In earlier chapters of Deuteronomy, we read Moses gave the Israelites God’s laws for living as His chosen people in a new land they inherited from His covenant with Abraham. People today comment that the laws seemed trivial or overbearing, but when we see them from God’s perspective, we understand why He gave them. God gave the laws to the Israelites to keep them pure and untainted by the ways of living and worshipping by neighboring countries. When the Israelites covenanted with God at Mount Sinai, they covenanted to worship Yahweh only and to live according to His laws – first the Ten Commandments and then the added laws He gave over the years. Their covenant was a pledge to stay faithful to God. By covenanting with Yahweh, they pledged to follow His laws, commands, statutes, and ordinances, which include rules of worship, rules about living in His Promised Land with other people, and rules on how to take care of nature (animals, plants, and land).
Chapter 24 begins with rules of divorce and then proceeds to pledges for loans, kidnapping, leprosy, payment of wages, justice for every person, and gleaning. Two things are prevalent in each part of this chapter – pledges and righteousness. The latter is a major theme of Deuteronomy. God gave the laws to the Israelites to keep them righteous and pure in His eyes so He could be among them. By keeping their pledge – covenant - with God, they remained faithful to Him and other people. This chapter teaches how to be faithful to God and His laws by being faithful in their relationships to the people who inhabited the Promised Land.
Upon reading the first four verses of this chapter, you may think God condones divorce, a teaching counter to what you heard during your life. God did not and does not condone divorce. In Genesis 2:24, God created man and woman to be together. In the beginning, He did not make allowance for divorce. Why then did God give the law in Deuteronomy 24 about divorce? Jesus answered this question in Matthew 19:7-9. The Pharisees asked Jesus,
Why then did Moses command to ‘Give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?’ He [Jesus] said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.’ [NASB]
God allowed the Israelites to divorce their wives because of their hard hearts. They turned in hate and disgust from their wife of Israel against God’s word. Hard-heartedness is a euphemism in the Bible for being rebellious against God. Because of the hard-heartedness of the husbands, God protected the wife from this and provided a way for both husband and wife to stay in relationship with Him, not be unclean and bereft of His presence. With this understanding, let us study the first four verses of Deuteronomy 24 closer.
The verses appear straightforward. When a Jewish man and woman marry, in the Jewish way with the ketubbah (contract) first then the consummation of the marriage, they troth themselves to each other. “Troth” is the word from which we get the word “betroth.” It means to pledge loyalty and faith in a solemn agreement. Hence, a man and woman pledge their loyalty to each other. The covenant/pledge between and husband and wife is the strongest pledge two people make. For people who are followers of Jesus or who were Israelites then, they made this pledge before God with Him witnessing, blessing, and being part of the pledge. God gave the law about divorce in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 to help them and help keep husband and wife from divorcing. How did He do that? Before this law of Deuteronomy 24:1-4, the neighboring countries and Egypt influenced the Israelites about divorce. When the man told his wife he no longer wanted to be married to her, he just sent her out of the house. With God’s law on divorce, He commanded the husband not just to find her distasteful and send her away. He had to take the time to write out the divorce on a certificate and put it into her hand. By doing this, time elapsed from the heated emotion of the moment, time in which to let the heat of the moment pass. This time allowed the passions of the moment to cool and a clear mind with which to make decisions.
An interesting thing to note is the phrase in verse one that says, “She finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency.” “Indecency in this verse did not mean to the Jews what the word “indecent” meant to them. The word “indecent” comes from the Hebrew word ‘ervah, which meant nakedness, shameful exposure, and improper behavior. Yet when one reads the teachings of famous rabbis, they interpret indecent to mean the husband found something about the wife distasteful – her looks, actions, words, way she kept his house. One rabbi even said the man could divorce his wife if he wanted because she was a bad cook, but kept burning his food. It seems this may be the case for understanding the word “indecent” in this way in Deuteronomy 24:1-4. Since we learned in Deuteronomy 22:13-21 what God’s judgment and punishment was for a woman or man found in adultery - stoning - if they were betrothed to each other, betrothed to another, or not betrothed to anyone, understanding “indecency” must be something other than adultery of the wife because in these verses of Deuteronomy 24. Hence the rabbi’s interpretation of “indecent” may mean things the wife did other than adultery that the husband found distasteful. In Matthew 5:31, though, Jesus pared it back to divorce just for “unchastity” (porneia – illicit sexual intercourse). Jesus returned the sanctity of marriage back to its original stance; a marriage pledge was forever, except in cases of unchastity – adultery.
In verses 2-4, Moses said when a woman received a written certificate of divorce she was free to marry another man. He then said, “If the latter husband turns against her and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her to be his wife, then her former husband who sent her away could not take her again to be his wife.” (vs. 3-4 [NASB]) We must note two things in these verses. First, the former husband was to consider her unclean sexually, religiously, and ceremonially since the latter husband divorced her. Second, if the latter husband died, God said He considered her the latter man’s wife and possession still. Next, we realize that by knowing this in advance, the first husband when considering divorcing his wife would pause and make sure he wanted to divorce her. If he divorced his wife then remarried and got a worse wife, he might then want his first wife back. God forbade this. Think about divorce completely before you give a written certificate of divorce to your wife is what Moses wanted the men to hear.
Moses stated in verse four the main reason God gave the divorce laws. When a man divorced his wife, the woman became defiled – unclean. “Uncleanness” is “an abomination (tow’ebah – disgusting, detestable) before the LORD,” said Moses. Sin is an abomination to the LORD and divorce created “uncleanness.” This brought uncleanness on the land God gave them so He could not be among them. Divorce was sin to God. This law from God sought to protect the sanctity of marriage and to keep the people of Israel in right standing with God, be faithful in their covenant with Him. It provided for a cooling off period and a time to think before divorcing a wife. The law provided a different way other countries did not consider and helped the husband and wife stay righteous in the eyes of God. It helped people to be faithful to their pledge to each other before God.
While considering divorce, Moses gave a law about newly married couples. To allow them to bond and establish their family, God provided for a new husband not to have responsibilities – civil or military – for the first year of his marriage. He intended the couple have time to build strong ties with each other so differences or misunderstandings not separate them. God provided a time for bonding like He provided a period for cooling off when a person considered divorce. He wanted the pledge of the newly married couple to stand the tests that would beset it and provided a time for making strong bonds. God meant for marriages to survive and be the backbone of society – teaching and training the future leaders to know Him and walk in His ways. A man and woman’s pledge to each other in marriage and their faithfulness to it provided a strong foundation for raising children in the ways of the LORD. It showed, too, their faithfulness to their covenant with God.
From verse six to twenty-two, Moses spoke directly and indirectly about pledges. In verses six, ten through thirteen, and seventeen through eighteen, Moses gave specific laws about pledges. In the other ten verses, he spoke indirectly about a person or nation’s pledge. Let us study first the verses related to direct pledges then at the verses not about specific pledges.
Each of the seven verses related directly to taking a pledge from a person concerns loans. If you recall, in Deuteronomy 14:22-15:23 God gave laws to protect and provide for the poorest people who lived in Israel – widows, children, and foreigners. In the laws of Deuteronomy 24, God continued to make sure each person, not just the rulers and tradesmen, received what they needed and remained free from abuse.
Hand Mill - Livelihood
In verse 6, Moses said, “No one shall take a hand mill or an upper millstone in pledge for he would be taking a life in pledge.” A hand mill was a small grain-grinding mill for the women of the home to grind grain for each day’s bread. It comprised two flat stones that mounted together on top of each other with a post in the middle to keep them together. The mill had a hole in the top of the upper millstone into which the women would pour handfuls of grain while grinding the earlier heads of grains. A handle rested on the top millstone by which the woman would turn the top millstone over the bottom one. To catch the ground grain, the woman would place the hand mill on a cloth on her lap or on the ground then place the mill atop that so that as she ground the mill, it would spill onto the cloth. Grinding in this way took two women for the process to be productive.
In regards to verse six, when a person received a loan from another, God forbade the creditor take any part of the hand mill as pledge. To do so meant the family would not have bread, a main staple. When the creditor took the hand mill or millstone he deprived the family of their life. God forbade taking a person’s life as pledge. The person needed to live and work to repay his or her loan. By following this law of God, the creditor was faithful to God. The creditor showed compassion and mercy to the debtor and made their pledge and bond easier to live with and fulfill.
Cloak - Warmth
The next part of this chapter where Moses specifically mentioned a pledge is in verses ten through thirteen. Moses said,
When you make your neighbor a loan of any sort, you shall not enter his house to take his pledge. You shall remain outside and the man to whom you make the loan shall bring the pledge out to you. If he is a poor man, you shall not sleep with his pledge. When the sun goes down you shall surely return the pledge to him, that he may sleep in his cloak and bless you and it will be righteousness for you before the LORD your God. [NASB]
Moses made several points in this passage. The first is that a creditor could give a loan to anyone who lived in Israel. We encountered before the word “neighbor.” It comes from the Hebrew word rea’, which means a friend, fellow citizen, or another person. Remember earlier in Deuteronomy, God allowed the Israelites to give loans to anyone, but not to receive loans from foreigners. The second point to notice is the creditor could not enter the home of the debtor to get his pledge. Why was this important? If the creditor went into the debtor’s home, he could see the man’s belongings, become greedy, and choose an expensive item or an heirloom to be the pledge for the loan. Moses said the debtor would bring the pledge out to the creditor to keep this from occurring. The third point Moses made was if a creditor gave a loan to a poor man and the pledge was as dear to him as his cloak, the creditor could not keep it when the sun set. In those days, the cloak was an outer garment worn for warmth and used as a blanket during the cold nights. God kept a person’s life safe from sickness when He forbade a creditor to keep a man’s cloak pledge beyond sunset. This pledge for a loan was between two people, but by keeping it they remained faithful to their covenant/pledge to God.
This part of Deuteronomy came with the reminder of God’s blessing. The reminder of God’s blessing reminded the creditors that by taking care of each of God’s people, they remained faithful to their covenant with Him. Faithfulness to God’s covenant brought blessing as spoken in Deuteronomy 6:25. In verse thirteen, the debtor would bless the creditor (unheard of in this day) and the LORD would count the creditor’s actions as righteousness in his dealings with the debtor.
Garment – Justice
The reason for taking care of debtors builds with this passage. The reason God required creditors to care for the debtors of Israel began in verse thirteen and built to the statement in verse eighteen. Let us look at this pledge closer as we understand verses seventeen and eighteen.
Moses said in these verses, “You shall not pervert the justice due an alien or an orphan nor take a widow’s garment. But you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and that the LORD your God redeemed you from there; therefore, I am commanding you to do this thing.” [NASB] In verse six, the debtor was a head of household in Israel. In verses ten through thirteen, the debtor was a neighbor (anyone who lived in Israel). The debtor was a person of some means in both of those passages,. In verse seventeen, the debtor was a widow. God required in this verse that justice be fair, not perverted. He said even for the lowest in society – widow, alien, and orphan, justice must prevail. Part of that justice included not removing the last thing a poor person had, his or her garment. We encountered this above when Moses told the creditor not to keep the debtor’s cloak past sunset. When creditors kept the cloak of a debtor past sunset, he affected the life of the person. God considers life sacred. He provides what each person needs to live as he or she follows His rules and is faithful to his or her covenant with Him. Sometimes God’s provision for a person comes directly through God and sometimes indirectly through another person. In this case, the provision of a garment – cloak, blanket, tunic – provided warmth and modesty, necessity for the body and for living among other people (covered nakedness). Without this necessity, a body could die. God used the example of taking a widow’s garment as one form of justice for the poorest in the country. When he mentioned the orphan, alien, and widow, He meant to include every person of low means. God expected His people to administer justice without partiality and with concern for the poor. By doing that, they kept their faithfulness to their covenant with God. This allowed them to be faithful to their pledge of caring for their neighbors, even the poorest of them. Moses attached more to this with the next verse.
The most important thing to remember about this passage, and in association with the other pledges, is what Moses said in verse eighteen. God commanded the Israelites to do this for their fellow human because they, too, were once slaves in Egypt and He redeemed them. They were to remember their redemption and be the hand of God helping other people. A pledge – covenant - with God did not just affect the individual who made the pledge. It affected the person so that he or she positively affected the lives of people around them with God’s love for all huamnkind. Pledges that just affect your life with God are not true pledges with God, but are mere actions acted out seeking your own salvation. They are pharisaical. Jesus taught against being a Pharisee, being only a hearer of the Word and not a doer. He taught that we are to stand up for the downtrodden, to provide justice and care for them.
In the previous three sections, we could see that Moses spoke about pledges made for loans or some benefit of a person. The next four segments of chapter twenty-four do not give direct mention of pledges, but we understand that the covenant the Israelites made with God at Mount Sinai was their pledge with Him. In addition, a pledge with God was a pledge with the people of Israel, too. Remember, too, anyone who was an enemy of one of God’s protected people, was an enemy of God. Remember, too, there were two sides to the covenant with God, blessing for faithfulness and curse for unfaithfulness.
Kidnapping - Abuse
As we consider this then, let us look at verse seven. Moses, said, “If a man is caught kidnapping any of his countrymen of the sons of Israel and he deals with him violently or sells him then that thief shall die; so you shall purge the evil from among you.” [NASB] Two things arise from reading this verse. First, kidnapping is a crime. Exodus 21:16 stated this law first. Second, this verse in Deuteronomy speaks specifically to kidnapping a member of the tribe of Israel. Exodus speaks of kidnapping any person. God forbade them to kidnap an Israelite. He added to the law in Exodus and said if the kidnapper mistreated the Israelite or sold him or her, His judgment of the kidnapper was death. In case they did not understand the seriousness of the Exodus law, God laid it out for the in Deuteronomy 24:7.
Why did God’s judgment on the kidnapper include death? The Israelites knew from the first day of their covenant with Yahweh that faithfulness brought blessing and unfaithfulness brought death. They sinned often, so God had to give the specifics of every law to help them see there was no wiggle room to get around God’s laws. Moses mentioned the main reason God’s judgment was death. He said it was to purge the evil from Israel. Remember, the word “purge” comes from the Hebrew word ba’ar, which means to burn or consume. The best way to get rid of anything is not to hide it, but to burn it. God used the word “purge” or “burn” to say total annihilation - death. Besides this verse, He spoke these same words in Deuteronomy 13:5, 17:7, 19:13 & 19, 21:19 & 21, and 22:21-22 & 23. Faithlessness to God, not keeping pledge to, covenant with, God, rendered God’s judgment of death. If evil remained in the land, the other Israelites would be affected adversely and the indirect pledge to the people of God would be defaulted on, too.
Leprosy - Judgment
Before we look at verses eight through nine, we must remember, God will judge a person who breaks any of His laws, relating specifically to Him and to relationships between humans. God chose Moses to be His spokesman, priest, interceder, and leader of the Israelites. God chose Moses. When a person complains, gets others complaining about, or tries to usurp God’s appointed leader, that person questions God’s wisdom and selection. The questioning person is then an enemy of God because he or she has put his or her own priorities higher than God’s. That person usurped God’s role as supreme in his or her own life. He or she made him or herself a god in his or her life. This makes the person and enemy of God. God’s punishment for His enemies is death.
Now, let us consider verses eight and nine. Moses said, “Be careful against an infection of leprosy that you diligently observe and do according to all that the Levitical priests teach you. As I have commanded them, so you shall be careful to do.” [NASB] Notice three times God used the word shamar, which, if you remember, means to hear, listen, and obey. The words “careful” and “observe and do” are shamar.
Look at these verses closely. God included a carefully phrased threat/reminder about disobedience. He said to be careful against an infection of leprosy. Leprosy is an illness associated with uncleanness and death. God used leprosy to remind Aaron and Miriam that He is supreme and He chose Moses over them to lead the people. Moses reminded the Israelites of Miriam and Aaron’s meeting with God when they complained about being second behind Moses. God showed His might and judgment on any person who tried to usurp His authority and plan when He gave Miriam leprosy while she stood with Aaron and Moses before Him (Deuteronomy 24:9, Numbers 12:10). Hence, Moses reminded the Israelites to be careful so they will not get an infection of leprosy – one way God enacted His judgment of death.
Next, look at the second part of verse eight. Moses told the Israelites the way not to get His judgment of death was to “diligently observe and do” everything the priests taught them. The way to stay faithful to God was hear, listen, and obey (do). God emphasized this when he said to “diligently observe and do.” Besides this, the phrase meant if they acquired leprosy they were to follow what the priests told them to do so they could be clean and live among the other Israelites. Leviticus 13:1-14 & 57 teach what the priests were to do to decide if sores were leprosy and what they were to instruct the Israelites do to become “clean” before the LORD.
God commanded the Israelites be faithful to their covenant/pledge with Him. To do that, they had to hear, listen, and obey Him and His laws, which His messengers (Moses and priests) spoke, taught, and enforced. Leprosy can be one way in which God enacts His death judgment. Yet God in His mercy allows a person to return to Him. He provided a way for people to become “clean” and be in His presence again. This indirect pledge was between God and humans. The next affects the relationship between two humans.
Hired Servant - Livelihood
Verses 14-15 teach about the relationship between a hired servant and an employer. This relationship carried with it a covenant to do the work the employer required and for the employee to receive payment for his or her work. So this relationship dealt with a pledge between two people. In these verses, Moses said, “You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your countrymen or one of your aliens who is in your land in your towns. You shall give him his wages on his day before the sun sets for he is poor and sets his heart on it.” [NASB]
Earlier the indirect pledge dealt with agreements between Israelites. This indirect pledge affected anyone who lived in Israel – countrymen and alien. In Deuteronomy 14:22-15:23, God gave commands to the Israelites to take care of every person within their land – Israelite, widow, orphan, and alien. Before that, He said not to oppress neighbors in Leviticus 19:13. God told the Israelites to sustain the poor countryman, sojourner, and stranger in Leviticus 25:35-43. The hiring of servants most often dealt with people who were desperate and willing to serve a richer person. It dealt with the widow, poor, alien, and orphan. These people would accept some oppression to have payment by which to buy food for themselves and their families. God, with this law, ensured an unequal distribution of power did not result in unfairness towards the poorer people. Humans have a tendency when they are rich to look down on and mistreat other people.
God told people they must not oppress the hired servant. In verse fourteen, God pointedly told them not to oppress a hired servant. He told them to give the servant what he or she was due in due time – before sunset. This makes sense, but people tend not to be as careful about another person as they are themselves. They do not see the desperate need of the hired servant. Not to pay them before sunset could mean they and their family starve that night and the next day. God cares for each person whether or not a direct an indirect pledge exists to care for another person. He told the employer to pay his hired servant so the employee would not cry out to the LORD and the employers sin be made known. God is serious about sin. He said He would not be among the Israelites when they sinned. He said he could not walk among them. Moses taught the Israelite employers to pay the hired servant before sunset so as not to sin. It ensured their faithfulness to their covenant to God. This affected the direct pledge between every person of Israel and the indirect pledge between the person and God.
Gleaning - Food
In Leviticus 19:9-10 and Leviticus 23:22 God gave the law that required farmers not to double reap their grain or double pick their fruit and olives, but to leave the last remnants for the needy and stranger. In Deuteronomy 14:29, God said these gleanings were for the alien, orphan, and widow. This is an indirect pledge (the direct pledge indirectly affected this relationship) between the landowner and the poor in his area. It is a direct pledge between the landowner and the LORD. When the landowner was faithful in his pledge to God in this matter, God said he would bless the work of his hands. That was the blessing of faithfulness to the covenant with God. Three times Moses repeated why the landowner was not to go through their fields and orchards an extra time. Three times he said, “It shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow.” When the Israelites were faithful to their covenant with God, they were faithful to their indirect covenant with the people who lived in Israel.
Judgment on Whom it is Due
Lest the employer not pay wages when due, lest the Israelite kidnap his fellow countryman, lest a disgruntled person try to usurp God’s leader, Moses implied in verse sixteen the person who did these things would not escape God’s judgment. Moses said in verse sixteen, “Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sin.” God takes sin seriously and judges the person who is unfaithful to his pledge/covenant with Him. This then makes the person unfaithful to his pledge to his fellow human.
The most important thing to remember, and put in a positive way (not to dwell on the negative), Moses said at the end, in verse twenty-two, “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this thing.” God preferred the Israelites remember they were slaves in Egypt - mistreated, oppressed, kidnapped, killed, unpaid, and told to worship Pharaoh, a usurper of God’s role. Moses reminded them God did not forget them, but redeemed them from their slavery, provided the Promised Land, and promised His blessing on them for their faithfulness to Him. God preferred they remembered His love for them when he redeemed them and provided everything they needed. He preferred they remembered His love rather than the curse for their unfaithfulness. Like most parents, God preferred His children stay with Him because of a positive influence rather than a negative one.
Recap and Relevance
God created a covenant with the Israelites at Mount Sinai. They agreed to it and then, as every human does, broke it…over and over. God in His mercy and love forgave and gave added opportunities for them to be faithful to their covenant with Him. The Israelites succeeded in keeping their covenant with God sometimes, while other times they failed. God promised blessing for faithfulness and death for faithlessness. Death was the curse. Life was the blessing. In God’s covenant He gave laws about the Israelites’ worship of Him alone. On top of this, He gave laws about how to live in peace in community with other humans, which required caring for and loving other people. By loving other people as God loved them, the Israelites would fulfill the second side of their covenant with Him. Our faithfulness in our pledges/covenants with people reflects our covenant/pledge with God. The latter could come through direct or indirect pledges with people. The former, about God, was a direct pledge to Him.
God knew the Israelites would not stay faithful to their covenant with Him. He knew the each human, with God’s gift of free will, would succumb to the temptation of sin. In each person’s life, he or she would sin. God was right. We all sin. We each do not deserve to be in His presence. He cannot be in our presence while sin exists. Because of that, because He knew our sinful nature, God planned from the beginning of creation to give the perfect sacrifice for the penalty of death which our sin required. The perfect sacrifice came from a sinless person, one who lived on earth and knew the temptation of sin, but did not sin. That person is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. God had this plan from before He formed each of us. His plan was to save us because He loves us and wants to be in an eternal relationship with each of us.
What does that mean for us? For you? Just that God loves you. He made a way for you to be in an eternal love relationship with Him. What do you have to do? Believe that Jesus Christ is God’s Son who died and arose from the dead to save you from the penalty of sin and death. Believe in Jesus as your Lord (the one who directs and guides your daily steps) and Savior (the one who saved you from your death judgment by His perfect sacrifice). The last thing – confess your sins to God and He will forgive them. By doing this you break down the walls of willfulness you created when you chose rebel against God’s plan.
Two things – believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and confess your sins to God. It requires no action because you can do nothing to earn salvation. It requires giving your heart, will, mind, and strength to God. Jesus said this when He answered the Sadducee in Matthew 22:36-37. It is your choice. It is always your choice.
What do you choose today – God’s will of a loving relationship with Him for eternity (life)
or living life the way you want no matter what God says (death)?
Salvation and eternal life or slavery to sin and death.