The Seriousness of Sin: Deuteronomy 20:8-21:21

Deuteronomy 20:8‑21:21  •  4 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Deuteronomy 20:8-21:218And the officers shall speak further unto the people, and they shall say, What man is there that is fearful and fainthearted? let him go and return unto his house, lest his brethren's heart faint as well as his heart. 9And it shall be, when the officers have made an end of speaking unto the people, that they shall make captains of the armies to lead the people. 10When thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it. 11And it shall be, if it make thee answer of peace, and open unto thee, then it shall be, that all the people that is found therein shall be tributaries unto thee, and they shall serve thee. 12And if it will make no peace with thee, but will make war against thee, then thou shalt besiege it: 13And when the Lord thy God hath delivered it into thine hands, thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword: 14But the women, and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take unto thyself; and thou shalt eat the spoil of thine enemies, which the Lord thy God hath given thee. 15Thus shalt thou do unto all the cities which are very far off from thee, which are not of the cities of these nations. 16But of the cities of these people, which the Lord thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth: 17But thou shalt utterly destroy them; namely, the Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee: 18That they teach you not to do after all their abominations, which they have done unto their gods; so should ye sin against the Lord your God. 19When thou shalt besiege a city a long time, in making war against it to take it, thou shalt not destroy the trees thereof by forcing an axe against them: for thou mayest eat of them, and thou shalt not cut them down (for the tree of the field is man's life) to employ them in the siege: 20Only the trees which thou knowest that they be not trees for meat, thou shalt destroy and cut them down; and thou shalt build bulwarks against the city that maketh war with thee, until it be subdued. 1If one be found slain in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee to possess it, lying in the field, and it be not known who hath slain him: 2Then thy elders and thy judges shall come forth, and they shall measure unto the cities which are round about him that is slain: 3And it shall be, that the city which is next unto the slain man, even the elders of that city shall take an heifer, which hath not been wrought with, and which hath not drawn in the yoke; 4And the elders of that city shall bring down the heifer unto a rough valley, which is neither eared nor sown, and shall strike off the heifer's neck there in the valley: 5And the priests the sons of Levi shall come near; for them the Lord thy God hath chosen to minister unto him, and to bless in the name of the Lord; and by their word shall every controversy and every stroke be tried: 6And all the elders of that city, that are next unto the slain man, shall wash their hands over the heifer that is beheaded in the valley: 7And they shall answer and say, Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it. 8Be merciful, O Lord, unto thy people Israel, whom thou hast redeemed, and lay not innocent blood unto thy people of Israel's charge. And the blood shall be forgiven them. 9So shalt thou put away the guilt of innocent blood from among you, when thou shalt do that which is right in the sight of the Lord. 10When thou goest forth to war against thine enemies, and the Lord thy God hath delivered them into thine hands, and thou hast taken them captive, 11And seest among the captives a beautiful woman, and hast a desire unto her, that thou wouldest have her to thy wife; 12Then thou shalt bring her home to thine house; and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails; 13And she shall put the raiment of her captivity from off her, and shall remain in thine house, and bewail her father and her mother a full month: and after that thou shalt go in unto her, and be her husband, and she shall be thy wife. 14And it shall be, if thou have no delight in her, then thou shalt let her go whither she will; but thou shalt not sell her at all for money, thou shalt not make merchandise of her, because thou hast humbled her. 15If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated, and they have born him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the firstborn son be hers that was hated: 16Then it shall be, when he maketh his sons to inherit that which he hath, that he may not make the son of the beloved firstborn before the son of the hated, which is indeed the firstborn: 17But he shall acknowledge the son of the hated for the firstborn, by giving him a double portion of all that he hath: for he is the beginning of his strength; the right of the firstborn is his. 18If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: 19Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; 20And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. 21And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear. (Deuteronomy 20:8‑21:21)
We learn here that there is no use seeking the help of those who are not whole-hearted in serving the Lord, for their very presence will only be a hindrance. Paul saw this in Acts 15:3838But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work. (Acts 15:38) when he refused to take John Mark with them on a missionary tour because he had turned back previously. May we ever follow the wisdom of God’s Word in these things, for His glory as well as for our own good and blessing.
In warfare, when they came against a city, they were first to proclaim peace to it. Then if the inhabitants refused to make peace, they were to fight and capture the city, killing all the men in it. If it were one of the cities of the land which the Lord had given them, against which they were fighting, they were to utterly destroy it, lest they should learn some of the evil ways of the people, for if we keep just a little of the world near us, it will soon lead us astray. Let us be watchful about the little things!
They were not to destroy the fruit trees in their warfare, for God had given them for food. It is never right to be willfully destructive of what God has given.
No Passing Over Sin
If a person was found dead, and no one knew who did it, then the city which was nearest to the place of the crime was to be held responsible. The elders and judges of the city were to take a heifer which had never been under a yoke, and bring it to a rough valley. There they were to cut off the heifer’s neck, and then wash their hands over its dead body, while the priests, and Levites, looked on. They were to declare their innocence in the matter, and ask God to be merciful to them and forgive them. There was to be no passing over sin, or lightness about the seriousness of it.
These instructions remind us so forcibly of the One — the guiltless One — whom the Jews put to death. Then after they had done it, they tried to excuse themselves (Acts 5:2828Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man's blood upon us. (Acts 5:28)). But God cannot pass over sin — it must be judged. Either the guilty one must die or a substitute must die in his stead, and so the heifer died in the place of the guilty man here. What a picture of the Lord Jesus, the One who was never under the yoke of sin, but who died that we, the guilty ones, might go free! What a “rough valley” it was for Him, as He became our sin-bearer upon Calvary’s cross! In matchless grace He put down Israel’s sin as a sin of ignorance (Luke 23:3434Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots. (Luke 23:34); Acts 3:1717And now, brethren, I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers. (Acts 3:17)), and therefore all those who call out for mercy, as the elders did here, will be forgiven and brought into blessing. Have you called out for mercy? Are you under the shelter of the blood of the Substitute whom God has provided?
Relationship Between Parents and Children
In all the people’s dealings there was to be the fullest consideration for others, and no one was to be abused. They were not to show any favoritism as parents, but to give the right of the firstborn to the one whose it was.
If, however, a man had a stubborn and rebellious son who would not obey his father or his mother, even when punished, he was to be brought to the elders of the city. The parents were then to tell before them all about his naughtiness, and then all the men of the city were to stone him to death for his stubbornness. How awfully solemn this is! If there is anyone reading these lines who is showing a stubborn and rebellious attitude to his or her parents, is this not a warning to you?
Further Meditations
1. What were the children of Israel to do when they came against a city?
2. Describe how the Israelites refused to pass over sin in the case of Achan in Joshua 7.
3. The subject of holiness and dealing with sin is often misunderstood. You might gain a deeper understanding of it by reading Holiness and Communion by C. H. Mackintosh.