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The Law: Deuteronomy 22

In Summary:

Can you tell from the infrequency of Through the Whole Bible Old Testament posts that having some difficulty finding new ways to deal with the book of Deuteronomy? If not, there’s my confession of the reality.

Deuteronomy 22 continues the codification of Israel’s laws. Here we see several aspects of morality addressed, ranging from farming regulations to sexual behavior. The ready intermingling of various subjects supports the view that the whole Law should be considered together, though there are clearly emphases that run along the traditional division points of civil, moral, and ceremonial. However, if God inspired the commandment not to plow with a mixed team (22:10) just a few sentences from commandments about dealing with marital issues, then we should be cautious about cutting our own divides.

Rather, I would suggest that the Law stands as a unit. Looking back through the New Testament, we see the Law treated in that manner: Jesus states that He came to “fulfill the Law” (Matthew 5:17.) Paul also treats the Law as a whole—we find no place in the Pauline Epistles that instructs that the “moral Law” is still to be obeyed but the other 2 parts can be shut down. Instead, Galatians 2 (and other places) appear to treat the Law as a completed event.

This develops the point I would hold: the Law exists for us as inspired Scripture, guiding us to understand the nature and character of God. From wherever in the Law one starts, one can arrive at either: Love the Lord your God with all your being (paraphrased from Matthew 22:37) or Love your neighbor as yourself (from Matthew 22:39).

We can find adequate guidance for life in these two statements, as well as clear need for salvation simply by comparing our lives to these. My need for salvation from the wrath of God has nothing to do with plowing with an ox and donkey together, but everything to do with not loving God fully…or not loving my neighbor.

In Focus:

Let’s throw Deuteronomy 22:12 under the focus for today. Here, the Lord commands that the people are to…put a tassel on each of the four corners of their garment. And, yes, Old Testament scholars remain uncertain exactly what this means. We do see traditional Judaism’s interpretations on a practical level, and it seems pretty straightforward.

The “Why?” factor for this rule is where the question comes. Attaching tassels like this would not have improved the garment, and in truth would have simply served to show that the observant Israelite was obeying God’s Law more than the fashions of the times.

In Practice:

From this, we drive the practical implication. The whims and winds of culture shift and change. As these changes occur, there is no definitive reason not to chase some of them—I’m all for eliminating the necktie from most of existence. Except for lawyers.

But through it all, those who are focused on honoring God above all else should be willing to embrace their appearance, from their outer garments inward, being different and reflecting the God they serve. Why? Because the God we serve has changed us from the innermost parts outward, and our appearance should reflect that.

Does that mean I have a list of do/don’t for fashion? Not really, except to say this: there were two highlighted commandments earlier, one about loving God and the other about loving your neighbor. Would a reasonable person question your devotion to those based on your clothing? This includes your T-shirt slogans…

In Nerdiness: 

Two quick nerdy light thoughts. First, take a look at 22:1-3 and 22:8. These inform the idea of taking responsibility to aid and protect your neighbor. How do we practice these today?


Second, in an example of stretching the interpretation of a passage, Ambrose (4th century) takes Deuteronomy 22:5 to teach that men and women have differing strengths and should behave and appear as men or women, rather trying to be something they are not. While that entire concept is its own discussion, I would point out that trying to make this verse carry that discussion is not a prudent approach to the text. With all due respect to Ambrose for many of the good things he wrote—but the Patristic/Early Imperial Eras of the Church struggled with what to do with the Old Testament Law as much as we do, and tended to make some big stretches.

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