Deuteronomy 21, Isaiah 48

Read Deuteronomy 21 and Isaiah 48.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 21.

A few chapters ago, in Deuteronomy 17, we read about capital punishment and the very high standards that had to be met before it could be used. Today’s chapter touches again on the death penalty in a couple of different ways:

  • An animal was to be executed as a substitute for the unknown murderer in an unsolved murder according to verses 1-9. The purpose of this law was to uphold the value of human life by making sure that there was some kind of life-for-life exchange if the killer could not be found.
  • A rebellious son could be executed if his parents charged him with rebellion in the presence of the elders of the town (see vv. 18-21).
  • Verses 22-23 regulated the public display of someone who was executed. God’s law required burial for anyone who was displayed in this way “because anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse.”

Let’s consider that last instruction in verses 22-23 today. In each of the death penalty cases we’ve come across so far, God’s word commanded the method by which the death penalty must be… um… executed. In every case that I can remember, God’s law required the method of execution to be stoning. Verse 21 of this very chapter, for example, commands, “…all the men of his town are to stone him to death.”

Stoning someone to death required binding that person’s hands and feet so that he couldn’t run away. Once bound, the person was thrown into a pit and the witnesses or the elders would throw large rocks at him until he died. Usually the first stone thrown would be a very large rock that would be dropped on the person’s head so that he lost consciousness immediately and possibly would even die from that strike. It is not the most humane way to die, but it was the only way available in their society that multiple people–representing the entire community–could take part together in the execution.

Now, because God’s word prescribed the use of stoning as the method of execution, why did God include these verses about someone who is executed and hung on a pole? This law did not require that the dead body be hung on a pole this way; it only regulated such a pole-hanging if it ever were to occur.

Also, why would the law say, “anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse” but not anyone “guilty of a capital offense” (v. 22a) is under God’s curse? In other words, why does the curse apply only to the one executed if he is hung on a pole?

One reason that the Israelites might hang someone on a pole is to publicly display the dead body. The purpose here would be to display God’s curse on the man who was executed and hopefully to deter others who might be tempted to commit the same offense. We don’t know enough about daily life in Israel to know if this was ever used but there is certainly no instance of it in the Old Testament historical books that I can think of.

The New Testament, of course, does provide an example that would fit this description which is our Lord Jesus himself. Although he was not “guilty of a capital offense” (v. 22) personally, he came to serve as a substitute for our capital offenses against God. As our substitute, he was cursed by God (Isa 53:4c-d, Gal 3:13) so that we could be blessed with eternal life.

These two simple verses in Moses’s law, verses that may never have been relevant to any situation that Israel ever faced before Jesus’s death, remind us of the blessing of forgiveness we have in Christ. But they also show us how God foreshadowed the atonement of Christ for us in his word, thousands of years before Jesus was even born. This is one of many reasons why we can believe the Bible and know that it is God’s word.

Genesis 6, Ezra 6, Psalms 1-3

Read Genesis 6, Ezra 6, and Psalms 1-3.

This devotional is about Genesis 6.

Critics of our faith commonly describe God — especially “the God of the Old Testament”– as someone who is angry by nature and who excessively and brutally pours out wrath on humanity through supernatural judgments, natural disasters, and attacks from enemy nations. Our passage for today, Genesis 6, is one example that these critics bring up.

It is true that verses 6 and 7 say, “The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. 7 So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” It is also true that Genesis describes the outpouring of God’s wrath through the flood in the coming chapters of Genesis.

What goes unmentioned by critics, and is sometimes overlooked even by believers, is what Genesis 6 describes about why God was angry and why he determined to kill humanity. Verse 5 says, “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.” The fall of humanity into sin, described in Genesis 3, led to unmitigated depravity in the human race. That is why God was angry and determined to destroy humanity. The actions of people were wicked according to verse 5a, but verse 5b says that the thoughts of humanity were relentlessly wicked: “…every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.”

Those are general descriptions of the sinfulness of humanity, but what were the specific sins that God was so angry about? The only one mentioned directly here in Genesis 6 is violence. Verse 11 says, “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence.” Like Cain who killed his brother Abel, then, people on earth were forcefully wounding and killing one another. Our society has redefined and accepted as normal many sins that God’s word condemns, but everyone still agrees that wounding and/or killing another person without any justification is depraved. That’s why God was so unhappy and sent the flood. It wasn’t that he was cosmically and irreparably cranky, bad-tempered, and mean. It was that humanity was globally and unrepentantly cranky, bad-tempered, mean, and brutal to one another.

The flood, then, was an act of judgment. God, our Creator, judged the human race because of its violence and its wicked obsession with violence as an object of human thought. Instead of thinking about how to love others, work productively and profitably with others, and improve themselves and the human race, people thought continuously about how to hurt others, take advantage of others, and end the lives of others.

Despite his determination to destroy humanity for its sins, God was merciful to Noah. Note that Noah “found favor” with God first in verse 8 before God declared him to be “a righteous man” and “blameless” in verse 9. In other words, Noah didn’t earn the salvation God gave him in the ark. God had mercy on him first (v. 8) and, as a result of God’s mercy, Noah became “righteous,” “blameless,” and “walked with God” (v. 9).

This is how God works. He saved us as Titus 3:5 says, “not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” Just as Noah was saved from the coming flood of God’s wrath in this life, so God will save us eternally from his coming wrath in the future. We–all of us, including Noah–deserve the wrath of God that is coming. It is not our own righteousness or blamelessness that saves us, but only the mercy of God.

Having received that mercy in Christ, let’s follow Noah’s example. Just as he was ” a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time” (v. 9b), so let us be righteous and blameless among our people by the grace of God. Just as Noah “walked with God” (v. 9c) by His grace, so let us walk with him daily as well.