Deuteronomy 21-26; Psalm 119:153-160

These chapters form the heart of Deuteronomy. Here Moses maintained his thesis: Israel should fully obey God’s instruction so they would be successful and set-apart in the Promised Land. Thus, if Israel was going to enter Canaan and live, they needed to pursue justice without partiality (Deut 21:1-22:4). In the case of unsolved murders, justice was manifested as a city purged itself of shedding innocent blood (Deut 21:1-9). Likewise, even women who were captured as spoils of war were to be dealt with justly according to the standards of the day (Deut 21:10-14). Justice was to rule family relations in the household (Deut 21:15-21). Even the display of executed people was to be handled with justice, since injustice would defile the land (Deut 21:22-23). Neighborly relations were also to be maintained under the rule of justice (Deut 22:1-4).

Further, if Israel was going to enter Canaan and live, they needed to pursue integrity in all things (Deut 22:5-30). This included preserving natural distinctions in dress, animal relations, and clothing (Deut 22:5-12), as well as maintaining proper sexual conduct (Deut 22:13-30). Israel was commanded: “you must purge the evil from you” (Deut 22:22, 24). Of all things, Israel’s success and vitality in Canaan were dependent upon vigorously maintaining their national purity. Nowhere would this be more prominent than establishing strict boundary markers for permission to enter the Lord’s assembly (Deut 23:1-8). The pursuit of national purity unified all of Israelite life (Deut 23:15-25:19).

Finally, if Israel was going to enter Canaan and live, they needed to remember their dependence upon God’s provision (Deuteronomy 26). This included the practice of giving the first fruits (Deut 26:1-11) and providing for the needy through a tithe every third year (Deut 26:12-15). Here Moses affirmed Israel’s role in the covenant; their obedience was the display of their relationship with the Lord their God (Deut 26:16-19).

The authors of the New Testament took up several of Moses’ phrases in Deuteronomy 21-26 to establish principles of theology and ethics in the storyline of Scripture.

(1) In Matt 22:24//Mark 12:19//Luke 20:29, the Sadducees used Moses’ command in Deut 25:5-6 that a brother have children with the wife of a brother who died as a basis to question the reality of the resurrection. The Sadducee’s query was an attempt to catch Jesus as His popularity grew. He took it as an opportunity to teach plainly about the reality of the resurrection, grounding it in the fact that God is eternal—as Moses heard the Lord say to him at the bush, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob” (Exod 3:6).

(2) In Matt 19:7//Mark 10:4, the Pharisees cited Moses’ statement in Deut 24:1 that a woman be issued a certificate of divorce if her husband wished to send her away. If a husband issued a formal divorce certificate, it signified that he would not take her back again. Moses’ command allowed a woman with the certificate of divorce to marry a different man and prevented her former husband from later changing his mind and claiming her again. The Pharisees saw Moses’ command as an expansive legitimization for divorce. Jesus exposed the heart of the matter and warned the Pharisees that Moses’ injunction resulted from human sin. Jesus offered His followers participation in the kingdom of God on earth and called them to demonstrate His kingdom through enduring marital relations.

(3) In Gal 3:13, Paul quoted Moses’ statement in Deut 21:22-23, “If anyone is found guilty of an offense deserving the death penalty and is executed, and you hang his body on a tree, you are not to leave his corpse on the tree overnight but are to bury him that day, for anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse,” applying the last phrase to Christ’s crucifixion. Paul concluded that since Christ had hung on the tree for believers, He had fulfilled the curse the law brought on all who attempted to follow it. “The purpose was that the blessing of Abraham would come to the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, so that we could receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Gal 3:14), Paul wrote.

(4) In 1 Cor 9:9 and 1 Tim 5:18, Paul quoted Moses’ statement in Deut 25:4 that Israelite farmers should not muzzle an ox while it was treading grain. Paul saw the text in light of Christ’s church and her leaders. If God demanded that animals enjoy the fruit of their labor, apostles and elders should be paid a fair wage.