Today’s reading: Deuteronomy 21-23.
What leads to more criticism of Christianity today than anything else? Is is not the lack of right living? People expect a Christian’s actions to meet the standard set forth in the Bible and in the preaching that comes from the pulpit, and too often it does not. With that in mind, I am struck by the messy lives that underlie the regulations set forth in Deuteronomy. God’s people were problem children from the beginning. Look at some of the situations that God’s law deals with:
- Murder; specifically the unwitnessed killing of an innocent man (21:1-9)
- Mistreatment of captive brides (21:10-14)
- Parental favoritism (21:15-17)
- Children so rebellious that they face the death penalty (21:18-21)
- Keeping found property for yourself rather than returning it to the one who lost it (22:1-4)
- Cross-dressing (22:5)
- Slander and false accusation (22:13-21)
- Adultery, rape, and premarital sex (22:22-30)
- Prostitution (23:17-18)
- Stealing another’s crops (23:24-25)
And that is just three chapters worth! As I have said before, God gives the people rules about all these situations, not because he believes it will change their hearts, but because he is teaching them where his heart is. He abhors murder. He wants the vulnerable protected and parents to be honored. He desires honesty. He wants the genders he has created to be appreciated and upheld. He wants marriage to be preserved. He wants sex to be kept within the bounds of marriage.
Paul said the Law was his teacher, making him understand that he could not keep the Law by his own power. As a result he was confronted with his sinful nature and his need for forgiveness. Moses and the Israelites learned the same lesson. They sought forgiveness through ritual sacrifices but found no remedy for their lack of will to keep the Law. Paul, and believers today, know that the power to live right with God comes when God’s holy spirit lives in us. And the holy spirit comes into our lives when by faith we believe that Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins.
The scarlet thread of Jesus’s blood runs deeply through these chapters. First, there is the sacrifice for the unsolved murder.
Then all the elders of the town nearest the body shall wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the valley, and they shall declare: “Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it done. Accept this atonement for your people Israel, whom you have redeemed, O LORD, and do not hold your people guilty of the blood of an innocent man.” And the bloodshed will be atoned for. So you will purge from yourselves the guilt of shedding innocent blood… Deut. 21:6-9
It’s hard to read that without thinking of Pilate washing his hands of innocent Jesus as the people shouted, “his blood be upon us and our children.” Then there is the provision for the man hanged on a tree:
If a man guilty of a capital offense is put to death and his body is hung on a tree, you must not leave his body on the tree overnight. Be sure to bury him that same day, because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse. Deut. 21:22-23
The Hebrews didn’t practice crucifixion, but an executed man might be hung on a tree for public display to discourage the crime. The Romans did use crucifixion, and Jesus’ death on the cross brought the curse upon him. As Paul said in Galatians, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us,” and in Second Corinthians, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Moses gave the people God’s Law to deal with their messy lives, and to teach them God’s heart. Our challenge is let God’s heart beat within us by the power of the Holy Spirit. Then we will no longer need rules to guide us; we will want to be godly people. The next time you see a person who claims to be a Christian making a mess of their life, ask yourself, “does that person have God’s spirit in them?”
Image by judsond on Flickr, CC by-sa 2.0