Deuteronomy 21:15–23:25: Various Laws for Living Together


You can find a full audio of this teaching here.

This section of Moses’ third speech to the Israelites continues by giving more detailed laws for the fledgling nation to follow. We have to remember that they had not lived on their own for nearly four hundred and fifty years. Moses wants to communicate as much as he can so once they are sent to their respective tribal lands, they know how to live alongside their neighbors.

Deuteronomy twenty-one begins with the protection of inheritance rights. God commanded that the inheritance rights of the firstborn son be respected, even if he were the son of an unloved wife (in cases of polygamy), or his father died, and his mother remarried.

The chapter continues with strong words about a rebellious adult child. It’s obvious from the text that God had great concern for community accountability in many cases and this one is no exception. The parents could not, by themselves, execute the penalty of death prescribed by Moses. They had to bring the son on trial before impartial judges. This is in contrast to ancient Greek and Roman law, 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 adult son was not only against his parents but against the whole community.

Moses than changes direction a bit and speaks to the curse of one who is hung on a tree. These verses do not apply to strangulation caused by hanging, but of having a corpse mounted on a tree or other prominent place to expose the guilty to disgrace and hopefully deter future crime from the population seeing the hanging accused criminal.

The Apostle Paul expounds on Deuteronomy 21:23 in his epistle to the 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.

Chapter twenty-two continues with various laws concerning how the Israelites need to live together in community. It starts with laws about kindness and helping their neighbors. After a short section on clothing and for the genders to remain distinct, Moses extends his appeal for kindness to animals. As we read these various laws it’s not hard to realize God’s concern for people and animals well as his concern for natural resources.

Outside of some comments about home safety and building a parapet on the house roofs, Moses finishes this chapter with laws about sexual morality. God, again, as He has throughout these five books of the Torah, is concerned about marriage and the strength a solid marriage creates for the family and the nation.

Chapter twenty-three gives some general, as well as specific, instructions to the congregation and some additional laws for conduct. God, through Moses, is making it clear who can attend worship services and who cannot, and is also concerned about cleanliness around the camp, treatment of captured slaves and even some banking laws. The chapter is all about community—living with each other, how to treat each other, as well as the accountability of the community to each other and the community as a whole.


  1. Our most mundane acts are significant and can be an honor or dishonor to God. While many of these laws seem small and trivial, nothing is too small for God’s attention in our lives.
  2. Our possessions are a result of God’s blessings (vv. 23:19–23).  We are to use them to help those who are less fortunate (vv. 23:24–25)
  3. The principle behind the law is that of separation from the world and recognition of God’s order for his people.
  4. Whether we’re on vacation or away from home on business, the Lord watches us and desires us to be as careful where we’re unknown as we are where we’re known.

Leave a Reply

  • Search

Trust is the winsome wedding of faith and hope.

Brennan Manning

©2014 Wayne Hastings. All Rights Reserved. Site by Birdsong Creative.