Our passage today begins with another command concerning divorce. The allowance for divorce, remember, is not prescriptive, but was given to protect the offended party in a marriage broken by sin. Here, we see that once someone is divorced, if they get remarried, they cannot return to the original spouse under any circumstances (24:4). This is to show the gravity of divorce, and is meant to be a check on frivolous divorces (something our culture knows nothing of…). This is ultimately meant to preserve the sanctity of marriage. This same thought is continued in verse 5 where we see a husband is required to be home with his wife for the first year of marriage. The “to be happy with his wife” is a poor translation. It is literally “to gladden his wife” – this is about the man’s responsibility for the happiness of the woman he takes as wife.
In verses 6 and 10-13, we see that pledges given as assurances of loaned money have limitations. Taking a millstone would deprive a person of their ability to provide for their family (v. 6). The pledge must be given willingly (v. 10). We see again the necessity of the community of faith taking care of each other, as the pledge of a poor man is symbolically taken, but must be given back that day (vv. 12-13). A pledge would be proof of the moneys owed – it was not collateral, it was proof that the loan had not been paid back. Once the loan was paid, the pledge was returned and there would be no legal proof of the loan. So in practice, the poor are to be loaned to with no expectation of the money being paid back. This protection of the poor is furthered in verses 14-15.
Verse 16 is an important verse. This is limiting the punitive power of human judges. If we think back to the self-revelation of God back in Exodus 34, we will remember that God “will by no means clear the guilty visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation” (Ex 34:7). This is about how God allows sin’s results to affect future generations. Human judges have no such authority. In human society, each person is responsible for his own deeds. Limitations on human judges continues in verse 17. And why should God’s people obey God’s commands? Because He has redeemed us (v. 18). The chapter ends with more provisions for the needy.
Chapter 25 furthers the discussion of limitations on punitive judgments. 25:3 is the reason Jews would give only 39 lashes (see 2 Cor 11:24) to be certain not to exceed the limit of 40. Verse 4 is a metaphorical instruction for workers to earn a wage sufficient to provide food for themselves. Paul applies this to professional ministers (1 Cor 9:9-12), and Christ does the same (Matt 10:10). Verses 5-10 contain the commands for Levirate marriage. As we have seen (Genesis 38), this is “officially” adding to the Mosaic Law a command God had previously given to the patriarchs.
Verses 17-19 expressly show that the destruction of the nations is not cruelty on the part of Israel; it is God’s judgment on these nations. The incident referred to here occurred back in Exodus 17. But it is because the Amalekites “did not fear God” that they will be punished. This is a pointer to the spiritual death of those who do not believe. And we will see, it is the failure of King Saul to carry out this very command that disqualifies him from ruling in Israel (1 Sam 15 – note 1 Sam 15:18 and the mention of Amalek’s sin).
Chapter 26 speaks of the offerings of the firstfruits when Israel is in the land. The point is that they are only giving back to God but a portion of what He has given them by grace (26:5-11). Giving to God should be a joy because everything is His! And notice that giving back to God will result in God providing more (v. 15) and more still (v. 19). With this chapter, the final address of Moses – the “second giving of the law” comes to an end.
Having finished the reminders and expansions on the law, chapter 27 records the instructions for the ceremony to take place on Mt. Ebal (see Deut 11:29). Notice in 27:9 the confirmation of the covenant now that the law has been completely given: “this day you have become the people of the Lord your God.” Moses reminds Israel of the requirement to pronounce the blessings and the curses from the two mountains. It will be the Levites – the professional ministers – who will pronounce the blessing (v. 14). And all of Israel will respond to each curse with “Amen” – meaning, “let it be so” or “surely.” Note that the first curse is for idolatry (v. 15), a violation of the second commandment. In verse 16, we see a curse for violating the fifth commandment. As you read the curses, realize that these are not exhaustive of what constitutes sin, yet realize that these are specifically what God has the Levites declare anathema. It is the principles covered here that are important. Honesty. Fairness. Justice. Care for the needy. Sexual purity. The importance of the nuclear family. The final curse is all encompassing (v. 26).
I think that it is telling that God addresses the curses for sin before addressing the blessings for obedience (which we will see tomorrow). We will see which way Israel goes. But they are not unique:
as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.- Romans 3:10-18, 23-26