Monthly Archives: January 2016

Deuteronomy 25: Punishment, Justice, and the Enemy

Deuteronomy 25: 1-3 The Limit of Punishment

1 Suppose two persons have a dispute and enter into litigation, and the judges decide between them, declaring one to be in the right and the other to be in the wrong. 2 If the one in the wrong deserves to be flogged, the judge shall make that person lie down and be beaten in his presence with the number of lashes proportionate to the offense. 3 Forty lashes may be given but not more; if more lashes than these are given, your neighbor will be degraded in your sight.

Deuteronomy believes in a harsh justice but it also sets limits on the execution of justice or revenge. This is one of those places where the dignity and reputation of the neighbor limit the maximum punishment of lashes the neighbor can receive as forty. The action takes place in the sight of the judge who orders the proportionate punishment so that the dignity of the offender is preserved. Although we may live in a society that has trouble with this type of corporal punishment, this is a relatively new thing in our society. The idea of submitting oneself to the measured discipline of the community seems to be an expectation for being a part of the society of Israel. The Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:24 can claim that five times he received the punishment of forty lashes minus one in addition to the other punishment he lists, and this is one of the many indications that Paul saw himself remaining as a part of the Jewish community since he submitted to the discipline.

In our own society we have become very litigious and often use fines or imprisonment as a means of discipline. Yet, when it comes to these fines and imprisonments which can often be excessive for certain crimes (particularly drug related offenses with harsh minimum sentences) in addition to the shame that comes with a criminal record we may want to relook at the idea of punishment that does not permanently diminish our neighbor in our eyes. Are judges enabled to give punishments that are proportional to the offense or are they bound by laws that are harsh allowing the guilty not chance at a non-degraded standing within society. These are difficult issues, but they are the type of big questions of a society that the book of Deuteronomy deals with.

Deuteronomy 25: 4 Care for the Working Animals

4 You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.

This is an acknowledgment that the working animals are not machines to be driven mercilessly, but even in small ways the lost grain that an ox eats while treading the grain is a part of its due. It is one of the windows into a worldview where animals and plants (see Deuteronomy 20 on trees in war for example) are given some protection as well. They all are a part of the creation of the LORD and are entitled to the benefits of striving with humanity to carve a living from the earth. Paul references this section in 1 Corinthians 9:9 in his discussion of his authority and that he could ask for a material benefit for his work among the Corinthians even though he states he made no use of those rights. 1 Timothy 5: 17-18 also uses this line of argument for the supporting of elders.

Deuteronomy 25: 5-10 Levirate Marriage

Francesco Hayez, A Portrait of a Woman as Ruth (1853)

Francesco Hayez, A Portrait of a Woman as Ruth (1853)

 5 When brothers reside together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her, taking her in marriage, and performing the duty of a husband’s brother to her, 6 and the firstborn whom she bears shall succeed to the name of the deceased brother, so that his name may not be blotted out of Israel. 7 But if the man has no desire to marry his brother’s widow, then his brother’s widow shall go up to the elders at the gate and say, “My husband’s brother refuses to perpetuate his brother’s name in Israel; he will not perform the duty of a husband’s brother to me.” 8 Then the elders of his town shall summon him and speak to him. If he persists, saying, “I have no desire to marry her,” 9 then his brother’s wife shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, pull his sandal off his foot, spit in his face, and declare, “This is what is done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house.” 10 Throughout Israel his family shall be known as “the house of him whose sandal was pulled off.”

 This passage enters into the narrative of Israel in both the story of Tamar in Genesis 38 as well as the book of Ruth. Deuteronomy is written in an intensely patriarchal world where barrenness is a crisis because it threatens the perpetuation of the family’s name. Women were honored in their role as bearers of children and in their role in allowing for the continuance of the line. The idea of Levirate marriage is foreign to our time, where the idea of marrying the wife of a deceased brother seems out of place. Yet, in the world of Deuteronomy it is an expectation and an obligation. The brother is to ensure that there is an heir to inherit the deceased’s land and title. This also provided protection for the widow for she both has a family she is brought into and with the birth of an heir there is the promise that she will be provided for once her son inherits. In the ancient world, where no government safety net exists, children were the security of their parents in their old age. Even in the ten commandments this concern is addressed in the command to honor the father and the mother (Deuteronomy 5: 16).

In the story of Tamar, who gets herself pregnant by Judah when he denies her his youngest son, is a fascinating short story of a woman who boldly claims her rights to protection and inheritance however she needs to. As Judah can acknowledge at the end of the story, “She is more in the right than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” (Genesis 38: 26) In the book of Ruth this passage serves as the law behind the meeting of Boaz and the unnamed next-of-kin where the issues of inheritance and marriage are tied together. The kinsman acknowledges that he cannot redeem the property, and marry Ruth with the property passing to her children, and so the ‘right’ passes to Boaz. It is uncertain how deep of a shaming was associated with the unwillingness or inability to care for the needs of a widow, as Deanna Thompson states, “This public shaming would give this family the reputation of not providing for its widows, thus making it more difficult for the family to contract marriages for their sons.” (Thompson, 2014, p. 183)

Deuteronomy 25:11 An Unfair Fight

  11 If men get into a fight with one another, and the wife of one intervenes to rescue her husband from the grip of his opponent by reaching out and seizing his genitals, 12 you shall cut off her hand; show no pity.

Deuteronomy is written from a male dominant perspective and to the author of Deuteronomy the idea of a woman ‘sexually shaming’ a man in public (Thompson, 2014, p. 184). The genitals of another man which are exposed and could potentially put the man and the woman on an equal footing are to be off limits in a fight. As we saw in Deuteronomy 23: 1-8 the damaging of the testicles or penis is enough to make a man no longer a man in the eyes of the assembly. For men sexual generativity is on par with sight and limbs and the punishment listed of mutilation is only prescribed for one other event (in Exodus 21: 22-25) where a man injures a woman and causes her to miscarry. The husband may demand whatever punishment he sees fit in that case. Martin Luther addresses this broadly with the maxim, “Evil should not be done that good may come of it.” (Luther, 1960 (1525), p. 9:249) where he talks about the woman wanting to do good on behalf of her husband and yet doing it in a ‘cowardly’ way.

Again this brings up issues centered around women’s rights compared to men’s rights and the rights of self-defense. There are times I am convinced we are more concerned with protecting men than women, and while we might want to protect the vulnerable areas of both men and women how do we also ensure that women are given the ability and permission to protect themselves in an unfair fight and do we accuse that woman of sexually shaming the man or simply attempting to protect herself or her family?

 Deuteronomy 25: 13-16 Fair and Just Weights and Measures

 13 You shall not have in your bag two kinds of weights, large and small. 14 You shall not have in your house two kinds of measures, large and small. 15 You shall have only a full and honest weight; you shall have only a full and honest measure, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. 16 For all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are abhorrent to the LORD your God.

Justice is a critical part of the people’s life within the land. There will always be the temptation to make a business deal work to one’s advantage and if one can skew measurements and weights in one’s favor one can cheat one’s neighbor out of their fair share. This type of injustice is another of the things that obtain the stronger disapproval of being abhorrent to the LORD. Economic injustices would be a common cry of the prophets for example in Amos 8: 5-6: saying, “When will the new moon be over so we may sell grain; and the Sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances.

In a barter economy where grain and oil are traded it is easy to think of concrete ways where this type of imbalance could be used to create economic advantages and disadvantages. Yet, in our world sometimes the examples are a little harder to see. When a company uses an inferior material that produces an item that wears out quickly, or a corporation delays in repairing a safety concern because it is cheaper to allow the improper item to remain in use, or when practices are used that harm the land and environment and then others have to bear the cost of cleaning up the land. In our days, as in the ancient times, acting dishonestly and can affect how long our days are in our own land. With the crisis with the water supply in Flint, Michigan we can see the cost when individuals and a government are not honest in their measurements and allow things to become unsafe for their society.

Deuteronomy 25: 17-19 The Amalekites

John Everett Millais (1829-1896), Victory O Lord!

John Everett Millais (1829-1896), Victory O Lord!

 17 Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey out of Egypt, 18 how he attacked you on the way, when you were faint and weary, and struck down all who lagged behind you; he did not fear God. 19 Therefore when the LORD your God has given you rest from all your enemies on every hand, in the land that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; do not forget.

The warrior God re-emerges here at the end of chapter 25 and demands revenge upon the Amalekites. In Exodus 17: 8-16 we hear the story of the conflict between the people of Israel, shortly after their emergence from Egypt, and Amalek. In the story Moses holds up his staff and the people prevail, but as Moses’ arms become tired the people falter, so Aaron and Hur hold up his hands and the battle is won. As Exodus states:

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this as a reminder in a book and recite it in the hearing of Joshua: I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.” And Moses built an altar and called it, the LORD is my banner, He said, “A hand upon the banner of the LORD! The LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” Exodus 17: 14-16

The Amalekites become the enemy memorialized in a slogan, much as ‘Remember the Alamo’ or ‘Remember Pearl Harbor’ allowed for Texans or Americans to call to mind an earlier attack of an enemy. The people are to never forget this action and to never again allow it to happen. This memory sets the stage for a contentious history between the peoples and the people of Amalek enter the story of Israel again in the curses of Balaam in Numbers 24: 20, “First among the nations was Amalek, but its end is to perish forever,” in 1 Samuel 15 where King Saul defeats the Amalekites but leaves King Agag alive (disobeying the LORD) and probably in Esther 3:1 where Haman the Agagite is thought to be a descendent of Agag and the hatred between the remnant of Israel and the remnant of Amalek continues to burn.

We have seen many instances in history where ancient feuds emerge in surprising ways leading to acts of extreme violence and genocide. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu can state, “there is no future without forgiveness.” I talk more about this in the related passage of Deuteronomy 20 (or in the passages at the end of Esther, Esther 9:1-10 and 11-19). I spend more addressing the way passages like this would have been heard in the ancient world and how we talk about them today and don’t need to rearticulate them at this point. Deuteronomy is not a text that is always comfortable for us and passages like this where the people are commanded to blot out another people are passages we will have to struggle against if we are to embrace Christ’s call to love our enemies. In a time where many people want to use ‘Never forget’ in relation to the terrorist attacks of September 11th, we may also be condemning ourselves to a long history of warfare and hatred unless we can learn to remember rightly where the past violence does not define the totality of our future. I speak more about this idea of remembering rightly, influenced heavily by Miroslav Volf’s book The End of Memory here.

Living Brave Semester Reflection 2- Vulnerability Anthem

I guess I just got lost, being someone else…

So this ended up being another reflection on the final exercise of this week’s part of the Living Brave Semester where we were supposed to choose an anthem for that time before we are honest and enter into the arena where we share who we are, our thoughts and our dreams. Something that prepares us mentally to show up and be seen. When Brené Brown started describing this exercise the song that immediately came to mind was Let Me Be Myself by Three Doors Down.

I had the opportunity to see Three Doors Down in concert last November in Carrolton, and I have enjoyed their music for several years but this song was always one of my favorites, but I think particularly because it came into my life in a time of a lot of changes. There was a time where I felt like the first line of this song, that I had become lost being someone else…fitting in with all the expectations that others had placed upon me. I felt in many ways like I was living in different roles, my role as a pastor, as a husband or father, as a son or an older brother, and while I knew how to play all the parts well I felt more like I was fitting in than truly belonging in many of the roles. There were many parts of myself that got pushed further and further behind the masks that I wore in each of these roles (masks that said what was permissible and what was not) and the reality was I lost track of who wrote the script for each role. The crises that came with leaving a congregation, going through a divorce and letting go of a dream (I reflect on the divorce part of this here, here and here) forced me to re-look many pieces of my life. In a very fertile time of rediscovery and difficult work I learned an incredible amount about myself and rediscovered parts of myself that had been abandoned in the midst of living into the expectations of all of these roles. The reality is that being able to be honest about who I am has made me a far better pastor, person, father and, now that I have re-married, husband.

The chorus of the song states
Please, would you one time
Let me be myself
So I can shine with my own light
Let me be myself
For a while, if you don’t mind
Let me be myself

And while it may seem incredibly absurd to have to ask for permission to be ourselves, I know I can relate to the lyrics at this point (and throughout the song). Yet, the song also reminds me of the difference between where I was and where I am today and when I start to fall back into patterns that are designed for fitting in rather than belonging I need to be reminded of the cost of not being myself. There will always be places and times where we keep our opinions to ourselves, keep healthy boundaries and share pieces of ourselves with those who have earned it but I also have learned the cost of not being able to share who I am-because at some point you begin to get lost being someone else.

Deuteronomy 24: Divorce, Purity and Justice

"Ten Commandments by A.Losenko (?)" by Anton Losenko - Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

“Ten Commandments by A.Losenko (?)” by Anton Losenko – Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –

Deuteronomy 24:1-5  Divorce, Remarriage and Wedded Bliss

1 Suppose a man enters into marriage with a woman, but she does not please him because he finds something objectionable about her, and so he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house; she then leaves his house 2 and goes off to become another man’s wife. 3 Then suppose the second man dislikes her, writes her a bill of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house (or the second man who married her dies); 4 her first husband, who sent her away, is not permitted to take her again to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that would be abhorrent to the LORD, and you shall not bring guilt on the land that the LORD your God is giving you as a possession.
 5 When a man is newly married, he shall not go out with the army or be charged with any related duty. He shall be free at home one year, to be happy with the wife whom he has married.

As a person who has gone through a divorce (I share some of my reflections on this here, here and here) I found it interesting that this is really the only place that divorce is discussed in the law for the general population. There are the prohibitions of a priest marrying a divorced woman in Leviticus 21 and the ability of a divorced daughter of a Levite to return to her father’s home and eat of his food in Leviticus 22: 13 but otherwise the reality of divorce is simply assumed. Numbers 30, for example can discuss that the vows a divorced woman makes are bound to her, while a married woman the husband (or if unmarried the father) may nullify the vows-but divorced women are an assumption as is their remarriage. We saw that in Deuteronomy 22: 13-30 a couple situations (the false accusation of lost virginity before marriage or a virgin who is violated and the man pays the bride price for her) where a woman cannot be divorced but in the Hebrew Bible divorce seems mainly to be an assumed option for men. Here the issue of divorce comes up in the complicated issue of a woman who is divorced, remarries, is either widowed or divorced again and a prohibition against her remarrying her first husband.

Here, as in the discussions of blood guilt in Deuteronomy 19, 21 and 22, the concern is for contaminating the land. The re-unification of first husband with the now defiled ex-wife (notice that the husband is not considered defiled since polygynous weddings were accepted in Israel). This is an issue that receives the strong condemnation of being ‘abhorrent to the LORD.’ In the author of Deuteronomy’s ordered world this is simply something that is not to be done.

Deuteronomy discusses things from a male-centered perspective and it is inconceivable that a woman would ask for a divorce. A husband may release the woman from the relationship, but not the other way around in the ancient world. In releasing the woman from the relationship he also removes her from her means of support. For women in the ancient world there were limited options of support, so a divorced woman would be property-less, and if she wasn’t accepted back into her father’s home (and this may have been an issue of shame so severe that a family would not re-accept their child) then she either must re-marry, or be reduced to begging, or prostitution. Even with the provisions to care for the vulnerable outlined below, being a divorced woman in the ancient world would put one at a severe economic disadvantage.

This passage takes on a life in two other significant places in the Bible, the first being Jeremiah 3 where God is cast in the role of the husband who wants to re-take the wife who abandoned her marriage.  God refuses to abandon God’s love for God’s adulterous people (using the language of Jeremiah) and is willing to set aside the past for the possibility of something new. The other place this passage comes up is in Mark 10, and its parallel in Matthew 19, where Jesus is asked by a group of Pharisees whether divorce is lawful. Jesus interestingly reframes the issue that the man who divorces commits adultery against the divorced wife and the woman who divorces (not a conceived possibility in Deuteronomy) commits adultery against her former husband.

Divorce is a difficult issue in ancient times and in modern times. The church has often been a place where divorced men and women were excluded or made to feel like second class citizens. In earlier times, even though my own divorce was not something I wanted or did anything to cause, I would not have been permitted to serve as a pastor within my denomination. There are other denominations where this still would be the case. I have certainly had verses like Titus 1: 6 where it refers to a bishop being, “someone who is blameless, married only once, whose children are believers, not accused of debauchery and not rebellious.” Texts like this are difficult, but essential to wrestle with in a world where we also find divorce as an assumed reality. As we as individuals and churches struggle with issues of relationship like divorce and sexuality it is important to exercise wisdom and compassion. Divorce is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, even in modern times it is an incredible emotional, financial and spiritual drain on a person. While a man or woman who is divorced in our society has opportunities to re-invent themselves they need communities to care for them while they and the affected families are in very vulnerable states.

The final line in this section links back to Deuteronomy 20 where a person who is recently married is exempted from military service. Here the issue is expanded slightly giving a one-year window where a newly married man is freed from military service.  Here the language can be read that the exemption is so that the wife may be happy, which would be an uncommon acknowledgment of the value of women’s feeling in the ancient world. From a person who served in the Army this is would have interesting implications if it were applied in modern times (and I would think in times of conflict the marriage rate would skyrocket to avoid wartime service), yet in the world of Deuteronomy it makes sense. It is essential for the man to have the ability to ensure a future descendent who will carry on his name and inheritance in Israel. I also wonder how effective this was in practice when the elites would have been able to marry multiple times, and perhaps prevent themselves the risk of military action. Again, very different from the experience of the modern military which is filled with stories of people being married immediately before deployment.

Deuteronomy 24: 6-22: Purity and Justice

  6 No one shall take a mill or an upper millstone in pledge, for that would be taking a life in pledge.
 7 If someone is caught kidnaping another Israelite, enslaving or selling the Israelite, then that kidnaper shall die. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.
 8 Guard against an outbreak of a leprous skin disease by being very careful; you shall carefully observe whatever the levitical priests instruct you, just as I have commanded them. 9 Remember what the LORD your God did to Miriam on your journey out of Egypt.
 10 When you make your neighbor a loan of any kind, you shall not go into the house to take the pledge. 11 You shall wait outside, while the person to whom you are making the loan brings the pledge out to you. 12 If the person is poor, you shall not sleep in the garment given you as the pledge. 13 You shall give the pledge back by sunset, so that your neighbor may sleep in the cloak and bless you; and it will be to your credit before the LORD your God.
 14 You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy laborers, whether other Israelites or aliens who reside in your land in one of your towns. 15 You shall pay them their wages daily before sunset, because they are poor and their livelihood depends on them; otherwise they might cry to the LORD against you, and you would incur guilt.
 16 Parents shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their parents; only for their own crimes may persons be put to death.
 17 You shall not deprive a resident alien or an orphan of justice; you shall not take a widow’s garment in pledge. 18 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 left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all your undertakings. 20 When you beat your olive trees, do not strip what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. 21 When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. 22 Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this.
This portion of chapter 24 deals predominantly with protecting the vulnerable within the community from exploitation, but within this passage is also a provision for protection from skin disease. The guarding against the “leprous” skin disease, which we honestly don’t know what this disease is-it isn’t what would be medically categorized as leprosy (also known as Hansen’s disease).  The mention of Miriam and Aaron’s speaking against Moses where Miriam is afflicted with this skin disease (Numbers 12) is an interesting narrative linkage that the text makes. Miriam (not Aaron, perhaps because of his role as priest) is placed outside the community, yet the community waits for seven days when she is healed and is able to be re-united with the community. Leviticus 13 and 14 go into great detail for the priests on how they are to diagnose and deal with these skin diseases and it was a significant issue in the community. There are numerous places where lepers are lifted up as a part of the narrative throughout the bible, too many to address here, and apparently this was a significant issue among the people of Israel they had to guard against.

The remainder of the chapter deals with caring for the vulnerable in the community. Verse 6, dealing with taking a mill or millstone in pledge prevents a person’s livelihood from being taken which would not only prevent the repayment of the debt but also imperil the person’s ability to live. To take a person’s livelihood is to deprive them of life. In a similar way they are not to be a society where a person is taken captive or sold into slavery, this was not a practice the people of Israel were to tolerate and this is probably behind the command to not allow kidnapping. In verse 6 the people of Israel are prevented from depriving another Israelite of livelihood and in verse 7 they are prevented from depriving another person of freedom.

In Deuteronomy 23: 19-20 there is already a prohibition against charging interest on debt to another Israelite, but Deuteronomy spends even more time on the issue of debt here. This must have been a pressing issue among the people. As Deanna Thompson can state these laws reveal, “a fundamental respect for the dignity of the neighbor; even if he stands in need of money.” (Thompson, 2014, p. 178)  A person was to respect the neighbor’s property and to wait outside the home to receive a pledge (preventing the lender from voyeuristically deciding what among their neighbor’s property they would confiscate). Nor may a person’s means of being warm at night be taken away. As the prophet Amos can criticize in his time:

They lay themselves down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge;
 and in the house of God they drink wine bought with fines they imposed. Amos 2:8

In any society the poor and vulnerable are likely to be preyed upon by those in power and debt can become a burden that they cannot ever emerge from. Yet, Israel was to be a society that cared for the poor in their midst and did not allow a neighbor to become permanently enslaved or burdened by their debt. In a similar manner the following verses relating to paying the poor and needy laborers daily and not holding onto wages for it could put their livelihood at risk. In a society where the poor are preyed upon by ‘payday loans’ and high interest rates on purchases, higher prices for goods and pay schedules that benefit the business but may not benefit the employee we have a lot we could learn from this view of economic justice based upon being a covenant people.

When I first encountered liberation theology[i] the idea of a “preferential option for the poor” it troubled me, because it seemed that God was picking one group over another. The reality is that the God of the Bible does pick, and that this is a faithful witness to the God we come to know.  As Miroslav Volf can state eloquently:

Consider, second, God’s partiality. In the biblical traditions, when God looks at a widow, for instance, God does not see “a free and rational agent,” but a woman with no standing in society. When God looks at a sojourner, God does not see simply a human being, but a stranger, cut off from the network of relations, subject to prejudice and scapegoating. How does the God who “executes justice for the oppressed” act toward widows and strangers? Just as God acts toward any other human being? No. God is partial to them. God “watches over the strangers” and “upholds the orphan and the widow” (Psalm 147: 7-9) in a way that God does not watch over and uphold the powerful.
Why is God partial to widows and strangers? In a sense, because God is partial to everyone—including the powerful, whom God resists in order to protect the widow and the stranger. (Volf, 1996, p. 221f.)

God seeks justice, but not revenge. We live in a revenge culture, if a person harms me there is the desire to make sure that this could never happen again. In the United States, and much of the world, this also informs foreign policy. Revenge in interpersonal conflicts is addressed here, where the idea of “if you hurt me, I will not only hurt you but all those close to you” is forbidden. A person is to be penalized for their own offense, not their children or parents. Justice ultimately seeks to establish an end to the cycle of punishment. In our own society where children of parents who are in prison are often set up to follow in their footsteps by the lack of opportunities and support for a different path maybe we too can imagine how we could imagine a society where children are not punished for the mistakes of the parents and vice versa.

These commands to help the vulnerable, highlighted in the widow, alien and orphan, are brought into the narrative of liberation of the people from their slavery. In Exodus 23: 9 we hear for the first time this command brought into the narrative “You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” The people are to remember their own situation was not one where they ‘pulled themselves up by their bootstraps’ but instead a gift of their covenant identity with their LORD. They are given concrete ways to enact this justice towards the vulnerable. They are to be shown justice, not taken advantage of. These landless ones are to have a method of living off the plentiful harvest that the people are promised in the land. They are to be different than the world they knew in Egypt, or the societies they see around them. “The neighbor—especially the neighbor in need—lives in a world governed not by the ruthless “iron law” of the market or by the unencumbered autonomy of the powerful, but by the same God who curbed Pharaoh.” (Brueggemann, 2001 , p. 240f.) Throughout their life, they would struggle with this view of justice. The prophets would often cry about the way the widow, orphans and the resident aliens were being denied justice, being oppressed by practices designed to keep them poor and being denied their rights within the land. The vision was a noble one, and yet, justice is a hard dream to achieve. Yet, even though dreams of justice may be difficult to achieve in reality it does not free us from the struggle of attempting to live into the vision of justice that God calls us to.

[i] Liberation theology is a broad term for theological perspectives that came out of various experiences of oppression. Liberation theology started with the experience of base communities in Latin America among the poor, but also now are experienced in black liberation theology, feminist liberation theology and many other branches of theology which utilize the experience of oppression as a lens to encounter God and God’s action towards the world.

Living Brave Semester Reflection 1- Central Values


I have found Brené Brown’s work incredibly helpful in my personal and professional life and I am excited to be taking part in her Living Brave semester. In addition to the exercises I wanted to reflect on something that came out of each session for me that I want to spend a little more time reflecting upon. The final exercise of the initial session involved identifying the 1-2 values that light the way in our lives, and she presents a huge list to choose from. I tried to get down to two, but ended up with three-two being in perhaps tension or paradox to make sense of the third one. The three values for me were authenticity, grace and competence.

Competence- I have always been a person who is driven to be good at whatever I do. This has its benefits and challenges, but it is a part of my personality that is not going to change. I am naturally curious and want to continually learn and grow as well as teach and I have extremely high standards for myself. The benefit of this is that I am a self-directed learner and worker who probably does far more than what is expected of me in most circumstances. I can set my mind to a task, almost any task, and I will find a way to learn and master it. On the weakness side this means my default is to judge myself and others by their competence (and at its worst to even assign value based on competence). While this fuels my creativity it can also be a harsh taskmaster and I need the next value to be its paradox and provide the (hopefully) healthy tension that I live within.

Grace- There are a cluster of faith and forgiveness related words that help flesh out what grace means to me, and the understanding of grace does come out of my faith. Fundamentally I believe that God is a gracious God and that God’s calling to me is to be a gracious person. Grace helps me to be far less judgmental towards others than I would otherwise be inclined to be.  It also helps me to own my failures and to learn from them, or to acknowledge the times when I am driving myself mercilessly and unrealistically.  It has also allowed me to acknowledge creativity as something that is sometimes not within my control, but like a muse visits for a time and may depart at another. It has allowed me to find peace in the midst of the work and significantly more joy in life.

Authenticity-To me this is that place where the grace and the competence meet to make me the complex person that I am. I try very hard to be open and honest in my personal and professional life, no longer striving to fit in but rather embracing who I am and claiming my gifts and struggles. I can be hard on myself when I feel a disconnect between my beliefs and my actions, which comes from the competence side, but I have also learned that forgiveness and grace are a fundamental part of who I am and hope to be and I want others to see that embodied in my life.


Deuteronomy 23: Boundaries, Purity, Interest, Vows and Limits

Rembrandt, The Baptism of the Eunuch (1626)

Rembrandt, The Baptism of the Eunuch (1626)

Deuteronomy 23: 1-8 Boundaries of the Assembly

1 No one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the LORD.

 2 Those born of an illicit union shall not be admitted to the assembly of the LORD. Even to the tenth generation, none of their descendants shall be admitted to the assembly of the LORD.

 3 No Ammonite or Moabite shall be admitted to the assembly of the LORD. Even to the tenth generation, none of their descendants shall be admitted to the assembly of the LORD, 4 because they did not meet you with food and water on your journey out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam son of Beor, from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you. 5 (Yet the LORD your God refused to heed Balaam; the LORD your God turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the LORD your God loved you.) 6 You shall never promote their welfare or their prosperity as long as you live.

 7 You shall not abhor any of the Edomites, for they are your kin. You shall not abhor any of the Egyptians, because you were an alien residing in their land. 8 The children of the third generation that are born to them may be admitted to the assembly of the LORD.

The Bible is not a unified document where there is only one position on any particular issue, instead it is a dialogue of many voices trying to reflect faithfully on who God is and who they are to be. Deuteronomy 23: 1-8, and the theology of Deuteronomy offers a great deal of influence for many of the voices of the Hebrew Scriptures on issues of who is a part of the community (or specifically here the assembly) and who is not. Holiness and purity are large concerns for the author of Deuteronomy and occupy an important part of their vision of what it means to be the people of the God of Israel.

One the first prohibition, which has to do with males who have been emasculated, they are (according to Deuteronomy) not to be a part of the assembly of the LORD. Here is a place where we see how being admitted is also tied to sexual generativity or the ability to produce offspring. A person who is unable, physically, to be sexually active was probably not viewed as fully male and therefore not a legitimate part of the assembly which would be charged with making decisions on behalf of the community. Here is another place where we see that maleness was a large part of what it was to have status in the community.

The second prohibition is against children born of illicit unions, or to use the derogatory term bastard children. Apparently the rules that have proceeded this (for example Deuteronomy 22) have not prevented the reality of children outside of marriage, but this prohibition places them as a disadvantaged group outside the assembly. This may also reflect children born of mixed marriages between Israelites and non-Israelites as are further outline in the coming verses. Once again they are separated from the assembly because their presence corrupts the pureness of the people of Israel.

Finally, there are the specific prohibitions directed at the unions with Ammonites, Moabites, Edomites and Egyptians. These specific prohibitions, much harsher on Ammonites and Moabites, are difficult to make sense of based upon the narrative of Exodus and Numbers. The Ammonites and Moabites, according to this section of Deuteronomy, failed in the imperative of hospitality to the people of Israel. In Deuteronomy 2 the people of Moab and the Ammonites were not allowed to be invaded because their land had also been given by promise to their ancestors by the LORD. In Numbers 20: 14-21 the Edomites are the first to refuse hospitality and do not allow the Israelites to pass through their land, refusing to offer water, food or passage and come out to meet the Israelites with a large force diverting them on their journey, yet they are not to be abhorred and they, like the Egyptians who enslaved the people but are instead remembered here for the acceptance of them as aliens into their land at the end of Genesis. In Numbers 22-24 we have the story of the Moabites hiring Balaam to curse Israel (referred to in verse 4-5) and perhaps this narrative is a part of the distinction as well as the story that follow it about Israelite men beginning to have sexual relations with the women of Moab and the way this led some of Israel to begin to worship Baal of Peor (see Numbers 25).

As I mentioned at the beginning of this section, the bible is more like a dialogue than a unified voice. While the perspective of this portion of Deuteronomy will be echoed in book like Ezra and Nehemiah where there is a movement to exclude the foreigners from the community simply because they are foreigners. Yet, there are important counter voices throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. For example, the book of Ruth, where a Moabite woman becomes a model of what hospitality and faithfulness looks like and her courageous action as a woman in a man’s world not only wins her a place of honor among the people but she becomes the grandmother to King David (who according to these rules would have to be excluded from the assembly of the LORD).  Perhaps even more critical for the New Testament perspective are these surprising words from Isaiah 56:

3 Do not let the foreigner joined to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely separate me from his people”; and do not let the eunuch say, “I am just a dry tree.”
 4 For thus says the LORD: To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant,
 5 I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.
 6 And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant–
 7 these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.

Isaiah goes directly against the voice of Deuteronomy and Ezra and Nehemiah, seeing both eunuchs and foreigners as admitted if they hold fast to the covenant. The early church had to wrestle with their own place within this heritage and the witness of both Acts as well as the fact that we have the letters of Paul show that they moved to embrace Isaiah’s vision of God’s openness rather than Deuteronomy’s vision of attempting to legislate the purity of the people of Israel.

With all this talks of eunuchs and bastards we could be referring to the storyline of Game of Thrones rather than the bible, and this is a point where I think most people miss the complexity of the bible as well as the messiness of it. Game of Thrones, for example, depicts a brutal and messy reality but so does the narrative of scriptures. No matter how orderly Deuteronomy may want to make the world, it is fundamentally messy since it involves God’s interaction with flawed and forgetful people. Yet, when we are honest our world is messy as well. I think, for example, in our country the immigration debates feel pulled between the same types of poles—those who are worried about how immigrants might change our culture or nation and those who feel called to an inclusive vision of an American society. Both of these positions can claim a scriptural worldview (even though in our context they may play out as secular positions) but ultimately it is difficult to make an exclusive worldview Christian. One more scriptural reference before we close this reflection and that is the narrative of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8: 26-43. This is a part of a series of stories that reflect God’s movement of key leaders (Peter, Paul and here Philip) towards this more inclusive vision. As the eunuch, on hearing the narrative of Jesus can recognize it as a story where now instead of being excluded he has the possibility to be included and says to Philip, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” Philip, and eventually the early church would have to be stretched by God’s vision of inclusion they felt they were called to, and perhaps the struggles of the church in our own time about the boundaries of the assembly and leadership of our own assemblies reflect this ancient dialogue between purity and holiness and inclusion.


Deuteronomy 23: 9-16 Rules of Encampment

 9 When you are encamped against your enemies you shall guard against any impropriety.

 10 If one of you becomes unclean because of a nocturnal emission, then he shall go outside the camp; he must not come within the camp. 11 When evening comes, he shall wash himself with water, and when the sun has set, he may come back into the camp.

 12 You shall have a designated area outside the camp to which you shall go. 13 With your utensils you shall have a trowel; when you relieve yourself outside, you shall dig a hole with it and then cover up your excrement. 14 Because the LORD your God travels along with your camp, to save you and to hand over your enemies to you, therefore your camp must be holy, so that he may not see anything indecent among you and turn away from you.

 15 Slaves who have escaped to you from their owners shall not be given back to them. 16 They shall reside with you, in your midst, in any place they choose in any one of your towns, wherever they please; you shall not oppress them.

 Military service was a part of the expectations for the males of the people of Israel, and particularly in a narrative where Deuteronomy is spoken to the people of Israel prior to Joshua’s leading of the tribes in their conquest of the promised land these rules have immediate implications for the upcoming military actions. The ancient military force of the Hebrew people was not a professional army that spent its time training for war, but rather they were called upon in times of conflict to leave their homes and fields to be a part of the defense (or offensive actions) of Israel. Warfare is not neat and tidy even with a professional army, but things are heightened for the people of Israel theologically by their belief that God travels with them in their camp as they prepare for action, and as Deuteronomy 20 outlined their strength is not in their superior weaponry or equipment but the belief that the LORD will grant them victory.

Many people are familiar with the proverb, “Cleanliness is next to godliness” and while it is not a scriptural proverb it does resonate with the ordered world of Deuteronomy. Nocturnal emissions would be viewed as a contamination of the camp and the person would be excluded for a time and while the commands to carry a trowel to dig a hole for relieving oneself is a very practical command (and modern military forces do the same thing if they are in an area where portable facilities are not available). Yet, for Deuteronomy’s worldview it is less concerning that a fellow soldier might step in someone else’s excrement and more a concern for purity before the LORD who travels with their camp.

Interesting is the final command in relation to slaves, where slaves who are fleeing their captors are not to be returned but instead are to be allowed to settle among the people. This is different than the typical practice of much of the ancient world. Perhaps it draws upon their own narratives as people who were freed from slavery accepting others freed from slavery. This also builds upon an understanding of slavery outlined in Deuteronomy 15: 12-18 where the slavery in Israel is not a permanent thing and they, unlike Egypt, are not to have an economy based upon slave labor.

Deuteronomy 23: 17-18 Men, Women, Temple Service and Prostitution

 17 None of the daughters of Israel shall be a temple prostitute; none of the sons of Israel shall be a temple prostitute. 18 You shall not bring the fee of a prostitute or the wages of a male prostitute into the house of the LORD your God in payment for any vow, for both of these are abhorrent to the LORD your God.

Looking at this phrase was interesting for me because it challenged what I thought I knew. In English verse seventeen the term rendered temple prostitute for both the male and the female is simply the male and female form of “holy.” The term for prostitute is used in the following verse about the wages of a prostitute not being brought into the house of the LORD. It is easy to make assumptions if it is translated temple prostitute that sexually charged elements were a part of the worship of the surrounding culture and perhaps there was and perhaps there wasn’t. It may be the idea of having a female priestess of any type is behind this prohibition. While there is a prohibition against bringing the money made from prostitution into the temple there is no prohibition of the practice itself. Prostitution is simply assumed as a part of life in much of the ancient world, even if it needs to be kept away from the vision of the priests in the ordered worldview of Deuteronomy.

Deuteronomy 23: 19-20 Interest

 19 You shall not charge interest on loans to another Israelite, interest on money, interest on provisions, interest on anything that is lent. 20 On loans to a foreigner you may charge interest, but on loans to another Israelite you may not charge interest, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all your undertakings in the land that you are about to enter and possess.

The community of Israel as imagined by Deuteronomy is to be very different than either the societies of Egypt which is based upon slave labor and production or the American consumer society where debt can become its own method of enslavement for many people. As in Deuteronomy 15: 7-11 they are openhanded in lending to their neighbor in need and as we talked about in Deuteronomy 22:1-4 they are not to turn away from their neighbor’s need. There is a lot of Anti-Semitic literature that talks about the Jewish people being greedy, yet there were many times where tax and rent collecting or moneylending were occupations that the Jewish people were forced into in Europe since many other occupations were closed to them by society and by the church.  Deuteronomy does allow for interest to be charged to outsiders, and perhaps this allowed them to find some middle ground in the midst of the challenges they faced through centuries of having to accept some of these jobs that were viewed as marginal within the society. Perhaps a question to ask is how did it become permissible for Christians to view charging of interest as the norm. This is probably one of many times where our understandings of Christianity have been tailored to our society rather than the other way around. In one of the most economically challenging parts of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus states:

Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. (Matthew 5:42)

Yet, even in Jesus time he can assume the norm of interest being charged and use it as a part of the parable of the talents (Matthew 25: 14-30).

Deuteronomy 23: 21-23 On Vows

 21 If you make a vow to the LORD your God, do not postpone fulfilling it; for the LORD your God will surely require it of you, and you would incur guilt. 22 But if you refrain from vowing, you will not incur guilt. 23 Whatever your lips utter you must diligently perform, just as you have freely vowed to the LORD your God with your own mouth.

There are countless stories throughout scripture of people making rash oaths, probably none rasher than the vow of Jephthah in Judges 11: 29-40 where he vows to God, “If you give the Ammonites into my hand, then whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return victorious from the Ammonites, shall be the LORD’s, to be offered up by burnt offering.” (Judges 11: 30b-31) and upon returning it is his daughter, his only child who comes out. She is offered up, even though there is a repeated emphasis against child sacrifice in Deuteronomy and elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, in fulfillment of the vow. Vows are serious business for the people of Israel and they are bound by these words. These words also serve as a backdrop for Jesus words in the Sermon on the Mount about oaths where speech is to be truthful without oaths. (Matthew 5: 33-37). As in Matthew’s gospel the speaker is expected to use truthful speech but is also encouraged to refrain from vowing. The practice is not forbidden, just cautioned against, for the speaker will be bound by those words.

Deuteronomy 23: 24-25 Providing for the Neighbor

 24 If you go into your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat your fill of grapes, as many as you wish, but you shall not put any in a container.

 25 If you go into your neighbor’s standing grain, you may pluck the ears with your hand, but you shall not put a sickle to your neighbor’s standing grain.

The covenant community was to care for one’s neighbors, and yet caring for one’s neighbors has to negotiate the boundaries of providing for the neighbor’s need without having one’s field decimated. Here at the end of Deuteronomy 23, they use Moses voice to attempt to reach a balance point. A person may eat the fruit of the vineyard or the wheat of the field, but only what they can eat or pluck then. They are not to bring in vessels to store up for tomorrow or instruments of harvest to take as much as they can. This practice sets the backdrop for the story of Jesus and his disciples in Matthew 12: 1-8 where the controversy does not revolve around his disciples picking grain out of someone’s field (that was acceptable) but rather doing it on the Sabbath. This issue of how do I care for my neighbors in need is a live one that many churches wrestle with. In a time where churches are sometimes asked to cover house payments, car repairs, insurance and many other things in addition to simply providing food (and I don’t want to portray that these are not real needs-they are simply not within the budgets of many church outreach funds to cover). How do we as Christians and communities of Christians work individually and together to help provide for our neighbors by meeting their true need and not become consumed in the process?



 Deuteronomy 22: Miscellaneous Laws

Grigory Mekheev, Exodus (2000) artist shared work under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

Grigory Mekheev, Exodus (2000) artist shared work under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

Deuteronomy 22: 1-4 Caring for the Neighbor’s Property

1 You shall not watch your neighbor’s ox or sheep straying away and ignore them; you shall take them back to their owner. 2 If the owner does not reside near you or you do not know who the owner is, you shall bring it to your own house, and it shall remain with you until the owner claims it; then you shall return it. 3 You shall do the same with a neighbor’s donkey; you shall do the same with a neighbor’s garment; and you shall do the same with anything else that your neighbor loses and you find. You may not withhold your help.
 4 You shall not see your neighbor’s donkey or ox fallen on the road and ignore it; you shall help to lift it up.


I have broken the laws outlined in Deuteronomy 22 into three parts: those for the protection of the neighbor’s property, those for the creation of a properly ordered community and those that arise out of the interpretation of the commandment on adultery. This first section of commandments, addressing the neighbor’s property, specifically livestock property, is the easiest to address. In an agricultural world livestock is wealth, but a lose animal can also cause a lot of damage, particularly to farmland. Yet all of these actions that the individual is to take towards the animal is to ensure the best interest of their neighbor.

We live in a highly individualized society where we can often ignore the impact of our actions upon others in our community, but the book of Deuteronomy envisions a community where the neighbor is a vital part of one’s life. One does not have the option to hide from one’s responsibility for one’s neighbor. As Walter Bruggemann can point out in this passage:
The NRSV translates “You may not withhold your help.” The verb is “conceal, hide” stated in reflexive form. You may not withdraw from neighborliness. Perhaps in a more contemporary context, you may not hide behind high walls in a gated community, as though you are not obligated to be a neighbor. (Brueggemann, 2001 , p. 219)

The neighbor’s livestock and animals are not merely my neighbor’s responsibility, but they are mine as well. In our own time our neighbor’s livelihood is our concern as well. This is a difficult challenge then and now. When the question of neighborliness is asked it is natural for a Christian to go back to the parable of the Good Samaritan told in Luke’s gospel (Luke 10: 25-37) where our calling is to be the one who showed mercy (even when it is inconvenient or perhaps crosses the lines of purity or contamination in Luke’s gospel). This simple example of returning a neighbor’s animal or helping to lift it up or caring for an animal that is not one’s own goes against our own disinclination to become involved in the struggles of the neighbor. For the people of Israel to be who they are called to be they are called to look out for their neighbor’s best interest even when it would be far easier to simply ignore their struggles.

In our interconnected world this is a difficult challenge and one that I don’t have the answer to. There are a plethora of issues that can daily call out to me from the television or computer screen of people who are in need. The soft hearted part of me wants to help them all, the rest of me simply want to ignore my neighbors struggle both locally and across the world. Yet, I don’t get to put a limit on who my neighbor is and I believe that I am called to be the one who shows mercy. The reality is that no one person can do it on their own, but that is why the people of Israel were insistent on creating a community where neighbors are responsible for one another.


Deuteronomy 22: 5-12 Ordering the World

 5 A woman shall not wear a man’s apparel, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment; for whoever does such things is abhorrent to the LORD your God.
 6 If you come on a bird’s nest, in any tree or on the ground, with fledglings or eggs, with the mother sitting on the fledglings or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young. 7 Let the mother go, taking only the young for yourself, in order that it may go well with you and you may live long.
 8 When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof; otherwise you might have bloodguilt on your house, if anyone should fall from it.
 9 You shall not sow your vineyard with a second kind of seed, or the whole yield will have to be forfeited, both the crop that you have sown and the yield of the vineyard itself.
 10 You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together.
 11 You shall not wear clothes made of wool and linen woven together.
 12 You shall make tassels on the four corners of the cloak with which you cover yourself.

These seven laws may seem strange to us, but for the author of Deuteronomy the maintenance of a proper order was essential for the life of the people. The barriers between men and women and proper roles in Deuteronomy may seem strange to us, but this is written at least 2,500 years ago and the standards were much different. The idea of a woman wearing men’s clothing being abhorrent to the LORD seems excessive in our time, but in the tightly ordered world of Deuteronomy women and men were to remain in separate roles. The author of Deuteronomy would probably look down not only on crossdressing but also things like women wearing clothes styled after men’s clothing (like suits or pants). Probably a close analogy (although the clothing would reflect a different era) would be the Amish where men and women have specific clothing that they wear almost like a uniform. Deuteronomy’s boundaries are rigid and crossing them may have been viewed as a slippery slope to chaos and disorder and to being like the nations around them. Clothing is a significant part of identity and three of the seven laws address clothing. Mixing fabrics together was also considered crossing a boundary and leading to disorder as was the distinctive tassels they were to wear as a mark of their identity.

The command about a bird and its nest and eggs or fledglings does reflect an environmental concern that the people were to have, they were not to prevent a species from being able to continue to reproduce and produce more food by consuming the mother and the young at the same time. Yet, there is no remorse for eating the eggs or young of the mother bird-merely a limit on killing both. It is worth noticing that this command ends with the same ending as the commandment to honor one’s father and mother and to ponder if perhaps in the minds of the people honoring the mother in creation is connected to honoring the mother in the family. This may also relate to the command not to boil a kid in its mother’s milk in Deuteronomy 14: 21.

Bloodguilt again enters the discussion (as before in Deuteronomy 19 and 21) and this time the command is to prevent innocent blood by creating a parapet on the roof of a house to prevent someone falling off and bringing guilt on the house and land. Sowing multiple seeds in a vineyard and not plowing with and ox and a donkey together close out the commands here which again point to definitive practices that the people were to practice that made them different than others. Deuteronomy envisions a rigidly ordered world and that rigidly ordered world keeps the chaos and danger of wilderness and the surrounding people away from their world. These boundaries helped them feel safer in an uncontrollable world and perhaps we may reflect upon the boundaries we erect that help us feel safer.

Since the next section will deal with sexual relations in a way that are very foreign to us perhaps we might begin with looking at the command against wearing the opposite sex clothing in verse 5. For some communities this would still be abhorrent, in others it is accepted. One of the challenges of any time is to define the boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable behavior, yet in making these distinctions we also have the challenge of accepting neighborliness and learning to love the neighbor as they are. One of the struggles of the church in the 20th and 21st century in the United States was the role of the church in defining those boundaries. For example there are churches who want the society to reflect a set of conservative moral boundaries that they feel protect families and they often act like a shrill siren against the perceived moral decline of the society. Yet, there are great differences within the Christian church and I serve a much more gracious (and in many others eyes more liberal) community that attempts to meet the neighbor where they are. There is not an easy answer in this either, and while I can understand Deuteronomy’s wish for a simple and ordered universe, I also can’t say that this is a worldview that I share.

Deuteronomy 22: 13-30 Sex, Lies and Proper Proceedings

 13 Suppose a man marries a woman, but after going in to her, he dislikes her 14 and makes up charges against her, slandering her by saying, “I married this woman; but when I lay with her, I did not find evidence of her virginity.” 15 The father of the young woman and her mother shall then submit the evidence of the young woman’s virginity to the elders of the city at the gate. 16 The father of the young woman shall say to the elders: “I gave my daughter in marriage to this man but he dislikes her; 17 now he has made up charges against her, saying, ‘I did not find evidence of your daughter’s virginity.’ But here is the evidence of my daughter’s virginity.” Then they shall spread out the cloth before the elders of the town. 18 The elders of that town shall take the man and punish him; 19 they shall fine him one hundred shekels of silver (which they shall give to the young woman’s father) because he has slandered a virgin of Israel. She shall remain his wife; he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives.
 20 If, however, this charge is true, that evidence of the young woman’s virginity was not found, 21 then they shall bring the young woman out to the entrance of her father’s house and the men of her town shall stone her to death, because she committed a disgraceful act in Israel by prostituting herself in her father’s house. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.
 22 If a man is caught lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman as well as the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel.
23 If there is a young woman, a virgin already engaged to be married, and a man meets her in the town and lies with her, 24 you shall bring both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death, the young woman because she did not cry for help in the town and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.
 25 But if the man meets the engaged woman in the open country, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. 26 You shall do nothing to the young woman; the young woman has not committed an offense punishable by death, because this case is like that of someone who attacks and murders a neighbor. 27 Since he found her in the open country, the engaged woman may have cried for help, but there was no one to rescue her.
 28 If a man meets a virgin who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are caught in the act, 29 the man who lay with her shall give fifty shekels of silver to the young woman’s father, and she shall become his wife. Because he violated her he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives.
 30 A man shall not marry his father’s wife, thereby violating his father’s rights.

This is another of those passages in Deuteronomy where their worldview is drastically different from mine, but I come from a much different time and would ask much different questions in these circumstances than Deuteronomy would.  As I have done before I will begin with how Deuteronomy would understand these things in its would and then attempt to move to thinking through how we might faithfully walk with people who find themselves in these situations today.

In the ancient world, marriage and sexual relationships may involve love but they are primarily based on economic and honor concerns. In the ancient world women were viewed as property, their father’s property until (by an economic arrangement) she is married and then she becomes her husband’s property. As in Deuteronomy 21: 10-14, where the issue of a female captive is discussed, the woman has no choice in many of these matters. It is a patriarchal society, much like the other societies of the ancient world, and even though there are some restraints placed here as well, there are not many placed upon this worldview. In an arranged marriage one of the expectations was that the new bride would be a virgin, and while scholars can debate about exactly what ceremonies would have been involved after the wedding to acquire this ‘proof of virginity’ ultimately it was important to the father of the new bride that he be able to demonstrate that he is giving the new husband an undamaged product. Divorce will be covered in Deuteronomy 24, but here Deuteronomy imagines a situation where the new husband is immediately dissatisfied with his new bride and tries to break the marriage based on an accusation that the daughter is not a virgin.

The accusation of a woman having sex out of wedlock are serious accusations for the woman and the family involved. It is a life or death issue for the woman in Deuteronomy’s strictly ordered world but it also brings a great deal of dishonor upon the family and may endanger the ability to negotiate future marriages for other children. There are a number of parallels between the daughter who brings dishonor by having sexual relations prior to marriage and the rebellious son discussed in Deuteronomy 21: 18-21. What is at stake is the family’s (particularly the father’s) honor and their standing within the community. The stakes are high for the author of Deuteronomy and he attaches the ending, “so shall you purge the evil that is in your midst” to this command (see also Deuteronomy 13: 5, 17:7, 19:19 and 21: 21) The stakes are not nearly so high for the accuser. Notice that the hundred shekel fine is paid to the father to account for the damage the accusation may have done, and while this is not a trivial fine it is not a life or death matter. Again the elders of the community are the ones who are responsible for the judgment and its execution with the man who makes the accusation. In addition, the man may never divorce this wife he has slandered, which does provide her with economic security as long as he lives.

The next three situations (vs. 22-27) involve a woman who is already spoken for who is caught in a sexual act with another man. If a woman is married both she and the man are to be killed. If she is engaged she is still considered to belong to the one she is engaged with and so the penalties are the same. The only time where she is given the benefit of the doubt is in the open country where she may have cried for help and was not heard. In that case only the man is killed, but in any other case both the man and the woman are killed. While these penalties are harsh, they are consistent with Deuteronomy’s view of harsh justice.

The situation envisioned in verse 28 and 29 shows how different the stakes are for women and men. We need to be honest that this is a situation of rape, where the man seizes and lies with her. If it was a woman who had sex out of wedlock and was therefore damaged property the penalty is stoning, but for the man he pays the fine, marries her and cannot divorce her. Finally, the situation is discussed where a son wants to marry his father’s wife. This is not the son’s mother, for that would be incest, but in a polygynous marriage where a father may have multiple wives a son may not marry one that belonged to his father, even after his father’s death.

Texts like this are distasteful, but perhaps more distasteful is the way the church has often preferred texts like this one that favored a male based power structure and had to be drug kicking and screaming by the enlightenment to grant women a greater role in the human enterprise. The church has struggled to be critical of its own traditions in the light of the gospel. Men and women together are critical parts of both families and societies and laws are needed to protect both women and men. We cannot simply accept a worldview where sexual relations are a life and death issue for women and an economic one for men. Nor should women be viewed as property that can be dealt with in any way the head of the household pleases. There are still significant conversations to be had around sexual ethics within the church and the household, but we cannot do it from the patriarchal framework of Deuteronomy and be faithful to our calling today.

The questions of sex before marriage, affairs, rape, unhappy marriages and abuse and domination within marriages are all very real and have drastic consequences on our lives and our communities. It is challenging to navigate the middle ground between the moral absoluteness of the community in Deuteronomy and the individual autonomy of today where fidelity to family and community are no longer valued in the same way. These are difficult questions, but I think perhaps a place to begin is the value of the individual within the relationships. Both women and men have needs and value in families, in the workplace and in our religious and other communities.

Perhaps the story recorded in John 8: 1-11[1] gives us a starting point to look at the way passages like this might have been handled by Jesus. The story has the scribes and Pharisees bring Jesus a woman caught in adultery (note the man is not brought forward and never appears in the story). Instead of following Deuteronomy in its rigid justice where she is to be stoned he places the challenge back upon the accusing community and does not condemn her. Forgiveness is hard, grace is challenging and for both women and men who are victims in sexual violence, abuse and affairs the desire for punishment and justice is real. How do communities of faith today stand with the victims and is there a place where reconciliation in some circumstances might happen? Can we be a part of a community that brings healing to women and men who have often not received grace in their families, society, and religious communities.

"Christ and the sinner" by Andrey Mironov - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

“Christ and the sinner” by Andrey Mironov – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

[1] Even though this passage is not a part of the earliest historical copies of the Gospel of John, it is one of the more better known stories distinctive to John’s gospel.

All That Is Solid Dissolves Into Air

Smoke 1When the air becomes heated hotter than the smith’s forge
And the pillars of the earth begin to falter under the heat and pressure
When cynicism strips away every foundation, every dream, every hope
And all that is solid dissolves into air. 

In that breathless, lifeless landscape of an atomistic existence
That tears apart the ties that bind under conditions of molecular fission
The stories told, the dreams cherished and the hopes nurtured burn
When all that is solid dissolves into air. 

Can fusion reemerge from the fission and the foundations be sunk anew?
Can the furnace of our destruction be quenched and the pressure released?
For the atom rich air has no place left for the complexity of life
Until that which was dissolved becomes solid again.