do what is right in the eyes of Yahweh (verse 9). This was accomplished in the death of the person who committed a homicide (Gen 9:5-6; Num 35:16-19), or in the natural death of the high priest which atoned for the killer in the case of manslaughter (Num 35:22-25), or the community as a whole taking upon itself atonement for the death of a victim when the murderer cannot be found to take responsibility for polluting the land with innocent blood. In the case of an unknown murder, the judicial high court, consisting of judges who were elders and priests (verses 2 and 5) came to the site of the murder and determined which town nearest to the body of the victim was to accept the responsibility for atoning for the pollution of blood-guilt upon the land.
The ritual for removing the blood-guilt on the land when a murderer was unknown involved a seven step process:
The elders not only declare their innocence but also accept the responsibility of atoning for the blood-guilt upon the land for the entire nation. Notice that the word "Israel" is used twice in the prayer for absolution. The elders' declaration that their hands are innocent of the blood of the murdered victim in ritually washing their hands; such an action coupled with a declaration of absolution is a well-known symbol of innocence in the ancient world and in some countries today.(1)
Question: What official in the New Testament Gospels
performed such a ritual, declaring his innocence in the shedding of the blood
of a man whose death was to take place outside the town of Jerusalem? See Mt 27:24-25.
Answer: The Roman governor, Pontius Pilate washed his hands in front of the Jewish crowd and declared: 'I am innocent of this man's blood. It is your concern.'
Question: Did the crowd of people witnessing Pilate's
gesture understand its meaning? Is there any evidence that they understood in
the context of the ritual in Dt 21:1-9?
Answer: The significance of the gesture was completely understood by the Jewish crowd in the context of the ritual in Dt 21:1-9. In that ritual the representatives of the community took on the responsibility for the murdered victim on behalf of the community and sought atonement. In response to Pilate's declaration of innocence-that neither he nor the Roman government would take responsibility in the shedding of Jesus' innocent blood, the Jerusalem crowd shouted back: 'Let his blood be on us and on our children!' taking the responsibility of Jesus' blood upon themselves.
Since Pilate, as the representative of the Roman Empire, refused to take responsibility for the shedding of Jesus' blood, there was no atonement for the blood-guilt on the land, which the Law required. Therefore, the elders and the people of Jerusalem who forced Pilate's hand in condemning Jesus took upon themselves the burden of the blood-guilt in Jesus' death according to the Law in their statement 'Let his blood be on us and on our children!' In this case they all acted as the witnesses who were to cast the first stones when a guilty verdict was given in a death penalty case, accepting in their actions their sworn oath (in the form of a self curse if they were lying) that they had been truthful witnesses in their part in the man's condemnation unto death (Dt 17:7). The irony is that they did receive atonement for their self-curse and for the blood-guilt of His innocent death. Jesus' death was offered in atonement for all the sins of mankind, included those who falsely testified and who contrived to bring about His death.
Question: Although the passage does not state why priests
had to be present, for what reason would a priest have to be present to
complete the ritual listed as step #7? See Lev 4:20, 26, 35; 5:6, 10, 13, 16,
Answer: The anointed priest must be present for the ritual because only he can grant absolution for sin in God's name for an individual and for the community as a whole.
Question: What is the reason for this ritual in the
event that the person who committed the murder cannot be discovered? What
significance does this ritual have according to the command in Numbers 35:33-34
and in the murder of Abel in Gen 4:9-11?
Answer: The ritual brings a sense of closure for the family of the victim and hopefully prevents the shedding of innocent blood. Atonement has been made for the victim's death by the community in fulfilling the command that there must be atonement for innocent blood that cries out to God and which has been shed on the holy land of God.
The previous series of laws dealt with public officials and the nation as a whole. The next series of laws in Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19 are mostly concerned with the domestic lives of individuals, their families and their neighbors. The first three laws deal with the family:
Several laws in this section reflect concern for the welfare of women. The first two laws in this section limit the rights of husbands over their wives while other laws address a bridegroom's accusations of misconduct against his bride, the violation of a virgin, and the rights of a childless widow:
The laws we will study in this part of Moses' second homily will begin with the law associated with marriage to captured women (Dt 21:10-14) and will end with law which provides for the sharing of crops with those in need (Dt 23:25-26).
Deuteronomy 21:10-23 address five laws:
Women Captured in War
10 'When you go to war against your enemies and Yahweh your God delivers them into your power and you take prisoners, 11 and among the prisoners you see a beautiful woman, and you fall in love with her, and you take her to be your wife 12 and bring her home; she must shave her head and cut her nails, 13 and take off her prisoner's garb; she must stay inside your house and mourn her father and mother for a full month. You may then go to her and be a husband to her, and she will be your wife. 14 Should she cease to please you, you will let her go where she wishes, not selling her for money: you must not make any profit out of her, since you have exploited her.'
This law concerns Gentile women war captives who are not from the despised peoples who inhabited Canaan.
Question: What are four procedures the woman must
observe before the man could legally claim her as his wife?
These actions probably have a double significance. The change in her appearance may indicate the transfer from her Gentile community to the community of Israel, and her mourning period may represent not only the separation from her parents but the death of her old life. After the month of mourning had passed, the man was permitted to have sexual relations with her. There is a practical reason for the thirty days of sexual abstinence. The time allowed the woman to come to terms with her fate and gave the Israelite man time to win her affection, thus increasing the chances for a successful marriage.
There is a contingency clause added at the end of the legislation. If, from the man's point of view, the marriage was not a success, he could divorce the woman (the literal translation "let go" is interpreted as "divorce").
Question: If the Israelite chose to divorce the
woman, how were her rights protected by the Law?
The Law of the Sinai Covenant does not forbid divorce, but the reason divorce was allowed was, as Jesus' said, because of the hard-hearts of the Israelite men (Mt 19:3-9). We will cover the topic of divorce in lesson 12.
Birthrights of Sons born to an Unloved Wife
15 'If a man has two wives, one loved and the other unloved, and the loved one and the unloved both bear him children, and if the first-born son is of the unloved wife, 16 when the man comes to bequeath his goods to his sons, he may not treat the son of the wife whom he loves as the first-born, at the expense of the son of the wife whom he does not love, the true first-born. 17 As his first-born he must acknowledge the son of the wife whom he does not love, giving him a double share of his estate; this sons being the first-fruit of his vigor, the right of the first-born is his.'
The Law did not try to regulate plural marriage. It was a very old practice, dating back to Genesis 4:19, but the normal practice as ordained by God was marriage between one man and one woman (Gen 2:24). Plural marriage is never presented in a positive light in Scripture, and Jesus affirmed God's plan of marriage between one man and one woman in His teachings (Mt 19:4-6).
This law protects the rights of the first-born son in polygamous marriages and forbids the action Jacob-Israel took on his death bed when he gave the double portion to Joseph, the eleventh son born to him but the son by his beloved wife Rachel (Gen 29:30-31; 49:22-26; Josh 17:14).
Question: The father had the right to divide his
property as he wished, so long as he observed what prohibition?
Answer: He could not favor a younger son as his principal heir over his legal first-born son.
In most cultures of the ancient Near East the firstborn son had the right to inherit a larger share of his father's estate than the other sons. In Israelite law this meant the firstborn sons inherited double the material blessing of his brothers, or as some scholars have interpreted the passage, it may mean the firstborn son inherited two-thirds of the estate. Zechariah 13:8 has the same phrase as in Deuteronomy 21:17 (pi shenayim, meaning "mouth of two") which is used as an idiom for "two-thirds" (JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy, page 196).(2) A firstborn heir could be disqualified if he proved to be unfit, as in the case of Jacob-Israel's son Reuben who slept with his father's concubine (Gen 49:3-4).
The Punishment of a Rebellious Son
18 'If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not listen to the voice either of his father or of his mother and, even when they punish him, still will not pay attention to them, 19 his father and mother must take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his town at the gate of that place. 20 To the elders of his town they will say, "This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious and will not listen to us; he is a wastrel and a drunkard." 21 All his fellow-citizens must then stone him to death. You must banish this evil from among you. All Israel, hearing of this, will be afraid.'
The most important duty of parents is to teach their children about Yahweh and His law. If a son is disobedient and refused to respect his parents, he will also refuse to learn about God or to observe His law. Israel's obedience to the Law meant life for the community; therefore, such disruptive behavior and such a bad example to other children could not be tolerated. What the rebellious son has done is to violate the commandment concerning honoring parents (Ex 20:12; Dt 5:16; 19:2).
Question: What is the blessing for honoring parents
in the Decalogue? See Ex 20:12 and Dt 5:16? What is the curse for
disobedience (Dt 21:21).
Answer: The blessing of honoring parents in the Decalogue is life and the curse for disrespect is death.
Question: The parents are the witnesses against their
rebellious son in his trial, but what is different in the carrying out of the
execution as compared to other death penalty offenses? See Dt 17:7.
Answer: The parents are not required to take part in his execution. The entire community acts as the executioners since the man's behavior threatened the entire community's stability.
St. Paul included rebelling against one's parents among a list of sins that are most offensive to God (Rom 1:30). See CCC 2197-2231.
The Treatment of a Body of an Executed Criminal
22 'If a man guilty of a capital offence is to be put to death, and you hang him from a tree, 23 his body must not remain on the tree overnight; you must bury him the same day, since anyone hanged is a curse of God, and you must not bring pollution on the soil which Yahweh your God is giving you as your heritage.'
Hanging is not a form of execution mentioned in the Pentateuch.(3) Therefore, the hanging of the executed person on a tree was to take place after execution as a sign that the man is to be despised as cursed for rejecting the blessings of God and for putting the entire community in jeopardy in their covenant relationship with God (see Gen 40:19; Josh 10:26; Est 9:6-14).(4)
Question: In other ancient Near Eastern cultures, as
in Genesis 40:19, the corpse was left handing and the body was to be denied a
proper burial. How is this law different and what two reasons are given for
removing the body and giving it a proper burial? See Num 6:9; 19:11-13; 31:19,
24; Wis 2:23-24.
Answer: The Israelites must bury the body the same day as the execution, prior to sundown which began the next day because:
Examples in Scripture of executions followed by hanging the body on a tree:
This kind of display was reserved for those who were enemies of the covenant people, and the law applied to both Israelites and non-Israelites. Other peoples in the region also displayed the bodies of dead enemies, as the Philistines did with the bodies of Saul and his sons (1 Sam 31:8-13; 2 Sam 21:13-14).
To the Israelites of past centuries and the Jews of Jesus' time, the body of a condemned man hanging on a tree was a sign that he was cursed by God. This is the reason the priests and elders of the Sanhedrin wanted to have Jesus condemned and crucified by the Romans, a form of execution assigned to only the worst of criminals. Roman citizens were never executed by crucifixion.(5) It was the hope of the Temple hierarchy that Jesus' death in this manner would destroy the regard that the common people had for Him and brand Him as a sinner and enemy of the covenant people.
Deuteronomy 21:23 ... his body must not remain on the tree overnight; you must bury him the same day, since anyone hanged is a curse of God, and you must not bring pollution on the soil which Yahweh your God is giving you as your heritage.
John 19:31 records that the Roman soldiers hastened the deaths of the two men crucified with Jesus by breaking their legs to avoid having the bodies remain on their crosses during the Sabbath, which was to begin at sundown, but they came to Jesus they discovered that He was already dead. The reason the soldiers hastened the deaths of the men was most likely because of the Roman Empire's respect for the Jew's observance of the law in the Deuteronomic Code that a body had to be buried before sundown.
St. Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 21:23 and links the passage to Jesus' crucifixion in Galatians 3:13: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by being cursed for our sake since scripture says: Anyone hanged is accursed, so that the blessing of Abraham might come to the gentiles in Christ Jesus, and so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith (emphasis added). And St. Athanasius wrote: For if he himself came to bear the curse laid upon us, how else could he have "become a curse" unless he received the death set for a curse? And that is the cross. For this is exactly what is written: "Cursed is he that hangs on a tree" (On the Incarnation, 25).
Question: How was Jesus Christ "cursed for our sake"?
See Rom 8:3; 2 Cor 5:21; Col 2:14.
Answer: The human race was cursed with death and sin, a curse incurred by disobedience to God in the Fall of Adam (Gen 3:16-19), just as the Israelites became cursed by disobedience to God for violations of the Law. Christ made himself answerable for the curse, making the Law's requirements for accountability for sin and rebellion against God fully satisfied in His sacrificial death.
Question: How are the requirements of the Law that
demand atonement for sin satisfied?
Answer: The requirements of the Law are satisfied only through faith and union with Christ's death and Resurrection and are summed up in Jesus' command to love one another as He has loved us.
See Heb 9:15-22 and CCC 580.
Chapter 22: Miscellaneous Domestic Laws
You are commanded
to pull out the ass or the ox which is lying in the mud. Do you then see a
Christian like yourself, who was redeemed by the blood of Christ, lying in the
sewer of drunkenness and wallowing in the mud of dissipation, and remain
silent? Do you pass by and not stretch forth the hand of mercy? Do you merely
shout at him or rebuke him or instill fright in him?
Caesarius, Bishop of Arles (c. 470-543), Sermon 225.4
The chapter begins with a series of ten laws concerning domestic life within the community. The use of the word "brother" refers to a member of the covenant community. In their writings, the Church Fathers taught that Sacred Scripture calls the people of God to live in harmony with man and nature. We must treat something that is found as a trust (St. Clement of Alexandria), and if we ought to help animals, how much more should we help our covenant brothers and sisters who are in need (St. Caesarius of Arles).
Laws Associated with Daily Life
Law 1: 1'If you see your brother's ox or one of his sheep straying, you must not disregard it: you must take it back to your brother. 2 And if he is not close at hand or you do not know who he is, you must take it home with you and keep it by you until your brother comes to look for it; you will then return it to him.'
This law commands the respect and care for domestic animals and the reminder that the owner of the animal is one's kinsman.
Question: According to Exodus 23:4-5, is there an
excuse for not helping?
Answer: No, one is obligated to help even if the animal's owner is an enemy.
Law 2: 3 'You must
do the same with his donkey, the same with his cloak, the same with anything
that your brother loses and that you find; you must not disregard it.'
Animals from the herd and flock are clean animals, but the law also applies to unclean animals like the domesticated donkey and to any article of clothing or an object belonging to someone else. There is no such thing as "finder's keepers" under the Law.
Law 3: 4 'If you see
your brother's donkey or ox fall over on the road, you must not disregard it,
but must help your brother get it on its feet again.'
Donkeys and oxen were the usual beasts of burden. If an animal is distressed, the example given here is if it has fallen, one is under the obligation to help. Jesus used the same example when addressing the Pharisees criticism that He broke the Law by engaging in a form of labor on the Sabbath, saying if an animal fell into a pit on the Sabbath, the obligation to do good took precedence over the command to cease from labor (Mt 12:11-12).
Law 4: 5 'A woman
must not dress like a man, nor a man like a woman; anyone who does this is
detestable to Yahweh your God.'
In the Bible, all forms of homosexuality are described as mortal sins (Lev 18:22; 20:13; Rom 1:26-27; 1 Cor 6:9-10; Jude 7). This law appears to address the practice of cross-dressing (a man wearing women's clothing or a woman wearing man's clothing) as a perverse means of sexual stimulation or homosexual role playing or because it may have been part of pagan rituals. God created men and women to be different sexually and such conduct blurs the sexual differences that God intended (Gen 1:27).
Law 5: 6 'If, when
out walking, you come across a bird's next, in a tree or on the ground, with
chicks or eggs and the mother bird sitting on the chicks or the eggs, you must
not take the mother as well as the chicks. 7
Let the mother go; the young you may take for yourself. Thus will you
have prosperity and long life.'
This law is similar to Leviticus 22:27-28 in that it demands reverence for the parent-child relationship even in animals and stresses the wise use of natural resources. The mother bird will breed again and produce more offspring. The promise associated with obedience to this prohibition is interesting. It is a repeat, in reverse order, of the promise for honoring human parents in Deuteronomy 5:16.
Law 6: 8 'When you
build a new house, you must give your roof a parapet; then your house will not
incur blood-vengeance, should anyone fall off the top.'
Houses in the ancient Near East had flat roves that were used as addition living space. They were used for drying and storing produce (Josh 2:6), for sleeping in warm weather, and for socializing. The home owner must be responsible for the safety of people living in his home and visiting his home. To avoid an unnecessary accident, homeowners were commanded to have a protective barrier around the flat roof to prevent anyone from falling off. Since human life is involved, negligence in providing adequate safety would be tantamount to homicide, bring "bloodguilt" on one's house. The law is similar to the law that holds a person responsible if an animal falls into a pit that was left uncovered on someone's property (Ex 21:33-34).
Law 7: 9 'You must
not sow any other crop in your vineyard, or the whole yield may become forfeit,
both the crop you have sown and the yield of your vines.'
Law 8: 10 'You must not plough with ox and donkey together.'
Law 9: 11 You must
not wear clothing woven part of wool, part of linen.'
These three commands are supplements to previous laws in Leviticus 19:19 which forbid cross breeding animal species, sowing fields with two kinds of seed or making textiles from a mixture of two kinds of materials (linen and wool). Plowing a field with a powerful ox pared with a small donkey would be unkind to the donkey; the donkey would not be equal in weight or strength. No other reasons are obvious for these laws other than they again separate the lives of the Israelites from their neighbors and do not mix what God created as separate.
Law 10: 12 'You must make tassels for the four corners of the cloak in which you wrap yourself.' This garment will become the familiar Jewish prayer shawl. The command to wear tassels with a blue thread on the four corners is given in greater detail in Numbers 15:37-41.(6)
The next series of laws concern marriage and sexual misconduct.
The Virginity of a Bride
13 'If a man marries a woman, has sexual intercourse with her and then, turning against her, 14 taxes her with misconduct and publicly defames her by saying, "I married this woman and when I had sexual intercourse with her I did not find evidence of her virginity," 15 the girls' father and mother must take the evidence of her virginity and produce it before the elders of the town, at the gate. 16 To the elders, the girl's father will say, "I gave this man my daughter for a wife and he has turned against her, 17 and now he taxes her with misconduct, saying, I have found no evidence of virginity in your daughter. Here is the evidence of my daughter's virginity!" 18 They must then display the cloth to the elders of the town. 19 The elders of the town in question will have the man arrested and flogged, and fine him a hundred silver shekels for publicly defaming a virgin of Israel, and give this money to the girl's father. She will remain his wife; as long as he lives, he may not divorce her. 20 But if the accusation that the girl cannot show evidence of virginity is substantiated, 21 she must be taken out, and at the door of her father's house her fellow citizens must stone her to death for having committed an infamy in Israel by bringing disgrace on her father's family. You must banish this evil from among you.' (emphasis added)
The demand for sexual purity in an unmarried woman was unique to the Israelites. Other ancient Near Eastern nations required fidelity in marriage and there were penalties for adultery (including the death penalty), but there was no requirement for virginity in a young previously unmarried woman prior to marriage. In this case, a bride is accused of not being a virgin by her bridegroom. As in all judicial matters, the family takes a central role in the defense or prosecution of legal disputes. In this case it is the father's responsibility to defend his daughter's virtue by keeping in his possession evidence of her virginity from the bridal bed. The evidence is shown to the town fathers at the gate-the normal place where community disputes were addressed.
Question: What is the penalty for a man who has
unjustly defamed a virgin of Israel?
Answer: He is arrested and publically flogged. He is fined 100 silver shekels, which is given to the girl's father, and he can never divorce the girl.
Question: What happens if she has no proof of her
Answer: She will be publically stoned before her father's house. Her husband's testimony and the lack of evidence are the two witnesses against her.
There were probably many Israelite brides who prudently took a small vile of chicken blood (or some other animal's blood) to their marriage beds.
A girl who was betrothed to a man and was not yet married could also be charged with adultery and stoned if it was proved that she had sexual relations with another man or if she became pregnant before marriage. This was the reason Joseph decided to quietly put aside his marriage contract with Mary of Nazareth when he discovered that she was pregnant before the angel Gabriel spoke to him (Mt 1:18-21). He did not wish to have Mary publically executed, nor did he want to disregard the law's requirements for sexual purity of the virgins of Israel.
Five cases of either adultery or rape are discussed in this section:
The Punishment for Adultery and Fornication
22 'If a man is caught having sexual intercourse with another man's wife, both must be put to death: the man who has slept with her and the woman herself. You must banish this evil from Israel.
23 If a virgin is engaged to a man, and another man encounters her in the town and has sexual intercourse with her, 24 you will take them both to the gate of the town in question and stone them to death: the girl, for not having called for help in the town; the man, for having exploited his fellow-citizen's wife. You must banish this evil from among you.
25 But if the man ran into the betrothed girl in the open country and slept with her, having taken her by force, her ravisher alone must die; 26 you must do nothing to the girl, she has not committed a capital offense. The case is like that of a man who attacks and kills his fellow: 27 since he came across her in the open country, the betrothed girl may have called out, without anyone's coming to her rescue.
28 If a man meets a young virgin who is not betrothed and seizes her, sleeps with her and is caught in the act, 29 her ravisher must given the girl's father fifty silver shekels; since he has exploited her, she must be his wife and, as long as he lives, he may not divorce her.
23:1/22:30 A man must not take his father's wife; he must not withdraw the skirt of his father's cloak from her.
Question: Why is the phrase You must banish this
evil from among you/ from Israel repeated three times in verses 21, 22 and
Answer: The repetition emphasizes the serious nature of the offense-it isn't just an offense against the person directly involved (the bridegroom, the betrayed party in an adulterous marriage, or the unfaithful betrothed woman); sexual misconduct within the covenant community is an offense against God.
Deuteronomy 22:28-29 If a man meets a young virgin who is not betrothed and seizes her, sleeps with her and is caught in the act, 29 her ravisher must given the girl's father fifty silver shekels; since he has exploited her, she must be his wife and, as long as he lives, he may not divorce her.
This legislation concerns a virgin who is forced. Legislation on the violation of a virgin who has willing engaged in fornication is given in the Covenant Code in Exodus 22:15-16/16-17. In those regulations, the man who seduces a virgin but who is not formally betrothed to her by her family will pay the bride-price to her father and make her his wife, if her parents agree to the marriage. If her father refuses to let him marry the girl, the man must still pay the father the sum equivalent to the bride-price of a virgin.
The prohibition of a man having sexual relations with another man's wife (Dt 22:22) or a wife of his father (Dt 23:1/22:30) has already been condemned in the Holiness Code (Lev 20:10-11). The sin of sexual intercourse with a woman who belongs to one's father recalls the sin of Jacob-Israel's firstborn son Reuben and Jacob's concubine Bilhah (Gen 35:22; 49:4). The Semitic expression he must not withdraw the skirt of his father's cloak from her (Dt 23:1/22:30), is a euphemism for sexual intercourse. A similar expression is found in the encounter between Ruth and Boaz when Ruth asks Boaz to marry her (Rt 3:9) and in Ezekiel 16:8 when Yahweh speaks of taking Israel as His bride. It may also explain what happened in the strange incident concerning Noah's drunkenness and the cursing of Canaan. The phrase he must not withdraw the skirt of his father's cloak from her refers to a son having sexual relations with his father's wife (either the man's mother or a second wife or concubine). In Genesis 9:22-23, Noah is drunk in his tent and he is naked. His cloak has been removed and is outside the tent with his youngest son Ham who has exposed his father's nakedness. When Noah is conscious and "learned what his youngest son had done to him" (Gen 9:24), Noah curses Ham's son Canaan. This bizarre incident makes sense if Ham had forced his mother to have sexual relations (withdrawing the skirt of his father's cloak from her") and Canaan was the result of the incestuous union.
Question: If sex is "natural" and part of being
"human," why are God's laws so rigorous about demanding sexual purity outside
Answer: Sexual activity is "nature" for animals but God intended that it should be holy for humans. It is the first blessing given to man (Gen 1:28). It is the gift God gives to men and women to allow them to become partners with Him in creating the next generation and therefore is a gift that should never be taken lightly.
Baptized Christians are called to chastity. For unmarried Christians who desire to marry or who are engaged to be married, chastity moderates desire by abstention until they get married. For those who resolve not to marry, the desire is sacrificed entirely in chastity, in imitation of Christ who lived a chaste human life. See CCC 2348-2350.
Restrictions on Access to Israel's National Assembly
23:2/23:1 'A man whose testicles have been crushed or whose male member has been cut off must not be admitted to the assembly of Yahweh. 3 No half-breed [misbegotten] may be admitted to the assembly of Yahweh; not even his descendants to the tenth generation may be admitted to the assembly of Yahweh. 4 No Ammonite or Moabite may be admitted to the assembly of Yahweh; not even his descendants to the tenth generation may be admitted to the assembly of Yahweh, and this is for all time; 5 since they did not come to meet you with food and drink when you were on your way out of Egypt, and even hired Balaam son of Beor to oppose you by cursing you, from Pethor in Aram Naharaim. 6 But Yahweh your God refused to listen to Balaam, and Yahweh your God turned the curse on you into a blessing, because Yahweh your God loved you. 7 Never, as long as you live, must you seek their welfare or their prosperity. 8 You must not regard the Edomite as detestable, for he is your brother; you must not regard the Egyptian as detestable, since you were once a foreigner in his country. 9 The third generation of children born to these may be admitted to the assembly of Yahweh.
The "Assembly/Congregation of Yahweh" (kahal, meaning the "called out ones" in Hebrew) served as the national governing body, similar to a national legislature, and was responsible for a broad range of judicial, political, and national policy matters (for example see Judg 20:2; 2 Sam 5:1-3; 1 Kng 12:1, 20). The national governing Assembly was composed of all the adult males of Israel meeting in plenary session and sometimes refers to their tribal representatives acting as an executive committee. The Assembly of Israel convened to declare war on an enemy state, to elect a king, to adjudicate legal cases, to distribute land and in covenant renewal ceremonies where allegiance was sworn in obedience to the Law of Yahweh as Israel's King.(7) This is not the same as the special assemblies of worship during the pilgrim feasts (first and last day of Unleavened Bread and the eighth day of Tabernacles; Lev 23:7-8, 36; Num 28:18, 25; 29:36) to which non-covenant members were not admitted.
There were three types of emasculation in the ancient world: the cutting off the testes, the cutting off of the penis, or a castration that removed both the testes and the male member. Such procedures were usually forced on slaves who served in the royal harem. Sometimes eunuchs rose to positions of power within ancient societies, like the Ethiopian eunuch healed by the deacon Philip who was the chief treasurer in the court of the Ethiopian queen (Acts 8:26-39).
Deuteronomy 23:3 No half-breed [mamzer = misbegotten] may be admitted to the assembly of Yahweh ...
The meaning of the Hebrew word mamzer is not completely certain, but the better translation is perhaps "misbegotten"-someone who was conceived in an illicit sexual union. Some Jewish scholars have suggested it is derived from the root m-z-r, "rot." The only other occurrence of the word mamzer in Scripture is found in Zechariah 9:6 where such people live in Gentile populations. The word's close association with the sin of incest in 23:1: A man must not take his father's wife and verse 4: No Ammonite or Moabite may be admitted to the assembly of Yahweh, has led Talmudic exegesis to assume the prohibition is against those who are born of incest like the sons of Lot who are the ancestors of the Ammonite and Moabites, or born of adulterous intercourse (see the list of forbidden interkinship marriages in Lev 18:7-8), including the descendants of a cult prostitute (see Dt 23:18/17; The JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy, page 211).
Question: What other reasons is given for the
exclusion of the Ammonites and Moabites?
Answer: The other reason given for the exclusion of Ammonites and Moabites is their failure to be hospitable to the Israelites and the Moabites attempt to curse the Israelites during their journey through the Transjordan.
This verse and the exclusion of the Egyptians and Edomites only until the third generation are problematic. The Egyptians can hardly be said to be generous to the Israelites during the Exodus liberation, nor were the Edomites hospitable after refusing Moses' request to pass through their land (Num 20:14-21), and Scripture does not record that the Israelites ever came into direct contact with the Ammonites during the Transjordan campaign (Dt 2:17-19). However, the Israelites did pass near Ammon (2:17-18) and Moses' silence about Ammon (Dt 2:29) could imply that they did refuse overtures from the Israelites. The only distinguishing link between the Ammonites and the Moabites is that they were the descendants of a forbidden, incestuous union between Lot and his daughters (Gen 19:30-38). St. Clement of Alexandria wrote that the verse mentioning the Egyptians and Edomites in a positive light should be understood to apply to all righteous Gentiles who sought to live in harmony with the covenant people (Clement, Stromateis 188.8.131.52-3).
Since all non-Israelites who convert and marry within the covenant are included as full members of the covenant, the exclusion clauses must refer to members of those ethnic groups who are not converted Gentiles but who are Gentile resident aliens (and their descendants) living in Israel. This interpretation is supported by the fact that the convert Caleb, the son of a Kenizzite, was a leader of the tribe of Judah and David, who was anointed king of Israel, was descended from the Moabitess Ruth and Rahab the Canaanite heroine of Jericho (Rt 4:18-22; Mt 1:3-6); therefore his Moabite and Canaanite heritage was not a problem with God or with the covenant people. Israelites, however, were forbidden to marry Gentiles who would not convert (Neh 13:23-25).(8)
The descendants of resident aliens who observed the laws of Israel were to be allowed to participate in Assemblies that made political decisions that would affect them and their families. For example, at the Assembly on the slopes of Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim when Joshua read the words of the Law including the covenant blessings and curses those in attendance included resident aliens-Of every word laid down by Moses, not one was left unread by Joshua in the presence of the whole assembly of Israel, including the women and children, and the foreigners living with them (Josh 8:35).
*The restriction on the Ammonites and Moabites "even to the tenth generation" is a way of saying "never." Ten is one of the "perfect" numbers.(9)
The problem with men who have been emasculated by having their sexual member cut off is that they would forever be ritually unclean because of leaking urine. If these restrictions are limited to resident aliens, emasculation would probably be the result of a punishment under the laws of neighboring countries or self-mutilation associated with pagan rites. Ritually impure Israelites and non-covenant members were restricted from attending worship services.(10)
The legislation concerning descendants of Aaron who are eunuchs or who have other physical deformities being barred from serving at the altar is given in Leviticus 21:17-23.
The prophet Isaiah, however, spoke of a time in the Messianic Age when even eunuchs and Gentiles would be welcomed at Yahweh's altar (Is 56:3-5).
Question: When was this prophecy fulfilled in the New
Covenant? See Acts 8:27, 36-39.
Answer: Isaiah's prophecy was fulfilled when the Ethiopian eunuch, who served as an official in the court of the queen of Ethiopia, was baptized by St. Philip.*
Hygiene within the Military Camp of God
10 'When you are in camp, at war with your enemies, you must avoid anything bad. 11 If any one of you is unclean by reason of a nocturnal emission, he must leave and not come back into camp, 12 but towards evening wash himself, and return to camp at sunset. 13 You must have a latrine outside the camp, and go out to this; 14 you must have a trowel in your equipment and, when you squat outside, you must scrape a hole with it, them turn round and cover up your excrement. 15 For Yahweh you God goes [walks] about the inside of your camp to guard you and put you enemies at your mercy. Your camp must therefore be a holy place; Yahweh must not see anything indecent there or he will desert you. [..]. = literal translation (The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, vol. I, pages 521-22).
One of the premises of the legislation in the books of Leviticus and Numbers is that impurity is incompatible with the presence of God. Since God is present to fight for Israel within the camp of His holy warriors, an even stricter code of cleanliness must be in place than the laws of cleanliness which are observed in the residential camp of the covenant people where God resides in the Tabernacle: Hence you will warn the Israelites against contracting a state of uncleanness, rather than incurring death by defiling my Dwelling which is among them (Lev 15:31). It was for this reason that anyone who had a contagious infection or genital discharge, or who was defiled by contact with a corpse had to leave the residential camp until a state of ritual purity was reestablished (Lev 15:16-16; Num 5:1-4). The same rules of ritual purity were in force in the military camp. Most cases of ritual impurity required a ritual bath with ritual purity being restored at the beginning of the next day at sunset (Dt 23:12 and Numbers chapter 15).
Question: What were the practical reasons for requiring the soldiers to keep the camp permanently in a state of ritual holiness?
Answer: The emphasis on holiness would make the soldiers constantly aware of God's presence, their duty to be His holy warriors, and their dependence of His favor for their victory. Another practical application was that attention to hygiene would avoid the spread of sickness within the camp where men were living in close proximity to each other.
The "War Scroll," discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran, recorded that the camp latrine was to be located 2,000 cubits (c. 3,000 feet) from the camp (1QWar, 7:6-7). Josephus recorded that the conservative sect of Jews known as the Essenes applied the rules of Yahweh's military camp to Jerusalem and had their latrines located outside the city walls (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 2.149).
The next series of five laws address:
As in the other passages in this lesson, the word "brother" refers to members of the covenant family.
Law 1: 16 'You must not allow a master to imprison a slave who has escaped from him and come to you. 17 Let him make his home with you and yours, wherever he pleases in whichever of your towns he prefers; you must not molest him. [*He shall live with you, among you, in the place which he chooses, inside one of your gates, wherever it is pleasing to him. You shall not oppress him].
Law 2: 18 There must be no sacred prostitute among the women of Israel, and no sacred prostitute among the men of Israel. 19 You must not bring the wages of a prostitute or the earnings of a 'dog' to the house of Yahweh your God, whatever vow you may have made: both are detestable to Yahweh your God.
Law 3: 20 You must not lend on interest to your brother, whether the loan be of money, of food, or of anything else that may earn interest. 21 You may demand interest on a loan to a foreigner, but you must not demand interest from your brother; so that Yahweh your God may bless you in all your labors, in the country [land] which you are about to enter and make your own.
Law 4: 22If you make a vow to Yahweh your God, you must not be slack about fulfilling it: Yahweh your God will certainly hold you answerable for it and you will incur guilt. 23If, however, you make no vow, you do not incur guilt. 24 Whatever passes your lips you must keep to, and the vow that you have made to Yahweh, your generous God, you must fulfill.
Law 5: 25If you go into your neighbor's vineyard, you may eat as many grapes as you please, but you must not put any in your basket. 26If you go into your neighbor's standing corn, you may pick ears by hand, but you must not put a sickle into your neighbor's corn [grain]. [..] = literal translation (The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, vol. I, pages 522-23).
Law 1: While slavery is not forbidden in Scripture, God placed regulations upon how slave owners were to treat their slaves humanely. In many cases voluntary slavery provided a welfare system in which someone was able to escape extreme poverty themselves or for their children. In this passage, it is probably assumed that the slave has run away because of bad treatment, since slaves who were treated as a member of the household of their masters would not need to run away. Since laws were in place in Israel to protect the abuse of slaves (all classes of Israelite society were protected by the Law), and Israelite slaves were to be freed in the seventh year or in a jubilee year (Ex 21:2-3; Dt 15:12-18), most commentators hold that this law only applied to foreign slaves who fled where they were enslaved and had to come to Israel for asylum. The wording of the law in verse 17 seems to suggest this, since an Israelite already had the right to live anywhere in the land. In the Hebrew text, there is an extraordinary fivefold repetition of phrases designating the location of the slave's choice of residence, which emphasizes that the entire community of Israel must be opened to him (verse 16 in some translations):
If the law included Israelite slaves, the term "brother" would probably have been used as in other passages in this section referring to Israelites. In any event, the escaped slave was to be protected and was not to be returned as though he was merely property. Accepting Gentiles into the Israelite population was a form of evangelization which helped the covenant people to fulfill their mission as a "light to the nations." The escaped foreign slave could become a resident living under the same laws and protections as an Israelite (see Ex 22:20; Lev 19:33-34 and Dt 1:16).
Israel's law for fugitive slaves is quite extraordinary in light of the fact that law codes of the ancient Near East universally stipulated that escaped slaves must be returned to their owners. In addition, most of the law codes of neighboring states stipulated that the death penalty was to be applied for anyone who harbored an escaped slave, that rewards were given to bounty hunters for the return of escaped slaves, and treaties between nations even stipulated the return of escaped slaves.(11)
Law 2: No Israelite was to engage in prostitution or ever serve a pagan god as a ritual prostitute, a Canaanite practice for both men and women. Prostitution injures the dignity of the human person (CCC 2355) by reducing that person to an object of lust. The two terms designating a "whore" and a "cult prostitute" that are used in the Hebrew text of this passage are the same words used in the narrative of Tamar, whom Judah privately regarded as a "whore" but who was publicly referred to as a "kedesah"/ritual prostitute (Gen 38:15, 21). Such women were usually donated to the shrine of a god or goddess as ritual prostitutes as children by their parents. Rahab, the heroine of Jericho who wanted to change her life, may have been forced into ritual prostitution (Josh 2:1). Under the Law, an Israelite father could not force his daughter into prostitution (Lev 19:29).
Human sexuality was meant for the sacrament of covenantal marriage and any abuse of the gift of sexuality was abhorrent to God, hence the wages earned by a male or female prostitute were tainted with sin and could not be offered to Yahweh's Sanctuary, even if the prostitute vowed them to God (Dt 23:19; Hos 4:14; Mic 1:7). Those wages from exercising evil practices were as tainted as the earnings of those who profit from sin today, like those who prostitute themselves by working for abortion clinics or who sell illegal drugs. Like the earnings of a prostitute, their donations to the Church are a sacrilege.
The phrase "earnings of a dog" in verse 19 refers in context to the male counterpart to a common female prostitute. It may have been an Israelite idiom used to refer to people in professions who behaved more like animals in their sexuality than the human beings made in the image of God. Dogs were unclean animals and Gentiles were referred to as goyim (nations) or dogs, a reference to their condition as the "unclean" and unacceptable for worship as opposed to the Israelites who strive to be ritually "clean" and acceptable to offer sacrifice and worship to Yahweh. Jesus made a reference to "dogs" when He told the Gentile woman from Sidon that He had come to bring the Gospel of salvation to the lost sheep of the House of Israel and that it was "not fair to take the children's food and throw it to little dogs." The conventional nature of the expression "dogs" for Gentiles by Jews and the diminutive form Jesus used ("little dogs") softened the insult, and because of the woman's faith, He did grant her petition to heal her daughter (Mt 15:21-28).
Law 3: In ancient Israel, loans were usually charitable loans to covenant members who had fallen on difficult times (Ex 22:24; Lev 25:36-37). It was a moral obligation to help an impoverished covenant member without increasing his poverty by requiring interest. Lending without interest is listed as a virtue and praised as an act of generosity (Ps 15:5; 37:26; 112:5; Prov 28:8; Ez 18:8, 13, 27; 22:12).
Question: What was the exception to this law? Why?
See Dt 15:3. Hint: do not confuse foreigners with resident aliens.
Answer: Loans to foreigners were the exception. The foreigner is not like the resident alien, who must be treated like an Israelite. Foreigners were visiting the Promised Land for purposes of trade and to make a profit. The risk of lending to a foreigner who lived in another country made the profit of interest on the loan a reasonable transaction.
Law 4: Vows were usually made when a person sought divine assistance when making a petition like the birth of a child, deliverance from illness, or victory in battle (see Num 21:2; 1 Sam 1:11; Judg 11:30-31; Jon 1:16; 2:10). Numbers chapter 6 gives instructions concerning vows of abstention in association with a Nazirite vow and the necessary sacrifices at the completion of a vow. Vows were to be fulfilled as soon as possible after the petition was granted, usually at the next pilgrim feast (1 Sam 1:21). To act without appreciation for God's deliverance and to neglect one's vow was a grave sin (Num 30:3; Ecc 5:3-5).(12)
Law 5: Travelers often had to pass through grain fields and vineyards. This was not considered trespassing, and hungry travelers were permitted to eat some of the farmer's grain or to eat some grapes or figs, as Jesus' hungry disciples helped themselves to some grain from a farmer's field (Mt 12:1-2) and as Jesus looked for figs to eat when He was hungry while traveling from the Mt. of Olives to Jerusalem one morning (Mt 21:18-19).
Question: What restrictions were placed on travelers
who took advantage of this generosity?
Answer: Travelers must only hand-pick and eat what they needed. They could not carry away grain or fruit in a bag or basket nor could they cut the grain with a sickle.
The permission under the Law for a traveler to eat from the grain in any field in Israel when one was hungry was the reason the Pharisees didn't accuse Jesus of stealing grain when His apostles ate grain from a field in Matthew 21:1-8.
Question: What did accusation did they make instead?
Answer: They accused Jesus and His disciples of breaking the restriction against working on the Sabbath by picking the grain.
The group of laws that began in 23:10 will continue in Chapter 24. Like this section of laws dealing with daily life, the next series of laws in Moses' continuing second homily will also begin with laws about marriage and end will laws providing for the sharing of crops with those in need.
Question for group discussion:
The quality of one's character is determined largely by how one responds to the "little things" in life that are the best test of one's present reality. It has been said that "perfection is made up of trifles but perfection is no trifle." If Christians are to be "perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt 5:48; 19:21); what little things in our daily lives should we be attentive to in our determination to live as perfectly as possible in the image and likeness of God?
1. For other Scripture references to hand washing as a sign of innocence see Ps 26:6; 73:13 and Mt 27:4. The washing of hands was also a symbol of ritual purification. A priest ritually washed his hands and feet before approaching the altar or entering the Tabernacle (Ex 30:17-21). In the ritual of the Passover meal on the first night of Unleavened Bread, those assembled washed their hands three times during the meal (Mishnah: Kelim, 1:9D; M.: Yoma, 4:5IID; M.: Tamid, 2:1B).
2. In Neo-Babylonian laws, the sons of a man's first wife inherit two-thirds of his estate and the sons of his second wife inherited one-third portions (Ancient Near Eastern Texts, page 198).
3. The first references to hanging occurs in Est 2:23; 5:14; 7:9-10; 9:13-14, although these verses may refer to death by impaling. The Assyrians were the first to introduce death by impalement and the Persians were the first to use hanging and crucifixion as forms of execution.
4. Some copies of the Septuagint invert the verbs in Dt 21:22 to read "hang him on wood so he dies," thus suggesting crucifixion, but it may be a copyist's alteration to make the verse fit Jesus' crucifixion more exactly. According to the Mishnah, a pole with a horizontal beam was erected and the dead man's hands were bound and slung over the beam, leaving his body suspended (Mishnah: Sanhedrin, 6:4).
5. Crucifixion was not a form of execution practiced by the Israelites, and the Romans only used crucifixion for non-Romans. In their martyrdom in Rome, St. Peter was crucified but St. Paul, a Roman citizen, was beheaded.
6. In the Middle Ages, the law concerning the wearing of an outer garment with tassels was altered because it made Jews too easily identifiable to gangs of thugs seeking to persecute Jews. Instead the tassels were attached to a small rectangular inner garment with a whole for the head. This garment was known as a tallit katan ("small tallit") or 'arba'kanfot (four corners). The common practice that Jews observe today is to wear a fringed shawl with longer fringes at each corner, known as a tallit, which is generally worn only during Morning Prayer (JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy, page 203). Orthodox Jews wear a small tallit under their shirts or vests as part of normal clothing with the four fringes exposed.
7. Israel's national Assemblies can be compared to other national assemblies in the ancient world, like the ekklesia in Athens (which also means "called out") and the puhrum in Mesopotamian city-states. It is likely that Israel's national Assembly existed before the Exodus from Egypt (see Ex 2:10).
8. After the return from the Babylonian exile, many Israelites brought back foreign wives who had not embraced the covenant (Ezra 9:1-2), after reading the passage from Dt 23:4-6 (Neh 13:1-3), the people overreacted and banned all foreigners from Judah (Neh 13:23-30). Marriages to foreigners who refused to convert was considered an act of treason to the covenant with Yahweh (Ex 34:15-16; Dt 7:1-6; Mal 2:10-16; Ez 10:6, 18; Josh 22:16; Dan 9:7; Ez 9:10-12).
9. Similarly, in Scripture the idiom "ten times" means "countless times" (see Gen 31:7; Num 14:22; Job 19:3; Neh 4:6; etc). The Canaanites and Amalekites were excluded on religious and historical grounds (see Dt 7:2-4; 20:16-18; 25:17-19).
10. For examples of the exclusion of non-covenant (non-circumcised) members from worshiping in the Sanctuary/Temple, see Ex 12:43-45; Jer 51:51; Lam 1:10; Ez 44:7-9; and Acts 21:28 where St. Paul was accused of bringing Gentiles into the Temple.
11. Code of Hammurabi, # 16-20; Hittite Laws, #22-24.
12. At the suggestion of St. James, Bishop of Jerusalem, St. Paul paid for four Israelite Christians to complete their vows at the Temple (Acts 21:23-26; for the sacrifices Paul financed see Num 6:14-15).
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2011 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.
Catechism references for this lesson (* indicates Scripture quoted or paraphrased):
CCC 2351, 2353, 2356
CCC 2447, 2462