Hubert Humphrey said “”The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life—the sick, the needy and the handicapped.” God’s Law was given to establish Israel not only a just society but one that protected the rights of those who were vulnerable. Those who are weak must be protected by those who are strong. Even the guilty criminal and animals can look to the God of Israel for protection.
Deuteronomy 25:1-3 Justice is a key element for God’s covenant people. V 1 calls for disputes to be brought before the appointed judges. V 1 suggests a civil matter while v 2 speaks of criminal offenses. God’s law gave guidelines if a person was found guilty of crime, he must be punished, but guidelines were given to protect the transgressor. The offender had to have a proper trial. People were not to take the law into their own hands. The case must be heard by more than one judge. V 1 refers to judges in the plural. They were to decide the case, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty. If guilty, they decided on the punishment. He might be required simply to make restitution, pay a fine or something else (Deut. 22:19). If he deserved beating, then corporal punishment was imposed. Israel’s judges were not to inflict excessive punishment but according to their guilt. The sentence must be imposed before the judges to ensure that there was no vindictiveness. Even if the offense was serious, the number of lashes was limited to forty. The Jewish people were so afraid of accidentally exceeding this number that they reduced the upper limit to thirty-nine stripes. This maximum punishment was inflicted on the apostle Paul 5 different times, probably for breach of the peace (2 Cor 11:24). Criminals must face consequences for their behavior for their sake and the community, but not to publicly be humiliated. Verse 3 says he is “your brother and not to be degraded in your eyes”. This law also called for compassion in administering God’s justice with an eye to reconciliation to both God and the community. God wanted them to remember that the offender is still a brother. There may be justifiable anger for their misconduct, but the wrong doer still belongs to the people of God and should be treated with love as well as with justice. This principal of God’s Law was behind Paul’s call to the Corinthian’s for church discipline in 1 Cor. 5 and reconciliation in 2 Cor. 2:11ff.
Deuteronomy 25:4 The law prevented the muzzling an ox while working. An ox was used on a threshing floor to separate the grain from the stalk. Sometimes oxen pulled a millstone that crushed grain for making flour. Oxen could not be muzzled while treading grain because the oxen deserved to eat while working. Paul quoted this verse twice justifying wages for those who do the work of ministry in 1 Cor 9:9; 1 Tim. 5:18.
Deuteronomy 25:5-6 This is known as the “law of levirate marriage” (from the Latin levir, “brother-in-law”). This law was given to prevent a wrong for refusing to help the wife of a brother. It stipulated that a man was to marry his deceased brother’s widow if she was childless. The purpose was to protect the family estate by providing her with a son who would carry on the name of the dead brother and inherit his property. The law applied in a situation where brothers were living together (on contiguous plots of land), and one of them died without a son. It stipulated that the widow could not marry an outsider giving her new husband title to property that belonged to her first husband’s family. Instead, she must become the wife of her husband’s brother, at least until she could give birth to a son so that the property remained in the family. The “duty of a brother-in-law” refers to sexual relations. The son born would legally be the child of the dead brother, whose name would now continue in Israel. The land was given by God to the families of Israel and was part of their legacy and stewardship.
Deuteronomy 25:7-10 The brother legally could refuse to marry his brother’s widow. If he declined legal steps were to be taken by the widow. She was to bring his rejection to the judges who would attempt to reason with him. If he rebuffed the judges, the widow symbolically pronounced a curse on him. In the presence of the judges, she would remove one of the brother’s sandals. This symbolized his forsaking his responsibility to maintain the name of his brother. She then would spit in his face publicly humiliating and shaming him. He and his family would be known as ‘The house of him whose sandal is removed.’ Why would a man refuse to do this and experience this curse? Because of the inheritance. If the estate was large, the temptation for some would be to not marry the woman giving her an heir and losing the inheritance for himself. This is why he deserved the punishment and public shame. This should teach us of the call we have as God’s children to care for our sisters when they are widowed. Widows in the Kingdom era served in the assembly helping to raise spiritual children of God and were to be helped with their needs (Acts 6:1-2; 1 Tim 5:3-4; 14-15). In the time of Ruth, this law seems to have been altered somewhat since the account there is not exactly as described here (Ruth 3:10-4:10).
Deuteronomy 25:11-12 These verses seem to have no connection to the previous verses. However, both involve relationships with two men and a woman, and both relate to future offspring. This law was given to prevent excesses in fighting. If a wife came to the aid of her husband and struck her husband’s opponent in his testicles causing serious damage, she was to be legally tried and punished. Her hand was to be cut off and shown no pity. This is the only place in Scripture where mutilation is a punishment for a crime. This is the law of Lex Talionis (Latin law of retaliation) or in Scripture an eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth; a life for a life. The punishment resembles the crime committed in kind and degree. If a person damaged a part of another’s body, then he was to suffer the same punishment. In this situation, because there was a difference in the sexes the law could not be carried out equally. The judges would determine if the harm rendered the man made him unable to produce children. If so, her behavior threatened Israel’s future generations as was the case in the refusal in vv 5-7. The punishment therefore was to cut off her hand with no pity. As New Covenant believers we are called never to retaliate violently but to turn the cheek and trust the Lord to judge and repay.
Deuteronomy 25:13-16 God’s covenant included a demand for integrity in commercial transactions. Having two differing weights (one set heavy for buying and one set light for selling), and two differing measures (for dry and liquid commodities) was forbidden. The Lord detests such behavior, honesty in dealing with others held the promise of length of days from the Lord who sees all. A nation, business and community that is honest in its dealings will thrive, those that are not will decline.
Deuteronomy 25:17-19 Not long after Israel had left Egypt the Amalekites attacked the sick, disabled, and elderly who lagged behind the rest of Israel. Joshua led the battle against them as Moses lifted his arms (Ex. 17:8-16). They had no fear of God and were hard hearted, savage, and cruel. For this God decreed judgment on them. Once Israel settled in the land, they were to attack any Amalekites left and blot them out, executing every person. Israel was never to forget this judgment on the Amalekites. The Amalekites were descendants of Esau, Jacob’s brother. They came from the same godly roots as Israel. But they turned from God and took up the ways of the world, including immorality, lawlessness, and violence. The Amalekites ceased to exist as a nation under the reign of King Hezekiah (1 Chr. 4:43). At least one descendant remained, Haman who was an Agaggite described in the book of Esther who sought to kill all the Jews when they were in captivity under the Persians. Agag was the Amalekite king when Saul was commanded to wipe them out but disobeyed the Lord (1 Sam. 15).