Welcome to Expound, our verse by verse study of God's word. Our goal is to expand your knowledge of the truth of God by explaining the word of God in a way that is interactive, enjoyable, and congregational.
There's that nagging verse of scripture. I say it's nagging. It's nagging for any leader. It's when Paul said to the Ephesians, "I have not shunned to declare unto you the whole counsel of God." It's nagging for a leader, especially if they're the kind of spiritual leader that is not given to, or prone to, share with the congregation the whole counsel of God.
It's really a remarkable testimony. Paul spent a few years in Ephesus. And while he was there, he took one area called the School of Tyrannus, and he met there daily. So during the day, he was able to meet with believers who could come, and he would infuse them with biblical truth. Not just a pep talk, not just something that was a positive message to get through your week-- he told them what God said. And he said, "I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God."
So I can only infer that, since there was no New Testament written at that time, that he is teaching Old Testament to the believers and showing the fulfillment of Old Testament promises, types and shadows, and how they are fulfilled in Christ and in the New Testament Church.
Of course, Jesus, when he rose from the dead, did the same thing, did he not? On the road to Emmaus, he took those two disciples and, beginning with Moses-- we're in the Books of Moses tonight, Deuteronomy-- and through the psalms and the prophets, he showed the things concerning himself. So we believe that as New Testament believers, we ought to be familiar, at least, with what was the text of scripture for the New Testament Church. And we are in it. And that is the Book of Deuteronomy.
So turn in your bibles, please, to Deuteronomy Chapter 20. Deuteronomy, the 20th chapter.
Father, as we begin, we open up the Bible, we open up our hearts. And we know nothing is hidden from you, but we have, over time, many of us, become awfully good at hiding from one another, and putting up a front-- that area, that portion of our being that we want people to observe, to see, to notice, concealing the rest of who we really are. So we're never really certain if we're loved for who we are. We know you love us. We know that you understand all about us.
But oh, the joy of dropping one's guard and being real with people, those two we can be safe around, who will dare to understand us and love us. Thank you for the family of God, and thank you that your family is nourished by the truth of God, the scriptures.
We've gathered together, Lord. We see this as a living room, where the family is seated. We're comfortable. We want to read the portion of text. We want to consider how it applies to our lives. Thank you, Lord, for those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. You said they would be filled. We're counting on that, Lord, in Jesus' name. Amen.
Of course, last week was a celebration of our veterans, those who have fought for our country, those who have paid the ultimate price, those who have put themselves in harm's way. And we celebrated those in our own flock who are veterans.
When soldiers take an oath in this country, they swear to defend and protect this nation from all enemies, foreign and domestic. And in Chapter 20, we understand that God is anticipating the necessity of that, that there will come a time-- even among his own people, his own nation-- when there will need to arise an army to defend Israel against all enemies, foreign and domestic. So in Chapter 20, God is anticipating warfare.
And he begins by saying that wars, like every other part of life, should be brought under the spiritual control of God. And so as he gives instructions of what to do when they get ready for a battle. He gives them several components for warfare. There first of all is the spiritual component. Someone will address them who has a spiritual background, and bring them to a place of trust and faith, no matter what enemies they may be facing-- so a spiritual component, first of all.
There will also be a practical component, a social practical component. In lieu of their responsibilities on the horizontal plane of life, with relationships that they have, what their responsibilities are to be. There will also be a relational component, especially for newlyweds and a newlywed husband who is called to go to battle.
And then finally, there's a practical component, an organizationally practical component. That is, how to organize the standing army to face the battle.
But it is interesting that God anticipates the need for righteous men to defend the would-be victims of any population base. Because though God does want peace and the Bible ultimately predicts peace, God also knows that until that day comes, one really can't be a pacifist. You will be in the Kingdom Age, because that's when peace will reign over the earth. But in a day when evil exists and enemies foreign and domestic surround nations of the world, what is our position as believers to be?
Let's be even more pointed. Can you be a believer in Jesus Christ and go out and fight and kill in a standing army? It's a good question. It's a question that was even wrestled with by the early church. Especially the believers in Rome had the idea, how can I be a soldier and fight in the Roman army and claim to serve and worship the Prince of Peace? If I worship and serve the Prince of Peace, how can I be engaged in warfare that would shed blood?
Now, if you fast forward throughout history to the very end, when Jesus comes back, he will establish his kingdom of peace. When he comes and he brings worldwide peace, the military will be dismantled. The prophet Isaiah, predicting this in Chapter 2 of his book, said they will beat their swords into plow shares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nations shall not lift up sword against nation. Neither shall they learn to make war anymore.
But that's then, and this is now. So what is the proper response to be in this evil world? And back to the question, can I be a pacifist? Well I can in theory. I can sit in my armchair and I can speculate, and I can be in a college campus and I can talk about peace, and we ought to just be pacifists.
But think about what pacifism would mean on a personal level. Men, what would you do if someone was attacking your mother and you saw it? Would you say, well, these things happen in life, and I'm pacifistic about these things? I just-- we're all going to die one way or the other. Or if someone was attacking your wife or your child-- what does love for that person being attacked mean to you at that moment? What are you willing to do with that enemy, foreign or domestic? Are you willing to enter into a warfare relationship?
One has only to look at the scripture and discover that even great people of faith were warriors. Abraham, the father of faith, was called on by God to lead an army to defeat Lot, or to rescue Lot from being defeated by the kings in that region. Joshua, David-- called upon by God to engage in warfare to defend the people of the nation.
Come to the New Testament, and in Hebrews 11, as it exonerates people of great faith, in summing up all of the people of the past it says, through faith they subdued kingdoms, and they waxed valiant in battle. And then the Lord Jesus Christ, isn't it interesting that he walked up to a soldier, a fighting person, somebody trained for war, a centurion, and he used him as the greatest example of faith in the land? He said, I have not found the kind of faith like I find in this man in all of Israel.
And because of some of these things that I'm mentioning, the longest-standing tradition among believers has been called the just war tradition, the just war theory. Now, that terminology, though it was started by Augustan, goes all the way back, we believe, throughout the Old and the New Testament. But he was the first one in the Christian Church early on to distinguish between what he called justifiable and non-justifiable reasons to go to war. It was further expand by Thomas Aquinas and others.
I love peace. We all love peace. The question is, do you love peace enough to fight for it if need be? So in verse 1, when, not if, when you go out to battle against your enemies and you see horses and chariots and people more numerous than you, do not be afraid of them, for the Lord your God is with you who brought you up from the land of Egypt.
Now, you often will understand that the Israelites, especially early on, really were a ragtag army. They were ex-slaves who wandered through the desert, and they were being dumped into this land of Canaan and they were to overcome an overtaker. They really didn't have chariots. They didn't have the kind of war horses linked up to chariots that the Assyrians had or the Egyptians had. And having a chariot back then was like having a tank in modern warfare.
I mention the Assyrians and the Egyptians. They had war chariots, and they trusted in them. And so it says in psalm, some trust in chariots. Some trust in horses. But we will trust in the Lord. And even when they gathered chariots and horses later on, they were never to put their trust in the strength of their military might. They were to enjoy it. They were to make advancements in it. But even the prophet Isaiah, in Chapter 31, said, don't go down to Egypt and look for help where you find the chariots and the horses.
And so verse 2 tells us, "So it shall be that, when you are on the verge of battle, then the priest shall approach and speak to the people." Notice the priest, first of all. "And he shall say to them, here, oh, Israel, today you are on the verge of battle with your enemies. Do not let your heart feint. Do not be afraid. Do not tremble or be terrified because of them, for the Lord your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to save you."
The only real way to deal with fear is faith. Faith and fear are mutually exclusive entities. If you are filled with faith, it banishes fear. If you are filled with fear, it tends to banish faith. There's really no room in the human heart for both fear and faith.
And so when a person is fearful, the key is to develop faith. And faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. So I always encourage people to be encouraged by the promises of God and His word. Don't fear. Don't be afraid. So faith is engendered.
Do you recall the ruler of the synagogue whose daughter was near unto death? And he calls for Jesus, and Jesus comes but he gets delayed? There's a woman with an issue of blood. There's a crowd that's pushing in on him. There's all these delays, and he's frantic. And he wants Jesus just to come and heal his daughter. And finally, his own staff comes to him and says, don't bother the master anymore. She's dead.
Jesus turned to the ruler and said, do not fear. Only believe. That's the answer. Do not fear. Only believe.
So it's the verge of a battle in ancient Israel. The first one to approach the standing army is the army chaplain. That's the priest. And it's his duty to infuse faith into the people, to remind them of God's presence with them. Don't be afraid. Don't be terrified. The Lord, your God, is he who goes with you.
You know, it really is all a matter of how you look at it. You have a battle ahead of you. You have a hard possible week ahead of you. Now in this case, it was a real battle. But we all have battles at different levels. But as you go into it, it's all a matter of your perspective, how you choose to see it. Perhaps you see a big army, big enemies, big people, big chariots. And if you do, you'll see a little god. Or you can choose to see a big God. And when you see a big God, those enemies become diminutive. They tend to shrink.
And so right off the bat the chaplain comes forward and says, trust in the Lord. He's going to be with you till he quells their fear and inspires their faith. And by the way, that is the role of a shepherd. That's the role of a pastor-- to, by counseling and by teaching of the word, inspire faith in the midst of battles.
So here's the spiritual component to the battle. The chaplain comes, gives them this pep talk. God's with you. I do have to mention, in case you're a researcher and you find this out. I'll just give this to you as an aside, a little FYI. There are some rabbinical scholars who believe that this verse is a reference to the Ark of the Covenant.
And these rabbinic scholars actually believe that in ancient Israel, there were not one but two separate Arks of the Covenant. There was one Ark of the Covenant, and in it-- we know what was in it, right? There was a copy of the tablets of the law, a pot of mana, and there was Aaron's rod that butted. That was inside the Ark. That always stayed behind, say these rabbinic scholars.
But there was another Ark of the Covenant made that had in it just a single item, and that was the first set of tablets that were broken by Moses. And that was the Ark that would go out to battle as a visible reminder that God was in their midst.
Now, this is hearsay. This is what a few scholars believe and suggest. But I read that, and I was fascinated because, if you remember, in the Book of First Samuel, around Chapter 4, there's a battle between the Philistines and the Israelites. And they lose the battle at Aphek. And so the rulers say, quick. Send up to Shiloh and bring the Ark down. It'll win the battles for us. They kind of saw it as a magic charm.
And so they brought down the Ark of the Covenant, and they went into battle. And the people cheered, and they stomped the ground. It was like thunder. The enemy said, what's that? They said, the Ark's in the camp. It's the Ark of God.
And so they went to battle. But because they were trusting in the symbol, the element, the icon, rather than the Lord himself, they lost that battle, as well. So all of that aside, sufficient to know that the battle begins by the chaplain coming out and giving this talk.
Now, beginning in verse 5, the officers come forth. And they will give exemptions, four exemptions from warfare. And here they are. If you're a home builder, if you're a farmer, if you're a newlywed, or if you're a coward-- any of those, you're exempt from the battle. Notice what he says. "The officer shall speak to the people, saying, what man is there who has built a new house and has not dedicated it? Let him go and return to his home, lest he die in the battle and another dedicate it."
So here's the deal. They are to choose qualified men for battle. But to be qualified, you have to be a man with no distraction whatsoever. You have to have an undistracted heart toward the Lord, and you have to be undistracted when it comes to the things of this world.
That's even a New Testament principle, isn't it? In 2 Timothy, Paul says to Timothy, anyone who engages in warfare doesn't get involved in civilian matters, that he might please the one who enlisted him as a soldier. That's a principle from here. So if you're going to go to battle but you have built a home-- you've saved, you scrimped, you built it, hard work, sweat, toil, plans-- but you haven't lived in it-- the idea of dedicating it means that you have something that is unused. You may have built it or you may have bought it, but you haven't yet used it. The Hebrew word [HEBREW] suggests that.
And so if you built it but you don't get to enjoy it, even for a little while, you go off to battle, your head's not in the game. Every day you're going, man. I've just built that cool new house, and I can't even check it out. Also, verse 6, "What man is there who has planted a vineyard and has not eaten of it? Let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man eat of it."
In ancient times, most people lived off the land. They were agrarians. They were farmers. And vineyards terraced and still do the hillsides of Judea, Samaria, et cetera. Very, very common-- grapes grow very well there.
So here's a guy who's planted a vineyard. He started a business. But he hasn't even been able to eat a single grape. Well, it'd be frustrating to get the business going, get everything planted, and then all of a sudden you've drafted in the army. You're conscripted to go to battle. So he gets to go back home, because his head wouldn't be in the game, as well.
OK, now, you have to understand something about this exemption. And by the way, whatever exemption you have, you had to bring proof. According to the Talmud, in ancient times you had to bring proof that these things were so. You couldn't just say, sorry. Got a vineyard. Got to go. Because anybody who didn't want to go to battle might say that. But you had to bring proof, just like today in the American army. If you're a conscientious objector, you have to have some kind of proof to back that up.
So you would bring proof. I'm a farmer. I planted a vineyard. I need to go back. OK, so here's the thing you need to know. In Leviticus 19, when you would plant a vineyard, you couldn't harvest it for four years. So this is potentially a very long exemption from going to war, because the land has to be seeded. The land has to be stabilized. And on the fourth year, you can then harvest the grapes.
Verse 7, "And what man is there who is betrothed to a woman?" Engaged. Betrothed is the old word. Engaged in a formal manner. "Who has not married her, let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man marry her." So young guy's in love with the girl. He's got stars in his eyes. They get engaged. And then he gets drafted. In our country, we have a draft. We've had a draft. World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War. And by the way, it is still in play to this day. It's not used. We have a volunteer army. But it is still in play and can be enacted in times of national emergency. We can conscript people to go to war.
So typically in America, they target the single population, not the married population. However, if you're a newlywed in America and you get conscripted, that is not an exemption in American armed forces. But it was in ancient Israel. By the way, the betrothal period lasted a whole year. It was a formal engagement.
And a formal engagement, a betrothal, meant that you are under contract, and you cannot separate from your soon-to-be spouse without a legal writing of divorcement. It was that binding a contract. You didn't come together sexually at all. You didn't enjoy the fringe benefits of marriage. So you were engaged, and you had to prepare for the wedding a year out. So if you're engaged, you're exempt for a year.
Now, the exemption, according to Deuteronomy 24-- we'll get to it. Not tonight, obviously, at this rate.
But according to Deuteronomy 24, the exemption for not going to war once you are married is a year. So if you're engaged to be married, as stated here, you have up to a two-year exemption if the draft begins at the time that you are engaged. So these are the exemptions when the battle is called, when the chaplain goes out, the officers go out to conscript before they organize.
And what's the reason for all these exemptions? I mentioned part of it. But the whole reason to go to war was to ensure peace in our land. We have a land. We want the ability to grow stuff and build houses and have families. We want to enjoy it. So God figured that they should at least enjoy the very purpose of ensuring peace through war, which was to enjoy the land God gave them, at least for a little while. Because if not, what will happen is the morale in the army goes way down. And so to keep the morale up, these exemptions are put in place.
Now, watch this. The officer shall speak, verse 8, further to the people and say, "What man is there who is fearful and faint hearted? Let him go and return to his house, lest the heart of his brethren faint like his heart." Now, I don't know how many people you would have who would just automatically say, yep, that's me. I'm a chicken. I don't want to go. See ya.
Here's the thought. Fear is contagious. Fear is infectious. When a person panics, it spreads quickly. Other people will panic. If you've ever seen a catastrophe happen in a stadium or in a public place, when a couple people run, everybody runs. They may not have any idea what happened or what they're running to or from, but it's just panic sets in and spreads. It happens among sheep. It happens among people. So because of that, fear is dangerous. And if somebody's afraid to go to war, stay home.
Do you remember in the Book of Judges when Gideon is getting ready to go to battle against the Midianites? You do remember that, right? So here's the quick little synopsis of that story. 32,000 Israelarts-- Israelarts?
They were very artistic. Israelites were camped at a well, the Well of Harod. And by the way, a few of us in a couple months will be at that very well, and you'll actually be able to see across the valley where the Midianites camped on the Hill of Moreh just north of there. You can see the geography today.
So the Israelites are camped, 32,000 of them, at the well of Harod. Across the valley to the north, sloped up against the hill that is prominent, in my mind's eye, just to my right, the Hill of Moreh, are 135,000 Midianites. So they're outnumbered, 135,000 to 32,000.
And so the Lord speaks to Gideon something crazy. He says, Gideon, you have too many people. I'm sure he's going, OK, say that one more time? You mean they have too many people? Is that what you just said? No. You have too many people for me to deliver them into your hands. God obviously wanted a mega showdown.
So he says, tell everybody who's afraid and fearful to go home-- what we're reading here. He skips all the other exemptions. He just goes right to the fourth one and says, tell everybody, anybody who's afraid of this battle-- because after all, 32,000 to 1350,000-- tell them if they're afraid, go home. So he says, OK, if you're fearful or afraid, go home. 22,000 of them go home. Now there are 10,000 left against all those Midianites.
As Gideon wipes his brow, shakes his head, the Lord said, well, Gideon, you still have too many people for me to make the kind of demonstration I want to make to your people, that's it's me and not them. Because even if 10,000 people went out, you might walk away going, we're really good. Just a few of us, but we're just awesome. We're just so awesome. And so I don't want you or anybody to get the glory. So you have too many people, so you have to get rid of a few more.
So he says, take them down to the spring and put them to the test. And those who get down to drink on all fours, put them in a class by themselves and send them home. But the person who gets down and crouches down but lifts his hands up to his mouth to drink, indicating he's looking all the time-- he's not distracted by looking down-- he's looking up, he brings a water to his mouth. Those are the people you go to war with. Only 300 were left for Gideon to go to war. 300 drank that way.
And God said, perfect. That's the number I'm going to use to deliver the Midianites into your hands. It's a crazy story.
As you hear that, and as you have read this, most people in reading this would think, this is not smart battle strategy. This is not how you win wars. It sounds like a bad plan. Because if you begin the battle by saying, OK, if you're a newlywed, go home; if you planted a vineyard, go home; if you built a house, get out of here; if you're afraid, get out of here; potentially you're going to have a very small group in any battle to go to war. Correct? And that's true. You will have a small group.
But listen, you'll have the very best group left. If after all those exemptions are read and you still have people standing there ready to fight, now you have a lean, mean fighting machine. You have a small but courageous, invincible group of warriors who will not panic and are all-in. And that's how they went to war, a fearless group of the very best soldiers.
"So it shall be," verse 9, "when the officers have finished speaking to the people, that they shall make captains of the armies to lead the people. And when you go near to a city to fight against it, then proclaim an offer of peace to it. And it shall be, if they accept your offer of peace and open to you, then all the people who are found in it shall be placed under tribute to you and shall serve you."
An offer of peace was, I'm making you an offer. You will be our vassal state. We are now in control. We are taking over. You are to become conscripted to serve us. But it's an offer of peace. So they're going to war, but before they go to war they make an offer of peace, you see. That's a principle in the New Testament.
Paul the Apostle writes in Romans 12, "If it is possible, as much as lies in you, live peaceably with all men." I love that verse, and I love the way it's constructed. It says, "If it's possible, be at peace with all men." Sometimes it's not possible. But if it is possible, then you try to make bridges of peace toward them and to them, and try to live in peace. But some people just won't have peace. Oh, no. So you can only do what you can do. You do the best. You live peaceably with all people. Some people won't have it? OK, sorry. You have to live with that tension. But in wartime, you offer them peace. If they don't want peace, then of course, you attack them.
Before we get to that, notice something in verse 11. Because we're talking about the Canaanites here, right? This is the land of Canaan they're going into. It says, the people who were found in it shall be placed under tribute to you and shall serve you.
Now mark this. In Genesis Chapter 9, Noah-- that's how far back I'm going-- made a prediction. He said, "Cursed be Canaan. A servant of servants he shall be to the people." And now, that curse, pronounced by Noah, is coming to fruition as they enter into the land of Canaan itself.
Now, if the city will not make peace with you but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it. And when the Lord your God delivers it into your hands, you shall strike every male in it with the edge of the sword. But the women, the little ones, the livestock, all that is in the city, all its spoil, you shall plunder for yourself. You shall eat the enemy's plunder which the Lord your God gives you. Thus you shall do to all the cities which are very far from you. You'll discover that means outside of that very land they're about to go into, the land of Canaan, which are not of the cities of these nations.
But of the cities of these people which the Lord your God gives you an inheritance, you shall let nothing that breathes remain alive. But you shall utterly destroy them. The Hittite, the Amorite, the Canaanite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, the Jebusite-- there's a rap song in there somewhere-- just as the Lord your God has commanded you, lest they teach you to do according to all their abominations which they have done for their gods, and you sin against the Lord your God.
"When you besiege a city for a long time while making war against it to take it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them. If you can eat them, do not cut them down to use in the siege, for the tree of the field is man's food." So you're going to attack a city, don't be stupid and get rid of your food source. There are certain trees you can cut down to build siege works, ladders, bulwarks, et cetera, battering rams that were used. They would need the wood for that. That's typically how it was done. They would come in, they would set up camp, they would cut down the trees. They would construct the armaments of the attack on site. But if you've got some fruit trees, you're going to need that for the months ahead in the siege.
"Only the trees," verse 20, "which you know are not trees for food, you may destroy and cut down to build siege works against the city that makes war with you until it is subdued." So it was God's commandment against the deforestation as they would conquer lands, much like the policy of defoliating areas that some armies even in modern times use to just ruin the land, the scorched-earth policy that has been done even in more modern warfare.
OK, in reading this-- and we have dealt with this before, but from time to time we just have to jump in with both feet-- most everyone I've ever met has some problem with what we have just read, the complete and total eradication of these people groups that were in the land of Canaan. So what we must do is begin to see this from God's viewpoint, that the people of the Canaanites, the people listed in the verses ahead of this-- the Hivite, all these "ites"-- were so debauched, were so degenerate in their practices, that to let them live side by side with them would become destructive to them, because by their very practices they were self-destructive.
Let me explain. Ancient Canaanite worship, archaeology and research has shown, in the Canaanite pantheon, the gods and goddesses were worshipped by child sacrifice. So you have children, but you kill them by burning their babies alive. Jars were found with infants stuffed in them, burned, incinerated to death as an offering to their god. So the offspring that would keep the race going and going was slaughtered as part of their worship.
There was temple prostitution. There was bestiality. There was incest. And so by the very practices of the Canaanites themselves, they were self-destructing. Consider just the practice of incest. When people interbreed in their own gene pool, that's a self-destructive behavior. You limit genetic diversity, and a condition is set up known as consanguinity. There's a word you probably haven't heard for a while, if ever.
Consanguinity is the common bloodness of a people group. Because you are not sharing the genetics outside your own gene pool, your own gene pool becomes corrupted and depleted, and you will essentially self-destruct eventually. Before you do, you'll turn into blithering idiots and then self-destruct. That's how this works.
A case study is the Samaritan population. There had been for centuries since the time of Christ a group of Samaritans living in Samaria. They're still there to this day. But in the year 1900, they had gone from thousands of people down to about 120 to 150 people alive. They were just dying off.
And they discovered that this consanguinity raises infant death syndrome to record proportions. So scientists were brought in to see which other people groups were allowed by their religious expression to be brought in so as to keep the gene pool going. And now they believe they have rectified that.
But these were the kind of practices going on in Canaan. It was self-destructive behavior. So God had given them, I've already shared with you and we've already studied, hundreds of years to repent. And they did not repent. So it comes a point where they need to be eradicated. If you don't eradicate them, they will eradicate you.
So several years ago, when the doctor said to my wife and I-- he described the tumor that was inside of her body, and that it had to be removed. And he said, I'm going to have to cut it out. And if there's anything that it attaches to, and there was, an anastomosis had to be performed, because it impinged upon the large bowel. And so that had to be cut out. And he explained, it's going to have to be cut out.
Now, what would it sound like if I said, but doctor, that's so mean. Why would you want to destroy something living? Well, he would have said to me, if you don't kill it, it will kill her. In killing a portion, you will save the body. You will save the whole. That really is the principle that is in and behind this idea of total extermination of this people group.
Now, Chapter 21 versus 1, "If anyone is found slain lying in a field in the land which the Lord your God has given you to possess and it is not known who has killed him, then your elders and your judges should go out and measure the distance from the slain man to the surrounding cities. And it shall be that the elders of the city nearest to the slain will take a heifer-- female cow that has never born a calf-- which has not been worked, which has not pulled with the yoke, the elders of that city show bring the heifer down to a valley with flowing water, which neither plowed nor sown. They show break the heifer's neck there in the valley. The priest, the sons of Levi, shall come near, for the Lord your God has chosen them to minister to Him and to bless in the name of the Lord, by their word, every controversy and every assault shall be settled.
And all the elders of that city nearest to the slain man shall wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the valley. Then they shall answer and say, our hands have not shed this blood, nor have our eyes seen it. Provide atonement, oh Lord, for your people Israel, whom you have redeemed, and do not lay innocent blood to the charge of your people Israel. And atonement shall be provided on their behalf for the blood. So you shall put away the guilt of innocent blood from among you when you do what is right in the sight of the Lord."
So this is the law of homicide in the open fields around the cities. Cities had walls around them. They were not open. You lived inside the city. All the farmlands were outside the city, so you're out in the fields one day, you find a corpse. You call the Levites, call the elders. They measure the nearest town. They go to the nearest town, take a heifer from there, take it out to the brook, break its neck, shed its blood, because you are indicating that this is a capital offense for which blood should be shed. But we don't know who did it.
So what's interesting is that the entire community takes some level of responsibility for this crime, even though they didn't do it and they say they didn't do it. They're assuming some level of corporate responsibility for this happening near to their town. Isn't that fascinating? They could say, I didn't do it. I'm not going to get near that dead body. I'm not going to go out there and do this ritual. No, we're all involved in this.
It's the same principle as Daniel. You look in the Book of Daniel, and there's not one single bad thing said about Daniel. And yet, in Chapter 9, he says, Lord-- listen to what he says-- we have sinned. We have committed iniquity. We have done wickedly against you. And further says down in that chapter, when I was done confessing my sin and the sin of my people. In other words, I'm acknowledging that I am also part of the problem, being a fallen human being. I'm identifying with other fallen human beings. It's an important principle.
We talk about, there's people in this generation. And, can you believe what young people do today? And, this generation is getting wicked. We always like to point fingers. I added to the guilt of my generation. I added to the sin that made my generation corrupt. I remember it well. So we're all in this thing together.
And do you remember when Jesus taught us to pray? He didn't say, when you pray, say, my Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Forgive me. Forgive us our sins. It was corporate. There was a corporate responsibility and a corporate unity, even in approaching God.
And I believe, by the way, that the closer a person gets in their relationship to God, the less they marginalize like this. The closer a person gets to God, the more he or she recognizes, I have sin in my life. I have issues with me. It's not just the evil in them, and it's their fault. Whenever somebody points the finger at others, you just know they're very immature. They just don't get it. But when a person grows up, there's a whole new level of humility, and the willingness to take part of the blame.
Listen to what Paul writes. He said, "This is a faithful saying," he writes to Timothy in 2 Timothy. "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief." That was the great apostle Paul saying, I rank as the number one sinner that Jesus Christ came to save. So they were all in it together.
Verse 10, "When you go out to war against your enemies and the Lord your God delivers them in your hands and you take them captive, and you see among the captives a beautiful woman and you desire her and would take her for your wife, then you shall bring her home to your house. You shall shave her head and trim her nails. She shall put off the clothes of her captivity, remain in your house, mourn her father and mother for a full month, and after that you may go into her and be her husband and she shall be your wife. And it shall be if you have no delight in her, then you will set her free. But you will certainly not sell her for money. You shall not treat her brutally, because you have humbled her."
So this law was to protect the dignity of the female slave, as well as protecting the purity of the soldier. Israelite soldiers were not to rape and plunder like other nations did. That was kind of common policy in ancient wartime, that when the vanquisher would come in and would take over a city and population, they would become the undisputable owner of everything and everyone they captured. They were free to do whatever they wanted with people.
But not so the Israelite. If the Israelite man saw a woman and said, you know, she's really cute. I'd like to marry her. Well, take her home for a month. Shave her head. Now, what this is going to do is give him pause to consider what he's doing for a month before he jumps right into it. He's going to look at her and go, do I want to really marry this girl?
Now, why the month? The month was there partially, I believe, to test him, but also to let her mourn-- the fact that she's been taken away from her house, from her parents, from her city. And the one month was the 30 days, the month in Judaism that mourning was allowed. After that, life went on as normal and they got on with business.
So marriage is serious business. Even if you go into a war and you capture somebody, you have to really take it seriously. The marriages in ancient Israel, besides this kind of wartime, you know how they were, how they came about, right? They were arranged by parents. Most people when they hear that, of course, they bristle from that. They go, that's a bad way to do a marriage, to have your parents decide for you who you're going to marry, right? If I were to ask you would you be open to that, probably nobody in this room would.
However, the idea behind the arranged marriage in that time was that marriage is such an important decision, and most of the people getting married were done in the teenage years. I don't think a teenager would be able-- let me rephrase that. They didn't think the teenagers would be able to make such an important life decision given the little experience they've had. Such important decisions have to be left up to the parents.
I was in Asia one time with a friend of mine who was pointing out all the different married couples in the village. And he said, they were all arranged by their parents. I remember going, oh man. That's just weird. That would never fly in America. And he goes, well, I know it wouldn't.
But it's interesting. He had moved to America. He said, I never knew what divorce was until I came to your country. And this is you choosing who you want to marry, but it doesn't seem to work all that great. I thought, well, that's sort of an argument I can't fight against.
"If a man has two wives, one loved and the other unloved, and if they have borne him children, both the loved and the unloved, and if the firstborn son is of her who is unloved, then it shall be on the day he bequeaths his possessions to his son, that he must not bestow firstborn status on the son of the loved wife in preference to the son of the unloved, the true firstborn."
Now in Hebrew, it actually says, "if a man has had two wives," indicating he doesn't have them simultaneously, but in the course of life he's had two wives in succession, one and then another. And so when that happens and there's children left, one wife is passed away, not part of the picture, he has another white, in the law firstborn-- primogeniture, it is called-- the firstborn of those two wives, the firstborn-- the one who was born first-- has to receive the double portion. You can't just say, well, I didn't really love that gal anyway, and these kids are cool. So I'm going to do that.
That could be a problem. You remember that Elkanah had two wives at the same time. One was Hannah. One was Peninnah. He didn't really love Peninnah, but he loved Hannah. Hannah didn't have children. Peninnah had children. And so when it came time for the offering and he gave portions of the sacrifice to Peninnah and her children, it says then he gave to his wife Hannah, just a single person, no children, a double portion. So he was showing favoritism. So that wouldn't get down to the children. This law was put in place.
"But he shall acknowledge the son of the unloved wife as the firstborn by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the beginning of his strength. The right of the firstborn is his."
Verse 18, "If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his voice, the voice of his father, the voice of his mother, and who, when they have chastened him, will not heed them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of the city, to the gate of the city, and shall say to the elders of the city, this son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey our voice. He's a glutton and a drunkard. Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones, and so you shall put away the evil from among you, and all Israel shall hear in fear."
OK, now you understand what the Fourth Commandment means when it says in the Book of Exodus you shall honor your father and mother that you may live long in the land which the Lord your God gives you. This is what it means. If you become so intractable, so dug-in, so obstinate, so stubborn-hearted, recalcitrant-- whatever word you want to use to describe such a depth of a person's behavior-- the parents can't do this alone. They have to involve the entire community.
Again, very different than Islamic honor killings, which fathers just sort of willy nilly decide to take their daughters behind whatever they own and kill them. You had to come out publicly into the community. So there's a public accountability for all of this, and there were repercussions. If you disobey your parents in the Old Testament, you didn't get a guest appearance on The Simpsons. You were killed.
It says in Exodus, cursed is he who dishonors or curses his father and mother. He who strikes father and mother shall be put to death. He who curses father and mother shall be put to death.
I hope also you get the gravity of how shocked people were when Jesus told a story one day of a man who had two sons, and one son took his father's possessions and squandered them on riotous living and wasted it all away and came back home, and his father saw him afar off and he ran toward him and smothered him with kisses and threw the best robe and the ring and said, kill the fatted calf! Let's throw a party for my son, who was dead is now alive. And he was lost as found.
People were shocked, because according to the law that son should be stoned. But it was a parable about God's great love and forgiveness in the story of the father who forgave his son.
"If a man has committed a sin deserving death," verse 22, "and is put to death and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you will surely bury him that day so that you do not defile the land which the Lord your God has given you as an inheritance, for he who is hanged is accursed of God."
Now mark this, the hanging on the tree was not the method of execution. They never hung people. They would stone people to death. There were a variety of ways that capital punishment was enacted, but never by hanging. The hanging was done after the dying. The hanging was to display as a warning sign to people who would see it.
So if capital punishment is enacted and you display the body on the tree, you take it down in time to bury it because this person who has done that is cursed. And you bury that body immediately.
Now, Paul picks up on this in Galatians. Christ is redeemed us, he said, from the curse of the law being made a curse for us, for it is written, cursed is everyone that hangs on a tree. He's picking up on this very verse and building his case in the New Testament upon it. So Jesus took the curse of our sin that caused his death upon himself.
When Adam and Eve fell in the garden, God cursed the earth, right? Cursed is the Earth for your sake? It'll bear forth thorns and thistles, and you will only work it by the sweat of your brow. When the Roman soldiers placed a crown upon Jesus, isn't it interesting that the only crown Jesus wore was a crown of thorns? And where did it come from? The cursed earth.
And then the law came along, and the law didn't remove what had been cursed. It just amplified the curse. The law itself became a curse, because it could never cleanse. It could only point out that which was wrong. So according to the law, Jesus Christ took the curse that our sin put upon him on himself and redeemed us from the curse of the law. So when I say "by law," when I say "by works" or say, "by faith in Jesus Christ." And this is where he draws it from.
I wish I had time to really talk about the idea of Jewish burial versus cremation, and the idea of why they treated the body like this. But for another time we'll reserve that.
But let's pray together. Father, we thank you that we were able to uncover a portion of what Paul calls "the whole counsel of God," and to look at what was the scripture for Jesus and Peter and the apostles and Paul the rabbi. These are the scriptures they worked with. These are the scriptures they meditated on, the truths they extracted from.
Thank you, Lord, that we have been able to get in touch with that, and to get a better understanding so that when we read our New Testaments we get a fuller background. We're most thankful, Lord, for Jesus, who broke every chain so that we don't have to live in bondage. We don't have to live in fear. We can believe.
We face battles every day, and yet the Lord our God is with us. And we don't need to fear the chariots. We don't need to fear the armies. We don't need to fear what the doctors tell us the diagnosis or prognosis is. As Jesus told that man, do not be afraid. Only believe. Fill us, Lord, with faith, with trust for the rest of the week that we face.
In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
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