Deuteronomy: A Covenant Of Charity

Even More Miscellaneous Laws

As we continue in our study of the book of Deuteronomy, we come into another section of somewhat miscellaneous and even–properly understood–progressive(?) laws.

Deuteronomy 23:15-16

Once again, we run into an uncomfortable reality in the ancient world: the reality of slavery. Israel ran a dual-system, those who sold themselves for debts and those who were sold because of debts to society. Further, the system had a built-in escape for those who were abused. This law serves as an affirmation of that right, and even seems to create an asylum system for slaves from outside of Israel. Most nations required not only the capture and return of runaway slaves but also condemns anyone obstructing such an act, the code of Hammurabi prescribed the death penalty for hiding a runaway slave.(1) This law seems to exclude those who had been sold in order to pay for criminal trespasses, such as thieves.(2) Interestingly, this law gives legitimacy to one who had escaped and encourages noncooperation with the slave laws of other nations, as well as committing to the dissolution of such an economic system built upon those concepts.(3)

Deuteronomy 23:17-18

The ubiquity of fertility cults in the ancient near east is realized in this law in that covenant community members were expressly prohibited in law from engaging in them, or from even being employed by them as cult prostitutes, then using the wages gained in the redemption of their vows. Prostitution in the ancient world is almost always in relation to these cults. (4) There is a distinction in the language used between the two concordant laws, with the former being connected to religious rites and the second to sexual behavior.(5) This would seem to imply that the covenant people in Israel were to see themselves related to Yahweh, and that part of their worship included their sexuality being used in the context of marriage, rather than casual engagement with multiple partners as in paganism.(6) The use of the term “dog” in this passage to refer to those who engage in homosexual acts displays overt contempt of God toward such and provides additional resistance towards those who attempt to use the Scriptures to condone it.(7)

Deuteronomy 23:19-20

Charity is not something that men are necessarily prone to, especially in a situation where one is living hand-to-mouth, and the provision for his family comes from the sweat of his brow. Between the covenant members of Israel, when it came to meeting a need, while repayment was encouraged, its requirement—insured through the imposition of excessive interest, usary—was expressly forbidden, due to the fact that there was a perceived commonness among the people of God.(8) The foreigner could be charged interest because they were not seen as part of the community.(9) However, the form of the verb used here seems to indicate that the application of interest was up to the discretion of the one lending. A charitable heart, the law concludes, will reap greater blessings guaranteed by God’s promises.(10)

Deuteronomy 23: 21-23

The concept of a vow may seem somewhat strange to us because of our current time and the plenty that we experience. The vow in sight of the the law of Deuteronomy is a promise to God made in the receipt of a blessing or deliverance that is neither requested nor expected; or a pledge to abstain from something that is otherwise permitted, such as wine or meat or sex, to demonstrate one’s loyalty to God; or as an act of gratitude for God fulfilling a request; or as a positive or negative regarding a sacrifice, thus the one making the vow can only be released by religious authority; or as an act of petition.(11) Further, there is no obligation to make such pledges, only that such must be fulfilled, and fulfilled diligently.(12) Fuller treatment is given to these vows in Numbers 30:1-16, which employs exclusions and validation, with this passage seeming to hearken back to it.

Deuteronomy 23:24-25

Just as charity is commanded in vv19-20, restraint in need is commanded here. A passerby was permitted to pluck only what he could hold in his hand as he passed by, thus minimizing the loss to the owner of the crop. One Targum appears to limit the law only to field hands under hire.(13) It should be noted that this law encourages kindness, through the allowance of the occasional sampling of another’s crop to satisfy an immediate need, however it expressly forbids the plundering of another’s crops through unjust exploitation.(14)

Application

How Christians treat one another and, by extension, those in the world should reflect our commitment to God. Because we did not deserve God’s mercy, and do not deserve the gifts of faith and grace which end in salvation when they were given to us we have failed to live our lives as they should be: devoted, pledged, vowed to the expansion and fulfillment of the kingdom of God. 

Our churches and homes should be places of refuge for those who flee from slavery to sin and find freedom. So many have forgotten that the house of God are consulates from which the ambassadors of Christ are to go forward into the world proclaiming God’s standard of justice, found in his law, and God’s truth, found in his gospel; however, because the church has rejected God’s standards declared in both we find ourselves without unable to be the peacemakers, because we do not recognize our own spiritual poverty, neither are we humble before a holy God, nor do we hunger and thirst for his righteousness, and so now all that we see and proclaim is the discord of intersectionalism and the embrace of sin.

Let us recognize what we are: unworthy to be named in Christ. Let us dedicate ourselves anew.  Let us put away the foolishness and folly of men who carve up the world in an attempt to gain power, so that we can be raised up in the power of the Spirit of God Almighty in Christ Jesus.

Notes

  1. Rousas J. Rushdoony. Commentaries on the Pentateuch: Deuteronomy. Chalcedon Publishing. Valencia, CA. 2008. p. 352
  2. Ibid. p. 351
  3. Walter Brueggemann. Abingdon Old Testament Commentary Series: Deuteronomy. Abingdon Press. Nashville, TN. 2001. p. 231
  4. Rushdoony. p. 352
  5. Brueggemann. p. 231
  6. Brueggeman notes in his commentary that there is little, if any evidence that there was temple prostitution connected to pagan worship, but if there were that doesn’t necessarily explain the prohibition. Further, given the laws against extra-marital  sex and its punishment, and  regulations imposed towards those caught in pre-marital sex, this conclusion seems appropriate.
  7. Rushdoony. p. 353
  8. Ibid. p. 355-6
  9. Ibid. p. 356
  10. Brueggemann. p. 232
  11. Rushdoony. p. 359-60
  12. Brueggemann. p. 232
  13. Rushdoony. p. 364
  14. Brueggemann. p.233

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