Deuteronomy 21:18-21 describes a stubborn and rebellious son who, despite chastisements, will not obey his father and mother. The Law allows the parents of such a child to present him to the elders at their town’s gate and "say to the elders, ‘this son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid." Although this mitzvaoth may seem barbaric at first glance, it protects the wayward young man from his parents’ anger and demands the elders’ consensus before any judgment. After critical analysis, sees that only a law of divine origin could so brilliantly enshrine a principle while keeping a conviction virtually impossible. In 3,000 past years, no record exists of anyone dying in this manner.
Mosaic Law permits using the death penalty as a punishment for crimes against a human person or for apostasy, never for crimes against property. Rabbinical literature further regulates the use of capital punishment only when it follows due process (the trial of Christ is the notable exception).
Moses then proposes the covenant to the new Generation of Israelites: either serve the Lord your God or not (cf. 29:14). To visualize this fundamental choice for the people, he juxtaposes Gerizim, the mountain of blessing, with Ebal, the mountain of curse. Before giving them the opportunity to seal themselves to the Lord, Moses recounts the incredible safety with which God has blessed them during their 40-year sojourn. He then warns that those who agree to follow God’s covenant but persist in their own sinful ways forsake the covenant and will bring a terrible curse upon themselves (cf. 21-28).
Because God knows His people are apt to forget the Law, He instructs his priests to "Assemble the people – men, women and children, and the aliens living in your towns –so they can listen and learn to fear the Lord your God and follow carefully all the words of this Law" (cf. 31:9-13). This will also teach their children, who have not yet heard the Law, to fear the Lord their God as long as they live. God’s incredible sovereignty instills fear and His people rightly tremble before His majesty.
The Hebrew notion of holiness always contains elements of separation: cleaving to one’s God will require a separation from the world.
God will give life to His people if they love Him, obey the Him and persist in His ways. Following the Lord is always a matter of one’s heart: to close one’s heart to Him is to cease loving or obeying Him.
Because Israel is a stiff-necked and rebellious people, Moses makes certain concessions to them. Jesus significantly raises the standards for the people of God, eliminating these concessions for His followers. Those who follow Christ are blessed with a greater blessing than that which the Law provided; not following Christ brings a larger curse than that which befell those who forsook the Law. The Messiah’s teachings are for the spiritually-minded, not the fleshly-minded; adhering to them requires the complete gift of heart, soul and might.
Music: Beethoven’s "Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Op. 15" performed by the Skidmore College Orchestra. www.musopen.com