We may feel that we are far removed from Moses and the children of Israel as they prepare to cross into the promised land, but under a few layers of technology we are not so different. For us, as for our forebearers, the question stands: how do we live as a people of God?
In these three chapters God, speaking through Moses, continues to provide directions. How we live in community reflects how we relate to God, and here he sets out some guidelines whose principles hold for all time.
The first word is to soldiers. It is a fact of life that Israel will be defending the land from the neighbors who wish to drive them out. They will certainly have to fight and some will die for their home, but the Lord’s purpose will not be turned aside by enemies.
We too face all kinds of resistance, both external and internal, to the faithful life God desires for us; it is such comfort to hear his words, to not be afraid, “for the Lord your God is with you” (Deut. 20:1).
God wants his soldiers to be wholeheartedly with him, and thus he dismisses any who have conflicts that would lessen their full concentration on the battle. God does not disparage the men for these conflicts, rather his word is understanding and graceful. He wants his people to enjoy the land he gave them, the world he has given us.
There is a strong emphasis on upholding the natural order of creation – we may wonder at the instruction not to mix wool with linen, or not to wear the clothing of the opposite sex, but preservation of community depends greatly on being able to trust to the order of things, to be able to count on things happening in a reasonably predictable way. These examples may be no longer applicable in the myriad choices in our lives today, but honoring tradition and the cycles of nature continue to be ways for people to live together in harmony amidst the uncertainty of life in a fallen world.
God addresses case after case, and every one shows his perfect justice and perfect mercy. Victims of murder should be atoned for; women taken in captivity are to be treated kindly; parents should not be liable for a son’s wrongdoing. But the wrongdoer must be slain, for evil must be purged. The example of the rebellious son is chilling, for he lurks in us all, and his end is to be killed with stones; perfect justice.
Evil is cursed by God, for evil brings misery to his people, separating us from God into utter pain and oblivion. Here he tells us that hanging on a tree is the emblem of the curse, the sign of being cast out forever.
We would be lost indeed if we depended on our own goodness, for we are all rebellious sons and daughters. Being cursed by God is the worst that can happen to a person, it is the fear that drives all fears.
How can we be saved? One man, Jesus, God’s own son, who knows what is in our hearts, took this curse for us. He literally hung on a tree, the huge cross, and died with the curse that we deserve placed on him. He went through the desolation of being driven from God, as he cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt.27:46)
He, who had no sin, took on the curse and redeemed us. These verses are here to enable us to understand how the death of the Son of God provided the redemption of all his people.