It was my turn to teach yesterday in my weekly Tuesday lunchtime Bible study at Mimi’s Cafe. We are going through Deuteronomy and my chapter was 25. This content is based on a Bible study I heard on the sermon audio web site:
The Bible study was led by Jim Butler of Free Grace Baptist Church in Chilliwack, British Columbia. I also received input from this sermon:
I started off my teaching with this quote from “A Popular Survey of the Old Testament” by Dr. Norman L. Geisler:
What is significant about these teachings of Christ concerning the Old Testament is that they force us to choose between Christ and the critics of the Bible. Virtually everything major critics deny about the Old Testament, Jesus affirmed to be true. The dilemma is to either accept the authenticity and authority of the Old Testament or to impugn the Integrity of Christ. In plain language, either the Old Testament is the word of God or Christ is not Son of God.
In this section of the book (pg. 13) he was talking about how Christ authenticated many accounts from the Old Testament:
- That Adam and Eve were created by God (Matt 19:4)
- That Abel was killed by Cain (Matt. 23:35)
- That a flood destroyed the world in Noah’s time (Luke 17:27)
- That God spoke to Moses through a burning bush (Luke 20:37)
- That Elijah performed miracles (Luke 4:25)
- That Jonah was in the great fish 3 days (Matt. 12:40)
- That Daniel made true predictions (Matt. 24:15)
Here is the outline of the chapter:
- Laws on corporal punishment (v1-3)
- Provision for workers (v4)
- Levirate Marriage (v5-6)
- Procedure for the unwilling brother-in-law (v7-10)
- Threat to progeny (v11-12)
- Prohibition against unjust weights and measures (v13-16)
- Remember what Amalek did (v17-19)
V1-3 Laws on Corporal punishment
If there is a dispute between men and they come into court and the judges decide between them, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty, then if the guilty man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall cause him to lie down and be beaten in his presence with a number of stripes in proportion to his offense. Forty stripes may be given him, but not more, lest, if one should go on to beat him with more stripes than these, your brother be degraded in your sight.
Five things we learn from verses 1-3
- There must be a trial (v1). Judicial procedure is big in the law of God – as can be seen in Deuteronomy 17, 19, 22. There is due process, you listen, you hear witnesses, you give evidence, you give testimony – judges weigh the case, then they give a verdict or a ruling.
- Supervision over the beating (v2a). If the man is found guilty, and the decision is made to him (most likely with a rod rather than a whip – Exodus 21:20), there must be supervision. This may seem harsh, but we need to appreciate all the safeguards that were put in place to prevent an abuse of power. The judge is presiding over the beating. It is a legal proceeding – it is not “barbarism”. In this way, the judge was able to see that the sentence was properly executed and that the offender was not treated too leniently. That’s as bad a problem as too harshly.
- There must be proportion (v2b). Notice that the judge will have the offender beaten in proportion to his offense, with a certain number of stripes. The punishment must fit the crime.
- There must be a limit (v3a). You cannot exceed 40 stripes. This led to the Rabbinic custom of 39 lashes, referred to by Paul in the New Testament:
2 Corinthians 11:24 – Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one.
The Hittites had something called the “Code of Hammurabi”. This was a Babylonian law code of ancient Mesopotamia dating back to about 1750 BC. The code consists of 282 laws, with scaled punishments. Their code prescribed a max of 60 stripes (law 202). The Assyrians permitted between 40 and 50 stripes.
- There must be concern for dignity (v3b). Notice the phrase “lest… your brother be degraded in your sight”. Notice that he’s still called a brother – he’s still in the covenant community – he’s not been ostracized. This is remedial – he’s going to get his beating, then he’s going to enter back into society, having learned his valuable lesson and having paid the debt to the person he offended against. So, even in the process of punishment, God is concerned that His image bearers – even the criminals – maintain their dignity. This wasn’t a spectacle done for sport, rather the punishment that was fit for the crime.
What form of punishment seems to be missing in the Pentateuch? (answer: incarceration)
V4: Provision for workers
“You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain.”
It seems a bit out of place here to deal with animals, so we might see it as a general principal, dealing with the just recompense of those who engage in labor. If the oxen is treading out the grain, let him eat. Don’t muzzle him – let him enjoy some of the fruits of his labor. Certainly if that applies to oxen, it applies to men as well. In the preceding section (v1-3) we saw that dignity was to be preserved in the beating of a criminal for his evil works. Certainly for a man involved in “good work” (treading out the grain – or engaged in a lawful days employ), do not muzzle him – let him eat while he is engaged in that particular task. We know that the Apostle Paul uses it in the context of paying men who preach the Gospel.
1 Corinthians 9:9-14 – For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. Don’t you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.
1 Timothy 5:17-18 – The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.“
Paul here appeals to the Scripture, both the Old and the New Testament. They’re both consistent in terms of this provision for those who engage in lawful employment – in this context specifically, men who preach the Gospel.
Levirate Marriage (v5-6)
If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel.
Levirate comes from the Latin word “Levir”, which means brother-in-law. The rule regards a man who dies. It is the duty of his brother to take his widow as his wife. In the verse, it says “if brothers dwell together”. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they share the same house, but probably that they share the same property. Then “one of them dies and has no son” – we can probably understand this to mean “childless”, because if this situation occurs and there are daughters, the daughters are rightful heirs to inheritance:
Numbers 27:8 – And you shall speak to the people of Israel, saying, “If a man dies and has no son, then you shall transfer his inheritance to his daughter.”
The primary focus in the Levirate Marriage law is not on the widow’s well-being, though that’s certainly in there. Rather, the primary focus is more covenantal in nature. Remember when God made the covenant with Abraham. Two vital elements of that covenant were “seed” and “land” and it seems that’s what’s being protected here. If a man dies, then he is not shunned from his rightful inheritance in terms of seed and land. He ought to have posterity (definition from Merriam-Webster: “1. the offspring of one progenitor to the furthest generation, 2. All future generations”). The idea of seed and land were not confined to Israel and certainly pre-dated the legislation here. See Genesis 38, which deals with a man named Onan:
Genesis 38:4,7-10 Then she conceived again and bore a son and named him Onan… But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was evil in the sight of the LORD, so the LORD took his life. Then Judah said to Onan, “Go in to your brother’s wife, and perform your duty as a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.” Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so when he went in to his brother’s wife, he wasted his seed on the ground in order not to give offspring to his brother. But what he did was displeasing in the sight of the LORD; so He took his life also.
Sometimes people understand this passage to forbid certain types of sexual misconduct (i.e. masturbation). However, it is better to understand it as this idea of the Levirate Law, that it is the responsibility of the surviving brother to take the widow unto himself so that his dead brother may have heir, seed – one who is the rightfully entitled to the inheritance that is promised.
This Levirate marriage arrangement is certainly what was involved in the question posed by the Sadducees to our Lord Jesus:
Matthew 22:23-33 – …the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and have children for him. Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. Finally, the woman died. Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?” Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. But about the resurrection of the dead–have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching.
The Sadducees denied the supernatural and life beyond the grave. They are trying to put together an absurd scenario regarding the idea of the Levirate marriage. They think the scenario they’ve posed to Jesus had really “got him cornered”. But, it’s interesting that all the times that people try to “corner Jesus” he just sends them packing… He is wisdom personified (see Colossians 2:2-3).
This whole idea of the Levirate marriage is for the specific purpose of granting “name” to this dead man, and that’s specified there in v6: “that his name may not be blotted out of Israel.” So, we see it’s a sign of affection, comradery, respect and inheritance for that dead brother. Marriage in those days was not always based on romantic interests, but economic and covenantal interests. Some of these laws just seem so bizarre to the 21st century mindset. The only way we’d ever think of getting married is for romantic reasons. However, most of the time, up until the last couple hundred years people married more for specific reasons than romantic ones. We ought not to balk at such things. We ought to realize that God has His purposes. Christopher Wright says the Levirate marriage institution does 3 things:
- Provides for the security of the widow in her bereavement and offered the hope of removing the stigma of not having borne a son.
- It prevented any loss of property and land to the wider family, which would happen if she married outside the family
- It ensured that the dead man’s name would be carried forward for posterity in his family.
Procedure for the unwilling brother-in-law (v7-10)
And if the man does not wish to take his brother’s wife, then his brother’s wife shall go up to the gate to the elders and say, ‘My husband’s brother refuses to perpetuate his brother’s name in Israel; he will not perform the duty of a husband’s brother to me.’ Then the elders of his city shall call him and speak to him, and if he persists, saying, ‘I do not wish to take her,’ then his brother’s wife shall go up to him in the presence of the elders and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face. And she shall answer and say, ‘So shall it be done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house.’ And the name of his house shall be called in Israel, ‘The house of him who had his sandal pulled off.’
This Levirate Marriage isn’t a “mandatory law” – this brother can refuse. If he’s willing to have his sandal removed and have his face spit upon, and be termed “the house of him who had his sandal removed”, he’s not going to be corporally punished and he’s certainly not going to be capitally punished for refusing to marry his dead brother’s wife. He’s going to look like a jerk-one who had no affection for his brother or for his dead brother’s wife.
Notice in v8 – it says “Then the elders of his city shall call him and speak to him”. We need to learn from this – albeit an indirect application – to be very careful, cautious and hesitant before we pronounce guilt on a person before we’ve heard both sides. We need to make sure we understand these principles in Proverbs 18:
Proverbs 18:13,17 – He who answers before listening– that is his folly and his shame… The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.
When defending ourselves, we don’t always give both sides. We tend to portray ourselves in the best possible light. We often don’t share something that looks bad on us, but we promote everything that looks bad in the other person. Let us learn something here. She makes the allegation –then v8 says “Then the elders of his city shall call him and speak to him”. Notice that they don’t have “paid employee” that removes sandals and spits in faces. This text provides that victims be a part of the punitive situation. That helps victims when they see what’s actually being done. Notice that v10 says that his name shall be known in Israel as the house of him who had his sandal pulled off. It’s not just him, but it’s his entire family that fall under this stigma, so that when his family is seen in the market or around town, people know that they live in “the house of him who had his sandal pulled off”.
The taking off of the shoe (sandal) was an ancient custom in Israel in cases of redemption and exchange, for the purpose of confirming commercial transactions. The usage arose from the fact that when anyone took possession of land and property, he did so by treading upon the soil and asserting his right of possession by standing upon it in his shoes. In this way, the taking off of the shoe and handing it to another became a symbol of the renunciation of a man’s position and property. When we hear about ancient ceremonies like this, it seems really bizarre to us. But we have ceremonies too. If someone’s going to “consecrate a ship”, they break a bottle of champagne on it. If we read about that in 500 or 1,000 years, we’d probably be kind of puzzled about it. Or, there’s a new building and it’s being dedicated and there’s a ribbon cutting ceremony where they get big scissors and they cut this ribbon. So, there’s ceremonies that indicate or evidence something very significant. Ruth 4 alludes to this practice of taking off the sandal:
Ruth 4:7 Now in earlier times in Israel, for the redemption and transfer of property to become final, one party took off his sandal and gave it to the other. This was the method of legalizing transactions in Israel.
This is similar, but not parallel, because in that particular instance, Boaz is not the brother-in-law. The removing of the sandal ceremony (in the case of the unwilling brother) indicated that this man was not entitled to exercise privilege anymore-he had renounced it. One commentator Allan Harman says that the removal of the sandal indicated that the man was forfeiting any right to his brother’s property, while spitting in the face was an act of contempt. We don’t need to exegete that – spitting in the face meant then what it means today J
By these regulations (of Levirate marriage), the brother-in-law’s marriage was no doubt recognized as a “duty of affection” towards his deceased brother, but it was not made a command, the neglect of which would involve guilt and punishment.
V11-12: Threat to progeny
When men fight with one another and the wife of the one draws near to rescue her husband from the hand of him who is beating him and puts out her hand and seizes him by the private parts, then you shall cut off her hand. Your eye shall have no pity.
Progeny simply means children (offspring). Notice in v11 “When men fight with one another”. It’s not suggesting that in Israel, everyone was fighting on the street. Just to read v11-12 seems a little shocking – she squeezes his genitals, you cut off her hand, you don’t show any pity. How often did this actually happen – that 2 men would fight in the city street and one of the men’s wives would grab the other man by the private parts in order to try and stop the fight? It probably didn’t happen a whole lot… So, when you hear people say, “The Bible talks about cutting off hands of poor innocent ladies!”, wait a minute, there’s a particular context, a particular situation, a specific incident that we need to understand covenantally – Seed, Inheritance, Land – all these things are crucial! The punishment in view is not for a “modesty issue” necessarily, rather the fact that she is hurting and possibly destroying this man’s chance for progeny (for having children). In the context of this passage, coming off the heels of the Levirate marriage regulations, seeing how important seed is, that’s probably what’s in view. If she squeezes and does damage to this man’s genitals, then he could indeed be sterile.
“Lex Talionis” (Law of retaliation) calls for an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth (Exod. 21:23-24). She does not possess that genitalia, so what is commensurate is that she should lose her hand. It’s hard to imagine that what you had within the covenant community was people brawling on every street corner with wives standing there, getting involved and trying to stop it. So, it was probably very, very minimal to begin with, if ever. In this respect, Old Testament law is in marked contrast to other ancient near eastern law, especially Assyrian law, where all kinds of very nasty physical mutilations were prescribed for many offenses. In Biblical law this is the only instance. This is punitive amputation of an offending individual. Notice, it’s not a property crime (she didn’t steal), it’s a “life crime”. It has to do with propagation and destruction of potential life.
V13-16: Prohibition against unjust weights and measures
You shall not have in your bag two kinds of weights, a large and a small. You shall not have in your house two kinds of measures, a large and a small. A full and fair weight you shall have, a full and fair measure you shall have, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. For all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are an abomination to the LORD your God.
A heavy weight would profit in buying. A lighter weight would profit in selling. At the heart of this is honesty, justice, equity and fair trade. You don’t have differing weights and measures so that you can rip off a covenant community member. Rather, you have just weights and just measures, because it’s wrong and it’s a violation of God’s law to steal from people:
Exodus 20:15 You shall not steal.
It’s interesting, when we drop down in this passage, to v16, “all who do such things…are an abomination to the LORD your God”. Obviously, we would call abortion, sexual perversion, idolatry and other such violations of God’s law an abomination. God calls an unjust weights and measures an abomination. Fiscal policy, financial matters, economy, money, fair trade and just weights & measures really are ethical issues. The same God who says “You shall not murder”, “You shall not commit adultery” is the same God who says, “You shall not steal”.
What’s the implication of verse 15? Conduct yourself equitably and honestly, in a manner of fair trade in the land the Lord your God is giving you and it will go well with you. In other words, when you obey the law of God and do what the Lord commands, the Lord attaches that blessing to obedience in the land. Certainly, we see that the Israelites didn’t always do this. Unjust weights and measures were being practiced in Amos’s day:
Amos 8:4-6 Hear this, you who trample on the needy and bring the poor of the land to an end, saying, “When will the new moon be over, that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may offer wheat for sale, that we may make the ephah small and the shekel great and deal deceitfully with false balances, that we may buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals and sell the chaff of the wheat?”
They were exploiting the poor and engaging in wickedness and lawlessness. And proverbs says:
Proverbs 11:1 Dishonest scales are an abomination to the Lord, But a just weight is His delight. (NKJV)
Proverbs 16:11 Honest weights and scales are the Lord’s; All the weights in the bag are His work. (NKJV)
Proverbs 20:10,23 Diverse weights and diverse measures, They are both alike, an abomination to the Lord … Diverse weights are an abomination to the Lord, And dishonest scales are not good.
God hates theft and despises when men engage in deceit. Men, if you say you are selling a product, then make sure it bears that particular value. Don’t cheat people or rip them off. Do not think that having unjust weights and measures will make you prosperous. It may prosper you in the short term, but God, the Lord will most certainly bring judgement to bear upon you. We need to deal ethically, uprightly, honestly and justly in all of our financial dealings and doings – in our commerce – in our buying and in our selling.
Leviticus 19:35-36 You shall do no injustice in judgment, in measurement of length, weight, or volume. You shall have honest scales, honest weights, an honest ephah, and an honest hin: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.
This is the same ethic we find in the New Testament. You have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ – now live like that! Live in a manner that is consistent with the Gospel:
Ephesians 4:28 – Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.
So, the Gospel ethic isn’t just “stop stealing”, but “stop stealing, work and work hard, so that you can make enough to give to someone who has need.” That is conduct worthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Question: In what ways do we have unjust weights and measures today?
V17-19 Remember what Amalek did
Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt, how he attacked you on the way when you were faint and weary, and cut off your tail, those who were lagging behind you, and he did not fear God. Therefore when the LORD your God has given you rest from all your enemies around you, in the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget.
We learn 2 things about the Amalekites here:
- Their wicked conduct – Not only did they attack Israel, but they specifically attacked the stragglers at the rear. Those at the rear were probably the elderly, the very young, the sick, and the pregnant. The strong warriors are probably upfront. So, Lex Talionis applies on a national level as well. It’s interesting here that God’s law pertains not only to covenant Israel, but also to the Amalekites as well. It is fundamental and universal, by virtue of the fact that man bears the image of God, that we don’t prey upon weak people. That’s something that the Amalekites should’ve known and that every human being has written in their hearts (Rom 2:14-15).
- Their religious motive – Amalek does not fear God, so, he certainly doesn’t care about God’s people. The fact that he destroys these weak Israelites is an indicator of his despising and his hatred of the God of Israel. And so God then says “Remember them”.
Do the Israelites actually obey God? No. Saul spared Agag and the Amalekites:
1 Samuel 15:3,7-9 Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’… And Saul attacked the Amalekites… But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to utterly destroy them…
We still see the Amalekites during the reign of David. Ultimately, its 1 Chronicles 4 that indicates the end of the Amalekites, probably under Hezekiah’s reign.
1 Chronicles 4:41,43 – … in the days of Hezekiah, king of Judah… they defeated the remnant of the Amalekites who had escaped…
Notice these are God’s enemies, He wants Israel to wipe them out. God has the prerogative, the right and the absolute sovereignty to make this declaration. We do not. When the psalmist says “Do I not hate those who hate You O Lord?” (Ps. 139:21), he’s not crying out against his enemies, he’s crying out against God’s enemies. When the Psalmist asks the Lord to smash the teeth of his enemies (Ps. 58:6), they are the enemies of the Lord, not someone at church who forgot to say hi to you on Sunday. Don’t go home and pray imprecatory Psalms over your wife because she burned dinner. It is righteous for us to use the imprecatory Psalms. We see them quoted in the New Testament often, but we need to understand the responsible use of them. It is God’s enemies that we are to despise, not our enemies, not the guy who cut us off on the freeway.
Question: Where do we see “the Gospel” in Deuteronomy 25?