Playing by the rules

Deuteronomy 25

Jerry A Collins




v        Should punishment be humiliating?

v        Does honesty in business reveal faith in God?

v        Why does God want evil people to not go unnoticed?


One of the struggles we all face both personally and societally, is to make sure that any kind of punishment is just. That it is not excessive but is carried out justly. First, there is the need to ensure that there is a need for punishment. Has some crime been committed or moral line crossed? Then once it has been determined that punishment is required, that the punishment is appropriate. This is a concern of Moses for the nation of Israel as they make these kinds of decisions. This section begins with a call to regulate corporal punishment in such a way that it is administered justly. God did not want vigilantism to determine justice in the nation. It was not up for grabs as to how punishment and justice would be carried out. The nation was to play by the rules that God enacted. So this division of Moses’ speech is one that informs the nation about playing according to God’s rules in several situations.


The case 1   Here we have an ‘if-then’ scenario set up as a possibility of some kind. The scenario is a dispute that is unsettled by the two personally and must be taken to court to determine a verdict vs 1. In this case, the judges render a verdict and now must administer the punishment to the guilty party.

The punishment 2-3  Punishment is for the guilty person. Sometimes a judgment may be that a man gets beaten or flogged. If he deserves to be beaten, he should get the number of stripes per his guilt, as determined by the judges, but no more than 40 times. (1) This time the punishment was given by the judge, not the person wronged (like in Deut 17:6-7). (2) The punishment was to match the crime. (3) There was a limit to the punishment. The person was not to be degraded. Many times a punishment is used to try and degrade a person. In this case the limit of corporal punishment was 40 lashes. By the time of the New Testament the Jews seemed to have settled on 39 lashes as a safeguard against going over the allotted 40 (2 Cor 11:24). (4) Interestingly, punishment was not prison time or in a correction facility. Punishments for disputes that cannot be settled personally in society should be left up to government officials. There is no guarantee that perfect justice can be expected but God never sanctions vigilantism as a remedy and the punishment should always  fit the crime.


Continuing with the theme of justice, the Israelites were to ensure that adequate wages were to be paid for workers. This seems to be a proverb similar to ‘don’t look a gift horse in the mouth’. When we say that, we rarely use it with reference to a literal horse. We use it as an illustration of a principle. Therefore, it is true that when God spoke these words here in Dt 25:4, He was not concerned about oxen, but men. And this is precisely what Paul says in 1 Cor 9:9-10. God is not concerned about oxen is He? The plowman, he says, ought to plow in hope-that is that he will get his wages for his work. This is consistent with Dt 24:14-15 where the crisis that unpaid workers face will be a witness against the one who hired of a sin before God. This is repeated in 1 Tim 5:18 and Lev 19:13 in Timothy for an elder who works hard at preaching and teaching and in Leviticus as a warning against oppressing and robbing workers without paying them. So, all workers should be paid, whether they are doing so-called secular work or spiritual—and they should be paid adequately and in a timely manner! God is pleased.


The case 5  A brother should marry his sister-in-law when the brother dies. The brothers must have been living together—they inherited their father’s property jointly, and the deceased brother must have died without a male heir. If both of these conditions were met, then levirate (latin brother-in-law or husband’s brother) marriage took place.

The purpose 6  This would provide a male heir to take care of aging parents and prevent loss of property but in context this is to carry on the name of the brother and raise up children for him. He would be given the name of the brother and take responsibility for the family inheritance to ensure the property rights to the family descendents in anticipation of participating in the future land promises prophesied for Israel’s glorious future!

The problem 7  If the brother refuses to do it, the wife can degrade him—unlike the previous section—in the gates before the elders.   She spits in his face in their presence to show strong disapproval and stigmatize him publicly. It’s illustrated in Ruth 4:7-8 but in Ruth it is an application of this. The relative there is a kinsman redeemer not a brother. This practice also seems to precede Deuteronomy seen in Gen 38:8-11. There, Tamar tricks Judah into having relations with her to fulfill the duty of offspring to her here as the father of her husband who died. We should not wish bad fortune for our brothers and their siblings. Help out our brothers family not by marrying his widow but help her out where and when needed!


Stopping a fight 11-12  If two men fighting and wife comes to help, and she grabs attention immodestly, then her hand was to be cut off. Possibly intended to protect his capacity to produce heirs in the land with property rights and family future at stake—an illusion to significance of previous section. This is 4th time to show no pity in executing punishment for wrongdoing 5:16; 6:2; 11:9; 32:47.

Just scales 13-15  The Israelites were to be completely and totally honest in their business dealings. That meant they were not to have differing weights—such as one for selling and a different one for buying. The theme of honest and dishonest weights and measures is a common Old Testament issue (Prov 11:1; 20:10; Amos 8:5; Micah 6:11; Hosea 12:7). Ultimately, they were warned that the Lord would withhold or give prosperity to them accordingly. So honesty in business was a way to proclaim your faith in the Lord’s ability to support and supply for you a long life. No need to cheat and take advantage since that indicated a lack of trust in God’s ability to provide and was vexing to others. Always be fair and honest in business and personal dealings.

Evil people 17-19  The Amalekites were descendents of Esau and were hostile toward Israel in 2 battles (Ex 17:8-16; Num 14;39-45). Moses mentions the unprovoked attacks against the weak, sick, helpless lagging behind which evidenced the cruelty and cowardice and lack of fear of God since they knew these were God’s specially chosen ones. That did not stop their ruthlessness. Since they showed no mercy, God said they would receive none themselves. David defeated them 400 yrs later (2 Sam 1:1) but finally wiped out 300 yrs later in Hezekiah’s day (1 Chr 4:41-43). God strongly asserts ‘Don’t Forget’! Don’t let evil or evil people go unnoticed. God judges cruelty!

1. Do not use punishment to humiliate.

2. Do not hire people without intent to pay.

3. Be there to take care of the needs of your extended family.

4. Treat people with dignity and justice.