In the earlier chapters of Deuteronomy, God gave laws to the Israelites to keep them clean and pure so He could be among them. The laws He gave were to keep them righteous and pure. Deuteronomy 25 approaches purity from a different angle. It considers justness, dishonor, abomination, and judgment.
Before we get into the study, we need to understand the definitions of these four words. The word “just” in this chapter of Deuteronomy comes from the Hebrew word tsedeq. Tsedeq means rightness in speech and action and justice in case or cause. Justness is righteousness. The character and will of God are the foundation for righteousness and justice. Righteousness requires justice and judgment for it to continue in the human realm. This explains the other side of God’s righteousness, judgment on those who are not right or just.
Judgment, as said above, comes from God’s character of righteousness and justice. Sinfulness brings God’s condemnation, His condemning of sin. God’s righteousness and justice brings condemnation of sin, which brings judgment. Judgment is the punishment for sin that God proclaims against the sinner. It is the necessary requirement to remove evil or to discipline a wayward person. Punishment/judgment either brings the person back to God or casts the final judgment of death and eternal separation from God.
The word “abomination” comes from the Hebrew word tow’ebah. It means a disgusting thing in the sense of wickedness or ritual uncleanness. Abomination is loathing or detesting. When God called something abominable, He considered it detestable and loathsome. God cannot be in the presence of people when they do or have done abominable things or when detestable things are around them. For God to be among people, they must be clean and pure. Cleansing from the dirtiness of abominable acts had to occur for the Israelites via judgment and the sacrifice of animals. When they enacted judgment or offered sin sacrifices, they would be ritually clean.
The last word needing defining is “dishonor.” Moses did not write this word in Deuteronomy 25, but implied it several times. Dishonor means to bring shame or disgrace upon someone. It means to fail to observe or respect a person or law, too. Knowing these words, let us now get into the study.
Each of the four sections Moses dealt with in this chapter about justness teaches about different kinds of disputes. There are fine nuances between them so we can consider them this way: criminal dispute (vs. 1-3), family dispute (vs. 5-10), civil dispute (vs. 11-12), and business dispute (vs. 13-15). Moses used the analogy of how much they were to care for their animal when he clarified how to treat people. In verse 16, Moses wrote the thematic statement of this chapter and defined the word “evil.” In verses 17-19, he showed them how far God goes in judging people to remind them of the seriousness of His requirement for justness/righteousness.
In verses 1-3, Moses gave an example of two men in dispute going to the court to decide their case. The word “dispute” in verse one comes from the Hebrew word riyb, which means controversy, quarrel, or strife. In Deuteronomy 19:16-17, Moses used riyb when he spoke about criminal disputes. Commentators often consider the dispute in Deuteronomy 25 a criminal case. Moses said in this chapter, when the men take their dispute to court and the judges decide their case, the judges will “justify the righteous and condemn the wicked.” Justifying the righteous meant declaring to every person listening, including the two men, who was right, correct, and lawful. Condemning the wicked meant the judges declared to every person listening, which man they found guilty of a crime/sin. That is what Moses meant by justifying and condemning. They were public pronouncements so every person would know who was right in the dispute and who was wrong. In addition, their pronouncement gave witness to God’s righteousness, His requirements for purity, and His judgment on people who sinned against Him or other people.
What was the judgment given to the one who the judges condemned as evil? Moses said in verses two and three,
Then it shall be if the wicked man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall then make him lie down and be beaten in his presence with the number of stripes according to his guilt. He may beat him forty times but no more so [lest] that he does not beat him with many more stripes than these and your brother is degraded in your eyes. [NASB]
A couple important things arise in these two verses. First, beatings did not occur for every criminal action. The verses said “if the wicked man deserves to be beaten.” God trained the judges to know His ways. He taught them His laws and judgments. Not every criminal dispute required the judgment of lashes on the back.
The second important thing to notice is that God cared for the man found guilty of wickedness in this passage. How do we know that? Moses said in verse three not to beat him over forty times so they he is not degraded [read that as dishonored] in your eyes. God cared that a person, whether justified or condemned, kept his honor in the eyes of the judges. To beat over forty lashes was to treat the person as less than an animal. How do we know this last part? Verse 4 tells us. It says, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.” Since the Israelites were to treat the ox well while he was working, how much more were they were to treat a fellow man well even while administering punishment. The condemned man still had to live among them and work with them after his punishment. If the judgment dishonored the man, people would be less inclined to work with him. The outcome of that was that he and his family might starve or become poor because of the excessive lashes/dishonoring he received. A person punished excessively does not see their wrongness, but becomes embittered and cynical. In ancient Mesopotamian cultures, the maximum number of lashes a person could receive was one hundred. God was the God of Israel, not Mesopotamia. He wanted the Israelites to stand out as different from surrounding nations and cultures. God instituted a maximum of forty lashes.
Another factor we should note is that the number forty in the Bible showed a time of trial or preparation. Consider these people and their times of preparation and trial – Moses (in Egypt, in the desert shepherding, in the Exodus), Jesus (in the wilderness), the Israelites (Exodus journey), Nineveh (40 days to destruction), and Ezekiel (laid on his right side 40 days to symbolize Judah’s sins). The pattern of forty shows days or years of trial and preparation or deliverance. With forty, hope remained. Deliverance and redemption from trouble occurred after the forty days or years. So the forty lashes were a punishment and a message to change his behavior. The judges did not decree them to bring destruction on the man, just punishment. They ruled that the criminal could live and hence he needed his honor, not defamation. God’s judges rendered the judgment and led the people to a state of rightness and righteousness. They dealt with the sin by rendering the just punishment and the people returned justness before God.
Verses 5 through 10 imparted God’s will in particular family disputes. These kinds of disputes continued even to Jesus’ day as we read in Matthew 22:23-33. The basic law here is when a man died having no heirs, his unmarried brother must marry the widow and lie with her until he produces an heir for his brother. This was the levirate law. The firstborn son of the brother-in-law and widow received the name of the deceased brother. He received the deceased brother’s inheritance, too. This law assured the family line of the dead brother continued (“his name not be blotted out” vs. 6), his inheritance from God continued in his family line, and his widow received care throughout her life.
The dispute in these six verses arose when an unmarried brother did not desire to take his brother’s wife for his wife. The word “desire” in Hebrew is chaphets and means take delight in, take pleasure in, or be pleased with. Maybe the brother did not want to marry the widow because she was not pleasant. Whatever the case, if the brother did not marry her, she would be shamed and could not marry anyone outside the family. Added to this, it would be unjust because her husband’s line would end and his inheritance be given to someone else. Finally, she would have no one to take care of her – food, lodging, and care in old age.
This must have occurred often because an established process of rectifying the problem existed. From verse 7 through 10, Moses declared certain steps to follow that allowed the widow legally to marry outside the family. First, as in each of these disputes, she presented her case to the elders at the city gate. She explained her case – her brother-in-law refused to marry her and perform the duty of a husband’s brother. If you have read the story of Ruth, you read Boaz did this before he married Ruth (Ruth 4:5-6). Here is where the justice part of the law begins - where the judges get involved. Next, the elders of the city summon the unmarried brother to speak to him. If he persists and still does not want to marry the widow, the final part of this law occurs. Verse 9 says,
Then his brother’s wife shall come to him in the sight of the elders, and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face and she shall declare, “Thus it is done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house. In Israel his name shall be called, ‘The house of him whose sandal is removed.’” [NASB]
For fair treatment, the widow had legal recourse. By law, she married into her husband’s family. If the dead husband’s brother would not give her an heir for her husband to assure the future for him and take care of her, she could legally remove herself from the family and seek another man to marry. This was a common enough occurrence. Yet, still, verse nine seems odd to us in the twenty-first century. Let us try to understand it.
Historical writings say that the judges had a sandal made for this purpose of this levirate law. To free himself from marrying his dead brother’s wife, the brother-in-law put on the sandal, tied the laces, and stood firmly in it. The widow bent down loosened the straps and removed the shoe from his foot. She tossed it away onto the ground and then spit on the ground in front of him. After that, the judges gave her a certificate that allowed her to marry whomever she wanted in Israel. The symbolism is what is important in these actions. Remember, when a man married a woman, she was his skirt. She became the closest covering/garment for him. In this instance, the sandal represented the reproductive organ of the woman and the man’s foot represented his reproductive organ. By publicly removing the man’s sandal from his foot, she removed herself from him as his sandal. The brother-in-law allowed this to show he gave up his rights to her. This method showed her reproach of him. He did not deserve her as his sandal. In addition, the widow’s removing of his sandal signified he did not deserve to be considered a free man, but of servants and slaves. (Slaves did not have shoes.) Spitting in a person’s face or towards him showed contempt of that person and was a way of shaming and disgracing a person. It was a sign of abhorrence and defamed him (Isaiah 50:6). The judges offered justice and returned the people involved to a relationship of justness and rightness.
Verses 11 through 12 handled civil disputes, most particularly a wife’s involvement in it. Moses said, “If two men, a man and his countryman, are struggling together and the wife of one comes near to deliver her husband from the one who is striking him, and puts out her hand and seizes his genitals, then you shall cut off her hand.” [NASB] First off, this judgment seems drastic when reading it in English. We need to look closer at the Hebrew words to understand it better. On top of this, we need to understand the finer nuances of this case.
In verse 11, the word “hand” comes from the Hebrew word yad and means hand, strength, and power. The word “hand” in verse twelve is the Hebrew word kaph, meaning the palm of the hand. If Moses intended this judgment literally, he would have used yad in both verses. The Jews from the beginning interpreted this law to mean the judgment was the payment of a monetary fine to the man she seized. Jewish leaders ruled this way because kaph means the palm of the hand and, from the palm of the hand, people gave money.
The notable point of this law is the modesty and decency of the wife and the honor of the men in the fight. When the wife entered the fray to rescue her husband, she dishonored her husband in front of people. She, in essence, said he was not strong enough to win his battles. Added to this, by grabbing the other man’s genitals, she dishonored him and dishonored her husband. The dishonor to her husband was like she cuckolded him. The dishonor to the other man came from her indecency. It, too, could have affected the man’s ability to have offspring to whom to pass his inheritance. The woman was not just or right in her handling of the problem. She was immodest and indecent. The wife dishonored/defamed both men and herself. The judgment of the woman required her to pay a punitive fine to the man whose genitals she grabbed. Moses declared no pity was be shown to a woman who did this. The judges’ judgment restored rightness and justness. Their addressing the case rectified the problem and removed the abomination.
In verses 14 through 15, Moses told the Israelites to be fair and just in their business dealings. In that time, people used stones of specific weights to sell their products. Each size stone was to weigh a specific amount, the standard for the time. In these verses, Moses told them not to use weights less than the standard amount to measure out goods sold. He told them not to have a large and small weight in their pouches - the large to measure the amount sold to someone and the small to measure what they themselves bought from someone. They were to use the same measure for both transactions. The word “measures” in verse fourteen referred to a volume amount. “Measures” comes from the Hebrew word eyphah. An eyphah was equal to ten omers, about nine gallons or forty liters. The word “weight” in verse fifteen is the Hebrew word ‘eben, which means stone. This referred to the weight of products. To sell the products at a standard and just weight, the seller used the measuring stones according to the standard.
Why was this important to God? God is righteousness and justice. To be a people of God, the Israelites were to be a people of righteousness and justice. Moses said in verse fifteen, “You shall have a full and just weight; you shall have a full and just measure.” The word “full” is shalem and means complete and at peace. “Just” comes from tsedeq and means rightness and righteousness in speech and action. The Israelites were to measure out complete measures, not steal from others. By doing this, they would be righteous, as God is righteous. By this, they would be at peace because they did not sin.
Moses gave the biggest incentive for being righteous the Israelites could have. At the end of verse fifteen, he said, “That your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you.” (See Exodus 20:12, too.) Moses reminded them of their first promise and covenant with God from Mount Sinai. God promised this blessing to the Israelites if they were faithful to their covenant with Him. God gave the laws to keep them righteous tied and promised this blessing for their faithfulness to Him. Their faithfulness to God meant they were righteous in God’s eyes. When people followed God and His laws, God blessed them with a prolonged life in the Promised Land; He blessed them with life.
Judgment for Unjustness/Unrighteousness
In the first fifteen verses Moses dealt with specific acts requiring justice and the administration of judgment. These judgments rendered by God’s judges “justified the righteous and condemned the wicked” (vs. 1). They set one against the other so the Israelites could learn and know what was just and right and what was unjust and unrighteous, wicked. This allowed them to pursue righteousness and be righteous before God. In verse fifteen, Moses reminded the Israelites of their covenant with God and His blessing on them if they were faithful to it.
Verse 16 explains the opposite, what God considers people who act unjustly. Moses said, “For everyone who does these things, everyone who acts unjustly is an abomination to the LORD your God.” In this verse, Moses defined the word “evil.” The word “unjustly” comes from the Hebrew word evel, which means injustice and unrighteousness. God is just - righteous and right. He cannot be in the presence of injustice and unrighteousness - evil. Because of this, He provided judgments for people who were unjust/unrighteous - evil. The judgments were disciplining (so the person would return to the LORD) and actions to serve as an example to the people (to keep them walking in God’s righteous ways). Judgment could be the unrighteous person’s removal so he or she would not lead people away from God. In verse sixteen, we hear that God called anything unjust an abomination, something disgusting and loathsome. The choice to follow God and His laws or not to follow Him is for each person to decide. If a person acts unjustly or unrighteously (evel-ly), he or she chooses not to follow God. God’s metes out His judgment upon him or her. Remember what God does to an abomination. He issues judgment that are either discipline or as destruction of the person - the Law of the Ban.
How do we know this? Moses outlined God’s judgments for disputes in the above situations. His judgments for different acts of sin are in the earlier chapters of Deuteronomy. Moses added more to this chapter in verses seventeen through nineteen to remind the Israelites of God’s seriousness about sin, an abomination. Moses said,
Remember what Amalek did to you along the way when you came from Egypt, how he met you along the way and attacked among you all the stragglers at your rear when you were faint and weary and he did not fear God. Therefore, it shall come about when the LORD your God has given you rest from all your surrounding enemies, in the land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you must not forget. [NASB]
Moses reminded the Israelites that God’s ultimate judgment, His curse for unrighteousness, is death. Earlier in Deuteronomy, God told the Israelites when they entered Canaan, they were to destroy the people, the worship places, the worship idols, and everything related to their worship of false gods. They received God’s ultimate judgment – the Law of the Ban.
In verses eighteen and nineteen, Moses reminded them God still judged people for their unrighteousness via His curse for unfaithfulness. That ultimate judgment was death. The Israelites remembered that when Moses told them God’s judgment on the Amalekites. Because the Amalekites attacked the Israelites when they crossed the Red Sea and were at their weakest and because the Amalekites attacked them from the rear where their weakest people were, God’s judgment on them was death. When God in later years told the Israelites to attack and kill the Amelekites, He said they would blot out the Amelekites from the memory of humankind forever. The English verb “blot out” comes from the Hebrew word machah, which means to wipe out, to obliterate. God commanded the destruction of the Amelekites almost 400 years after the Israelites settled in the Promised Land. The Amelekites had those 400 years to repent and did not. God told Saul to kill them (1 Samuel 15). Saul spared some of them. David destroyed more of them. The Simeonites in Hezekiah’s time killed the rest (1 Chronicles 4:43).
God renewed his Law of the Ban when He issued the order to kill the Amelekites. He reminded the Israelites He expected faithfulness to Him. God reminded them He would bless or curse when He reminded them of the Amelekites. Moses’ final statement in this chapter was, “You must not forget.” “Do not ignore nor cease to care about your covenant with the LORD your God” is what he meant.
God issued each of His laws, statutes, and decrees to help keep the Israelites righteous and pure, not to be a tyrant. In verse 16 this week, we find the theme of this chapter, “Everyone who acts unjustly is an abomination to the LORD your God.” God offered a blessing or curse for a person’s faithfulness or unfaithfulness to his or her covenant with Him. The blessing for being just, Moses stated was, “That you days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you” (vs. 15). Life was the blessing. The curse, as stated in verse sixteen, was death. In this chapter, Moses taught how to resolve disputes in most areas of the Israelites’ lives. He taught that God wanted each person to keep their honor and not be shamed or disgraced even if they received disciplining by the judges. By doing this, Moses taught that God cares about every person and each animal. God wants people to be righteous and just, not unrighteous and unjust, which God calls an abomination. He detests sinfulness and cannot be in its presence.
Relevance and Conclusion
God knew humans would sin. He is all-knowing. God gave each person the opportunity to decide for him or herself. He allowed each person a choice to be in a relationship with Him. God created us to be in a relationship with Him. He knew we each would sin and choose to go our own way. God created the Old Covenant from Mount Sinai to establish a theocracy and to teach the people how to be righteous, pure, and just. It led the Israelites to God. The covenant provided a way to remove sin, though temporarily, so God could be among His people. The sacrifice for sin was not perfect and did not cover sin for all time.
From the beginning of time, God knew humans would sin and go their own way. He provided from the beginning the perfect sacrifice to take away every sin from people forever. The perfect sacrifice came through God’s own perfect being, the birth of his Son on earth to live a sinless life. Only the sacrifice of a sinless, perfect being could save people from their sins forever. God provided this perfect sacrifice because of His love. Jesus’ death only needed to happen once because by coming back to life, He beat death and sin forever. When a person believes Jesus Christ is the Son of God who lived, died, and was resurrected for his or her sins and then confesses his or her sins to God, he or she becomes a clean child of God. Death does not have power over the person anymore. Jesus’ power over death transfers to His brothers and sisters so they have victory over sin and death, too. As brothers and sisters of Christ, they are joint heirs with Him in God’s kingdom and will live forever with God in heaven after their lives on earth.
Each of us has this opportunity. The opportunity gives us forgiveness of our sins, power to resist temptation, and power to overcome death to live with God in heaven. God provided this. We did nothing to get it or deserve it. God gave it because of His love for each person He created.
Will you accept God’s gift of love – salvation and forgiveness?
It is up to you.