Rules of Law, Justice, and War (Deuteronomy 17-20)

Scripture reading – Deuteronomy 17-20

Moses challenge to Israel and his rehearsal of the laws and regulations the nation was to follow continues in today’s scripture reading.

Capital Punishment (Deuteronomy 17)

Capital punishment is a God-ordained exercise of human authority (Romans 13:4); however, a sentence of death required two to three witnesses (17:2-7).  When judicial matters were too difficult to be settled, the matter was taken to priests who were instructed to enquire diligently into the accusation (17:9-11). Judgments were binding and when a man refused to accept a sentence the penalty was death (17:12-13).

Israel was not to pattern herself after other nations (17:14).

Should the people demand a king, he was to be a Hebrew whom the LORD would choose (17:15). Unlike heathen kings, Israel’s king was to reflect humility and integrity.

Three rules applied to the king: 1) He was not to seek his strength in a stable of horses (17:16); 2) He was not to practice polygamy (17:17); 3) He was to write with his own hand a copy of the law to read and continually meditate upon its statutes (17:18-19).

Principle – The effect of knowing the law was that the king would “learn to fear the LORD…That his heart be not lifted up” (17:19-20).

The rights of priests, Levites, and prophets is the subject of Deuteronomy 18.

The physical needs of priests, Levites, and their families were to be met through the offerings and sacrifices of the people (18:1-8).

Fearing Israel might be tempted to follow the wicked practices of their neighbors, Moses warned, “thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations” (18:9).

Enumerated among the sins was human sacrifice (18:10a), soothsaying, witchcraft, and other sources of darkness (18:10b-14). False prophets, identified as those who claim to speak in the name of the Lord, but whose prophecies did not come to pass, were to be put to death (18:20-22).

Cities of Refuge is the subject of Deuteronomy 19.

Three cities on the east side of Jordan (Numbers 35:14) and three cities in the Promised Land were established as sanctuaries where a killer might flee until justice would prevail (19:1-8).  Three additional cities (making nine total) were to be established should Israel take possession of all the land the LORD had promised as an inheritance (19:9).

Two types of killing are identified: Unintentional manslaughter (19:3-5) and premeditated murder (19:11-13). The cities of refuge were to be safe cities for those who had accidentally taken the life of another; however, they were not to give refuge to a murderer (19:11-13).

The demand for two to three witnesses is repeated (19:15) and false witnesses are warned they would suffer the judgment of the law for the crime they might falsely accuse another (19:16-21).

Deuteronomy 20 is a continuation of Moses’ instruction to Israel in times of war. 

The Canaanite nations were greater and more powerful than Israel; however, Moses challenged the people to, “be not afraid of them” (20:1). They were not to trust in their own strength, but place their confidence in the LORD.

Three exemptions for enlisting in the army were given: 1) A man who built a new house, but had not dedicated or taken possession of it was exempted (20:5); 2) A man who planted a new vineyard, but had not yet enjoyed its fruit was exempted  (20:6); 3) A man who was betrothed to a woman, but had not taken her to his house was exempted (20:7). According to Deuteronomy 24:5, a newlywed husband was afforded a one-year exemption from military duty.

A city under siege was to be offered peace and servitude (20:10-11); however, when an offer of peace was rejected the males of the city were to be put to death and women, children, and livestock taken as spoil (20:12-15).

Remembering the LORD is a jealous God and He had chosen Israel to be His people, Moses commanded the cities nearby when Israel invaded Canaan were to be annihilated: “That they teach you not to do after all their abominations, which they have done unto their gods; so should ye sin against the LORD your God” (20:18).

Let us remember the God of Israel is our LORD and He is Holy and Jealous for our affections (Exodus 34:14).

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith