Deuteronomy – Appreciating the Severity of God’s Justice
Is it bad that part of me wishes we could go back to the Old Testament laws? One of the things I like to say about the Bible, is the New Testament teaches us the Gospels (Greek for good news), but the Old Testament teaches us about God’s character.
This is my 3rd reading Deuteronomy and I confess…it’s getting really difficult to see what’s happening in the world and not harbor all kinds of hate and resentment in my heart. It’s tough because, as Christ said, we as Christians should be the light of the world. I want to be an example of shining optimism, fully believing in the hope of everlasting life beyond this world…but lately, I’ve been this guy.
For those who don’t know, Deuteronomy is the 5th Book of the Bible penned by Moses as God’s Word. Aside from the recap of Israel’s exodus from Egypt and their blunder that resulted in most of a generation perishing in the wilderness, Deuteronomy is essentially a book of laws, of traditions, of warnings, of blessings and curses. It’s the ultimate book of “cause and effect.” The answer to the question of, “WHY ARE THINGS SO BAD!?”
As I’m going through, I’m reminded of the brutal punishments God laid out for specific crimes and…i know this sounds bad, but I kinda wish we could go back to that. Part of me wishes we could go back to capital punishment for things like rape and adultery.
“But Rock! If those old laws were put in place, there’d be no one left alive!”
I don’t believe that. In Ecclesiastes 8:11, King Solomon wrote “Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil.” Meaning, because no one’s seeing how the wicked are being punished for their bad behavior…they’re emboldened to do the same thing, especially if it looks cool and all the popular kids are doing it.
“But Rock, punishment isn’t a deterrent. Capital punishments been around since forever, but people still commit murder!”
Until Christ’s returns, wicked people will indeed continue to exist. Criminals will rob, steal, and kill. They should be punished.
“And they are! It’s called prison!”
So begins the fruitless argument of which you think is worse, death or life imprisonment. I say fruitless because there’s a lot of factors that can water down the conversation. Personal preference, short-sightedness, lack of imagination, lack of honesty, and a lopsided inconsistent sense of justice. To sum it up…there is no justice when you lean upon human understanding because humans are flawed. We can be bought, manipulated, and more importantly…we are forgetful.
Just this morning, I learned of a 23-year-old named Delvin Meadows…he was killed by a Quincy Whitfield over some “beef”. The murder was premeditated. Quincy just walked up to Delvin and shot him. For this …Quincy only received a 15-year prison sentence.
“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” This is one of the first three commandments God gives to mankind at Genesis 9:6. This is murder. This is homicide, the premeditated unjustified killing not made in self-defense. I know people like to conflate homicide to soldiers killing in war, but they’re different…as God makes clear when he tells Israel to wipe the Amalekites off the face of the map (1 Samuel 15).
The fact is, according to the sentencing, in 15 years Quincy will be free to walk the streets while Delvin Meadows will never know what it’s like to have children and watch them grow up. Even if Quincy got life behind bars, he can still derive enjoyment and pleasure from being alive. It still amazes me that serial killers and violent offenders are getting married from jail.
Yes, I know there may be mitigating circumstances, and sometimes prosecutors make deals with criminals so other crimes can be solved…but again…in Exodus, God tells us not to pervert justice. (Exodus 23: 6-8). And that’s the point. Justice. What is fair? What is right and wrong? Who gets to decide? Humans? Or God?
Dennis Prager makes some strong points in his essay “The Death Penalty for Murder is a Moral Cornerstone of Society”. Prager opines that “allowing every murderer to keep his life reduces the worth of human life, because it belittles murder.” By belittle, we mean, it reduces how big of a deal it is in God’s eyes.
Prager points out that Israel had banned capital punishment…but made an exception when they executed Adolf Eichmann, the architect of the Holocaust. They did this because allowing Eichmann to keep his life after millions of Jew were systematically murdered would be an injustice of “cosmic proportions”. They believed Eichman had forfeited his right to live. Prager essentially questions, does a man need to murder millions to forfeit his life? Or hundreds? Or dozens? What about one?
“But, Rock! Putting a murderer to death doesn’t bring the loved ones back to life”
But it does provide justice. Even if you, in your tender human compassion think that there’s no justice in killing a murderer…we live in a society. Yours is not the only opinion that matters and if Criminals know that they’re likely to encounter people like you, then that cornerstone of society may crumble, because all they have to do is appeal to your tender heart.
This makes society weak and vulnerable to the wicked. And if you turn on the news right now, then you’d recognize the wicked are winning. *resists the urge to insert the picture of a president here *
Dennis Prager also mentions a case I read about a year ago. And man…this one’s so horrible. Basically, in 2007, in the town of Cheshire, Connecticut, two criminals entered the home of Dr. William Petit, raped his wife, sexually assaulted one of their two daughters who was only eleven. Then after strangling the wife, they tied the two daughters to their beds, doused them with gasoline and set them on fire alive.
Sure enough…humans leaning upon their own understanding, their tender hearts, their emotional feelings…people came out in droves in support of the two criminals NOT getting the death penalty. Dr. Petit, a man who devoted his life to saving lives announced that he wanted his family’s killers put to death. He said, “My family got the death penalty and you want to give murderers life. That is not justice”.
Ultimately, Connecticut overturned the death penalty convictions of those criminals and gave them life imprisonment. So, while those daughters will never know what it’s like to…come on, man. This is so stupid. HOW IS THIS FAIR!?
“But Rock, that case aside, don’t you believe in second chances? There are killers who immediately regret what they’ve done. And what if it was on accident? What if the person didn’t mean to kill them.”
Therein lies the genius of God’s wisdom. In the Book of Deuteronomy, God already accounts for the unintentional homicides. Starting in Chapter 19:4, God refers to the unintentional killer as a Manslayer and says, this man may flee to an established city of refuge.
As far as “Second Chances” go…consider the screams of “WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?! WHAT KIND OF GOD ALLOWS THIS TO HAPPEN?” If you let the killer live, and he goes on to make victims of others after being released or while in prison, did God allow that to happen or did you (society)?
Don’t get me wrong, I do believe in the individual’s capability to change. But…what about the victims? Do they get a second chance?
The infuriating case of Kitty Genovese immediately comes to mind. Here, a 28-year-old woman was followed home and stabbed outside her apartment building. Dozens heard her screams for help. The attacker left her…and 10 minutes later, the attacker returned, found her at back of the building still in need of help. There, he raped and killed her. This man was initially sentenced to death in 1964, escaped prison in 1968 before being recaptured, and in 1972 his sentence was commuted to life where he was able to live to the ripe old age of 81 when he died in 2016…human justice…
“But Rock! Life imprisonment isn’t exactly fun. It’s punishment. You can’t convince me…”
Alright, let me stop you right there. Forgive my French, but to hell with the killer. What about Kitty Genovese? You can’t convince ME that Kitty is better off dead than alive.
“But killing her murderer won’t bring Kitty back to life.”
Okay, consider this thought exercise. Let’s say you were raped and stabbed to death outside your apartment complex. Your mother will never get to hug you again. You’ll never get to see another movie, hear another song, or visit any place around the world you always dreamed of visiting. You’ll never have sex again. You’ll never know the touch of another person. And this might sound silly…but I’ve literally lamented the idea of never being able to eat Popeyes chicken again.
Meanwhile, your killer was caught and given life imprisonment. In prison, he’s able to foster friendships, have relationships, talk and laugh and joke with other inmates. He’ll be able to hear music and watch TV in the rec room. He’ll be fed and not worry about having to pay for his own meals. He may be confined to one place, but as Men…we have a way of mentally resigning ourselves to our lot in lives, making the most of the situation…and in that mentality, you can derive pleasure and fulfillment. You can write, sing, read books. Write letters. And as I mentioned, get letters. So much so that you can get married in jail.
You’re cool with that? Would your friends and family be cool with that? After knowing this man raped and stabbed you to death?! It’s not about “forgiveness,” it’s about justice. And in the big picture, it’s about the prospering of moral society.
Speaking of society, as you know, one of my biggest gripes with Satan’s system these days is the hook-up culture, the epidemic of immorality and adultery which has led to the breakdown of families, and children being born out of wedlock, which in turns makes people more dependent on a corrupt government that’s moving further and further away from God’s principles.
When I hear the complaints from Feminists and ladies from the MeToo Movement…some of it sounds legit. But what’s to be done? In Deuteronomy, the punishment for adultery and rape is death. And IF our society saw such evildoers perish…I don’t think we’d be so quick to embrace things like the “Sexual Revolution”.
Even on the issue of social justice and equality, God has accounted for such fairness throughout Deuteronomy. In Deuteronomy Chapter 17, God instructs Israel’s future kings NOT to acquire many horses, many wives, or excessive riches such as gold and silver. In verse 19, it says the king shall keep God’s commandments in his heart so he may not be lifted above his brothers (the common people). In Chapter 20, God instructs the people not to be afraid of armies far stronger than them, or far numerous because God is with them. All this, is to keep the people reminded on the ideal that they should put their trust in God…NOT THEMSELVES.
Furthermore, consider the homeless, poverty, and all the complaints about wealth distribution. In Deuteronomy Chapter 23:24-25, God tells the people that they may eat of the grapes and pluck their neighbor’s grains, but not to abuse the farmer’s generosity by storing away food in their bags. God encourages farmers not to go back and harvest fruit they forgot to pluck, because it should be left for the widows, orphans, and sojourners.
God demonstrates how much he does want us to enjoy life by making provisions in such chapters…like for the soldier who’s so recently married. Deuteronomy 24:5 tells us “When a man is newly married, he shall not go out with the army or be liable for any other public duty. He shall be free at home one year to be happy with his wife whom he has taken.”
Honestly, who will tell me that is a merciless God who just wants to oppress us?
No… The problem with our society is thinking we know better than God. It’s our forgetful nature. Like the Israelites of old who were delivered from Exodus, we who emerged from slavery and the throes of British oppression have become either too rich or too poor that we think we don’t need God or end up perverting the name of God. (Prov 30:8-9)
In Deuteronomy Chapter 28, Moses delivers perhaps the most powerful revelation of cause and effect for those who choose to either obey God’s commands…and those who choose to disobey. Let me start with the blessings and mention something first. The Israelites were God’s chosen people. In the New Testament, Jesus teaches us that all who embrace Christ, are now God’s people as part of the new covenant.
That being said…I confess, I can’t help but envy the Jewish people for their traditions. And I mean envy in a good way…as in, as a Black man in America, I wish we had more religious leaning traditions that shaped our way of life, that shaped our culture. From what I’ve learned over the past year, a lot of practicing Jews still follow the traditions, family structures, and beliefs that were passed down from the Old Testament, the Torah (Pentateuch).
For instance, one of my co-workers leaves work early on Fridays in preparation for the Sabbath where her husband and children turn off all their computer screens and use Saturday to just enjoy each other’s company away from work and the pressures of the world. When she told me that, I smiled so hard that I almost cried. That’s so cool!
Meanwhile, too many of my potential suitors who claim to be Christians are quick to say things like, “Times have changed. Things are like that anymore.”
God’s Word has not changed. Humans have changed. And it makes me sick to my stomach that when I try to explain this to people, inadvertently, they try to shame me for having the audacity to cling to God’s Word. As if there’s something wrong with me for believing in things like waiting till marriage to have sex.
In my essay about conditions that come with the blessing…I talk about the word “IF”. Deuteronomy Chapter 28 begins at verse 1 with, “And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. 2 And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God.”
This doesn’t mean that just because a person’s doing well, it must mean they’re doing what’s good in God’s eyes. Satan is really clever about misleading people with tactics like that. And God makes it clear that he does indeed test us. Deuteronomy 13: 3 talks about false prophets being among us, but the Lord is “testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”
But the blessings! Moses tells us that if we walk in God’s ways, faithfully obeying God’s voice, he will bless our land, our children, our bread baskets, our health and prosperity. God will fight for us and scatter our enemies. He will bless the work of our hands and set us high above other nations.
However, if we do not…Starting in Verse 15, Moses goes on an eerily descriptive and hair-raisingly accurate prediction of what has surely foreshadowed the fall of Israel. Allow me to explain.
Under King David and into Solomon’s early reign…I’d argue that we see God’s blessings in action. Even before them, when Joshua led the people across the Jordan to take the promise land, God blessed Israel with triumph in war over her enemies. The population increased. If you examine the map, you’ll see that after King Saul’s reign, under King David, the borders were expanded. And under King Solomon, Israel became one of the richest nations in the world where they lent money to other nations but did not borrow. (Deut 28:12)
However…under King Solomon…Solomon turned away from God’s laws by clearly acquiring many horses. He was excessively rich and had many wives, over 700. And though Solomon was one of the wisest men ever, he still gave into the same weakness all men have when we prioritize our love for women over our love for God. Just like the Israelites who were seduced into serving false Gods by the Midianites in Israel, King Solomon was seduced into serving false gods by his wives.
And that’s when God’s curses kicked in. What were those curses? Well, starting in Deuteronomy 28:15, here’s just a few but I encourage you to read the entire chapter for yourself.
25 “The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You shall go out one way against them and flee seven ways before them. And you shall be a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth.
30 You shall betroth a wife, but another man shall ravish her. You shall build a house, but you shall not dwell in it. You shall plant a vineyard, but you shall not enjoy its fruit.
36 “The Lord will bring you and your king whom you set over you to a nation that neither you nor your fathers have known. And there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone.
52 “They shall besiege you in all your towns, until your high and fortified walls, in which you trusted, come down throughout all your land. And they shall besiege you in all your towns throughout all your land, which the Lord your God has given you. 53 And you shall eat the fruit of your womb, the flesh of your sons and daughters, whom the Lord your God has given you, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemies shall distress you.
So…I had to pause here and elaborate on how these terrible curses came to pass. Following Solomon’s reign, the prosperous kingdom of Israel was divided into two, Judah and the northern Kingdom of Israel.
If you read the Book of 2 Kings, it chronicles the history of Israels kings. And while there were a few who did what “was right in the eyes of the Lord” like Kings Hezekiah and Josiah, most of the kings did what was evil. In the first few verses of each chapter, it’s clear that the main offense of these wicked kings was that they allowed the people to worship false gods.
I’d argue that these are also clear examples of how “tolerance and acceptance” can be a disastrous thing for a nation.
The Curses of Deuteronomy 28 are demonstrated throughout Israel’s history of wicked and rebellious behavior. In 2 Kings Chapter 17, it reveals that under Hoshea’s reign, the people were conquered by Assyria and many people were taken into captivity. Verse 7 explicitly states that this is because the people “had sinned against the Lord their God.”
In 2nd Kings 25, it talks about the fall of Jerusalem under King Zedekiah in 587bc…and this disaster was definitely one for the books. Here, God uses King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon to utterly burned the city, destroyed Solomon’s temple, and thousands survivors were taken into captivity to Babylon where many of them were forced to worship false gods, of stone and wood, for seventy years. This is where we then find the stories of Daniel, the one who survived a night in the lion’s pit.
But going back to the siege of Jerusalem by Babylon in 587 B.C…when you know what happened during that two-year siege, reading Deuteronomy just hits differently. And because God’s blessed me with a strong imagination…i can’t help but say I’ve seen…No. Sorry. I have imagined life-altering horrors.
The prophet Jeremiah was there. The Book of Lamentations is one entire dirge where Jeremiah cries out and describes how horrible this devastating event was. He records all that God forewarned would come to pass and he’s very descriptive. Bodies being laid out like dung on the earth. Mothers eating their own children. The kindest among the people resorting to cold heartless tactics in favor of self-preservation. Mind you, Jeremiah’s only recording what Moses WARNED WOULD HAPPEN IF PEOPLE DISOBEYED!
In Deuteronomy 28:52-53, Moses mentions how a nation (Assyria, Babylon, and later Rome) would siege Israel and overcome the high walls they trusted. It warns that the people will eat the flesh of their sons and daughters and that’s exactly what happened. For those who don’t know, when a city is sieged, it’s supply of food and water is limited. King Zedekiah’s sons were murdered in front of him before his eyes were cut out so it was the last thing he ever saw.
And here’s the kicker. Even though God brought about his punishment, in his infinite grace and mercy, Jehovah God gave the people a second chance. Remember that “second chance” people are so fond of? Through his prophet Jeremiah, God told the people that if they simply surrendered to the Babylonians, they’d be spared…they’d be granted life imprisonment instead of death. (Jeremiah 21:9-10)
That’s why I can’t help but look at today’s society and think to myself, “STUPID! Why are we so stupid!” When I see the news. When I see the causes and special interests people protest and take up arms for…it’s all so stupid.
I hate to use a Game of Thrones analogy, but it really is like the seven kingdoms of Westeros all fighting for the Iron Throne…when really, they should all be concerned about the threat from the north.
Jesus Christ warned that the last days are upon us. He warned that there will be a Great Tribulation. Ages ago, the world was destroyed by a great flood. Next time, it will be destroyed by fire, beginning with a series of seven devastating and violent acts of vengeance unleashed by God’s wrath. Human existence will be no more.
Again…even though God knows he’s about to bring about this punishment, he’s giving us a choice which was delivered through his son Jesus Christ. This is the Gospels (good news). Repent and be saved. Or don’t and be destroyed.
I met with an 80-year-old friend last month. I’m sure it’s the last time I’ll ever see him. I don’t have a lot of experience with losing the death of a loved one. But I do know it’s not sadness that overcomes me. It’s hate, rage, and anger.
I used to feel bad about the idea of wanting God to destroy all wickedness, because it would mean a lot of people who I genuinely care about will perish like the Israelites of old who simply refused to repent and obey God’s commandments. Then I re-read this scripture last night. At Deuteronomy 28:63 it says, “And as the Lord took delight in doing you good and multiplying you, so the Lord will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you.”
As a Christian, I do like to tell people that God doesn’t want to see us destroyed…perhaps I should add that He does however want to see the wicked destroyed. I think it’s important for such destruction to happen, because I believe the best way to ensure the safety of the innocent is to eliminate the threat.
For instance, our front-desk girl had been harassed for over eight months by a customer. When I found out about this guy, I went to confront him as politely as I could. I saw in this man’s eyes, aside from his obvious drug usage, this was a mean individual who didn’t care about the law. He had priors and was suing because his arm had been broken by the police when he resisted arrest. A man like that isn’t going to be nice and leave her alone just because I asked him to.
Don’t worry, I didn’t do anything foolish, but my mind went to some dark places. Under society’s laws, there’s nothing this woman (or her husband) can do proactively to eliminate the threat. So, I bought her a bottle of pepper spray and told her to move her car closer to the door before the end of the day. Ideally, however…I think we all know it’d be best if this man simply did not exist, at least not in her world.