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Beating the Trees: Deuteronomy 24

In Summary:

We’re still dealing with the various laws necessary for running a nation in Deuteronomy 24. This chapter gives us another look at family law, some finance law, criminal law, and health law. It’s a great mixture of items from everyday life in Israel.

First we have the instructions regarding divorce including the prohibition that a woman divorced by her first husband who then marries another cannot go back to the first husband. I’ll not pretend to know exactly how these laws fleshed out in reality, or even how often it was necessary to enforce them! But I know this: God took, and takes, marriage seriously. Even 3,500 years ago He put restrictions on divorce and the general idea of just trading partners for a time. We ought to remember that.

Then we see one of my favorite verses in Deuteronomy 24:5 where a newlywed is released from duty, both military and non-military, for the first year of marriage. Why? To give happiness to his wife. It’s worth remembering that the initial investment in a relationship will strengthen it later.

We then get various other laws, from constraints on lending practices to bans on kidnapping. All of these weave together to remind the people of Israel that other folks matter, too. Whether they are women, poor, hired help, aliens, orphans (wait, aliens? I still laugh…) people that were not the power holders were still worthwhile.

In Focus:

Trees, on the other hand, were apparently not that big a deal. Taking a look at 24:20, we see that it was considered appropriate to beat olive trees. That’s because there was no advocacy group in Ancient Israel for olive trees…or, perhaps, because the reference is to the process of knocking loose olives to harvest. The first pass was enough, after that anything left behind was for the needy.

In Practice:


What do we do with this in practice?

First, recognize that words have shades of meaning. “Beat” is one of those words—applied to a human being, it’s bad. Really bad. Applied to an olive tree? Not bad. I stand ready to be corrected by the first ent that comes along, but trees aren’t the same as people.

Second, be cautious not to make everything perfectly efficient. It was the inefficiency of manual harvesting, both of olives and grains, that enabled Old Testament Israel’s system of providing for the poor. Is it possible that our interest in efficiency has numbed our compassion? Or at least trimmed off our ability to show it?

Third, as we see constantly in the Israelite system, charity is not intended to become a simple handout. Instead, it was designed to keep an individual’s dignity intact and prevent society from looking down on them.

Therefore, let us remember those ideas. There are people that need help—find a way to help them. But over time, we must address the systems that dehumanize those in need and come back to treating people like people. Because even aliens are people :)

In Nerdiness: 


I’m really running short on nerd thoughts out of this. The reminder of Miriam refers back to Numbers 12. Also of note is the idea that “sons not be put to death for the sins of their fathers” and vice versa in v. 16. This echoes forward to Ezekiel 18 and addresses individual responsibility.

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