Laws Concerning Justice

14 “You shall not oppress a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brothers or one of the sojourners who are in your land within your towns. 15 You shall give him his wages on the same day, before the sun sets (for he is poor and counts on it), lest he cry against you to the Lord, and you be guilty of sin.

16 “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin.

17 “You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow’s garment in pledge, 18 but you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this.

19 “When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. 21 When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. 22 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this. – Deuteronomy 24:14-22 ESV

Over in the book of Amos, the prophet records some powerful and passionate words of indictment against the people of Israel, and they are from the lips of God Himself.

“I hate all your show and pretense—
    the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.
I will not accept your burnt offerings and grain offerings.
    I won’t even notice all your choice peace offerings.
Away with your noisy hymns of praise!
    I will not listen to the music of your harps.
Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice,
an endless river of righteous living.”– Amos 5:21-24 NLT

This message from the Almighty came hundreds of years after Moses and the Israelites had stood on the border of Canaan preparing to possess the land. Generations of their descendants would come after them, but they would fail to live according to all the rules and regulations Moses had so painstakingly taught to their forefathers.

God had desired for His people to obey His laws so that their lives might be marked by justice and righteous living. And that is what this section of Moses’ speech to the people of Israel is all about. He is calling them to practice justice and to display righteousness in their daily interactions with one another. As we have seen, community was and is important to God. He desires the His people conduct themselves in a way that reflects not only a love for Him but a love for one another. In fact, as the apostle John reminds us, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20 ESV).

Even the great king, David expressed his understanding of God’s desire for unity among His people.

How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony!Psalm 133:1 NLT

In this section of Deuteronomy 24, Moses is going to discuss the poor and needy, the innocent, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. In each case, he is addressing those within the community of Israel who represent the helpless or vulnerable among them. No Israelite was to take advantage of the less fortunate. And to help them refrain from doing so, Moses reminded them of their own history of suffering as slaves in Egypt.

“Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I am commanding you to do all this.” – Deuteronomy 24:18 NLT

They were to never forget that their ancestors had been forced to make bricks without straw. They had been mercilessly and harshly treated by the Egyptians for more than four centuries. So, as they prepared to enter their own land, provided for them by God, they were to conduct themselves according to God’s laws, not according to worldly standards or some sin-saturated impulse based on selfish ambition.

If they had a hired servant, they were to pay them their wages – in full and on time. And Moses emphasizes the worker who is poor and dependent upon his daily wages for survival. The disadvantaged are always easy to oppress. They have not recourse and no one to stand in their corner to support them. But Moses wanted the people of Israel to know that God was an advocate for the needy. He would see that they received justice, one way or another. Which is why Moses warned the Israelites to treat their poorer servants fairly, “Otherwise he will cry out to the Lord against you, and you will be guilty of sin” (Deuteronomy 24:15 NLT).

And while on the topic of sin and guilt, Moses turns his attention to the proper administering of justice for sin.  A father was not to be held responsible for the sins committed by one of his adult children.  And no child was to be punished for the sins of his father. This would be a form of revenge, rather than justice. The guiltless and innocent would be suffering unjustly and unnecessarily. Each individual was to be held accountable for their own sins. And you can see why this law would be necessary. If a case came up where the perpetrator of a crime could not be found and punished, it would be tempting for the victim to demand that a someone pay the criminal’s sin debt. But this would not result in a just and righteous outcome. Instead, it would cause the innocent to suffer unjustly.

And justice was to be a high priority among the people of Israel because it was important to God. Which is why Moses told them, “You must not pervert justice due a resident foreigner or an orphan…” (Deuteronomy 24:17 NLT). And to make sure they understood what he meant by justice, Moses gave the example of someone taking a widow’s garment as collateral on a loan. You don’t punish the innocent and you don’t take advantage of the helpless. These kinds of things were not to be done among God’s people. It was unacceptable behavior.

The Israelites were always going to have the poor and needy among them, and this group would be made up of fellow Israelites as well as immigrants from other nations. And in a nation with no welfare system, it was necessary that the people understand their role in the care for the less fortunate among them. And one of the ways in which God provided for the needs of the poor was through the annual harvest.  As God blessed His people with abundant crops, they were to share their bounty with the less fortunate among them. So, each harvest, when the Israelites reaped their fields, any sheaves of grain that were inadvertently left behind were to remain there as gifts to the poor. And when they went to gather olives or grapes, they were commanded to leave some of the produce behind as a gift for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. God had promised to bless them with plenty of crops as long as they remained faithful to Him. And when He blessed them, He expected them to share that blessing with the less fortunate among them. And, once again, Moses used their former status as slaves in Egypt as a source of motivation.

According to the prophet, Amos, God wanted “to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living.” He greatly desired that His people display His righteousness through their interactions with one another. They were His chosen possession and He had set them apart from all the other nations on earth so that they might model what true righteousness and justice looks like. The greatest sacrifice the people of Israel could make would be to give up their rights for one another. They could prove their love for God by selflessly loving the less fortunate among them. They could display their honor and reverence for God by willingly and eagerly dispensing justice to all those around them. The prophet, Micah reiterates the words recorded by Amos, reminding God’s people of their responsibility to act as agents of justice in this world.

“With what shall I come before the Lord,
    and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
    with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
    with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God? – Micah 6:6-8 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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A Community Based on Common Courtesy

“When a man is newly married, he shall not go out with the army or be liable for any other public duty. He shall be free at home one year to be happy with his wife whom he has taken.

“No one shall take a mill or an upper millstone in pledge, for that would be taking a life in pledge.

“If a man is found stealing one of his brothers of the people of Israel, and if he treats him as a slave or sells him, then that thief shall die. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

“Take care, in a case of leprous disease, to be very careful to do according to all that the Levitical priests shall direct you. As I commanded them, so you shall be careful to do. Remember what the Lord your God did to Miriam on the way as you came out of Egypt.

10 “When you make your neighbor a loan of any sort, you shall not go into his house to collect his pledge. 11 You shall stand outside, and the man to whom you make the loan shall bring the pledge out to you. 12 And if he is a poor man, you shall not sleep in his pledge. 13 You shall restore to him the pledge as the sun sets, that he may sleep in his cloak and bless you. And it shall be righteousness for you before the Lord your God. – Deuteronomy 24:5-13 ESV

The corporate community of Israel was made up of millions of people. It was not a small collection of tribes, but a massive gathering of people from all walks of life. They shared a common bond as descendants of Abraham and were one generation removed from a life of captivity in Egypt. And as they stood poised to begin their conquering of the land God had promised to them, Moses provided them with a series of God-ordained rules for living together in unity.

Like any other people group, the Israelites were going to have to work hard to maintain any sense of community as they began the process of inhabiting the land. Once a portion of the land was conquered and its former inhabitants were removed, the Israelites would find themselves focusing on their own individual needs. The corporate context required for successful warfare would be replaced by a more self-focused environment in which each Israelite looked out for his own best interests. The land would need to be cultivated, crops planted, houses built or repaired, flocks cared for, and families begun.

But it was still going to be important for the people of Israel to maintain a sense of community, and that was going to require common courtesy. So, Moses shared with them a series of common-sense rules for living together in unity. The first had to do with the conscription of young men for military service. If one of these men was newly married, he was to be exempted from service for one full year. As we have seen, marriage and the family were to be considered sacred institutions among the Israelites. And the first year of marriage was a critical and foundational time period in which the husband and wife were to be allowed to concentrate on their relationship without unneeded distractions or interruptions.

The second command had to do with the relationship between a borrower and a lender. This particular regulation covered loans made between fellow Israelites. Loans were permissible, but not the charging of interest. So, you could require something as collateral, in order to ensure that the loan was paid back in full. But this law prohibited the taking of anything as collateral that would harm the borrower’s ability to earn a living. So, the example given is a millstone. This was the large stone used to process grain to make bread. To confiscate a millstone as collateral on a loan would leave the borrower with no means to feed his family. These rules were designed to protect the poor and needy and to prevent the people of God from taking unfair advantage of one another.

Any kind of abuse of a fellow Israelite for personal gain was to be considered unacceptable behavior. And Moses provided a specific example. It was unlawful to kidnap a fellow Jew and make him your personal servant or to sell him into slavery. Most likely, this is tied to the issue of debt. If a man was unable to pay back his debt, the borrower might be tempted to kidnap the man and force him into indentured servitude. In a worst-case scenario, the lender might be tempted to sell the man as a slave in order to recoup his losses. Either way, God prohibited such actions.

If we skip down to verse 10, we see Moses expanding on this topic of loans and pledges. He provides the Israelites with very specific instructions regarding the collection of a pledge or collateral. If a man borrowed money, the lender was not allowed to enter his home and forcibly demand whatever was used as collateral. The rights of the lender did not supersede those of the borrower. And if the item pledged as collateral were necessary for the borrower to maintain any modicum of comfort, the lender was to allow him to keep it. These rules were designed to protect the integrity of the borrower, who in most cases, would be a poor person. This individual’s need would force him to use his most prized possessions as collateral, leaving him not only in debt, but devoid of the very things he needed to survive. So, God placed parameters on the lending process to protect the poor. And Moses clarifies that obedience to these rules “shall be righteousness for you before the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 24:13 ESV).

The next topic had to do with disease within the community of Israel. In Leviticus 12-14, Moses outlines God’s detailed instructions regarding leprosy. And here in Deuteronomy, Moses reminds the Israelites to take God’s commands seriously. To not do so could result in the deadly spread of disease among the camp. So, the Israelites were to obey everything God had told them regarding leprosy. Ignoring His commands regarding quarantine would have deadly consequences. Failing to follow His rules could bring judgment upon the entire nation.

These rules, while seemingly disconnected and disparate in nature, all have to do with the corporate community of Israel. Living together was going to require that they follow God’s commands together. There was no room for outliers or rebels who refused to do things God’s way. He was not going to allow them to follow their own whims or create their own, self-imposed rules for life. They were a community – His community. He had chosen them and they were to be His representatives on earth.

So, God went out of His way to ensure that every facet of their lives was covered by His righteous decrees. Every area of life was important. Every relationship had value. There was to be no compartmentalization or isolation. Every Israelite was to live in unity with every other Israelite, regardless of their station in life. Individuality was never to take precedence over community, and yet, community was not to override individual rights. In a sense, Israel was to regard itself as one big family, with God as their Father.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Day 92 – Matthew 19:1-12; Mark 10:1-12

Jesus Said It, Not Me.

Matthew 19:1-12; Mark 10:1-12

He told them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries someone else, she commits adultery.” – Mark 10:11-12 NLT

I’ll be honest. This is not my favorite topic. But if you’re going to read through the Gospels and have committed to blog your thoughts on a daily basis, it was inevitable that I would have to deal with this passage. It comes straight from the lips of Jesus Himself, and so we have to deal with it – like it or not. Jesus was making His way down from the region of Galilee in the north and heading toward Judea. He ended up in the region known as Perea, just east of the Jordan. Jesus’ earthly ministry is quickly coming to an end as He begins to focus His attention on Jerusalem and the coming Passover celebration, when He would be betrayed, tried, and crucified. During these final days, His enemies, the religious leaders would ramp up their efforts to expose Him as a fraud. A steady stream of Pharisees, Saduccees, and other leaders would make their way to Jesus, equipped with questions designed to trap Him and reveal that He was just a common peasant, not the Messiah.

On this occasion, they asked Him a controversial question – even for their day. It involved divorce. “Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife for just any reason?” they asked. There were two schools of thought at the time. One group held a more liberal view that said divorce was permissible for any reason whatsoever, at least from the male perspective. The other group were the traditionalists who held that divorce was only allowed when the other spouse had been unfaithful. As usual, these men wanted Jesus to choose a side, in order that He might alienate a portion of the crowds that were following Him. But in His typical style, Jesus does not answer their question directly. Instead of talking about divorce, He addresses the issue of marriage, because that is the real heart of the matter. People were not taking marriage seriously. They did not view it with the same intensity and holiness that God did. Instead, they treated their commitments and covenants lightly and flippantly. Divorce had become a quick and easy way to nullify a God-sanctioned covenant, with little or no regret or remorse. Women were treated like property. If a man tired of his wife, he could simply divorce her. He could hand her a piece of paper and send her packing. No stigma involved. No guilt necessary. But Jesus reminds them that marriage was God’s idea, not man’s. It was a God-ordained institution that was based on a concept of unity and oneness. “This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one. Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together” (Matthew 19:5-6 NLT). Ah, there’s the key phrase: “what God has joined together.” From Jesus’ point of view, marriage was a work of God. God made man as male and female, and He intended for them to be joined together as a single unit. Those two individuals were to become a single unit comprised of two united souls. And NO ONE was to split them apart for any reason. That was God’s original intention.

But the Pharisees brought up a problem passage found in Deuteronomy 24:1-4. This involved instructions from Moses to the people of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness. He had seemingly given them the right to divorce their wives by simply handing them a “written notice of divorce.” Moses wrote, “Suppose a man marries a woman but she does not please him. Having discovered something wrong with her, he writes her a letter of divorce, hands it to her, and sends her away from his house” (Deuteronomy 24:1 NLT). If you look closely, Moses is NOT justifying or sanctioning divorce. He is not providing an outlet from marriage by suggesting that all that is required is a piece of paper. And Jesus makes the meaning of this passage clear when He says, “Moses permitted divorce only as a concession to your hard hearts, but it was not what God had originally intended” (Matthew 19:8 NLT). Moses was dealing with a predominantly pagan people who had spent their entire lives growing up in the confines of Egypt. They had adapted themselves to the Egyptian culture and had adopted their false gods. Much of Moses’ time was spent attempting to get these people to understand the ways of Yahweh, their true God. Men were treating marriage flippantly, divorcing their wives at the drop of a hat, simply because they didn’t please them. They were free to find anything wrong with their wives. It had become ridiculous. The idea of oneness and unity had been forsaken altogether. Moses knew there was no stopping these people, so he tried to get them to understand the gravity of their decision. In the next three verses, he tells them the ramifications for their choosing to divorce their wives. As soon as a man handed his wife her walking papers, she was free to marry another man. If that man tired of her or found fault with her and divorced her, the first husband was not free to take her back. That door was closed to him. The same was true even if her second husband died. Moses wanted them to understand that divorce was final. He uses a very strong term to make his point. He tells them that “the first husband may not marry her again, for she has been defiled” (Deuteronomy 24:4 NLT). The word he uses meant “to become impure or unclean.” Once the decision was made to divorce, there was no going back. This is not a passage that is commending or sanctioning divorce. It is illustrating its devastating repercussions. Moses closes his statement on the subject by saying, “That would be detestable to the Lord. You must not bring guilt upon the land the Lord your God is giving you as a special possession” (Deuteronomy 24:4 NLT).

Back to Jesus. He closes His remarks by saying, “And I tell you this, whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery – unless his wife has been unfaithful” (Matthew 19:9 NLT). Mark adds, “And if a woman divorces her husband and marries someone else, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:12 NLT). These were powerful, shocking words coming from the lips of Jesus. There were people standing in the crowd that day who had been through divorce, including some of the religious leaders, more than likely. It was a common practice because it had become so easy to do. Jesus, like Moses, is trying to remind them of the sanctity and holiness of marriage. It is not something to enter into lightly. Even the disciples get that point, because they respond, “If this is the case, it is better not to marry!” (Matthew 19:10 NLT). In other words, if you can’t divorce your wife for any reason without being guilty of adultery, then why get married at all? You can hear in their statement just how easy divorce had become and just how difficult they viewed marriage to be. The truth is, marriage is difficult. God is bringing together two individuals with two sin natures and asking them to spend the rest of their lives together. He is asking them to love one another unconditionally. He is demanding that they sacrifice their rights for the good of the other – regardless of each others’ fault and failings. In any marriage, there will always be plenty of things not to like about the other person. Husbands and wives tend to irritate, disappoint, anger, and even embarrass one another. Finding fault in one another is not a problem. Remaining faithful and committed to loving one another through it all is a problem. And only God can make it possible. God never said marriage would be easy. He never promised it would be a bed of roses. The miracle of marriage is that God takes two extremely selfish, self-centered, sinful people and molds them into a single unit. He makes two into one. Bad math, but great theology. Only God can do that kind of math.

I know there are those reading this blog who have been through divorce. In no way do I want to heap guilt on you. That is not my intent. God is forgiving and gracious. He allows new beginnings. He is a God of grace, not guilt. But it is important that we all deal with the holiness of marriage. We must recognize that divorce grieves God. It was never His intent. Divorce is a vivid illustration of the hardness of man’s heart and the devastating presence of sin in our lives. Those who have been through divorce and don’t recognize that reality, run the very real risk of repeating their mistake all over again. The real issue here is marriage, not divorce. If you have been divorced and are now remarried to a wonderful individual, will you make that new marriage a godly marriage? Will you view it through His eyes and not the world’s? Will you remain committed to that new spouse regardless of any and all circumstances? Will you forgive regularly, love unconditionally, sacrifice willingly, die to self daily, and commit to one another permanently? Will you agree with Jesus that the two of you are no longer two, but one, and that you will not allow anyone or anything to split apart what God has joined together?

Father, we talk more about divorce than we do about marriage. We don’t understand or appreciate just how precious marriage is to You. We treat it flippantly and frivolously. We enter into marriage lightly, not weighing the commitment it requires. We don’t value the covenant it requires and the holiness it should represent. We forget that You invented it and that You highly regard it. Give us a new view on marriage. Help us to see it through Your eyes and to value it the way You do.  Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org