Today’s reading begins with instructions for war. We see that it is God Who will give the victory in battle (20:4). Israel can believe this because of what God has already done (v. 1). Notice that going to war is voluntary. There are provisions for those who do not want to go into battle out of fear or doubt (v. 8). In verse 10, we see that war is the second option. First, terms of peace must be offered. If not accepted, women and children are to be spared from death (v. 14). However, these terms of peace and rules about women and children do not apply to the people in the land that God will dispossess. God is punishing them for their sin. And we see again that their sin is idolatry (v. 18).
Chapter 21 starts by detailing the rules about unsolved murders. The closest city to the body of the slain is to take responsibility for atoning for the murder (21:2-8). This is also a declaration of their innocence of the murder. In verses 10-14, we see commands that are meant to protect an offended party when sin is committed. This is not an allowance of divorce, but a means of limiting the results of the sin of divorce (see Matt 19:8). We see more of the same in verses 15-17. This is not an allowance of polygamy, but a means of limiting the results of that sin. In verses 18-21, we see that persistently disobedient son is subject to death. This disobedience is a violation of the fifth commandment. But notice that this is not talking about the disobedience of an immature child, but a person unrepentant for habitual sin (v. 20). We see in verse 21 that, once again, a little leaven leavens the whole lump. We also see that such punishment is meant to be a deterrent to others.
In verse 22, this is not referring to death by hanging, but by placing a dead body on display to be a deterrent for others. This was common with the pagans Israel was going to drive out of the land. For Israel, they are not to leave the body hung, but bury it on the same day. This is because the hanging of a body that is dead is cursed, because it symbolizes the curse of death for sin (see Gen 3:19, 22). This points us forward to Christ’s redemption. He became the curse (Gal 3:13). His death is the death of the curse. Death died on the cross for all who believe.
Chapter 22 begins with instructions for properly living as a community. “Finders keepers” is not how a Godly community lives. We should make every effort to restore what is lost to the person who lost it. In verse 4, we see the command that Jesus invoked to defend healing on the Sabbath Day (Luke 14:1-6, compare Matt 12:9-13). In verse 5 we see a call to honor the gender distinction God made at creation. In verse 8 we see a practical command for taking responsibility to keep one’s property safe (much like many modern-day laws require). Verses 9-12 are commands meant to remind Israel that they are to be a pure people (not mix with unbelievers). This is confirmed by verse 13 where Israel is reminded of the tassels they are to put on their clothes. Back in Numbers 15:38-41, we saw that the purpose of these tassels was to remind Israel that they are to be holy.
In verse 13, God through Moses gives commands about falsely accusing a woman of sexual immorality for the purpose of being able to divorce her. Not killing the man (v. 18) is meant to protect the woman from widowhood, just as she is now protected from divorce (v. 19). However, if she has been sexually immoral (v. 20), or if a man and a woman commit adultery together (vv. 22-24), or a man rapes a woman (v. 25), the punishment is death so that the evil will be purged from the land. A little leaven…
Chapter 23 begins with the requirement for the purity of those who would be part of the “Assembly of the Lord.” This “assembly” is the Hebrew word cahal (Hebrew קָהָל). It is the same word translated as “congregation” elsewhere. It is translated in the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) and quotations of the Old Testament in the New Testament by the word ecclesia (Greek ἐκκλησία), which is the New Testament word for “church.” The “assembly” or “congregation” of Israel is a type of the New Testament church, which is to be pure. Eunuchs are not allowed to take part (23:1). Note next the injunction against Ammonites and Moabites entering the assembly to the “tenth generation” (an idiom for forever, as evidenced in the next clause) because of their treatment of Israel (vv. 3-6). This exclusion of eunuchs and specific foreigners is meant to point out the incompleteness of God’s salvation for the world at that time. The prophet Isaiah looks forward to a time when this will no longer be true (Isa 56:1-8). This is pointing to Christ, Who Himself was of Moabite descent (though Ruth).
In verses 9-14 God reminds His people of their call to holiness. He points out that this is necessary because He is among them (v. 14). Verses 15-16 refers to slaves that escape from neighboring countries seeking asylum in Israel. Israel will be a safe haven for all who need salvation. Verses 19-20 are a reminder that the congregation of Israel is to take care of each other’s needs. Verses 24-25 are a warning not to take advantage of the congregation helping you meet your needs.