1 - 3 Righteous Punishment
1 “If there is a dispute between men and they go to court, and the judges decide their case, and they justify the righteous and condemn the wicked, 2 then it shall be if the wicked man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall then make him lie down and be beaten in his presence with the number of stripes according to his guilt. 3 He may beat him forty times [but] no more, so that he does not beat him with many more stripes than these and your brother is not degraded in your eyes.
Punishment should be given where necessary, but not more than necessary. The punishment must be in accordance with the crime and with the responsibility of the criminal: “And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not know [it], and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more” (Lk 12:47-48).
The number of forty stripes is a maximum, where the number forty stands for a full punishment (Gen 7:12; Num 14:33-34). In giving the punishment, the rabbis, for fear of violating the letter of the law, have determined that forty minus one stripes must be given in case one should count wrong. Paul has received this maximum five times (2Cor 11:24). It indicates that he was seen by the Jews as a great criminal.
In the church of God, what is called justice here is discipline. Discipline is exercised by the entire church. In practice, spiritually-minded brothers will prepare a disciplinary case. Here, too, it is important that a disciplinary measure is in accordance with the committed sin. For example, someone who lives an undisciplined Christian life is unfaithful and must be designated so. While this does not revoke his status as a brother, such unfaithfulness vitally requires admonishing (2Thes 3:14-15, Darby Translation). The heaviest disciplinary measure of removing from the church does not fit in this case (1Cor 5:13b). That would be tantamount to degrading the brother.
The stripes must be given in the presence of the judge. This emphasizes the fact that the sentence is executed as it was pronounced and that the sentence must be executed immediately.
4 Not Muzzle a Threshing Ox
4 “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.
As the previous section teaches that punishment should be given according to the offence, so this verse brings to bear that nourishment may be enjoyed according to the work done. Just as a criminal is deserving of punishment, so the laborer is worthy of his wages.
This verse is quoted twice in the New Testament:
1. “For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.” God is not concerned about oxen, is He? Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher [to thresh] in hope of sharing [the crops]” (1Cor 9:9-10).
2. “The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages”” (1Tim 5:17-18).
The first quotation shows that this instruction was not given primarily out of concern for the ox, but that it is intended for the worker in God’s kingdom. It is not just an abstract application but a practical explanation of this verse.
This precept makes it clear to believers that those who do spiritual work are entitled to material support from those who benefit from this spiritual work (cf. Gal 6:6).
5 - 10 The Duty of a Husband’s Brother
5 “When brothers live together and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be [married] outside [the family] to a strange man. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her to himself as wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. 6 It shall be that the firstborn whom she bears shall assume the name of his dead brother, so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel. 7 But if the man does not desire to take his brother’s wife, then his brother’s wife shall go up to the gate to the elders and say, ‘My husband’s brother refuses to establish a name for his brother in Israel; he is not willing to perform the duty of a husband’s brother to me.’ 8 Then the elders of his city shall summon him and speak to him. And [if] he persists and says, ‘I do not desire to take her,’ 9 then his brother’s wife shall come to him in the sight of the elders, and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face; and she shall declare, ‘Thus it is done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house.’ 10 In Israel his name shall be called, ‘The house of him whose sandal is removed.’
In these verses an arrangement is made to protect the inheritance, that it may not fall into other hands. It describes the situation of two brothers who live in the same inheritance, of whom one is married and the other yet unmarried. If the married brother dies without a descendant, the other brother must take the widow as his wife. This is called “the duty of a husband’s brother” (verses 5,7). The son who is then conceived shall assume the name of the first husband and is his heir. This use, now enacted as law, has been known for some time (Gen 38:8).
With Boaz’s marriage to Ruth it is about a family member further away, because there is no brother (Rth 4:1-8). There, too, the land has already passed into other hands. Boaz must become both the redeemer and the one who performs the duty of a husband’s brother. God has now enacted this existing, unwritten law and also brought it to the human level. This allows the brother to evade the duty of a husband’s brother. He can do this because he simply does not want it or because he puts his own interests at risk.
The pulling off the sandal, is a symbolic indication. To put the sandal or shoe upon a given thing, speaks of taking possession of it, appropriating it and making it your own (Jos 1:3; Psa 60:10; 108:10). Pulling off the shoe speaks of the opposite and means abandoning a given thing. That is what the man does in the case of Ruth (Rth 4:7). He does so because he ruins his own inheritance by marrying Ruth. He thinks more of his own interests. He then renounces the woman and the land. Here the woman pulls the sandal off his foot. Such an instance, results in a name of insult for the man.
In the book of Ruth is a redeemer who is nearer. This first redeemer is a type of law. The law is given as the first obligation to man in order to receive life through it. The law says: “Do this and you will live’ (Lev 18:5). But this first redeemer cannot redeem. People who enforce the law are like thieves and robbers. The Pharisees and scribes think only of their own interest and not of the people. They impose heavy loads.
Then comes the Redeemer Who can do it and does it, the Lord Jesus. He does not think of Himself. He is not afraid to lose His own inheritance. He wants to be ”cut off and have nothing” (Dan 9:26b). The Lord Jesus is the true Boaz, which means ‘in him is strength’. Ruth is a picture of the remnant of Israel and Naomi of the Israel that has lost everything. How aptly Ruth, who is a Moabitess, shows the disenfranchisement of the remnant and that everything that is obtained is only on the basis of grace.
The meaning for us is what we have to do for the other. It shows that we have to step aside for the other. Are we prepared to prioritize the interests of the brother, or do we look like the first redeemer? It may take some time or effort, but how important is it to us that the other person keeps his inheritance?
The Sadducees refer in one of their discussions with the Lord Jesus to the duty of a husband’s brother to “prove” the implausibility of the resurrection (Mt 22:23-33). The Sadducees are the liberals of that time. They only believe in what they can reason. Therefore they do not believe in the resurrection, nor in angels and spirits (Acts 23:8). They propose to the Lord the case invented by them of seven brothers who marry the same woman in succession. They explain from their corrupt thinking how the situation develops in their fabricated example.
Yet still, the Lord makes an effort to enlighten their darkened minds. He refers to the Scripture that speaks of God as the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob (Exo 3:6,15-16). The Lord quotes this Scripture to show that in the days of Moses the patriarchs live in another world, although they then have not yet been raised from the dead. The fact that their spirits are in the other world guarantees that they will share the fulfillment of the promises with resurrected bodies.
When God says this to Moses, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob have long since passed away. But God has given them His promises. Will He not then be able to make them come true? Certainly, He will make them come true. He will do that in the resurrection. How very different is the faith of Abraham from that of the Sadducees. He has believed that God is able to raise even the dead (Heb 11:18).
11 - 12 Improper Method of Delivery
11 “If [two] men, a man and his countryman, are struggling together, and the wife of one comes near to deliver her husband from the hand of the one who is striking him, and puts out her hand and seizes his genitals, 12 then you shall cut off her hand; you shall not show pity.
This case is related to the previous part, but as a counterpart. If her husband’s brother refuses to perform duty of the husband’s brother in marrying her, the woman, being very independent, may express her contempt (verse 9). But in these verses it is made clear that this freedom must not tempt her into unauthorized, shameless actions. It is understandable that she wants to stand up for her husband, but the way she does it shows cruel malice. She wants to make her husband's opponent unfit to conceive offspring.
The physical mutilation that should be used here as a punishment is the only example given in the law. The evil that is happening here must be punished with a punishment that has a lasting effect. In the execution of the sentence, pity, for example because it concerns a woman, should not play a role (cf. Deu 13:8; 19:13,21).
The Lord may point to this precept when He speaks of cutting off the hand that can cause us to fall into sin. Preventing an inappropriate act is done by judging oneself. Whoever cuts off his hand spiritually speaking, will not literally have to lose it. The Lord goes much further: whoever cuts off his hand spiritually, thereby escapes the judgment of hell (Mk 9:43).
13 - 16 A Full and Just Weight and Measure
13 “You shall not have in your bag differing weights, a large and a small. 14 You shall not have in your house differing measures, a large and a small. 15 You shall have a full and just weight; you shall have a full and just measure, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you. 16 For everyone who does these things, everyone who acts unjustly is an abomination to the LORD your God.
The prohibition of dual weights and measures impinges not only on their use, but also on their possession. The bad merchant has a large measure for the purchase and a small measure for the sale. The prophet Amos also speaks against this evil with clear language (Amos 8:5b). The prohibition has been given before (Lev 19:35-36). In the same line we read in Psalm 12 about speaking “with flattering lips and with a double heart” (Psa 12:3).
The evil of two measures can so easily play a role in our own hearts and in church life. When it comes to ourselves, we often apply different standards than when it comes to others. We are often much more lenient toward family members than toward outsiders. That is why it is wise, for example, to stay out of a disciplinary case as a family.
For God, such a conduct of ambivalence is an abomination (Pro 20:10; 11:1; 20:23). In verse 16 it is said of everyone who measures with two measures that such a man is “an abomination to the LORD your God”. The LORD wants judgment without regard to persons. In His ways of government, He takes considers what measure we have used for others. How we have judged others, according to that standard we ourselves will be judged by Him, as He Himself says: “For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return” (Lk 6:38c).
God rewards honest conduct with a long life in the land. Those who are honest do not do themselves any harm, even though it sometimes seems so. The full blessing that God grants His people to enjoy in the land He, is the heavenly places for the Christian. Honesty in all relationships is a prerequisite for the enjoyment of spiritual blessings.
17 - 19 Command to Blot out Amalek
17 “Remember what Amalek did to you along the way when you came out from Egypt, 18 how he met you along the way and attacked among you all the stragglers at your rear when you were faint and weary; and he did not fear God. 19 Therefore it shall come about when the LORD your God has given you rest from all your surrounding enemies, in the land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you must not forget.
Amalek is a cruel people who attack the weakest points of a people who have barely escaped slavery (Exo 17:8,14-16). They also attack a people who not only have no experience of fighting, but also have occasioned them no harm. In this attack of God’s people, they reveal a mindset without fear of God.
God does not forget what this cowardly enemy has done to His people. The verdict is to totally blot out the memory of this enemy by a complete judgment. It can be compared to the judgment of the flood in the days of Noah and the overturning and burning of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 6:5-7; 18:20-21; 19:24-25). Saul is commissioned to blot out Amalek, but fails by disobedience (1Sam 15:1-3,18-19). Some time later David beats the Amalekites (2Sam 1:1). In the days of Hezekiah the final liquidation of Amalek takes place (1Chr 4:41-43).
Amalek is a picture of the sinful flesh. The flesh, the sin in us, must be completely set aside. Faith knows that sin in the flesh is judged when Christ died under God’s judgment on the cross and that we are crucified there with Him (Rom 6:6; 8:3). Now it is our responsibility to consider ourselves dead to sin (Rom 6:11).
Just like Amalek, the sinful flesh is also very cruel. It attacks us at times of weakness and at our weakest points. Right then it is important to think of Christ and His work and of our union with Him in that work. Then the flesh has no chance to assert itself and seduce us to sin through which we suffer defeat.
We must go far in our love for others, but we must not give any room to the flesh. We must allow God to preside in all our affairs, in all our relationships. Then things like charity, resolve, and discernment – all will find their place and be found in all our ways. Love for the flesh, for Satan and his powers, must never be there, otherwise we will never apprehend the beautiful message of the next chapter.