This week our parasha is Ki Teitzei, which means “When You Go Out”, and covers Deuteronomy 21:10–25:19. Parasha Ki Teizei covers many different topics and contains 74 different commandments. This morning I would like to focus on a few of the commandments of this parasha.
Woven through the many different topics of parasha Ki Teitzei is the idea of fairness or justice. Many of the situations in this parasha deal with people of unequal social standing or the potential exploitation of others. Each circumstance required a different command by the Lord. These commands, unlike the systems of law and justice created by human beings, were without corruption.
I emphasize this truth because there are laws in our parasha concerning female captives of war, how children from multiple wives should be treated, and various kinds of divorce. Over the centuries atheists and others have used these passages to attack the character of Adonai and the reliability of Scripture.
Their reason is that many of these commandments, viewed through our modern standards, can seem strange, cruel, or even disgusting. There is a term for this sort of thinking, Presentism, where we read back our own view of morality in a historical text. We judge those we read and claim if we had lived during these times we would have acted in a better way. Presentism leads us to supposed moral superiority, a trait commonly found among people today.
When we read or watch stories online or are told about stories in the news, we assume that we would act differently as well. I think of the person with no firearm or firefight expertise pretending how they would have handled a shooting situation. It is very easy to say what you would have done when you were not part of the situation.
Part of the offense of the Good News, and really all of God’s Word is the claim that we are not born good or even born neutral. The need for these commandments for Israel, and many of the laws we have today, shows our depravity. Is it any wonder we cannot save ourselves?
We need to remember that these commandments were not put in place as an endorsement of the practices they dealt with. But like the laws regarding kings in Israel, they are a framework that helps protect those who are most vulnerable. In comparison to surrounding biblical cultures and even many cultures today, the laws of God were very progressive. These laws emphasized a need to protect those who could not protect themselves.
One example from this parasha is if a slave from another nation came to Israel, they were not to be sent away to go back into captivity. Instead, they were invited to become a member of our people and were not to be oppressed. Compare that law to the “Fugitive Slave Act” which mandated slaves who fled to northern states be sent back to the south. While slavery existed in ancient Israel it was very different from the practice of slavery in America.
God’s fairness is also shown in how he detests having multiple sets of weights and measures. In our business dealings, we had to be fair and not try to swindle others or have double standards. I remember Dr. Mayhew at Moody sharing with us over a third of the measures and weights found in Israel were tampered with.
The Lord even had concern for fairness with animals in the field. We were instructed not to muzzle our oxen while it was working in the fields, it deserved to enjoy the fruit of its work and have food from the field.
The laws of God in this parasha also emphasize mercy. In Deuteronomy 24:16, we read that parents are not to be put to death for their children’s sins. In this chapter, we also are told that a person should be paid their wages promptly, especially if they are poor and need them. It was also a sin to take advantage of a widow, orphan, or foreigner. These were the people most likely to be disenfranchised in society and without a voice to defend themselves. The Lord in his mercy gave special laws for these groups of people to help protect them from those who had more power.
So, to summarize, why are we given such laws in parasha Ki Teitzei? Because it is our fallen nature to not deal with others fairly, justly, or with mercy. These laws were given because the Lord knew that without them our people would commit serious sins against ourselves and others. Most likely the poor and the vulnerable would be exploited and there would be less order in our society.
The sad truth is that our people regularly violated these laws and all the other commandments of the Lord throughout our history. Good laws are not enough to fix our broken and depraved nature. We need the working of Messiah Yeshua in our lives to transform us from within in a way sacrifices of animals and good laws never could.
Our failure to follow Adonai’s commandments is not an issue with His standard, but an issue with us. God’s law does not bend to our desires or wants, we must bend to it. The fact of the matter is that all of us have failed to keep Adonai’s commands, especially the two greatest commandments, to love God with the totality of who we are and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
God’s commandments are fair, just, and merciful, but we all fall short of the standard and deserve the punishment for our sins. Thanks be to the Lord for the mercy He has provided for us through Messiah Yeshua!
Parasha Ki Teitzei ends with a reminder to fully follow the commands of Adonai and to not forget them. May the Lord enable us to learn from His Word the lessons and commands He has given us, and to not forget who He is and what He has done for us.