There are some very important practices outlined in this parashah.
First off, judges must not allow a person’s social status to influence their decision. Any crime deserving of capital punishment must be substantiated by no less than 2 or 3 witnesses, and to ensure those witnesses realize the seriousness of their accusations, they are to be the first ones to lay hands on and stone the guilty. For criminal cases that are too hard for the local judge to adjudicate, those cases are to be brought to the Levites in the location where where God places His name; God just created the first Supreme Court.
It talks about when the people want a king that the king must read and obey the Torah daily, and that he must not bring the people out of the land or have too many horses or wives; too many horses represents faithlessness in God as their protector, and too many wives will be a lure to idolatry (as Solomon proved true.)
What is interesting is that after establishing the rules for having a king, Moses tells the people that God will send a prophet to let them know what He wants of them. The reason I find this interesting is that the prophet was supposed to be in place of the king, yet the rulings for how the king is to act came before Moses talked about the prophet. Perhaps this is to emphasize that the king is also required to listen to the prophet God sends, which (for the good kings) did happen. As for the bad kings who rejected the prophets warnings, well… we know where they ended up.
The other regulations in this parashah deal with which men shall be free of military obligation, establishing cities of refuge and what I want to talk about today- offering peace with slavery or total destruction to the cities the people would encounter when conquering the land.
Deuteronomy 20: 10-18 states that when coming to a city which is not one within the land that God is giving as an inheritance, they are to approach it and offer a peaceful takeover. The city that accepts will be required to pay tribute but will remain unmolested. If the city refuses, then all the men are to be killed and the woman, children and possessions are to be taken. However, for those people living in the land that God is giving as the inheritance (the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites), the people, all the animals and their possessions are to be completely destroyed. Nothing is to be kept by the Israelites.
Wow! Our loving, compassionate and merciful God wants total annihilation of people- men, women and children, as well as the animals! Is this the same God who chided Jonah for wanting Nineveh destroyed? Is this the same God who gave us commandments regarding proper treatment of all people and animals? Is this the same God who gave us Messiah so that we can have eternal life? Is this the same God who has Ezekiel tell us (Chapter 18) that He doesn’t like to see anyone die, but would rather that the sinner turn from his sin, and live?
If God is willing to let the other pagan peoples remain alive as slaves, why not these that live in the land already?
The answer is simple, yet hard for humans to accept- the people living in the land that God is giving to the Israelites have sinned so terribly that their time for forgiveness has passed and the time for judgment has come. Remember how Moses told the people that they are not being given the land because they deserve it, but because of the promise God made to their fathers (Deuteronomy 9:5)? Moses also told the people the reason the existing peoples are being ejected from the land is because they have so polluted it that the land, itself, is vomiting them out of it (Leviticus 18:28), and if the Israelites do not destroy them completely then they will become a snare for them and cause them to fall into the same sin, resulting in Israel being vomited out of the land, as well. Which, of course, eventually happened just as Moses warned them it would happen.
God is loving and compassionate and caring, but he is also God, which means that He judges fairly. He sets the rules, and He holds Himself accountable to them. I think this is why people can’t figure God out- it’s because we are weak and easily influenced by our emotions, and God isn’t. We have rules and regulations but we do not always hold ourselves up to our own standards.
God is not like that- God makes the rules for us, but He also follows those rules Himself. One of the reasons God is able to judge fairly is because He not only can see the heart, but because He will not allow Himself to break His own rules. Since He is God, if He wanted to break His own rules, who could stop Him? Who can hold God accountable? No one, of course, except God, and He does exactly that- God holds Himself accountable to follow His own rules.
We do not know if God sent prophets to these people, or if He made Himself known to them as He did to the Israelites, but we do know that the people in the land were aware of who God was. The story of what God did to Egypt was known throughout that area. God also said He would put the fear of the Israelites into the peoples, which was evident. Once Joshua was in the land, Rahab (Joshua 2) knew about them, and there is the story of the city of Gibeon (Joshua 9) that fooled Joshua by sending envoys pretending they came from a far distance in order to make peace with him. So there was no excuse for these people to have not done T’shuvah and save themselves.
Purging of sin and sinful people from the world is a cruel thing, because sin is a cruel thing. You cannot put out a fire with gasoline or by throwing wood on it- you have to kill the fire by taking it’s life. You do that by suffocating it with water or chemicals. Sin is like fire- it destroys anything and everything in it’s path, and someone who has come into close contact with it will wear the scars of that experience forever. Through Messiah we are saved from the fire, and when we receive our resurrected bodies the scars of that fire will be gone. In the meantime, we go on and let those scars remind us of how terrible sin is. Yeshua is the balm, the covering and the relief from the sin we have scarred ourselves with by playing with fire.
What we learn from this parashah is that God is fair, just and will hold Himself accountable to His own commandments and regulations. He wants everyone to live, but when people reject Him (and He gives them plenty of chances to change their mind) eventually the deadline for T’shuvah (repentance) runs out, and the judgment follows. America is coming into judgment, as is the rest of the world. In fact, we can see it has already started. Terrorism is a cruel, heartless and destructive thing that cares not for men,women, children ,animals, or possessions; I believe it is the sword of Adonai. God used His people, Israel, to mete out His righteous judgment against the Canaanites and other peoples that had polluted the land God allowed them to live in, and today judgment is coming on the nations just as it did then. God is using terrorism as His sword of justice. Why do I say this? Because what the terrorists are doing is no similar to what the Israelites did- destruction of the social, financial and political systems of the people they were sent to destroy. The only difference is in the procedure: in Joshua’s day the destruction was through direct warfare, whereas today it is through terrorism; terrorism is slower and less direct, but it is just as destructive and cruel, with the same final results. The people are destroyed without pity, without recourse and without warning. Just look at how terrorism is spreading throughout Europe and America. Even those Arab countries that are attacking Israel to this day are tearing themselves apart, internally.
Judgement is here, God is working His will throughout the world, and it will only get worse. We need to steel ourselves against turning from the faith in order to avoid the terror- it won’t work, anyway, The terror is coming, and no one can do anything about it. We just need to make sure we are on the wining side.