Atonement for an Unsolved Murder
21 If someone is found slain, lying in a field in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess, and it is not known who the killer was,
We must presume from the word slain that death from natural causes had been ruled out and it was evident that the deceased had been murdered; yet, it was not known who killed him. This was important based on a principle stated in Numbers 35:33-34: 33 “‘Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it. 34 Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell, for I, the Lord, dwell among the Israelites.’” This passage shows that the blood of unsolved, unavenged murder defiles and pollutes the land. Therefore, if there is a murder unavenged, some kind of cleansing is necessary, so the land will not be defiled.
2 your elders and judges shall go out and measure the distance from the body to the neighboring towns. 3 Then the elders of the town nearest the body shall take a heifer that has never been worked and has never worn a yoke 4 and lead it down to a valley that has not been plowed or planted and where there is a flowing stream. There in the valley they are to break the heifer’s neck. 5 The Levitical priests shall step forward, for the Lord your God has chosen them to minister and to pronounce blessings in the name of the Lord and to decide all cases of dispute and assault. 6 Then all the elders of the town nearest the body shall wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the valley,
First, in this apparent investigation of sorts, would be jurisdiction and it would have to be settled.The elders of the town and the judges were to go and measure the distances from the body to the surrounding towns. Then the appropriate sacrifice had to be made. The elders of the nearest town to the crime were responsible to make the sacrifice to atone for and cleanse the murder-polluted land. They were to take an oath of innocence and ignorance. They were then to take a heifer who had never been worked or worn a yoke to an unworked valley with a flowing stream. In this the description of how the sacrifice was to be made lines up with what we already know; a sacrifice in the presence of God must be unblemished in any way. The heifer was then sacrificed by the breaking of it’s neck. Then the Levitical priests would pronounce blessings in the name of the Lord. The priests were chosen by God to minister and pronounce blessing and to decide all cases of dispute and assault. Then the city elders washed their hands over the sacrificed animal.
The symbolism of the heifer, killed while the oath was taken, is clear: it dies as a symbol of the murderer who ought to die. The land was to be purged of serious guilt. The death of the heifer points to the death of Christ as a satisfaction for the sins, known and unknown, of His people.
7 and they shall declare: “Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it done. 8 Accept this atonement for your people Israel, whom you have redeemed, Lord, and do not hold your people guilty of the blood of an innocent person.” Then the bloodshed will be atoned for, 9 and you will have purged from yourselves the guilt of shedding innocent blood, since you have done what is right in the eyes of the Lord.
Again, Numbers 35:33-34 makes the principle clear, that unavenged murders defile and pollute the land and atonement must be made for the land itself. When Israel followed God’s instructions for atonement, He honored His word by taking away their guilt. But the removal of guilt was always based on blood sacrifice, on a substitutionary atonement, looking forward to the work of Jesus on the cross for the entire world.
Marrying a Captive Woman
10 When you go to war against your enemies and the Lord your God delivers them into your hands and you take captives, 11 if you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife. 12 Bring her into your home and have her shave her head, trim her nails 13 and put aside the clothes she was wearing when captured. After she has lived in your house and mourned her father and mother for a full month, then you may go to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife. 14 If you are not pleased with her, let her go wherever she wishes. You must not sell her or treat her as a slave, since you have dishonored her.
At this time in biblical history, it wasn’t uncommon for a man to take a wife from among the captives, especially if she was a beautiful woman. Yet obviously, this was open to great abuse, so God gives specific guidelines to govern this practice in Israel. The law preserved the sanctity of marriage. An Israelite man might take a captive woman, but he had to wait a month. She was to be given a chance to adjust and to grieve for her lost family. She was a wife, not chattel, and if the husband divorced her, he could not sell her as a slave.
First, the captive woman had to be purified and humbled. This involved shaving her head and trimming her nails and changing her clothing. This practiced denoted a complete break with her past, and the willingness to start anew, humbly as a child.
Second, the captive woman had to show a change of allegiance. This showed that the captive woman no longer regarded her former nation and her former family; now she was a citizen of Israel.
Third, the captive woman was to be given time to mourn her past associations. This would be time when she could resolve issues in her heart regarding her family, and when her husband-to-be could live with her a month without intimate relations, so he could see if he really wanted to take this woman as a wife, and to make sure he was not making a decision based only of physical appearance or attractiveness. After the month of mourning, the potential husband was free to marry the captive woman, yet, he did not have to. But if he decided not to, he had to set her free with dignity. This was a remarkable protection of the rights of a captive woman.
The Right of the Firstborn
15 If a man has two wives, and he loves one but not the other, and both bear him sons but the firstborn is the son of the wife he does not love, 16 when he wills his property to his sons, he must not give the rights of the firstborn to the son of the wife he loves in preference to his actual firstborn, the son of the wife he does not love. 17 He must acknowledge the son of his unloved wife as the firstborn by giving him a double share of all he has. That son is the first sign of his father’s strength. The right of the firstborn belongs to him.
Just as divorce was allowed “because of your hardness of heart”, Matt. 19:8, so polygamy was permitted, but its harsher evils were mitigated. The unloved wife had her rights, and the firstborn son of an unloved wife could not be dispossessed.
Obviously, there are going to be problems in a home like this, especially if there is one loved and the other unloved. Yet, God commanded that the inheritance rights of the firstborn son be respected, even if he were the son of the unloved wife. A double portion was the right of the firstborn in ancient Israel; the firstborn son was to receive twice as much inheritance as any other son. For example, if there were three sons, the inheritance would be divided into four parts, with the firstborn receiving two parts, and the other three sons each receiving one part. The first born son of an unloved wife could not be dispossessed in preference of the (second) first born son of the loved wife.
A Rebellious Son
18 If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, 19 his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. 20 They shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” 21 Then all the men of his town are to stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.
This does not mean a small child, or even a young teen but a son past the age of accountability, who sets himself in determined rebellion against his father and mother. Living a long-term pattern of rebellion and deep sin. Although “stubborn and rebellious” is not precisely defined, in v. 20 the son is called “a glutton and a drunkard” as read in Prov. 23:21: “for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags”. In such cases, even the parents were not to shield their offspring, Such a stubborn and rebellious son was to be put on trial before the elders of the city. If they determine him to be chronically rebellious, then the son was to be stoned to death.
It is important to note that the parents could not, themselves, execute this penalty. They had to bring the son on trial before impartial judges. This is in contrast to ancient Greek and Roman law at the time, which gave fathers the absolute right of life or death over their children. This was a control of parental authority more than it was an exercise of it. The parents had to take the boy to the elders of the community; not only because the decision of life or death should be taken out of their direct hands, but because the guilt of the stubborn and rebellious son was not only against his parents, but against the whole community. This law was clearly intended to protect the social order of ancient Israel. No society can endure when the young are allowed to make war against the old. Perhaps just the presence of this law was deterrent enough; we have never had a Scriptural example of a son being stoned to death because he was a stubborn and rebellious son.
22 If someone guilty of a capital offense is put to death and their body is exposed on a pole, 23 you must not leave the body hanging on the pole overnight. Be sure to bury it that same day, because anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse. You must not desecrate the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.
In the thinking of ancient Israel there was something worse than being put to death. Worse than that was to be put to death and to have your body left exposed to shame, humiliation, and scavenging animals and birds. Hang him on a pole (or tree is some translations) does not mean being executed by strangulation; but of having the body mounted on a tree or other prominent place, to expose the executed one to disgrace and the elements.
However, it was required that the body be taken down and buried by sundown. Therefore, if anyone was executed and deemed worthy of such disgrace, the humiliation to his memory and his family must not be excessive.
The punishment of being hanged on a pole or tree, and left to open exposure, was thought to be so severe, that it was reserved only for those for which is was to be declared: “this one is accursed of God.”
Paul expounds on Deuteronomy 21:23 in Galatians 3:13-14: Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. Jesus not only died in our place; but He also took the place as the accursed of God, being hung on a “tree” in open shame and degradation. He received this curse, which we deserved, and He did not, so that we could receive the blessing of Abraham, which He deserved, and we did not.
We are redeemed from the curse of the law by the work of Jesus on the cross for us. We no longer have to fear that God wants to curse us; He wants to bless us, not because of who we are, or what we have done, but because of what Jesus Christ has done on our behalf.