Deuteronomy: A Covenant of Order and Kindness

Stepping, once again into our continuing study of the book of Deuteronomy, we come to chapter 24. 

Scripture and Summary

Deuteronomy 24:1-4

There is often a great misunderstanding of marriage in the ancient world, especially in regard to  patriarchal societies. While those primarily placed men in positions of power, it was often women who wielded financial power through their dowry. While a man might have some wealth, as necessary to “purchase” his wife from her family, and as such she would be considered as “property” in regards to access, husbands often depended on the bride’s dowry as a means of increasing his status in society. And while he may have had access to this, it was also a means of control upon the husband (see this). More importantly, if a woman was divorced from her husband, or the husband should die, this property or funds reverted back to the woman as a protection against poverty. To that end, a husband was not allowed to divorce his wife for silly reasons, rather this had to be based upon a legitimate reason, argued as “uncleanness” in the text.(1) The first husband, should the divorce be approved, is prohibited from remarrying the woman in question should she have been married and divorced again. Such a prohibition is tied to the purity of the land.(2) This statute is picked up later and used prophecy. 

Deuteronomy 24:5

A brief statute restating an earlier prohibition on the newly married participating in the army. 

Deuteronomy 24:6

This law prohibits taking what is necessary for life or livelihood as a promissory.(3) The mill and its parts were necessary for making flour, which made the daily bread, which was necessary for life.(4) This law, therefore, imposed limits upon lenders in what they could require to secure a loan. 

Deuteronomy 24:7

This law essentially restates a previous prohibition from Exodus against the slave trade. The death penalty is commanded against the perpetrator, along with the additional emphasis that such is “evil” and has no place where God’s righteous rule exists and should be “purged from the land”.

Deuteronomy 24:8-9

Here, we have a singular mention in the book of Deuteronomy of the term “leprosy”.(5) This was something of a catch-all term used to describe a number of skin diseases which includes what we now call Hansen’s disease.(6) The primary focus of the text is not in regard to its diagnosis, or treatment, but in regard to purity in the cultic relationship of the people.(7) This is demonstrated by the historical pointer to the rebellion of Moses’ sister, Miriam, to his leadership of the people, under the direction of God. 

Deuteronomy 24:10-13

This regulation provides grounds for the legal concept of the sanctity of the home.(8) A lender is forbidden to enter the home of the one who has borrowed in order to get that which has been promised as security, lest he see something of greater value and try to persuade the one to borrow even more.(9) Further protection is given, echoing a concern from v6, regarding the minimal necessities for life in that a man’s “outer covering”, a heavy tunic that he often slept in, could not be held as security for his debt past sunset, for the safety and comfort of the debtor.(10) At the heart of this law is a desire to prevent victimization of borrowers by those who had means, and to enshrine justice and mercy in the law.(11)

Deuteronomy 24:14-15

The minimum to sustain life is once again in sight in this regulation. Here the day laborer finds protection in the law. Repeating a law from Leviticus, this seeks to prevent the abuse of the laborer who depends upon his wages to buy his food, because his capital was his ability to work.(12) This law is invoked in the New Testament by the Apostle James against those who would try to use Roman law, which had no requirement of remission, against those who worked for them.(13)

Deuteronomy 24:16-18

A number of prohibitions and admonitions are present in this brief section. The first or these (v16) issues a prohibition in regard to responsibility and accountability in regard to criminal offense. The perpetrator, and the perpetrator alone bears responsibility, and therefore, accountability in punishment. In ancient cultures, there was a tendency to avenge oneself unjustly upon another member of the perpetrator’s family, the entire family, or even the village of the perptrator, or even hold such a possibility as a threat to get an individual to confess to a crime.(14) The second in this section is in regard to the “sojourner (ESV)” and the “fatherless” (v17a). It should be noted that this is not a matter of case law, directed at those whose duty it is to administrate punishment, rather it is directed at the people themselves.(15) These were people who would might not have necessary standing in society and so might be denied justice or dignified consideration in interaction in the community. Those who were not members of the covenant community or did not have adequate social status would likely be abused or neglected, because they were perceived to be without recourse; however, this principle places the people on notice in the adequate administration of justice to all members of the community. The second half of v17 extends to a third category of persons likely to be disadvantaged: the widow. The assumption is that this woman is alone in the community, and being alone, the community was charged to not take advantage of or abuse such a person. The reasoning behind this is, again, the reminder that the people were once themselves in a position where they were abused and denied justice. In God’s rescuing them and establishing them as his representatives in the world, they were to be a community were justice and mercy reigned from top to bottom and society.

Deuteronomy 24:19-22

The three categories established in the previous section are once again mentioned here. Instructions are given for being charitable to the unfortunate. V19 begins with an example of a forgotten or even lost sheaf of grain during harvest, there is a prohibition against its recovery. Further, a law regarding the harvest, that the corners of fields were to be left, and that fruit harvests were not to exceed a first-pass, because what remained was for those who were in need, including those picking the crops. An example of this is portrayed again in the book of Ruth. The reasoning is once again given that the Israelites were themselves once in a disadvantaged position.

Application

Kindness can only be extended when there is a clear indicator as to who we should be related. Going to the New Testament, the church, those who are in the church as Christians, are related to us in the new covenant. However, that does not mean that we are not to be kind to those who are not members of our particular congregation. Rather, the church is where our first efforts are to be directed, but not to the exclusion of those outside. Kindness is only available where there is order, and in order justice exists.

God’s justice is set forward in his law, and his law to be proclaimed in order that justice would be done. Man falsely believes that he is capable of both knowing what is just and making sure that justice is done; however, in practice man demonstrates his incapacity to recognize what is just or any ability to administrate it consistently. Preference and prejudice are man’s ready standard, and they breed injustice.

God’s law is founded upon his role as Creator and extends out through the reality that man is the imager of his Creator. Unless humans acknowledge this as foundational, man will consider to be unjust in his actions.

Notes

  1. Rousas J. Rushdoony. Commentaries on the Pentateuch: Deuteronomy. Chalcedon Publishing. Valencia, CA. 2008. p. 367
  2. Walter Brueggemann. Abingdon Old Testament Commentary Series: Deuteronomy. Abingdon Press. Nashville, TN. 2001. p. 236
  3. Ibid. p. 237
  4. Rushdoony. p. 375
  5. Brueggemann. p. 237
  6. Rushdoony. p. 385
  7. Brueggemann. p. 237-8
  8. Ibid. p. 238
  9. Rushdoony. p. 390
  10. Brueggemann. p. 238
  11. Rushdoony. p. 391
  12. Ibid. p. 393
  13. Ibid. p. 393-4
  14. Ibid. p. 397-8, also Brueggemann, p. 239. Most will attempt to place this passage into contradiction with the second commandment (Exodus 20:4-6; Deuteronomy 5:8-10) and its accompanying curse. However, one must distinguish between what are the social consequences of sin and the personal consequences of a violation of the law. The accusation of contradiction is remediated by the fact that God promises to “visit the iniquity…”, that is that the pattern of behavior would continue, and in that the compounding of judgment upon the perpetrators. 
  15. Ibid. p. 401

2 comments

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s