Study Guide

Book of Deuteronomy Justice and Judgment

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Justice and Judgment

"You shall not murder." (NRSV 5:17)

Thou shalt not kill. (KJV 5:17)

Pretty simple, right? But wait, didn't Moses kill a guy? So where do we draw the line?

"Neither shall you steal." (NRSV 5:19)

Thou shalt not steal. (KJV 5:19)

Here's another one that seems pretty cut and dry. But then the Israelites are told to take everything from the people in the Promised Land. Does this not count as stealing?

"Neither shall you bear false witness against your neighbor." (NRSV 5:20)

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. (KJV 5:20)

Even though not bearing false witness (i.e., lying) is only one of the Ten Commandments, it may be the linchpin for any legal system. After all, without truth the system falls apart, right?

"Neither shall you covet your neighbor's wife. Neither shall you desire your neighbor's house, or field, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor." (NRSV 5:21)

Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbour's wife, neither shalt thou covet thy neighbour's house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or any thing that is thy neighbour's. (KJV 5:21)

In the wayback ancient days, a man's wife was seen as his property. In modern speak, this law pretty much translates to "don't be jealous of the sweet new computer your friend just got." What do you think about having a law against envy? Can it be enforced?

"If anyone secretly entices you—even if it is your brother, your father's son or your mother's son, or your own son or daughter, or the wife you embrace, or your most intimate friend—saying, 'Let us go and worship other gods', whom neither you nor your ancestors have known, any of the gods of the peoples that are around you, whether near you or far away from you, from one end of the earth to the other, you must not yield to or heed any such persons. Show them no pity or compassion and do not shield them. But you shall surely kill them; your own hand shall be first against them to execute them, and afterwards the hand of all the people. Stone them to death for trying to turn you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. Then all Israel shall hear and be afraid, and never again do any such wickedness." (NRSV 13:6-11)

If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers; Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth; Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die; because he hath sought to thrust thee away from the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. And all Israel shall hear, and fear, and shall do no more any such wickedness as this is among you. (KJV 13:6-11)

Didn't we just see "Thou shalt not kill"? What gives? Well, we know that worshipping idols is pretty much the lowest low in Deuteronomy, so if there's going to be an exception, it would be here. Stone away, Israelites.

"If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted towards your needy neighbour. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be." (NRSV 15:7-8)

If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother: But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth. (KJV 15:7-8)

After all these nasty-sounding laws, it's nice to hear one about helping the needy. The Bible writers were well aware that humans can be greedy and selfish, and this law attempts to counteract those tendencies. Do we have any similar laws today?

"You must not move your neighbor's boundary marker, set up by former generations, on the property that will be allotted to you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you to possess." (NRSV 19:14)

Thou shalt not remove thy neighbour's landmark, which they of old time have set in thine inheritance, which thou shalt inherit in the land that the Lord thy God giveth thee to possess it. (KJV 19:14)

This law will be particularly important to the Israelites when they enter the Promised Land in the book of Joshua. They're basically saying, "don't move onto my side of the bed." Someone clearly violated this principle at one point—moving those pesky boundary stones—which led to the creation of the law.

"If you besiege a town for a long time, making war against it in order to take it, you must not destroy its trees by wielding an axe against them. Although you may take food from them, you must not cut them down. Are trees in the field human beings that they should come under siege from you? You may destroy only the trees that you know do not produce food; you may cut them down for use in building siege-works against the town that makes war with you, until it falls." (NRSV 20:19-20)

When thou shalt besiege a city a long time, in making war against it to take it, thou shalt not destroy the trees thereof by forcing an axe against them: for thou mayest eat of them, and thou shalt not cut them down (for the tree of the field is man's life) to employ them in the siege: Only the trees which thou knowest that they be not trees for meat, thou shalt destroy and cut them down; and thou shalt build bulwarks against the city that maketh war with thee, until it be subdued. (KJV 20:19-20)

Don't get the wrong idea—this isn't some sort of proto-environmentalism. The Israelites probably just wanted to preserve the fruit-producing trees that were the rewards of their conquests.

"You shall not watch your neighbor's ox or sheep straying away and ignore them; you shall take them back to their owner." (NRSV 22:1)

Thou shalt not see thy brother's ox or his sheep go astray, and hide thyself from them: thou shalt in any case bring them again unto thy brother. (KJV 22:1)

Have you ever seen a shopping cart rolling through the parking lot and just let it go? Yeah, the same thing happened back in the day. This law is all about neighbors helping each other out and is probably designed to strengthen the Israelite community. We should totally make a shopping cart law.

"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, you shall cut off her hand; show no pity." (NRSV 25:11-12)

When men strive together one with another, and the wife of the one draweth near for to deliver her husband out of the hand of him that smiteth him, and putteth forth her hand, and taketh him by the secrets: Then thou shalt cut off her hand, thine eye shall not pity her. (KJV 25:11-12)

Um. We're going to go ahead and call this case law. In other words, someone didn't dream up this scenario. A woman actually tried to take, well, matters, into her own hands—and a law was born. Ah, the Bible.

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