Scripture: “Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear.” Deuteronomy 21:21 ESV
Observation: Having outlined the priority of the firstborn in situations where the father has two wives of whom each bears a son (yesterday’s Daily Focus), Moses segues to the importance of a son listening to and obeying his father and mother (21:18-21). With an underlying concern for the nation’s stability, if a son repeatedly disregards instruction and is bent on evil, the city’s men must stone him to purge the evil from their midst (above verse).
While this law, which builds on the fifth commandment of honoring your parents, may seem excessive and devoid of mercy and grace, theologian Earl Kalland contends that this scenario describes “incorrigible wickedness.” Moreover, the text requires the parents to testify against their son, verifying that he is rebellious, a glutton, and a drunkard (v.20), implying that discipline and forgiveness have had no impact on him. Thus, rendering unabated reckless behavior as a capital offense would send a strong message to the nation of zero tolerance for anyone bent on disrupting the home’s wellbeing, given the family unit is the nation’s fabric.
Observation: Today, a stable family unit remains the foundation of its nation’s wellbeing. Nevertheless, in most countries, a parent rightfully would be charged with murder if they executed a reprobate son. So how would we apply this text to our lives in a relevant way? God forbid a parent would have to testify against their child for a crime, but this is what my father faced when my oldest brother, who repeatedly acted in self-destructive ways and caused collateral damage, faced charges for stealing firearms from my parents’ home.
My brother had a long track record of drug abuse and conning friends of our family for money to support his habit. My parents repeatedly forgave him and prayed the Gospel would transform his heart. They also doled out money to pay for rehab and new starts, but sympathetic feelings and financial support only perpetuated the problem. So having burglarized my parents’ house, my dad asked the presiding sheriff what he would recommend. Compassionately, he told my father to testify against my brother so he would feel the weight of his actions while serving time in prison.
It was a heartbreaking decision but the right call. My brother served a six-month sentence with early release for good behavior. (If you are interested in reading more about this story, click here to read my article on Transforming the Addictive Personality.) So what’s the takeaway of this text and my brother and dad’s story? Our Holy Father did not extend mercy to habitual sinners like you and me outside of obtaining justice for our offenses, which is why he offered his righteous Son to bear the weight of our sins in his body. Thus, we must remember grace rests on justice and mercy, and without both, it is counterfeit.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for extending your grace to us in the life, death, and resurrection of your Son. Would you please help us remember that your grace rests on your justice and mercy and thus appropriate it into our lives and extend it to others with your justice and mercy in view? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling