THE COVENANT PEOPLE OF GOD MUST MAINTAIN THEIR HOLY DISTINCTIVENESS AND FUNCTION AS LOVING NEIGHBORS AS THEY LIVE OUT GOD’S PRACTICAL PRINCIPLES OF RIGHTEOUSNESS
Daniel Block: Although each segment here represented a specific application of covenantal principles of righteousness within the Israelite context, since the Israel of the Old Testament was to function as a microcosm of humanity at large, underlying all are theological principles rooted in the very nature of God and his relation to the world.
Eugene Merrill: As for the literary construction of the whole passage, another transition is observable, from active homicide, whether or not intentional (19:1–21:23), to the failure to preserve life (22:1-4), to carelessness resulting in loss of life (22:5-8). All relate to the covenant stipulation of Deut 5:17: “You shall not kill.”
Michael Grisanti: (22:9 – 23:18) — If one thinks of purity only in terms of moral separation, they will miss the point of several of the laws discussed below. The biblical concept of purity or holiness has two primary aspects: separation from sin (negative aspect) and consecration to a dedicated usage (positive aspect). So the idea of holiness does concern “separation” from or the careful avoidance of sin, but also deals with something that is dedicated for special purposes. At least two things are true about something dedicated for consecrated purposes. On the one hand, it is taken out of common or ordinary circulation; it is not used for everyday needs. On the other hand, it has been taken out of ordinary usage in order to dedicate it for special purposes. That is how a building, a table, bread, or a day could be holy. It stands distinct from normal or everyday things and is dedicated for some lofty purpose.
Warren Wiersbe: (22:1-4, 6-8; 23:24-25) – These regulations are specific applications of Leviticus 19:18, “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord” (NKJV). The neighbor is a brother, which is even a greater motive for helping him; and God is the Lord of both, which is the highest motive of all. In fact, the Jews were to extend this same concern even to their enemies’ animals (Ex. 23:4). Both Jesus and Paul admonish us to love our enemies and to manifest this love in practical ways (Matt. 5:43-48; Rom. 12:17-21).
Meredith Kline introduces this next section – Sanctity of the Divine Order. Deuteronomy 22:1-25:19 –
Love for God requires reverence for the divine ordinances at the various levels of creation and in the various spheres of human activity. The covenant servant must respect the sanctity of the orders of nature (Dt 22:5-12), marriage Dt 22:13-30), and the theocratic kingdom (Dt 23:1-25:12). With the partial exception of the natural order, the area in view is that of the mutual relationships of the covenant servants. This whole section, therefore, is bounded by laws which clearly express the basic principle that the same loving regard must be shown for one’s neighbor’s interests as for one’s own (Dt 22:1-4; 25:13-16).
J Vernon McGee: Miscellaneous laws concerning brother relationships, mixtures, and marriage. This chapter brings us to another division of the Book of Deuteronomy. We have seen the repetition and interpretation of the Ten Commandments in chapters 5-7. Then there are the religious and national regulations in chapters 8-21. Now we come to regulations for domestic and personal relations in chapters 22-26. God directed many of these laws to the nation; now He gets right down to the nitty-gritty where the people live with laws relative to their domestic and their personal relations.
Brown: Although the topics are diverse, the unifying theme is clear—the covenant community must consist of good neighbours. God is generous and loving; nobody who believes in him is allowed to live selfishly and carelessly within society. Every believer has a responsibility towards his neighbour.
I. (:1-4) PROVIDE PRACTICAL ASSISTANCE TO OTHERS IN NEED AS THE WAY TO DEMONSTRATE LOVE FOR YOUR NEIGHBOR
A. (:1-3) Return His Straying Animals and Lost Possessions
1. (:1-2) Return His Straying Ox or Sheep
a. (:1) Bring Them Back Immediately . . . Or
“You shall not see your countryman’s ox or his sheep straying away, and pay no attention to them; you shall certainly bring them back to your countryman.”
b. (:2) Safeguard Them until You Can Return Them
“And if your countryman is not near you, or if you do not know him, then you shall bring it home to your house, and it shall remain with you until your countryman looks for it; then you shall restore it to him.”
Peter Craigie: it deals with shouldering responsibility as a member of the covenant community. A man was not to hide himself from responsibility, or to fake no notice of the happenings around him that required some positive action on his part.
2. (:3a) Return His Straying Donkey
“And thus you shall do with his donkey,”
Gerald Gerbrandt: The expansion to a neighbor’s garment; and you shall do the same with anything else that your neighbor loses confirms that concern right here is more for the neighbor than for the animal. The last phrase of the passage, You may not withhold your help, is especially striking. Walter Brueggemann notes, “The verb is ‘conceal, hide,’ stated in reflexive form. You may not hide yourself. You may not withdraw from neighborliness” (2001: 219).
As societies become more urban, more impersonal, as apparently happened in Israel in the ninth century bce, the natural tendency is to narrow one’s field of concern. The brother or sister or neighbor can become strangers and no longer part of “us.” One is reminded of Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30–37). For Deuteronomy, Israel is a close body of brother and sisters, neighbors who help each without asking whether it is required or legislated.
3. (:3b) Return His Lost Possessions
“and you shall do the same with his garment,
and you shall do likewise with anything lost by your countryman,
which he has lost and you have found.”
Daniel Block: A “finders keepers, losers weepers” ethic is to be resisted; whatever one finds is to be returned to its owner.
Duane Christensen: The law here is essentially that of the Golden Rule to do to others what we would have them do to us. Moreover, we ought not to let trouble and expense prevent us from doing a kind action to a neighbor in need; nor are we permitted to retain lost property we have found when there is a possibility of finding the rightful owner.
4. (:3c) Responsibility Not to Neglect Your Neighbor’s Interests
“You are not allowed to neglect them.”
Daniel Block: Verse 1 involves stray sheep or oxen that are vulnerable to wild animals and thieves. Verse 4 involves a pack animal that has fallen down under its load, perhaps the result of slipping or abuse by the owner, who has overloaded it.
At the sight of a stray or fallen animal one might be tempted to ignore it or claim it as one’s own property (cf. 5:21). Concerned about the well-being of the animal, Moses addresses the first response. In the face of need, sentimental reflection on the plight of the creatures is insufficient; this is a call for action. The first animal is to be returned to its owner, and the second animal is to be helped back on its feet. Moses prohibits Israelites from ignoring animals that are lost or beasts of burden under stress. Though domestic animals played a vital role in the economy, ownership and control could easily degenerate into abusive treatment.
B. (:4) Rescue His Fallen Animals
“You shall not see your countryman’s donkey or his ox fallen down on the way, and pay no attention to them; you shall certainly help him to raise them up.”
Peter Craigie: If a beast of burden was lying on the road, a man was to help his neighbor get the animal back on its feet. The animal would be heavily laden with baggage, and therefore it would not be able to get up by itself and it would be too heavy for one man. A difficult task would thus be made much easier with the assistance that was to be offered by a fellow Israelite.
Michael Grisanti: In both scenarios, an Israelite must not succumb to the temptation to ignore the problem because it concerns someone else. All members of the covenantal nation must show genuine interest in the welfare and success of their fellow Israelites.
II. (:5) PROHIBIT CONFUSING THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN MAN AND WOMAN ACCORDING TO THE ESTABLISHED ORDER OF CREATION
“A woman shall not wear man’s clothing,
nor shall a man put on a woman’s clothing;
for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD your God.”
Peter Craigie: Transvestism tends to be associated with certain forms of homosexuality . . . In Lev. 18:22 and 20:13, homosexual behavior is described as an abomination.
Warren Wiersbe: The familiar and now accepted word “unisex” first appeared in print in Life magazine (June 21, 1968) in an article describing unisex clothing as “good fashion as well as good fun.” In this verse, God calls it “an abomination.”
Daniel Block: Similar to verses 9–11, this injunction seeks to preserve the order built into creation, specifically the fundamental distinction between male and female. For a person to wear anything associated with the opposite gender confuses one’s sexual identity and blurs established boundaries.
Cairns: Positively stated, the theological thrust of v. 5 is that Yahweh has created male and female with specific and complementary characteristics so that in their relationship the two constitute the full expression of humanity. To blur the intersexual distinction that Yahweh has established strikes at the natural order and harmony willed by the Creator.
Gerald Gerbrandt: Four verses in Chapter 22 deal with abhorrent mixtures (vv. 5, 9, 10, 11). Each is a directive that disallows some combination or mixture. . .
Interpreters have proposed a variety of explanations, often trying to find some parallel in foreign religions that might explain these prohibitions. The most plausible explanation, although not conclusive, relates them to the ancient need for order (Houtman; Douglas). A central concern of the story of creation is creation of order out of chaos. The seven days of creation give it a systematic format. An important theme is creation by separation, as light is separated from darkness in order to make day and night, and earth is separated from water to make seas and land. Vegetation and animal life are made “according to its kind” (Gen 1:11, 12, 21, 25 RSV). When God rests on the seventh day, the chaos of the formless void has been replaced by an ordered creation with a diversity of life, each with its own place in the created order.
But the threat of chaos returning always remains. Israel must be constantly vigilant not to endanger this order. The intermingling of the sons of God with the daughters born to humans (Gen 6:1–4) is an obvious transgression against this order. Sodomy violates the distinction between animal and human (e.g., Lev 18:23). Similarly, there is an order to the way we are to live that must be protected. As Houtman says, “Blurring separation and variety may induce a reversion of cosmos to chaos and must therefore be prevented” (227–28).
Disregarding this order of creation is dangerous and causes ritual impurity. This overarching concern for order has probably influenced the set of prohibitions here, although individual factors impact their detail. Following these prohibitions also will contribute to distinguishing between Israel and other peoples, with the need for clear boundaries potentially also reflecting this concern for order.
David Thompson: In a society God will bless, men will be men and women will be women. God is the One who assigned sexuality to a person and He detests it when those values are disregarded.
It is clearly stated that this is an abomination to God. Paul says in Romans that God has given a natural desire within a human for a woman to be drawn to a man and for a man to be drawn to a woman. It is against what God for a woman to want to become a man or a man to want to become a woman. It is an abomination to God and God clearly says I am abandoning them to His wrath (Romans 1:18, 26-28).
Let’s be as clear as we can be on this from a Biblical perspective. Homosexuality, Lesbianism, Transgenderism or Transvestitism is a depravity and an abomination to God that will cause God to abandon that person and eventually send one to eternal fire and hell. If a child of God wants God’s blessings, he/she will stay far away from this kind of depravity.
III. (:6-7) PROCURE FOOD RESOURCES WITHOUT COMPROMISING FUTURE PRODUCTION AS AN EXAMPLE OF HONORING THE MOTHER – THE GIVER OF LIFE
“If you happen to come upon a bird’s nest along the way, in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs, and the mother sitting on the young or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young; 7 you shall certainly let the mother go, but the young you may take for yourself, in order that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days.”
Gerald Gerbrandt: This directive itself may be clear but not its rationale. An Israelite is free to take eggs or even a fledgling from a nest, but the mother bird is to be preserved. Future life, both for the birds as well as for Israel, depends on the fertility of mother animals. If both mother and eggs or fledglings are taken, there will be no more birds, and a future food source is threatened. The directive thus may be a way of protecting a future source of food for the people (cf. 20:19–20), yet it probably is more than that. The concluding promise, in order that it may go well with you and you may live long, appears to be an intended echo of the command to honor father and mother, with its promise so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you (5:16). Even a mother bird deserves a certain level of honor or respect for having brought new life into the world. Both of these considerations are consistent with contemporary ecological concerns.
Peter Craigie: If a nest was found with a mother bird and eggs or young birds in it, the natural thing to do would be to take all of them, thereby acquiring more food. The effect of such action, however, would be bad; in commercial language, it would be exchanging a long-term profit for an immediate gain. To take and kill the mother would be to terminate a potential future supply of food. To take the mother and leave the others would not be possible, for they would not be able to survive without the mother. Thus by taking the young birds (or eggs), but letting the mother go, food was acquired without the source of food for the future being cut off. The legislation thus has something in common with modern conservation laws. The large-scale killing of any species can lead to a serious diminution in its numbers and to eventual extinction.
Eugene Merrill: One notices here a descending order of value or significance in the animals listed. First was the ox or sheep (v. 1), clean animals useful for food or sacrifice. Then follows the donkey or ox (vv. 3-4), one of which (the donkey) was unclean but essential to one’s livelihood as a work animal. Finally there was the undomesticated bird (vv. 6-7), of little intrinsic value since it was not owned but of great worth as a source of food supply. Even within the last category the mother bird was more valuable than her eggs or chicks, for they were more vulnerable to accident or premature death then she.
IV. (:8) PRECAUTIONS IN CONSTRUCTION TO PROTECT HUMAN LIFE AND SAFETY
“When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof,
that you may not bring bloodguilt on your house if anyone falls from it.”
Daniel Block: Houses were often two-story constructions, with the lower floor housing animals and storing food stuffs, and the upper floor serving as the living quarters. Cooled by the breezes, flat roofs provided a third living space that residents could use for a variety of purposes. Without a barrier around the perimeter, people could step off the roof and fall to their deaths. The final clause of verse 8 holds the head of the household responsible for the life of anyone whose death is the result of negligence.
Gerald Gerbrandt: Criminal negligence is the phrase we use today for an action or non-action that harms someone, even though not so intended, if this danger could have been reasonably anticipated. The reason for neglecting to build a restraining wall on a roof might be laziness or the desire to save resources, but certainly not an intention to hurt someone walking about on the roof. And yet, bloodguilt can result. . . We are not only liable for the consequences of actions intended to hurt or defraud others, but also for actions or non-actions that otherwise may be quite innocent, yet where we should have known that they might be dangerous. Deuteronomy warns the Israelite community to be aware of the potential consequences of all they do lest they become guilty of criminal negligence.
Peter Craigie: Apart from the legal implications of the verse, however, the legislation reflects a concern for the value and protection of human life. Safety precautions were to be taken in order to protect life, which was the gift of God; as in vv. 6–7, the law reflects what we sometimes consider to be a very modern concern.
John Schultz: The Muslim philosophy of life is that everything is subject to the will of Allah. If accidents happen, it is called God’s will. This results in a very fatalistic approach to life. The Bible does not sanction such an attitude. God holds us responsible if we fail to prevent things from going wrong, when it was in our power to do so. Being responsible is part of our human dignity. We do not go through life following a pre-recorded script. We live in a world in which things can and will go wrong. God wants us to be realistic and live pragmatically. God put Adam in charge of a perfect creation. In the broken world in which we live, this mandate has not been revoked: we are called upon to prevent accidents. This means careful planning and consideration of possibilities of things going wrong and taking measures to prevent that. It means building houses with a railing on the flat roof, covering wells, keeping medicine out of the reach of children, covering up electrical outlets, etc. God hates negligence. And He hates bloodshed.
V. (:9-11) PROHIBITION OF CERTAIN MIXTURES TO EMPHASIZE THE NEED FOR A LIFE OF SEPARATION AND DISTINCTIVENESS
A. (:9) Planting Vineyard with Two Kinds of Seed
“You shall not sow your vineyard with two kinds of seed,
lest all the produce of the seed which you have sown,
and the increase of the vineyard become defiled.”
Eugene Merrill: The implication is that a crop in addition to grapes may be in view. While this might be possible in the world of actual agriculture, it was not to be undertaken in Israel because it symbolized an admixture of spiritual elements that is abhorrent to the Lord. The result would be a defiling (Heb. tiqd s, “it will be consecrated”) of both crops, that is, a rendering of them impure and unfit for sacred use. Elsewhere Israel is referred to as a vineyard (cf. Ps 80:8-19; Isa 5:1-7; Jer 2:10), so the imagery here is clear and deliberate: Israel, the vineyard, must not be contaminated by being oversown with alien seed. Every time the Israelite farmer refrained from planting wheat or barley in his vineyard, he reflected this important principle.
B. (:10) Plowing with a Yoked Ox and Donkey
“You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together.”
Daniel Block: This practice creates a fundamentally incongruous image: the animals’ anatomies require different types of harness and a drastically modified yoke to link the two; their unequal strength and stamina could cause the more vigorous to exhaust the weaker. However, to kosher-minded Israelites, these factors were probably less significant than forcing a bond between clean and unclean, which happens when ox and donkey are yoked together.
Gerald Gerbrandt: The phrase plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together (v. 10) may imply more than merely having them work together: it may also be a veiled reference to mating the two together (cf. Lev 19:19).
Eugene Merrill: vv. 9-12 — Though adultery is clearly alluded to only once in this entire section on purity (22:22), there can be no doubt that the laws here on the whole are elaborations of the seventh commandment of Deut 5:18: “You shall not commit adultery.” Known elsewhere in the ancient Near East as the “Great Sin,” adultery epitomizes all that impurity means, whether in family, social, political, or religious life. As noted repeatedly already, Israel’s idolatry and covenant violation is frequently described as adultery, for the covenant between the Lord and Israel was akin to a marriage relationship. Unfaithfulness to its terms was nothing less than spiritual infidelity (cf. Isa 57:3-10; Jer 3:6-10; 9:2; 23:9-15; Ezek 16:30-43; 23:30-42; Hos 1:1–4:19).
If adultery is the metaphor for illicit relationships in general, the antithesis is separation from such mixed behavior. To drive home the importance of separation from sexual (and, indeed, covenant) impurity, the passage provides a number of instances in which separation must be practiced for its pedagogical value alone. Apart from whatever other benefits may be derived from these behavioral requirements, their very observance would impress indelibly upon God’s people the need to be separated from the contaminating influences of Canaanite social and religious life and to be wholly faithful in their commitment to him alone. . .
Paul the apostle understood this text in the way just suggested by quoting it to underscore his point that believers should not be yoked together with unbelievers (2 Cor 6:14-18). To do so is to undermine the purity of God’s people and to tarnish their status as ones set apart for his service (cf. Lev 26:12). As some scholars have noted, such a mixture of animals would not be advisable anyway because of their differing strength, gaits, and temperaments, but this is not the issue here. A mixed yoke speaks of unwholesome partnership, an attempt to find common ground when none in fact exists. The temptation of religious syncretism would be especially appealing in Canaan but was to be resisted at all cost (cf. Deut 7:2-5).
C. (:11) Putting Wool and Linen Together in the Same Garments
“You shall not wear a material mixed of wool and linen together.”
Daniel Block: In general, it seems that all these prohibitions were intended to guard against boundary violations that defy the order of the universe (Gen. 1). In contrast to the chaotic life of non-Israelites, the life of Yahweh’s people is to be characterized by order and clearly defined boundaries. However, the concern goes beyond order in everyday life. These instructions draw clear boundaries between that which is appropriate for deity (mixtures of all sorts) and that which is appropriate for mortals (no mixtures at all). Certain mixtures were fitting for Yahweh and those who represented him, but not for laypeople who lived before a watching world.
Gerald Gerbrandt: According to Exodus 28:6–14 priests were required to wear clothes that included mixed materials. Perhaps here is an example where a practice that is required in the realm of the holy then becomes excluded from the profane.
Eugene Merrill: The clearest connection between the mingling of clothing materials and the principle of holiness is found in Lev 19, where the phrase “I am the LORD” occurs over and over (vv. 2-37), commencing with the affirmation, “You shall be holy” (v. 2). In the midst of this refrain on holiness stands the injunction “Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material” (v. 19). Again, therefore, an apparently innocuous act becomes filled with spiritual significance as a paradigm of behavior.
VI. (:12) PROVIDE A PUBLIC REMINDER TO YOURSELF AND OTHERS OF YOUR COVENANT RELATIONSHIP AND COMMITMENT TO OBEY THE LAW OF GOD
“You shall make yourself tassels on the four corners of your garment
with which you cover yourself.”
Daniel Block: Like words of covenant commitment written on hands and foreheads and on the doorposts of houses and gates (Deut. 6:4–9), the tassels reminded the one who wore them and outsiders of Israel’s special status as the covenant people of Yahweh.
Michael Grisanti: Even the clothing the Israelites wear must serve as a reminder of God’s promises, their identity as his people, and his demand for their absolute loyalty.
John Schultz: Quoting Matthew Henry — “The Jews being a peculiar people, they were thus distinguished from their neighbors in their dress, as well as in their diet, and taught by such little instances of singularity not to be conformed to the way of the heathen in greater things. Thus likewise they proclaimed themselves Jews wherever they were, as those that were not ashamed of God and his law. Our Saviour, being made under the law, wore these fringes; hence we read of the hem or border, of his garment. These borders the Pharisees enlarged, that they might be thought more holy and devout than other people. The phylacteries were different things; these were their own invention, the fringes were a divine institution. The Jews at this day wear them, saying, when they put them on, Blessed be he who has sanctified us unto himself, and commanded us to wear fringes.”
The need to be reminded of God’s commandments points to a poor memory. And poor memories often speak of a lack of interest. Most people have no trouble remembering things that interest them most. It is the less interesting matters we tend to forget. Intelligent people with poor memories keep themselves alert by using memory aids: stick-on notes on refrigerator doors, or strings tied on their finger. For the Jews it was the tassel. The tassel expressed at the same time hope for the future when outward reminders would no longer be needed.
Jeremiah prophesied about this, saying: “ ‘This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,’ declares the LORD. ‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘ ‘Know the LORD,’ ’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,’ declares the LORD. ‘For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.’”
It is the new heart in which the Word of God is hidden, in which Christ lives that makes the tassel redundant.