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Israelite teachers and scribes are fond of organizing material using mnemonic devices. If two writings share a key word, phrase, or idea, it is considered clever and attractive to put them next to one another. This principle is applied often as the first law in Deuteronomy 21:1 begins by using some Hebrew words similar to those at the end of the last law in the previous group. Even though the second law in 21:10 is really about marriage, it begins, “When you go to battle against your enemies,” transitioning from the warfare laws. The third law follows because it starts by talking about marriage, even though it’s really about the inheritance rights of sons. And the next law also talks about sons—except that they’re so disobedient, they need to be executed. So the final law in the group is about executions. These language techniques are intended to help the Israelites memorize the laws.

21 Moses: If a murder victim is found lying on the ground in the open field, anywhere in the territory the Eternal your God is giving you to live in, and no one knows who the killer was, then perform a special ceremony to remove the bloodguilt from your land. Send for the priests, the descendants of Levi, the ones the Eternal your God chose to serve Him and to bless His name, because they’re the ones who settle disputes and handle cases of injury like this.[a] Have your elders and judges measure the distance from the body to the nearby cities. The elders of the city that’s closest to the body will have jurisdiction and offer a special sacrifice. Have them take a heifer that has never been put to work pulling a yoke, bring it down by a flowing stream onto land where no crops have ever been planted or grown, and break its neck in that stream. Then in the presence of the priests, have those city elders wash their hands over the heifer’s corpse and take an oath: “Our hands didn’t shed this blood, and our eyes never saw who did. Eternal, please cover the wickedness of Your people Israel, the ones You delivered from slavery. Please don’t consider your people Israel guilty of shedding innocent blood!” If this ceremony is performed, that city will be forgiven for the blood that was shed near it. You will remove the bloodguilt from your nation because you’ve done what the Eternal considers right.

The Hebrew practice of kipper is when one party makes a gift to another in order to reestablish a good relationship between two parties and remove bloodguilt. The emphasis is not so much on the gift itself (although it should be a worthy one), but on the first party’s desire for reconciliation. When the kipper is a sacrificial animal resolving an offense that would otherwise be settled according to the principle of “a life for a life,” the death of the animal is a substitution for what should have been the death of the murderer. This situation helps Christians understand what the sacrificial system provides for Israel before the Lord and what Jesus does for us on the cross. His death is a substitutionary sacrifice, but it is also a kipper, a gift that reestablishes our relationship with God.

Moses: 10 When you go to battle against your enemies and the Eternal, your True God, enables you to defeat them and take them captive, 11 you may see a beautiful woman among the captives and be attracted to her and want to marry her. 12 Bring her back to your house, and then have her shave her head and cut her nails 13 and exchange her old clothes she was wearing when she was captured for new ones. Let her stay in your house and mourn for her father and mother for a month. Only after that may you, as her husband, have sexual relations with her. She will be your fully legal wife and you her husband. 14 If you are ever displeased with her and divorce her, you must give her freedom and send her anywhere she wants to go. You’re not allowed to sell her into slavery, and you can’t turn her into your own slave because you humiliated her.

15 Suppose a man has two wives, and he favors one over the other, loving one and not loving the other. If they’ve both borne him sons, but the firstborn doesn’t belong to his favorite wife, 16-17 he can’t designate the eldest son of his favorite wife as the firstborn instead. When he divides his property and gives his sons their inheritances, he must recognize his true firstborn, the eldest son of the other wife, and give him a double portion of all his property as is customary for all men. That son was the first one created by the man’s generative power, so the rights of the firstborn belong to him.

18 If anyone has a stubborn and rebellious son who refuses to obey his father and mother, who won’t even listen to them when they discipline him, 19 his parents may bring him to the city gate and formally accuse him in court, 20 telling the city elders what wicked things he has done. For example, “This is our son. He’s stubborn and rebellious! He won’t obey us. He’s a glutton and a drunk!” 21 Then all the people of the city will stone him to death. You must expel the wicked from your own community.[b] Everyone else in Israel will hear about it and fear the consequences of such rebellion.

22 If someone does something so wicked that it’s punishable by death, and if you execute that person and then hang the body on a pole, 23 don’t leave the body up there overnight. Bury it that same day because everyone who hangs is cursed by God.[c] Otherwise you will defile the ground the Eternal your God is giving you to live on.


  1. 21:5 Verse 5 has been moved forward to aid in comprehension.
  2. 21:21 1 Corinthians 5:13
  3. 21:23 Galatians 3:13

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