Good morning! Today in Deuteronomy 23-26 we reach the end of the major sermon attributed to Moses that lies at the heart of Deuteronomy. Amid many dated and time-bound traditions we also find some theological principles that still resonate, especially those concerning the treatment of poor people and of offerings for God.
Chapters 23 and 24 gather up miscellaneous mundane and potentially groundbreaking laws. (How rare might it have been for a law code to protect slaves from slave-owners?) These ordinances are interesting mostly for the light they shed on ancient cultural life (divorce, marriage, debt, illness, etc). We see evidence of the underlying humanitarian “bent” of Deuteronomy in provisions to not keep overnight the cloak of a homeless person given in pledge, in the urge to pay promptly the wages of those who are poor and needy, and in the counsel to leave some for the poor to eat from a harvested field, tree or vineyard.
The custom of “Levirate marriage” is the most notable part of chapter 25. This practice holds that when a man dies (especially without a male heir), the next-oldest brother should try to have a child with the widow, giving offspring the dead man’s name that it may be carried on. (This is the custom presumed in Genesis 38 as well, since Judah got in trouble with Tamar because he refused to promptly see that she was married—and cared for—by the next-in-line brother.) The Levirate tradition described here (informed by the example of righteous Tamar?) gives some authority to the widow, namely the ability to publicly shame a surviving brother who doesn’t care for her in the expected way. I’m not sure how long this practice existed or how widely it was observed, but hundreds of years later in Jesus’ time it’s still common enough for the Sadducees to ask Jesus about it.
Deuteronomy 26 explains the theological orientation of first-fruit offerings and tithe practices. The people are called to honor God as the source of all blessings by returning a portion of their initial harvest. Note that the command to give generously is connected to a narrative of God’s salvation story. Abram is the “wandering Aramean” whose descendants with Sarai have been so blessed by God’s grace through no merit of their own. In light of this, Hebrews are called to basically throw a great celebration party with their offerings—making sure to include Levites and resident aliens (those who don’t have the same access to land and bounty). This disposition towards offerings is still common in places of worship today. People of faith don’t give to address certain needs that we especially care about (as admirable as that is). Rather, we give to acknowledge our gratitude and trust in God, without worrying as much about what the offerings will go to support after they are given. This chapter is a rich vein of theology worth exploring more deeply for those interested in biblical stewardship. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Deuteronomy 27-29. Thanks for reading!