The Scriptorium

All in the Family

God cares about families. Deuteronomy 21.10-23

A Holy Nation (2): Deuteronomy 19-21 (6)

Opening Prayer: Psalm 128.1, 2
Blessed is every one who fears the LORD,
Who walks in His ways.
When you eat the labor of your hands,
You shall be happy, and it shall be well with you.

Psalm 128.1, 2

(Fountain: There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood)
How blessed are they who fear You, Lord, who walk within Your ways!
Rejoicing in Your bounteous Word, they prosper all their days!
They prosper all their days, they prosper all their days!
Rejoicing in Your bounteous Word, they prosper all their days!

Today’s Text: Deuteronomy 21.10-23

1. Which aspects of family life are addressed in these verses?

2. What is prohibited in these situations?

OK, let’s just acknowledge, right off the bat, that these practices seem rather strange.

Strange to us, at any rate.

But in Israel’s day, these were not uncommon practices, and God considered that, at least to some extent, they would not be detrimental to His plan for having a holy people.

The Israelites could not take wives from the pagan peoples of Canaan. However, they were evidently allowed to take wives from nations beyond those people (vv. 10-14). Elimelech may have fudged just a bit in taking Ruth as his wife; but God blessed the choice. My sense is that this practice was designed to help Israel remember that God’s covenant was for the blessing of all the families and nations of the earth. Allowing the taking of a wife from a Gentile nation beyond the land of Canaan would keep before Israel their covenant calling. Verse 14 may seem a little flip and “no-fault” in putting away such a woman by divorce. But God knew what He was doing.

The “firstborn status” mentioned here gave to the firstborn son the lion’s share of the father’s estate. This right of primogeniture, may seem to us somewhat unfair; however, it has been practiced for centuries, and even in nations that came under the influence of Christianity. And in this text, firstborn means firstborn, regardless of whether the mother is the loved wife or the unloved one. And what’s with that having two wives? Let’s remember: Israel was a fallen people who did not yet have a heart for God. God condescended to their sinfulness and folly in certain ways (cf. Matt. 19.1-8).

The punishment inflicted on a rebellious son was, indeed, harsh. But if a son would stubbornly insist on his right to violate the fifth commandment, he would likely do the same for all the Law of God. He would have known the consequences of his rebellion. In a very real sense, he chose the wages due to his sin.

The man hanged on a tree (vv. 22, 23) doesn’t actually fit in the category of family matters. But it makes a clear point about keeping the land and people holy; and it points forward clearly to Him Who hanged for us, so that we might be free from our own sin and rebellion against the Lord.

Treasure Old and New: Matthew 13.52; Psalm 119.162
This passage regarding the stubborn and rebellious son lets us know that God understands parents’ grief, sorrow, and helplessness in the face of such recalcitrance. But now, God’s grace takes the place of stones. We don’t deal with this problem in the way they did then; nevertheless, it is widespread both among Christians and non-Christians alike. Our greatest comfort is to know that God understands our heartache and frustration. Jesus lived on earth, and He saw first-hand many of these problems and sorrows. He understands our family hurts and hearts: “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4.14-16). This family matter needs Jesus. Ultimately, obedience to God is the responsibility and hoped-for response of the children. All in the family need grace that is greater than all our sin!


1. In His Law, God pays a good bit of attention to families (think: fifth commandment). Why is that?

2. What to you is the most important principle regarding family life suggested by these statutes?

3. What do we learn about Jesus’ death on the cross from the law regarding a man hanged on a tree?

This, then, is the sum, that the Israelites should not defile themselves by profane marriages, but in this point also should keep themselves pure and uncorrupt, because they were separated from other people, to be the peculiar people of God.
John Calvin (1509-1564), Commentary on Deuteronomy 20.10-14

Help me to trust You, Lord, and even though I don’t always understand all Your Word, to obey you in…

Closing Prayer: Psalm 128.3-6
Pray for the families of your church, that they might know the blessings that come from loving God and obeying His Word.

Psalm 128.3-6

(Fountain: There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood)
Their homes with happy children bloom who fear Your holy Name;
their tables and their every room declare Your glorious fame!
Declare Your glorious fame, declare Your glorious fame!
Their tables and their every room declare Your glorious fame!

O Lord, from Zion send Your peace, and prosp’rous make our ways;
thus may Your blessings e’er increase upon us all our days!
Upon us all our days, upon us all our days!
Thus may Your blessings e’er increase upon all us all our days!

T. M. and Susie Moore

Listen to our summary of last week’s study in Deuteronomy by clicking here. You can download all the studies in the series by clicking here.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. All quotations from Church Fathers from
Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy: Ancient Christian Commentary Series III, Joseph T. Lienhard, S. J. ed. in collaboration with Ronnie J. Rombs, General Editor Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001). All quotations from John Calvin from John Calvin, Commentaries on The Four Last Books of Moses Arranged in the Order of A Harmony, Rev. Charles William Bingham M. A., tr. and ed. (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1863. All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (available by clicking here).

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore