Tuesday, February 9, 2010

DEUTERONOMY: Chapter 17

Chapter 17
Summary:Moses' speech continues:
"You shall not sacrifice to the Lord your God an ox or a sheep that has a blemish or defect, for that it is an abomination to the Lord your God.

"If there is anyone to be found among you, within the land the Lord your God has given you, man or woman, that has wrought wickedness in the sight of the Lord your God, transgressing his covenant, and has gone and served other gods, and has worshiped them - whether it be the sun, the moon, or anything in the heavens which I have not commanded; and it be told to you, you have heard it, and upon inquiring about it, and discovered it to be true that such an abomination has been wrought in the land of Israel; then you shall bring forth that man or woman who has committed that wicked thing, and shall stone them with stones until they die. If there are at least two or three witnesses, that person is worthy of death and shall be put to death, but if there is only one witness, he shall not be put to death. The hands of the witnesses shall be the first upon the person to be put to death, and afterward the hands of all the people. So shall you rid the evil from amongst you.

"If a matter arises that is too difficult for you to judge, between blood and blood, plea and plea, stroke and stroke, being of controversial matters with the land, then you shall bring the case to the sanctuary that the Lord your God will choose, before the priests, the Levite, and the chief judge, and they shall sentence the judgment. You shall follow the judgment they give, and you shall carry out the sentence exactly as they inform you. According to the letter of the law which they hand down, and according to their judgment which they decide, you shall obey - you shall not deviate from their sentence from either hand. Any man that will not obide by the judgment against him made by a priest or judge shall be put to death; as you are to purge evil away from the land of Israel. The rest of the people shall hear and fear this fate and will not act presumptuously.

"When you arrive in the land which the Lord your God has given you, and you possess it and dwell therein, and decide to appoint a king, such as the other nations around you have; you shall choose a wise king whom the Lord your God will choose - one from among your own brethren, as you may not elect a foreigner. He shall not build up a large stable of horses for himself, nor shall he cause the people to return to Egypt to raise horses for him there, for the Lord has said to you that you shall never return to Egypt again. Nor shall he have multiple wives, that his heart turn away from the Lord, neither shall he become excessively rich.

"It shall be, when he sits upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write himself a copy of these laws from the book belonging to the priests, the Levites. The book shall remain with him and he shall read it every day for the rest of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, and to keep and obey all of the words of the laws and statutes, to ensure that he does not raise himself above his fellow Israelite, and that he not deviate from the commandments, and may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children, in the land of Israel."
Thoughts:Moses begins the chapter by stating that all oxen and sheep sacrificed to God must be free of blemish or defect, because such an animal is an abomination to God.

Next, Moses repeats a similar edict to the one he commanded in Deuteronomy: Chapter 13, concerning the fates of anyone caught worshiping and/or serving other gods. The punishment again, as in Deuteronomy: Chapter 13 is death by stoning, but Moses adds that there must be at least two witnesses to confirm the person's guilt, and that those two or more witnesses must be the ones to cast the first stones. Moses claims that their death in necessary to "rid the evil" from amongst the Israelites.

It's ironic to me when the religious right here in the U.S. justify their Islamaphobia by insisting that the Quran is littered with passages that state "death to the infidel", yet their own bible is littered with the same demand towards people of other faiths. Of course when this is pointed out to them it is usually followed by a claim of "taking things out of context" and that the whole bible must be read to understand its meaning, but when pressed if they have read the Quran to ensure the same understanding, most will be pressed to admit that they have not. Regardless of whether it's in the bible or the Quran, killing people for having different religious beliefs is neither moral, ethical, or justifiable for any reason - period. There is nothing that you could "put into context" to justify rationalizing killing another human being simply because they have chosen to worship a different imaginary being than you do.

Next up, Moses states that if there is ever a matter too difficult for a local judge to come to a verdict, that the case is then to be brought to the sanctuary to be ruled over by the priests and the chief judge. Whatever verdict that the priests arrive at must be enforced to the letter, and anyone who will not abide by the verdict is to be put to death. Moses rationalizes this by saying that this will set an example for the rest of the people into making them behave out of fear.

The problem with this should be blatantly obvious - human judgment is fallible and capital punishment should never be thrown around so nonchalantly without appeal, and especially when used to try and set an example to instill fear into others. If these priests wrongly convict someone and there are people who believe in the innocence of the accused, this commandment aims to prevent them from appealing the case by using fear of a death sentence against them. There is simply no way to view this as moral regardless of what "context" you want to paint around it. This is ruling by brute force where "might equals right".

Moses' last topic in this chapter concerns electing a king. If the people elect a king, Moses demands that he must be a wise man selected by God himself, and that he must be an Israelite and not a foreigner. He also insists that the king must not amass vast amounts of horses - especially in the land of Egypt which Moses claims God has forbidden them from returning to. A king also is not to have multiple wives nor may he become excessively rich. As we read on however, we will find that very few kings will adhere to these "laws", such as King Solomon who amassed a total of 700 wives(!) and 300 concubines, and King David who was also a polygamist.

Moses adds that when the king takes his throne, that he will have to copy the laws from the Levites, and he is to study it for the rest of his life, so that he may learn to fear God and keep and obey all of his commandments (except for that troublesome bit concerning polygamy apparently) in order to ensure that he does not elevate himself up in stature above his fellow Israelites. I think when you've amassed 700 wives like good ol' King Solomon had, you've basically tossed that bit right out the window.

3 comments:

  1. It is hard to understand why such Godly men committed such sins as polygamy. The Great things is that God is a loving and graceful God, using imperfect men to carry out his perfect plan of Salvation. All have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God and that is exactly why Jesus came and lived among us, died for us and rose again. I hope if you don't have a relationship with God that you will allow Him to work in your life and He will reveal Himself to you. Zadoc Best of Luck in your realtionship with the Creator of all things!
    God Bless!

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  2. "...is that God is a loving and graceful God"

    Are we reading the same book here? So far God has killed the entire population of the earth - including infants and children - with a "great flood" in Genesis 6; has sent plagues that have killed hundreds of thousands; has commanded the Israelites to stone people to death for trivial offenses such as gathering sticks on a Saturday; and in Numbers 31 specifically chastised the Israelites for sparing the lives of the Midianite women and children, ordered them all killed except for the VIRGIN GIRLS which were split up against their wills to be raped amongst the Israeli males.

    I simply can not rationalize any of these things as either "loving" or "merciful" myself, and I don't understand how anyone else could either.

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  3. I decided to answer "Anonymous'" post in more detail here:
    DEUTERONOMY: A Christian "Reader" Comments

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