Deuteronomy 21-22

Extremely Tough Love.

“Suppose a man has a stubborn, rebellious son who will not obey his father or mother, even though they discipline him. In such cases, the father and mother must take the son before the leaders of the town. They must declare: ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious and refuses to obey. He is a worthless drunkard.’ Then all the men of the town must stone him to death. In this way, you will cleanse this evil from among you, and all Israel will hear about it and be afraid.” – Deuteronomy 21:18-21 NLT

Chapters 21-22 of Deuteronomy are difficult at best. The content appears to be somewhat random and unrelated. It covers everything from how to properly marry a woman taken captive in the defeat of an enemy city to the proper resolution of manslaughter cases when you don’t know who committed the crime. There’s even some admonitions about home safety, cross dressing, and the care of animals. But all these topics have something to do with the fifth, sixth and seventh commandments. “Honor your father and mother.” “You shall not murder.” “You shall not commit adultery.” Each of the situations covered in these chapters have something to do with illustrating in greater detail what these commandments really meant. These two chapters are practical, daily applications of these three laws. Yes, they seem a little odd to us at times, but they fit the context in which the people of Israel were living. They were real life events that took place every day.

But the one that struck a chord with me was the one on the rebellious son. As the father of two boys, I have actually used these verses to jokingly remind my sons how important it is that they obey. At times, when they have given me a hard time and disobeyed me, I have reminded them that in “Bible days” boys like that could have been stoned. Now hear me out. I never threatened to stone my kids and I was not trying to instill the fear of God into them. I was just kidding around. But as I read this passage again in its context, I am struck with how much this is NOT a laughing matter to God. Obedience is a serious matter to God. So is rebellion. In God’s economy, parents are his legal representatives. They exercise authority over their children on His behalf. This is not a role we should take lightly. This passage is given as a last resort for parents who have exhausted all other avenues to restore their son to a right relationship with them and with God.

The fifth commandment states, “Honor your father and mother.” This was a command that God took seriously. Disobedience to authority was a serious matter to God. A child that habitually disobeyed his parents would be a man who willingly and regularly disobeyed the commands of God and every other authority in his life. He would become a bane to society and a blot on the community. This passage was not intended to give parents the freedom to kill their rebellious sons, but to encourage them to do everything in their power to restore their child. But in the end, their love for God was to supercede their love for their child. This passage seems to indicate a son who had developed a habit of willful rebellion. The terms “stubborn and rebellious” are used to describe the son. They are the same terms used throughout the Old Testament to describe the nation of Israel in terms of their relationship with God. Whenever Israel disobeyed God, it was in effect saying, “You are not my God!” They were declaring by their actions that they rejected His authority over their lives. They were dishonoring Him as their rightful ruler and authority. In rejecting the authority of his parents, a son was doing the same thing. The son, in renouncing his relationship with his parents, has effectively
declared, if not by his words, then certainly by his deeds, what the adopted son in the Mesopotamian adoption contracts says when he abrogates his contract, “I am not your son; you are not my parents.”

As a parent, I am to place my love for God above my love for my child. I am not to excuse his behavior, but see his rebellion and disobedience as an affront to the authority and sovereignty of God. A rebellious child will grow up to be a rebellious man. To allow my son to habitually disobey my authority would be to encourage his future rejection of God’s authority in his life. God seems to have given this regulation as a reminder of His ultimate authority and requirement of obedience, but also as an effective deterrent to disobedience and juvenile delinquency. No loving parent would have willingly brought their son to be stoned without first having done everything in their power to restore their son. But in the end, our love of God should even overshadow our love for our own children. Our desire to honor God should supercede our desire to tolerate our childrens’ rebellious behavior. In his commentary on the book of Deuteronomy, Dr. Thomas L. Constable has this to say about this passage:

“It may appear at first that God was commanding the Israelites to exercise less grace with their own children than He showed the whole nation. However, God had previously promised never to cut off His people (Genesis 12:1-3). The Israelites were to be God’s instruments of judgment in many specific situations, as we have seen in Deuteronomy. The punishment of sinners, be they Canaanites or Israelites, for specific types of sin was imperative for Israel to fulfill God’s purpose for her in the world (Exodus 19:5-6). This legislation teaches us that parents should put their love for God above their love for their children.”

Father, as a parent it is so easy to excuse little acts of rebellion or disobedience in my children. I have done it regularly over the years. And when I do, I fail to see that I am creating an environment of rebellion. I am encouraging a lifestyle of disobedience. I am allowing what I think is a love for my child to become a tolerance of unrighteousness. You have given me a position of authority with the responsibility to teach my children to obey me so that they might one day obey You. When I allow them to reject my authority, even in small ways, I am training them to reject Your authority in the future. Show me how to love You more than I love my own children. May I long to see them live lives of obedience so that they might grow up to obey You in all things. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men