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Bible: What Does Deuteronomy 24-26 Teach Us About Divorce and Social Justice?

Updated on September 15, 2016

Moses

Rembrandt_-_Moses_with_the_Ten_Comman
Rembrandt_-_Moses_with_the_Ten_Comman

Divorce

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220px-Wedding_rings.jpg

Certificate of Divorce

Moses discusses the issue of divorce next. If an Israelite man finds his wife “unclean,” he may write a “certificate of divorce,” and send her away with it (v. 1; cf. Is. 50:1).

If her second husband discovers the same indecency (“nakedness of a thing”), and follows the above procedure (or if he dies), the woman must not return to her former husband (vv. 2-4).

God pronounces this arrangement an “abomination,” because she has been defiled (v. 4b).

[Notice that a woman does not have the same right to divorce her husband as the man does in Israelite culture.]

Also, divorce is not acceptable; in fact, Jesus prohibits the practice, recognizing that Moses permitted it in Israel only “because of the hardness of their heart” (cf. Matt. 19:7-9).

More miscellaneous laws follow:

(1) A newlywed husband should spend his first married year “bringing happiness” to his wife, i.e., producing a child with her (?), before enlisting in the army or taking on business responsibilities (v. 5);

(2) “Taking the upper or lower millstone in pledge” is a foreign concept; it may mean that one should not take a valuable commodity from someone as security for a loan (v. 6);

(3) One guilty of kidnapping must be put to death (v. 7);

(4) Moses enjoins Israel to follow the prescription for stopping the spread of leprosy, and offers his sister Miriam as an example of someone who contracted the disease (vv. 8-9);

(5) Creditors must show respect for those giving pledges for a loan; they must not violate the debtors’ privacy (vv. 10-11), nor rob them of their dignity (vv. 12-13);

(6) Managers should pay their servants on time—whether brethren or aliens—and thus prevent their complaints to the LORD (vv. 14-15);

(7) Innocent family members must not suffer punishment for the sin of children or fathers; he who sins dies (v. 16);

(8) Israel must ensure the legal protection of their society’s most vulnerable citizens; “remembering” their redemption from Egyptian slavery would help them (vv. 17-18);

(9) Their experience as slaves will also enable them to show compassion on the poor and provide for their material needs (vv. 19-22).

Social Justice

250px-Supreme_Court_October
250px-Supreme_Court_October

A Just Society?

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Deuteronomy 25

Moses sets the punishment limit at forty blows upon a man guilty in any legal dispute; beyond this number would humiliate him—and may even kill him.

Officers must administer the beating in the judge’s presence (vv. 1-3).

Verse four provides an overarching principle regarding justice, and applies to the context thus: just as it is not just to beat a man beyond a certain number of stripes (or more than his guilt warrants), so it is not just (right) to keep an ox from receiving benefits (food) from his labor.

Another instance of “doing what is right” appears next in “The Case of the Reluctant Brother” (vv. 5-10).

If a man dies without an heir, his brother must “perform the duty of a husband’s brother” by marrying the dead man’s wife and “raising up the name to his brother.”

The first-born son created from this union will then carry on the family name of the dead man (vv. 5-6).

If the brother refuses to “perform,” the widow has recourse at the city gates where she may issue a complaint with the elders (v. 7).

If, after they have confronted the reluctant man, he still says, “No,” the widow may publicly disgrace him by removing his sandal and spitting in his face (vv. 8-9).

In addition, the community labels his name as shameful (v. 10).

Several more examples of administering justice follow:

(1) Verses 11-12 graphically relate the unmerciful severing of a wife’s hand for trying to protect her husband from an assailant.

[Justice? If she had allowed her husband to be beaten, would that have been preferable?]

(2) Moses emphasizes how important it is for merchants to have “perfect and just” weights and measures.

Abominable business practices anger God, and may cut short Israel’s stay in the Land (vv. 13-16).

(3) Justice extends to “remembering” Amalek’s opportunism (vv. 17-18).

After God gives them rest in the Land, Israel must “blot out” the remembrance of this people (v. 19).

Deuteronomy 26

Having been blessed in the Land for awhile, Israel must take their first-fruits to God’s special city (vv. 1-2) and recite to the priest there a prescribed history of Israel—from the Aramean Jacob’s sojourn to Egypt where he became a great nation (v. 5), to their slavery and redemption from that place (vv. 6-8), to God’s leading them into “a land flowing with milk and honey” (v. 9)—prior to setting the basket of produce before the LORD and worshiping Him (v. 10).

Thus Israel will rejoice because of God’s manifold blessings (v. 11).

After contributing the third-year tithe to the dependent in Israel and confessing that they have not misappropriated or used it for any other purpose (vv. 12-14), the people may lay claim to the LORD’s blessing upon them and the promised Land (v. 15).

In verses sixteen through nineteen Moses exhorts Israel to give whole-life obedience to the LORD’s voice, since they have declared Him to be their God.

On His part, Yahweh has proclaimed Israel as His special people whom He will set high above all nations “in praise, in name, and in honor.”

© 2013 glynch1

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