This chapter concludes a section of the book that started in Deuteronomy 12. Deuteronomy 12-22 are an elaboration of the commandments God has given on the stone tablets. In the section of Deuteronomy 12:1-16:18 we see explicated the commandments of the first tablet that govern the relationship between God and man. The second tablet is about the relationship between man and his neighbor. This can be seen in the section of Deuteronomy 16:18-22:30.
1 - 4 Caring for the Property of Others
1 “You shall not see your countryman’s ox or his sheep straying away, and pay no attention to them; you shall certainly bring them back to your countryman. 2 If your countryman is not near you, or if you do not know him, then you shall bring it home to your house, and it shall remain with you until your countryman looks for it; then you shall restore it to him. 3 Thus you shall do with his donkey, and you shall do the same with his garment, and you shall do likewise with anything lost by your countryman, which he has lost and you have found. You are not allowed to neglect [them]. 4 You shall not see your countryman’s donkey or his ox fallen down on the way, and pay no attention to them; you shall certainly help him to raise [them] up.
Here we see the opposite of “you shall not steal”, namely that we must see to it that our countryman or [literally:] brother does not lose anything. What applies in the case of an enemy (Exo 23:4), applies all the more to a brother. For us, the literal meaning of the ten commandments and its effect is not the first meaning, but the spiritual meaning.
Three times in these verses we read about the need to pay attention to the care of a brother's property. Not bringing back something our brother has lost, after having witnessed said loss occurring, is the same as stealing. We have a responsibility to bring it back. It is an act according to the principle of Matthew 7 (Mt 7:12), with the difference here being that the starting point is not ourselves, but our brother. There is no self-interest present. Everything speaks of the care for the fellow brother or sister (cf. Phil 2:21) and not the most advantageous personal position.
A brother who has lost an ox or a sheep, has less to sacrifice. We can apply that to a brother who has lost his gratitude. He no longer has a view of the blessing in the heavenly places and sees only his entanglements in earthly worries. We may give him back his gratitude for the wonderful works of the Lord Jesus. We do this by talking to him about it.
Many Christians have lost sight of the heavenly blessings. These are blessings that are connected with the glorified Man in heaven and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the church. Many are – spiritually speaking – far removed from the place where the Lord Jesus is in the midst. They do not know that place of separation. If we meet them, we can give this back to them.
If they are too far away, we can keep it at home, as a picture of the local church. When they come into the house, when they find it after they have searched for it, they get those blessings back. These are their own and actual blessings. Those who look for it will find it again.
The donkey is a pack animal and represents here the service to Christ. The donkey that has been lost speaks of the fact that the service for Christ is no longer performed. This may be the result, for example, of an overly busy job in society or of giving priority to all kinds of earthly things over serving Christ. In so doing, sometimes others must exert themselves more for the kingdom of God than would be otherwise necessary. Returning the donkey suggests that someone is given a new view of his call and commitment to service.
The garment speaks of the comportment that people see of us. Christian comportment can be subject to loss. The garment also represents our Christian standing. Hence we are clothed with garments of salvation, and a robe of righteousness (Isa 61:10). Many do not know their Christian standing or comportment in Christ Jesus. We can tell them about it or wait for the right opportunity to do so.
In verse 4, donkey and ox are both a picture of service (verse 10). A person who wants to do a service for Christ can be so weighed down by it that he succumbs and gives up. If we see that, we should not impose any more burdens on him. It is important to encourage him and to help him to stand up.
5 Dress Code
5 “A woman shall not wear man’s clothing, nor shall a man put on a woman’s clothing; for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD your God.
In verses 5-12 it is about the natural aspects of our existence. The first aspect is the distinction between man and woman. God wants this to be visible in the position both occupy and in the behavior of both, of which clothing speaks. It is about public manifestation, of the behavior perceived by others.
It is true that in Christ “there is neither male nor female” (Gal 3:28). That concerns the position in Christ before God. Here it is about the behavior in the world, about the order of creation of God. This is also what the believers have to deal with: “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman” (1Cor 11:3).
It is an abomination to God if the distinction in manifestation vanishes outwardly. Everyone has been given his and her special place by God. One is not allowed to take the place God has given to the other. It is about the complete assemblage that belongs to the man or woman and is put on by the other person. This change of role is an abomination to God.
God wants the difference in behavior between men and women to be taken into account in His house. In the rules of conduct He has given for His house (1Tim 3:15), this difference is clearly expressed: “Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension. Likewise, [I want] women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness. A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, [and] then Eve. And [it was] not Adam [who] was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression” (1Tim 2:8-14). The pursuit of emancipation in the world, which has also nestled itself in Christianity, does not change these indications.
6 - 7 Nest with Mother and Young or Eggs
6 “If you happen to come upon a bird’s nest along the way, in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs, and the mother sitting on the young or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young; 7 you shall certainly let the mother go, but the young you may take for yourself, in order that it may be well with you and that you may prolong your days.
By the addition “that it may be well with you and that you may prolong your days”, there is a connection between this regulation and the fifth commandment, that of honoring father and mother. A similar addition is given to the fifth commandment (Deu 5:16). In the application we can see the relationship between the elderly and the young in the church. There are fathers, young men and little children (1Jn 2:13). Older and younger believers are brothers of each other, but there is also a distinction in spiritual growth.
In this regulation we can learn something from motherly feelings. God knows motherly affections: “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; and you will be comforted in Jerusalem” (Isa 66:13). The apostle Paul and his associates also have these: “But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing [mother] tenderly cares for her own children” (1Thes 2:7). In the church, these motherly feelings should not be absent. God’s intention is that motherly feelings should be able to express themselves freely and that the fruit of motherly feelings should be enjoyed. This promotes the quality and duration of life in the land.
8 A Parapet for the Roof
8 “When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, so that you will not bring bloodguilt on your house if anyone falls from it.
When building a new house, attention should be paid to the safety of those who come into that house. The builder must carefully consider others’ wellbeing. He has to make sure that residents and visitors of the house do not get killed by accident.
Motherly feelings should not be at the expense of safety. The construction of a parapet on the roof of the house – an elevated part around the roof, a safety wall, to prevent anyone from falling off the roof – is also an activity that comes from the care of a mother. We can apply that to spiritual activity in teaching believers about their behavior in the house of God. It can be about believers newly arrived at a local church. It may also involve establishing a new local church.
Consideration must be given in that situation to believers that they do not fall or stumble. Paul exhorts us not to become a stumbling block, that is to say to do nothing that tempts another to sin (1Cor 8:9). He also applies this to himself (1Cor 8:13). Having such a mindset ensures the wellbeing of the other person, these are affections in which the other person is central.
9 - 11 What Shall Not Go Together
9 “You shall not sow your vineyard with two kinds of seed, or all the produce of the seed which you have sown and the increase of the vineyard will become defiled. 10 “You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together. 11 “You shall not wear a material mixed of wool and linen together.
These verses deal with the prohibition of mixing things that should not be mixed. Three things are mentioned:
1. the vineyard, which speaks of joy,
2. plowing with an ox and a donkey together, which speaks of the service to the Lord,
3. a garment of a material mixed of wool and linen together, which speaks of behavior.
Here we find pictures of what Paul says in the second letter to the Corinthians: “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols?” (2Cor 6:14-16a).
The sowing has to do with the sowing of the Word of God. “The seed is the Word of God” (Lk 8:11). That must be pure and only God’s Word and must not be mixed with some word of men. The preaching of the Word must be balanced. For example, both God’s love and God’s holiness must be spoken of. A one-sided preaching with all emphasis only on God’s holiness or only on God’s love is wrongful seed sowing.
It is wrong seed, for example, if Christians are told to bear political responsibility. We should not, on the one hand, teach the corruption of the flesh and, on the other, point to means that are in fact tantamount to restoring the flesh.
Here it is about the seed for a vineyard. We see in this the picture that a right, balanced preaching of the Word will promote the joy of fellowship with God and the Lord Jesus, the Father and the Son, “so that our joy may be made complete” (1Jn 1:4). To know this true joy, only good and unmixed seed, that is “the living and enduring word of God” (1Pet 1:23), must be sown.
If two varieties of seed are sown, the increase of the vineyard will become defiled. The increase must be excluded from consumption and is a loss. The expected ‘joy’ is not that in which God can share.
It is forbidden to plow with an ox and a donkey together. This represents doing a work together for the Lord. An ox is a clean animal and a donkey is an unclean animal. Its application we see in the above mentioned word of Paul in 2 Corinthians 6 (2Cor 6:14). A believer cannot do a work for the Lord together with an unbeliever.
Wool and linen shall not be used together for the purpose of making one garment out of them (cf. Lev 19:19; Zep 1:8). Wool is good and linen is good, but not to be mixed together. Linen has to do with the service in the sanctuary. We see this in the linen in the curtains and court of the tabernacle and the linen clothes of the priests (Exo 26:9; 28:4b-5). However, there is no room for wool in this service (Eze 44:17).
Wool reflects the natural warmth of the animal. Natural feelings are not wrong. They have their own place. But they must be put aside in what has to do with the sanctuary. There the service must be done according to what Scripture says about it and not according to human feelings. It is not about a service that makes us feel comfortable, but that with which God is comfortable toward. This is fulfilled if we follow the instructions of His Word.
12 Tassels on the Corners of the Garment
12 “You shall make yourself tassels on the four corners of your garment with which you cover yourself.
The four corners of the garment are related to our entire conduct in all contacts to produce spiritual fruit therein. Here there is no question of a cord of blue (Num 15:38), for the precepts in this book refer to the land and not to the wilderness. We are not in the wilderness anymore; we are in the land. Spiritually speaking, therefore, we do not need the memory of heaven, the cord of blue. If we are heavenly minded, this is reflected in all our actions.
13 - 21 Accusation of Not Being a Virgin
13 “If any man takes a wife and goes in to her and [then] turns against her, 14 and charges her with shameful deeds and publicly defames her, and says, ‘I took this woman, [but] when I came near her, I did not find her a virgin,’ 15 then the girl’s father and her mother shall take and bring out the [evidence] of the girl’s virginity to the elders of the city at the gate. 16 The girl’s father shall say to the elders, ‘I gave my daughter to this man for a wife, but he turned against her; 17 and behold, he has charged her with shameful deeds, saying, “I did not find your daughter a virgin.” But this is the evidence of my daughter’s virginity.’ And they shall spread the garment before the elders of the city. 18 So the elders of that city shall take the man and chastise him, 19 and they shall fine him a hundred [shekels] of silver and give it to the girl’s father, because he publicly defamed a virgin of Israel. And she shall remain his wife; he cannot divorce her all his days. 20 “But if this charge is true, that the girl was not found a virgin, 21 then they shall bring out the girl to the doorway of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death because she has committed an act of folly in Israel by playing the harlot in her father’s house; thus you shall purge the evil from among you.
The marriage relationship provides vital evidence as to our required conduct with regard to heavenly things. The situations Moses presents here are all deviations from God’s blueprint for marriage. They show what man is capable of in the most intimate relationship. The marriage relationship is a picture of the connection between God and His earthly people Israel, and also of the connection between the Lord Jesus and the church, the heavenly people.
There are practical and spiritual lessons to be learned for us personally and for the church. In verse 13 it becomes immediately clear what the order is: first marry and only then sexual intercourse. Marital intercourse can only exist after husband and wife are “joined in holy matrimony”. All sexual intercourse outside of a marriage coupling is fornication.
In verses 13-21 the case occurs of a man who develops an aversion toward his wife. He accuses her of previous fellowship with another man. The accusation may be false. This will become clear when the girl’s parents can provide the evidence of her innocence. In that case, the man is disciplined, has to pay a fine and may never send her away.
If the accusation turns out to be true, the girl must be stoned in front of the doorway of her father’s house. Until her marriage she is attached to her father’s house. She therefore committed this shameful act in connection with her father's house. The fact that the death penalty must be carried out in order to eliminate evil from the midst of Israel shows how seriously God takes this shameful act.
The prescription in these verses is a protection against false accusation by the man. The prescription mitigates against a man dealing arbitrarily with his wife. With such regulation, he will be careful not to falsely accuse his wife.
We can apply these verses to the relationship between God and His people. It is a question of making manifest whether His people are faithful to Him or unfaithful. For God this is not a question. Of course, His knowledge is perfect. For Him, there is no need for such a search. And He certainly does not act arbitrarily.
The question is whether our spiritual parents – not we ourselves – can provide the proofs of our loyalty to God or not. If we have surrendered to things that are not connected with Christ, the proofs of our ‘virginity’ cannot be provided. The opposite will be the case. Unfaithfulness is in connection with our past life, without God and without Christ. This should be recognized and judged as such. Virginity represents a principle that applies to every believer. It means that there is no fellowship with persons or teachings who are not in fellowship with Christ (Rev 14:4; 2Cor 11:2-3).
Christ will soon tell the false church that it she not virginal. The false Christian church, the great Babylon, the roman catholic church, which pretends to be the bride of Christ, is called “the great whore” and “the mother of the whores” (Rev 17:1,5). The false accusations against those who wish to be faithful to the Lord will then turn out to be unfounded. Proof will be provided.
22 Penalty for Adultery
22 “If a man is found lying with a married woman, then both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel.
Here is no suspicion, but someone is caught in adultery. The sin of adultery and fornication demands discipline. In Israel this means death, which brings an end to life in the land and the enjoyment of its blessing. In the church it means being removed from among the church, both from the Lord’s Supper and from other forms of fellowship (1Cor 5:13b).
Excommunication by the church has for a purpose that the sinner will repent, confess and break with sin. After this, the discipline can be undone, forgiveness can be pronounced, and there can be a return to the fellowship of the believers: “Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which [was inflicted] by the majority, so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort [him], otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm [your] love for him” (2Cor 2:6-8).
23 - 24 Adultery in the City
23 “If there is a girl who is a virgin engaged to a man, and [another] man finds her in the city and lies with her, 24 then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city and you shall stone them to death; the girl, because she did not cry out in the city, and the man, because he has violated his neighbor’s wife. Thus you shall purge the evil from among you.
Those who are engaged have entered into a connection with commitments. The engaged woman is called “his neighbor’s wife” at the end of verse 24. In the event of unfaithfulness to this existing connection, disciplinary action must be taken. This case views our relationship with the Lord Jesus from the point of view that the wedding of the Lamb has not yet taken place. That, however, is not a license to seek satisfaction in the world and to enter into relationships that push the Lord Jesus to the background. Anything that makes Him jealous is a denial of our connection with Him.
Sexual intercourse involving someone who is engaged, here has two distinguishing factors: unfaithfulness that takes place in the city and unfaithfulness that takes place in the field. When there is sexual intercourse in the city, there is guilt and the woman and the man both must be stoned to death. In case of sexual intercourse in the field, the engaged woman is not guilty and only the man has to die.
If an engaged woman in the city has sexual intercourse with another man, it means that she has contributed to the unfaithfulness. She might have been able to shout for help. On a balance of probabilities, there is a greater likelihood that a cry for help in a well populated city will meet with speedy assistance. In the city, someone who is engaged is not in as great a danger. It is a safe environment, because there are other people around.
This can be applied to a local church. If someone is part of it, but he allows influences in his life that leads away from Christ, then he deliberately withdraws from the fellowship of the believers. Such a person could have asked for help from fellow believers. To belong to a local church with the corrective influence of spiritual fathers and mothers is a great blessing, and provides safeguard from evil. That is the blessing of the city.
25 - 27 Penalty for Rape in the Field
25 “But if in the field the man finds the girl who is engaged, and the man forces her and lies with her, then only the man who lies with her shall die. 26 But you shall do nothing to the girl; there is no sin in the girl worthy of death, for just as a man rises against his neighbor and murders him, so is this case. 27 When he found her in the field, the engaged girl cried out, but there was no one to save her.
Believers are not always in the company of other believers. They sometimes are in the field, the world. There they can be abused against their will. There are situations in which one cannot always escape corruption. We could think, for example, of believing children with wicked parents or a believing wife who has an unbelieving, hostile husband. They sometimes live in a family situation where impurity still reigns supreme. Wherever help is called for, God’s grace is present.
28 - 29 Sexual Intercourse Before Marriage
28 “If a man finds a girl who is a virgin, who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her and they are discovered, 29 then the man who lay with her shall give to the girl’s father fifty [shekels] of silver, and she shall become his wife because he has violated her; he cannot divorce her all his days.
This is an extramarital sexual intercourse, but without unfaithfulness to an existing connection, either by marriage or by engagement. Nevertheless, this act has consequences. The man is obliged to take her to wife and give the girl’s father a dowry.
It is against God’s will that sexual intercourse happens before marriage. If it happens, then those who have done it must bear the consequences of their deeds. They must not shirk their responsibilities. The man may never send her away. They are connected for life.
[However, see also Exodus 22, which adds to the same case that the father has the right to refuse to allow his daughter to be attached to that man: “If a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged, and lies with her, he must pay a dowry for her [to be] his wife. If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the dowry for virgins” (Exo 22:16-17).]
30 Unnatural Sexual Intercourse
30 “A man shall not take his father’s wife so that he will not uncover his father’s skirt.
This case of sexual intercourse goes against the natural feelings of sexual intercourse. This is not only about extramarital sexual intercourse, but also about unnatural sexual intercourse. There is not only a lack of respect for God’s institution of marriage, but also a lack of respect for parents (Gen 35:22; 49:4).
This case occurs in the church in Corinth: “It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife” (1Cor 5:1). It is therefore not surprising that all kinds of fornication are also found in many churches today.
What should surprise us is that such sexual sins are no longer called sin. The church has become a free state for sin instead of a place wherein discipline is exercised. Fortunately, in Corinth the instructions given by Paul regarding this has been obeyed (2Cor 7:10-12).