Whenever an Israelite was found murdered out in the countryside and no-one, except God, knew who the culprit was, the priests from the closest town had to sacrifice a heifer (cow) to atone for the crime (v.1-9). It was specified that the neck of the heifer must be broken. However, blood is the universal spiritual currency for atonement and so we can presume that the poor cow’s blood would have been spilled when it died.
When the Israelites waged war against enemy tribes that were not on the total annihilation list (Deut. 20:17), they were allowed to marry women they captured. If the marriage didn’t work out, the women were allowed freedom and were not to be treated as slaves (v.14).
The firstborn son was due a double share of his Father’s inheritance (v.17). The penalty for being a persistently rebellious son, a profligate and drunkard was to be stoned to death. This make the ‘Parable of the Prodigal Son’ – in yesterday’s blog – even more amazing. The Father gave his youngest son his share of the Father’s estate – even while the Father was still alive. This is highly unusual as it would have been considered the height of disrespect for a son to demand an inheritance from a living father. The prodigal squanders all his inheritance i.e. his Father’s property. Yet, instead of being executed according to the law, he is welcomed back with loving arms.
‘Anyone who is hung on a tree’ is under God’s curse (v.23). God had to turn his back on Jesus on the cross, because Jesus had become sin and was hung on a wooden cross (which represents a tree). According to medieval legend, the wood that Jesus’ cross had been fashioned from had grown from a branch of the ‘Tree of Mercy’ originally from the Garden of Eden.
The Israelites were told to care for each other’s property and return straying sheep / lost cloaks etc. Cross dressing was banned (v.5). Health and safety laws were introduced (v.8). Promiscuity, fornication and adultery were regarded as capital crimes (v.20-22). These laws seem harsh by modern standards but when we think of how many thousands of unwanted pregnancies are aborted due to the immoral behaviour of their adult parents, we kill more individuals for sexual sins than the Israelites did.
Mary, Mother of Jesus, would have been stoned to death for becoming pregnant while unmarried (v.23-24). Joseph saved her life by becoming her husband / guardian. Rape is another crime that attracts a death sentence. So it should really have a mandatory life sentence in modern times.
Today, we have the highly unusual, ‘Parable of the Shrewd Manager‘. This is probably the strangest of all parables when heard for the first time. Basically, non-Christians can be very good at using money wisely, negotiating with their own kind, acting dishonesty for their own gain and planning shrewdly for the future. In this parable the shrewd manager cancels some of the debt people owe his master, so they will owe him friendship / loyalty / new employment in return. The manager helps himself to someone else’s resources to secure his future. Of course we should never emulate his unscrupulous behaviour. We should use the monetary blessings that God provides to further his projects not ours. We should use our money to support worthy Christian projects such as missions abroad. In some countries, Western people can do more harm than good blundering in and trying to evangelise. It is often much better to financially support pastors who know the local language and the culture.
When we spend our money during this life on people with real needs and holy projects – if our beneficiaries pass away before us, they will join in with the welcoming committee when we get to heaven.
If we are a trustworthy steward handling money and aren’t a slave to acquiring it, God will trust us with true riches: faith, revelation, words of knowledge. The Pharisees ‘loved money‘ and sneered at Jesus (v.14). The best way to grow a healthy attitude to money is to give it away with a cheerful heart. Tithing to your local church is an ideal practice to engender generosity.
Jesus clearly said that divorce and remarriage is not allowed for Christians as this would be adultery (v.18). Sex has caused some of the major splits in Christianity over history. Henry VIII started the Church of England so he could commit adultery with Anne Boleyn. Priests flocked to sign up to Henry’s new religion that allowed them to marry and have sex. However, Jesus’ commands never change. Jesus can forgive all our sins but, once we have been forgiven, we then need to stop sinning.
The opposite of wisdom, folly, ‘is undisciplined and without knowledge’ (v.13).
Foolishness is easy to come by and it calls out to us.
Sexual sins such as adultery may seem appealing, ‘Stolen water is sweet, food eaten in secret is delicious’ (v.17) but foolishly indulging in them leads to eternal separation from God, ‘her guests are in the depths of the grave’ (v.18).
My wife banned me from bringing chocolate into the house while she was going through a health phase. I hid some ’emergency’ chocolate bars in cupboards in the garage and helped myself whenever I was passing. Of course, my wife soon sniffed them out like a bloodhound and they were gone. However, I found that after the initial thrill of having a piece of chocolate, it wasn’t any sweeter when I ate it in secret. It is much better for one’s spirituality (and one’s health) to hospitably share treats with others rather than secretly hoarding and selfishly devouring them.