Deuteronomy 24—27: Moses Continues His Teaching

 

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Deuteronomy 24 opens with Moses going into more detail about divorce. This section of Deuteronomy does not deal with divorce in general but with the issue of remarriage after divorce. If a man divorces his wife and she marries another man who either dies or divorces her, the first husband is forbidden to remarry her. The first three verses set the conditions that apply to the legislation in verse four.

This law concerns the case in which a husband “has found some uncleanness in” his wife and divorced her. The Hebrew word for “uncleanness” means “shame” or “disgrace.” Its application was disputed among many of the rabbis. It cannot refer to adultery or premarital sex since both of these acts had already been declared punishable by death. Because its meaning was unclear, the Pharisees tempted Jesus by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?” (Matt. 19:3). Their question arose from a dispute between two camps of first-century Jewish scholars. The conservative school of Shammai believed a man could not divorce his wife unless she was unfaithful. The school of Hillel was much more liberal in their interpretation. They believed the uncleanness referred to anything displeasing to the husband—such as appearing in public with disheveled hair, spinning and exposing her arms in public, conversing indiscriminately with men, speaking disrespectfully of her husband’s parents in his presence, or spoiling a dish for him.[1]

According to the Hillel school of thought, these women received just a few chances. If they burned supper, spoke too loudly, or exposed their arms in public, they could be issued a bill of divorcement.

The Hebrew word for divorcement means “a cutting off,” which carries with it the idea of breaking the marriage covenant. Marriage was established by a formal legal covenant, and a formal legal document was required to dissolve a marriage. The custom of writing a “certificate of divorce” (v. 1).

The chapter continues the marriage theme in verse five and shows God’s way of honoring and blessing the marriage. “He shall be free at home one year,” gave the newly married husband an exemption from military or other service for one year so he could “bring happiness to his wife.”

The chapter continues with various other laws for this new society. We need to remember that this is the first generation of free people. Their parents were slaves in Egypt under strict controls. Now, this generation will soon form a new society and Moses is guiding and leading them to understand how a society lives together.

The legislation throughout this chapter not only protects the poor and weak—it also protects the rich! Failure by the wealthy to help the weak brought judgment upon them. As we read the chapter there are several verses where God comes into the picture when the wealthy are commanded to give to the poor. When the relationship is positive, “it shall be righteousness to you before the Lord your God” (v. 13). If the rich take advantage of the poor, then the poor will “cry out against you to the Lord, and it be sin to you” (v. 15). Israel’s own past captivity and oppression under the Egyptians (vv. 18, 22) serves as a continual reminder to them to be generous to the less fortunate.

Chapter twenty-five features more laws on various subjects. Moses speaks to the protection of criminals and animals, family matters, justice and ends with an exhortation to justly destroy Amalek. The Amalekites were a nomadic desert tribe that traced its genealogy back to Amalek, the grandson of Esau. Two specific battles with the Amalekites are mentioned in the Pentateuch (Ex. 17:8–16; Num. 14:39–45). However, this passage indicates a series of hostilities that are not mentioned elsewhere. The Amalekites’ attacks on the tired and weary, coupled with their lack of fear of Israel’s God, were not to be forgotten! Since the Amalekites had shown no mercy, they were to receive none. Four hundred years later David defeated the Amalekites (2 Sam. 1:1), but they were not completely wiped out until Hezekiah’s day, another three hundred years later (1 Chr. 4:41–43). The strong command, “You shall not forget,” is the last of nine such commands in Deuteronomy and a major theme of Moses’ teaching.

Chapter 26 ends with more exhortation from Moses. He calls the people to complete obedience. Deuteronomy 4:1 began this long section with the words, “Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I teach you to observe.” From Deuteronomy chapter 4 through chapter 26, Moses has reminded Israel of God’s commands. Now he exhorts them to keep the commands.

The chapter ends with Israel’s proclamation, “Today you have proclaimed the Lord to be your God,” and God’s proclamation, “The Lord has proclaimed you to be His special people.”

I am intrigued by the repetition of the word “today” (or “this day”). “This day the Lord your God commands you” (v. 16); “Today you have proclaimed the Lord to be your God” (v. 17); “Also today the Lord proclaimed you to be His special people” (v. 18). This word is a crucial one throughout all of Deuteronomy. The word “today,” or one very close to it, appears fifty-nine times in Deuteronomy. There is a sense of urgency in biblical teaching. We shouldn’t waste our time when we’re doing God’s will.

The next four chapters to be studied (27–30) contain the third message of Moses to his people. A review of the messages of Moses in Deuteronomy is as follows:

A.         Moses’ first message: “Learning from the Past” 1:6–4:40

B.         Moses’ second message: “Laws to Live By” 4:41–26:19

C.         Moses’ third message: “Keep the Covenant” 27:1–30:20

Moses has finished placing before Israel the law of the Lord. Now is the time for decision and obedience. The choice is theirs—blessings or cursings.

The success or failure of God’s people depended upon their response to God’s law. They could choose either to live by it or to disobey it. Neutrality was not an option. In this section of Deuteronomy, Moses concentrates on consequences: what his people choose to sow, that shall they also reap.

If the choice is obedience, the consequence is blessing. If that choice is disobedience, the consequence is a curse. Particularly in this address, the curse includes a future exile from the land, a theme first sounded in 4:23–28.

OBSERVATIONS:

  1. The Israelites were not to be merely holy individuals; they were to be a holy nation. In the celebrated words of John Wesley, “Christianity is essentially a social religion, and to make it into a solitary one is to destroy it …. The gospel of Christ knows no religion but social religion; no holiness but social holiness.”[2]
  2. God’s heart and passion for the poor are impossible to miss. Therefore, He commanded His people to think differently, to be as kind as they could be, to see how much they could give away.
  3. Deuteronomy 25:17-19 beginning as it does with the word “Remember” and ending with the words, “You shall not forget.” What do we need to remember?
  4. When do we get to the place of soberly dedicating our lives to the Lord and joyfully celebrating what He’s done for us? When we read His Word, know his character and his ways, and the sacrifice he made.

 

[1]For more on these two leaders see: https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/hillel-and-shammai.

[2]John Wesley, Sermons on Several Occasions, Vol. 1,(New York, J. & J. Harper, 1831), 254

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