Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Measure Once: Deuteronomy 25

In Summary:

Back to the Old Testament. We’re closing in on being done with the Pentateuch. It feels like 40 years wandering in the wilderness to get this far, but we will make it!

Today’s chapter is Deuteronomy 25. It starts off with instructions about judicial punishments, and finishes with a reminder to eliminate the Amalekites. In between we have the law relating to marrying your brother’s widow and laws about fair dealing in business. It’s a busy chapter.

In Focus:

Finding a focal point here was challenging. After all, with such variety of information I could land just about anywhere. And easily miss something useful.

Let’s put our focus on Deuteronomy 25:13-16. This is a section commanding the Israelites to have a single standard of weights and measures. That’s right.

Weights and measures. Just as we now have a standard “pound,” “cup,” or “gallon,” the Israelites were to keep a stable standard. This is quite beneficial for economic growth, but more than that, it’s fair. Just plain fair. Why?

Because if you did a shekel’s worth of work, you should get a shekel’s worth of pay. And it should not be found out that you went to work for a guy with a shekel that was half the size of his neighbor’s.

It is also worth noting that the context puts this instruction alongside the reminder about the Amalekites picking off the weaker members of Israel during the Exodus. This opens the door to understanding economic fairness as related to defending the weaker members of society—not those who are willfully lazy but those who are “faint and weary” from life’s difficulties.

In Practice:

There are a couple of practical aspects to a commanded standard of weights and measures. First, though, we should notice that God does not command what those measures should be. Only that they should be the same—so the Israelites could have gone Metric if they chose, as long as they were standardized.

The first benefit is one we don’t often associate with the Old Testament. There is a scientific benefit to standard weights and measures. It’s critical to measure and compare for science—be it simple metallurgy (which leads to chemistry) or geography—one needs to know that you have a “mile” that’s just like the next person’s “mile.” Or shekel, mina, etc…

The second benefit is in construction. If you need a pound of concrete per square foot to support the road traffic, that standard should be the same.

Then there is the most obvious: in trade. It’s only fair to know that a pound’s a pound, no matter where you are. (Unless you’re on the Moon.)

Why? Because we ought to deal with all people fairly. And if there is only one measure even in your house, then you have no risk of accidentally defrauding someone. It should be clear through this passage as it is in others, God is concerned with how we treat one another.

Pay attention to that, and do not let a desire for gain destroy your relationships.

In Nerdiness: 

I’ve a pair of nerdy things today.

First, look at the commands to eliminate the Amalekites. Then look at 1 Samuel 15. See the connection from here to King Agag? Now look on at Esther and the enemy of the Jews, Haman the “Agagite.” There are some who draw a connection all the way from here to Haman. I don’t know if that’s truly supportable, but it’s there.

Second, look at the commands about marital law and marrying one’s brother’s widow. See that the instruction for the scorned woman is that she is to take off her brother-in-law’s sandal and spit in his face? Now, look ahead at Ruth 4. Note that the legality regarding marrying Ruth involves a deliberate exchange of sandals. I can’t substantiate it with any documents, but I think there could be legal evolution where what was the shameful punishment for dereliction of duty came to symbolize the willful passing of that duty—if there was a taker.

As to the whole part about cutting off a woman’s hand for grabbing the genitals of a man her husband is fighting with? I’m thinking that’s mainly a warning to just stay out of fights. Perhaps an application is that one may not use ‘any means’ to end a fight that is not fatal. But I’m staying out of that too much…

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