Introduction: Some of God’s laws impose “weightier’ obligations on believers than other laws. According to Jesus, “justice” ranks at the very top (Matt. 23:23; Lk. 11:41). One part of Biblical justice is protecting the rights of society’s most vulnerable. In chapter 24, God lists seven categories of people or institutions that require special protection. First, believers have a duty to protect the victims of divorce. In Old Testament times, God protected divorced women from allegations of adultery, unfair wealth distribution, and a husband’s attempt to reclaim his wife through a “certificate of divorce.” Although the people and types of risks facing a divorced family today are different, the requirement to safeguard the more vulnerable members of the family remain the same. Second, because God “hates” divorce and only allowed for it out of the “hardness” of people’s hearts, He wants believers to protect the institution of Biblical marriage from things that might pull a husband and wife apart. This is symbolized through God’s prohibition on married men serving in combat during the first formative year of marriage. Although the threats to a Bible-based marriage are different today, the principle of protecting the marriage remains the same. Third, believers have a duty to protect people from all forms of economic bondage. This is symbolized through God’s prohibition against creditors seizing collateral for loans that might render a debtor destitute or unable to repay the loan. Fourth, believers have a duty to protect others from the spread of sin. This is symbolized through the requirement that believers obey God’s priests whenever leprosy (a symbol for sin) is found amongst the people. The priests in turn had a duty to quarantine the sin. Believers today also have a duty to protect others by containing sin in society. Fifth, believers have a duty to protect workers from mistreatment. Believers must ensure that workers are paid their wages on a timely basis. Sixth, believers have a duty to protect the innocent from being judged by the actions of others. God will judge each person based upon that person’s actions. Finally, believers have a duty to protect foreigners, orphans, and the poor from injustice and hunger. God frequently relies upon believers to protect and provide for those who cannot help themselves.
God’s protection for divorced women. A marriage between one man and one woman was the first institution that God created in the book of Genesis. A Bible-based marriage is His means for raising up children in His Word (Dt. 4:9-10; 6:7; 11:19; Prov. 22:6; Ps. 78:4-6). It is also His means for procreation and the provision for family members. It is also His means for protecting an injured spouse or child. It is also His means of protecting people in their old age. Thus, divorce is one of the few things God hates: ‘“For I hate divorce,’ says the Lord, the God of Israel.” (Mal. 2:16). Jesus later explained that Moses permitted divorces only out of the “hardness” of people’s hearts: ‘“Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way.’” (Matt. 19:8; Mk. 10:5). If a hardened heart caused a divorce, God mandated that the divorced wife be protected from allegations of adultery or other evil acts of the ex-husband through a legal document called a “certificate of divorce”: “1 When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house, 2 and she leaves his house and goes and becomes another man’s wife, 3 and if the latter husband turns against her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her to be his wife, 4 then her former husband who sent her away is not allowed to take her again to be his wife, since she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the Lord, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance.” (Dt. 24:1-4; Matt. 5:31; Mk. 10:4). Adultery was a crime that was punishable by death (Dt. 22:22; Lev. 20:10). The certificate of divorce protected the divorced wife from false allegations of adultery from her ex-husband or others. The rules on remarriage also prohibited the former husband from treating his wife as disposable property. Once she remarried, she was lost to him forever. He could not try to reclaim her after another man married her. It is also likely that the divorce certificate specified the property rights of the ex-wife so that she would not be left destitute after the divorce. God’s protections for the rights of women were revolutionary at the time. Nothing similar existed with the Promised Land before Joshua invaded. Through God’s Law, the modern laws of divorce have their origin. The guiding Biblical principle is to always protect the rights of the more vulnerable spouse after a divorce. If because of the hardness of a person’s heart a marriage cannot be saved, the person who earns less money needs to be protected through spousal and, if minor children are present, child support payments. A repentant believer who divorces can receive God’s forgiveness (1 Jo. 1:9). Yet, failing to pay court-ordered spousal or child support payments is a form of theft. It also violates God’s requirement that believers obey laws that are consistent with the Bible (Ro. 13:1-7). For many, however, the sadder but more relevant question is when will God allow for a divorce? To answer that, we turn to Jesus.
Seven New Testament principles regarding divorce. Contrary to what some might think, Jesus and later Paul tightened the threshold requirements for divorce in seven important ways. First, Jesus stated that the only permitted grounds for divorce is infidelity: ‘“I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery.”’ (Matt. 5:32; 19:9). “Unchasity” most likely consists of: (1) adultery with a married spouse; (2) fornication with an unmarried person; (3) sex with a person of the same gender; (4) sex with a prostitute; (5) the unspeakable crimes of child molestation; (6) rape; and (7) incest. Jesus expressly rejected the teaching of some in His time who claimed that the term “find some indecency in her” (Dt. 24:1) allowed for divorce any time a man found his wife to be displeasing. Second, unless a divorce results from infidelity, Jesus decreed that a divorced person who remarries commits adultery in God’s eyes: ‘“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery.”’ (Mk. 10:11-12; same Matt. 5:32). Third, even in a case of infidelity, Jesus’ separate rule on forgiveness requires that the victimized spouse forgive the adulterer if the adulterer truly repents: “[I]f you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” (Matt. 6:15; 18:34-5; Mk. 11:26). Fourth, for the victim of the infidelity who feels justified by divorce instead of reconciliation, Jesus will test that person’s moral purity with the following test: “but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt. 5:28). Fifth, in the case of a spouse who is victimized by physical, drug, or alcohol abuse (but not infidelity), the threatened spouse is to first separate from the situation for protection without divorcing: “[T]he wife should not leave her husband (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife.” (1 Cor. 7:10-11). If the victimizing spouse has an evil heart, he may commit adultery during the time of separation and free the victimized spouse from the marriage. On the other hand, the separation might cause the victimizing spouse to repent and seek counseling to restore the marriage. Sixth, a believer cannot divorce a spouse if one becomes a believer and the other does not (1 Cor. 7:12-13). The faith of the believing spouse can still sanctify the unbelieving spouse (1 Cor. 7:14). The believing spouse might also cause the unbelieving spouse to come to know Jesus. Finally, God allows for divorce when an unbelieving spouse abandons a believing spouse (1 Cor. 7:15).
The Church’s duty to be the salt and light against divorce. For centuries, the Church was a force to protect God’s marriage covenant. The Catholic Church banned divorce and only allowed for annulments. The Catholic Church took divorce so seriously that it broke with English King Henry VIII by refusing to allow him to marry six times. In 1536, King Henry retaliated by seizing the Catholic Church’s assets. He then formed the Church of England, also called the Anglican or Episcopal Church. For Protestants, divorce was heavily discouraged and stigmatized for centuries. Wesleyan-based churches, which in part includes the Presbyterian Church, previously allowed for divorce only in the cases of infidelity and abandonment. Yet, across the Western world, believers have relaxed their standards for divorce. Today, the divorce rate amongst the members of God’s Church is roughly equal to nonbelievers. This happened because the Church no longer stigmatizes divorce. One study found that the non-denominational churches now have the highest divorce rate of any church. (Barna Group, “Christians are more likely to experience divorce than non-Christians,” Dec. 21, 1999). The non-denominational churches are the most popular because they are informal and seeker friendly. If may be that teaching the casual observance of faith can lead to the casual observance of God’s Law. Jesus, however, warns against following the doctrines or practices of mankind over His Word (Matt. 15:9; Mk. 7:7). Divorce is not a test for salvation. Yet, God may not bless a second or third marriage. The Orthodox Church has a saying that is partially instructive when it comes to multiple marriages: “it blesses the first marriage, performs the second, tolerates the third, and forbids the fourth.” God may tolerate a second or even third marriage. Yet, He is not obliged to bless them. He also might not create a hedge of protection around a second or third marriage.
The separate cost of a broken wedding vow. If a church were looking to consult the full Biblical truth about divorce, it would also need to read the last chapter in the book of Leviticus. There, God specified that there is also a monetary cost for someone seeking to break a vow to Him. He cares about broken wedding vows made in His name because a broken vow profanes His holy name (Lev. 19:12). A believer is an ambassador for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20). Thus, a believer’s carnal conduct reflects poorly upon Christ. Mahatma Gandhi once famously said, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Suppose a man marries at age 21. He decides to divorce his wife after 7 years and two kids. He justifies his decision by saying that he married too young. Today, this would be sanctioned as a “no fault” divorce, and the man would be free to remarry. Yet, approximately 2,000 years before Christ, God ordained that the man pay a separate penalty to Him after a broken vow. For a person of prime working age, the penalty was 50 silver shekels (Lev. 27:3). What would that be worth today? In Biblical times, the average male laborers wage earned approximately one silver shekel per month (Wenham, Gordon, The Book of Leviticus (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979), p. 338). Thus, for the average male laborer aged 20 to 60 earning 1 shekel a month, it would take 50 months or 4 years and 2 months to pay for a broken vow. Thus, in Old Testament times, breaking a vow to God was not done lightly. Unlike today, divorce was a rare event because of the costs involved. Imagine what would happen to the rate of divorce if a church demanded proof that a person had paid 4 years and two months of wages as a penalty to God before remarrying another person. Imagine what might happen if the Church stigmatized divorce and preached against believers adopting “no fault” divorces.
God wants you to show the same mercy and grace to your spouse that He showed to Israel. God’s stories about the Jews were written for your instruction so that you could apply the same lessons in your own life (1 Cor. 10:11). Through God’s marriage to the Jews, He gives a picture of a marriage where the innocent spouse responds to a wayward spouse with mercy, grace, patience, and attempts at reconciliation. To warn the Jews about their spiritual infidelity, God’s first instruction to the prophet Hosea was to marry a prostitute. He wanted Hosea to know how He felt about Israel’s spiritual infidelity to Him: “‘Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry and have children of harlotry; for the land commits flagrant harlotry, forsaking the LORD.’” (Hosea 1:2). Israel, however, would not listen to God’s prophets. Thus, God eventually wrote Israel a certificate of divorce: “God says, ‘If a husband divorces his wife and she goes from him and belongs to another man, will he still return to her? Will not that land be completely polluted? But you are a harlot with many lovers; yet you turn to Me,’ declares the LORD.” (Jer. 3:1). “And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also.” (Jer. 3:8). “Thus says the LORD, ‘Where is the certificate of divorce by which I have sent your mother away? Or to whom of My creditors did I sell you? Behold, you were sold for your iniquities, and for your transgressions your mother was sent away.’” (Is. 50:1). Yet, His divorce with the Jews is only temporary. He is faithful and forgiving, even when His chosen people are not: “‘Fear not, for you will not be put to shame; and do not feel humiliated, for you will not be disgraced; but you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more. For your husband is your Maker, whose name is the Lord of hosts; and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, who is called the God of all the earth. For the LORD has called you, like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, even like a wife of one's youth when she is rejected,’ says your God. ‘For a brief moment I forsook you, but with great compassion I will gather you.’” (Is. 54:5-7). The day will come when God will “graft” Israel back onto His holy tree (Ro. 11:24-27). This likely includes, but may not be limited to, the 144,000 saved in the end times (Rev. 7:4; 14:1). These Jews will also be married to the Messiah (Rev. 19:7). If your marriage is in trouble, are you following God’s example by being forgiving, patient, and seeking to reconcile? Are you praying for spiritual restoration? Are you also praying for God to restore other struggling marriages? Or, are you the first to spread gossip when another marriage is under spiritual attack?
God’s protection for new marriages from outside pressures. The best way to protect people from the harmful consequences of divorce is it to prevent it from happening in the first place. To allow a husband and a wife to form a strong bond, God prevented newly wedded husbands from being drafted into the army or being forced to assume other duties that might undermine the bonds of marriage: “5 When a man takes a new wife, he shall not go out with the army nor be charged with any duty; he shall be free at home one year and shall give happiness to his wife whom he has taken.” (Dt. 24:5). This protection from military service also included men who were engaged (Dt. 20:7). The principle behind the Law was to ensure that a strong and unbreakable bond formed between spouses. The same principle applies today in different forms. Any marriage must take steps to ensure that the bonds remain strong and protected by outside influences. What might this mean today? We again turn to Jesus to see how He explained this statute.
Jesus’ explanation of the law regarding newly wedded couples. Jesus twice referred to this statute to draw opposite analogies. First, He alluded to this statute when explaining why the disciples did not need to “fast while the bridegroom is with them.” (Lk. 5:34-35). Like a newly wedded couple, Jesus’ relationship with any believer must form strong bonds. He was making a symbolic statement that the bonding obligations imposed upon His disciples superseded other duties imposed upon them. The same is true with any marriage. Just as a couple must bond together, they must also bond to Christ before assuming other duties. Second, Jesus used the same statute do draw the opposite analogy in the parable of the Master’s banquet. There, He gave the example of a man who refused to go to the King’s banquet due to the fact that he had just gotten married: “Another one said, ‘I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.’” (Lk. 14:20). This excuse caused the Master to become angry. He then invited “the poor” and “the maimed” from the streets and later others (Lk. 14:21-23). Jesus’ point is that a couple’s bonds to Him take precedence over the couple’s bonds with each other: “A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.” (Ecc. 4:12). Believers must not rush into marriage without first ensuring that Christ is the rock behind their marriage: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock.” (Matt. 7:24-25). Moreover, just like the foundation of a house, a married couple cannot assume that the foundation will stay solid without being reinforced over time. Married couples can do this through regular attendance at church, being in a small group where they are accountable, prayer, and time in the Word. The marriage covenant allows for God to bless your marriage. Outside of His covenant only curses exist. Are you taking steps to protect your marriage covenant through Jesus?
Protect your marriage by submission, just as Christ did for His bride. A successful marriage not only puts Christ at its head, it also emulates His example. The root cause of any marriage failure happens when people put their own needs in front of the other person’s needs. By His example, Jesus reveals that the key to a successful relationship is submission. A husband must submit to the marriage the same way that Christ submitted Himself to death for His bride: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her,” (Eph. 5:25). Are you putting Christ at the head of your marriage? Are you trying to resolve conflicts within the marriage by submitting to each other and God?
God’s protection against unfair loans. God also wants to protect people from other forms of injustice. This included economic oppression and bondage. Among other rules, He prohibited creditors from seizing collateral for a loan that would render the debtor destitute: “6 No one shall take a handmill or an upper millstone in pledge, for he would be taking a life in pledge.” (Dt. 24:6). The mill consisted of two stones. The bottom stone was heavy and hard to move. The upper millstone was portable and could be easily taken away. God’s purpose behind this statute was to protect the poor from unscrupulous creditors who might destroy a person’s livelihood just to ensure repayment on a loan. By taking the millstone, a debtor might be prevented from repaying a loan and thereby forced to sell himself into indentured servitude. For some unethical creditors, this might be the motivating purpose to take the millstone as a pledge. The Biblical principle behind this law places limits on what creditors can or should be able to seize to ensure repayment on a debt. These rules provide the Biblical foundation for laws that prevent creditors from seizing a debtor’s assets when those assets are used in a debtor’s profession. For example, a creditor in most states cannot seize a plumber’s plumbing equipment. In Bankruptcy cases, homes, cars, and personal belongings up to certain values are also exempt from creditors. Conversely, believers cannot indebt themselves to the point where they risk being placed into bondage to their debts. God never wants you to be placed into permanent economic bondage from debts or misfortune. Excessive credit card debt can also be a source of friction within your marriage. Are you assuming credit card debts or other debts that you cannot easily pay back?
Don’t allow your work to be a place of spiritual bondage. Although God wants to protect your livelihood, He also does not want your livelihood to be a source of bondage. To make this point, Jesus used the hand mill to convey two different lessons. First, He made the point that a non-believer will be left behind in the rapture if a person’s love of work (symbolized by the millstone) keeps the person from knowing Christ: “Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left.” (Matt. 24:41). If a person loves his or her work above all else, Jesus will comply with the Law by leaving the person to his or her millstone. Second, if a non-believer’s love of the things of the world instead of God causes his or her child to stumble from knowing Christ, the non-believer’s fate will be worse than drowning with the heavy lower millstone tied around his or her neck. “[W]hoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matt. 18:6; Mk. 9:42; Lk. 17:2). Is your heart more with your work or with Jesus? Are your actions pushing your kids toward knowing Christ or away from Him?
God’s protection against kidnappers. God also seeks to protect people from oppression caused by kidnapping: “7 If a man is caught kidnapping any of his countrymen of the sons of Israel, and he deals with him violently or sells him, then that thief shall die; so you shall purge the evil from among you.” (Dt. 24:7). “He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death.” (Ex. 21:16). Theft of any kind is banned under the Eighth Commandment (Ex. 20:15; Dt. 5:19). To steal from a person though kidnapping was therefore even more abhorrent in God’s eyes. This rule has implications for those who claim that God condones slavery. Most slaves in the 1800s were kidnapped and brought to America against their will. God’s statutes expressly prohibited this. Thus, the early settlers in America who bought kidnapped African slaves could not turn to the Bible to justify their actions. Satan is the spiritual kidnapper. He is the bird who snatches the Word of God from those who do not understand it (Matt. 13:19). He then kidnaps the children of God and sells them into spiritual slavery. Satan will have a fate worse than drowning by a heavy millstone ties around his neck. He will forever burn in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10). Are you seeking to free the kidnapped victims all around you?
God’s protections for a debtor’s dignity. In addition to protecting persons from the economic forms of bondage, God also seeks to protect people from being humiliated for their debts: “10 When you make your neighbor a loan of any sort, you shall not enter his house to take his pledge. 11 You shall remain outside, and the man to whom you make the loan shall bring the pledge out to you.” (Dt. 24:10-13). Even when you must confront another over a debt or some wrong, you must always do so with love and in a way that does not undermine the other person’s dignity. Entering into another person’s house to seize their pledge was an act of humiliation. It also violated Jesus’ golden rule: “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 7:12; 22:39; Lk. 6:31; Lev. 19:18). When a person causes you harm, do you seek retribution and to humiliate the person by spreading gossip? Or, do you seek to correct and restore a wayward believer out of love?
God’s protections for poor debtors. In cases of poor debtors, God also requires that the debtor be protected through the forgiveness of his or her debts: “12 If he is a poor man, you shall not sleep with his pledge. 13 When the sun goes down you shall surely return the pledge to him, that he may sleep in his cloak and bless you; and it will be righteousness for you before the Lord your God.” (Dt. 24:12-13). “If you ever take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, you are to return it to him before the sun sets, for that is his only covering; it is his cloak for his body. What else shall he sleep in? And it shall come about that when he cries out to Me, I will hear him, for I am gracious.” (Ex. 22:26-27). A righteous person “does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, does not commit robbery, but gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with clothing,” (Ezek. 18:7, 16). An unrighteous person “oppresses the poor and needy, commits robbery, does not restore a pledge, but lifts up his eyes to the idols and commits abomination,” (Ezek. 18:12). Today, believers are required to “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” (Ro. 13:8). If a person has borrowed from you and cannot repay you, will you forgive that person’s debt? Do you only lend when you expect repayment?
God’s pledge to you cannot be taken away. Unlike the treasures on Earth that can be seized by creditors or thieves, God has given you a pledge that can never be taken: “who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge.” (2 Cor. 1:22). “[Y]ou were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory.” (Eph. 1:13-14). Are you using God’s down payment on eternal salvation to live according to the Spirit? Or, are you rejecting His pledge to instead live according to the flesh?
God’s protection against the spread of sin. To protect the people from sin, God also required the people obey the instructions of His priests. He used the example of leprosy to covey the dangers of sin to a society when left unchecked: “8 Be careful against an infection of leprosy, that you diligently observe and do according to all that the Levitical priests teach you; as I have commanded them, so you shall be careful to do.” (Dt. 24:8). A person with leprosy could not conceal the disease. He or she was obligated to report it to the priests (Lev. 13:2). Leprosy kills the nerve endings in the infected skin. Appendages fall off because the victim cannot feel when he or she is causing damage to a finger or toe. Sin likewise causes the victim to become numb to the pain he or she is causing (Eph. 4:10; 1 Tim. 4:2). Like leprosy, sin also leads to death when untreated (Ro. 6:23). In Matthew, Jesus’ first recorded miracle was healing a leper (Matt. 8:2-3). He was demonstrating His power to heal sin. With leprosy (now called Hansen’s disease), a doctor diagnoses and treats it with antibiotics. Under God’s Law, the priests diagnosed leprosy. Yet, the priest could not cure the disease. Today, you are one of His holy priests (1 Pet. 2:5, 9). Yet, unlike the Levities, you can direct people to the only cure for sin. Are you doing that?
God’s protection against the sin of pride. God also warned people against one of the root causes of sin - - pride. Pride caused Miriam to become a leper in God’s eyes: “9 Remember what the Lord your God did to Miriam on the way as you came out of Egypt.” (Dt. 24:9). After Miriam murmured against her brother Moses in an attempt to gain power for herself out of pride (Nu. 12:1), God’s judgment against her was swift: “But when the cloud had withdrawn from over the tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, as white as snow. As Aaron turned toward Miriam, behold, she was leprous.” (Nu. 12:10). Like Miriam, King Uzziah also turned into a leper when he tried to take on the role of the High Priest (which God had separated) out of coveting (2 Chron. 26:19-21). Satan’s pride also caused him to covet God’s power (Is. 14:12-15). If you fail to check your pride, it will also cause your downfall (Prov. 16:18). Do you feel entitled to things because of your intelligence, good looks, money, or position in life? If so, you need to protect yourself by being humble.
God’s protection against withholding of a worker’s wages. God also prohibited the oppression of day laborers by mandating that their wages be paid by sunset on the day each person works: “14 You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your countrymen or one of your aliens who is in your land in your towns. 15 You shall give him his wages on his day before the sun sets, for he is poor and sets his heart on it; so that he will not cry against you to the Lord and it becomes sin in you.” (Dt. 24:14-15). “The wages of a hired man are not to remain with you all night until morning.” (Lev. 19:13; Jer. 22:13). God’s requirement to pay workers fairly and on time is also repeated in the New Testament (1 Tim. 5:18; Jam. 5:4; Matt. 20:8). The principle is the same today. Day laborers should be paid daily and fairly. A salaried employee or a person working on commission can be paid when civil law permits. Yet, the pay should be fair. A worker’s wages should never be withheld. If you mistreat those who work for you, you “taunt” your “Maker.” (Prov. 14:31). Are you generous and kind to those who work under you? If you hire day laborers, do you pay them at the end of each day?
God’s protection against the judgment of families based upon individual crimes. God also sought to protect family members from being unfairly judged for the crimes of others within their families. Thus, a father could not be held vicariously liable for the crimes of his son, and a son could not be held liable for the crimes of his father: “16 Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sin.” (Dt. 24:16). “The son will not bear the punishment for the father's iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son's iniquity . . .” (Ezek. 18:20). When Amaziah became King of Israel, he followed this statute by sparing children from the death penalty that he imposed upon their parents for killing his father (2 Kgs. 14:5-6; 2 Chron. 25:3-4). This rule also applies in the New Testament. God “will render to each person according to his deeds;” (Ro. 2:6; Job 34:11). These same verses establish that He does not condone discrimination based upon the acts of others. Do you stereotype entire ethnicities or nationalities? Are you judging parents based upon a child’s misconduct?
God’s protection for the vulnerable from economic injustice. God also required that believers protect immigrants, orphans, widows, and the weakest members of society from economic injustice: “17 You shall not pervert the justice due an alien or an orphan, nor take a widow’s garment in pledge. 18 But you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and that the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I am commanding you to do this thing.” (Dt. 24:17-18). God’s protections for immigrants are stated throughout the Bible: “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not afflict any widow or orphan.” (Ex. 22:21-22; same, Lev. 19:33-34; Jer. 7:6-7; Zech. 7:10; Ps. 146:9; Dt. 10:18). Immigrants must comply with the law like anyone else (Ro. 13:1-7). Believers have a right to insist that immigration laws be enforced. Yet, believers must balance their insistence upon compliance with immigration laws with compassion toward refugees. Likewise, conservative Christians have a right to fight welfare dependency. Yet, they must balance this right with compassion for the less fortunate. Are you praying for the oppressed? Are you doing anything to help those in need and show love and compassion toward them?
God’s protection for the vulnerable from hunger. Finally, God required that believers protect others from hunger. In Old Testament times, this took the form of land owners ensuring that food remained on their fields to allow the poor to take what they needed to feed themselves: “19 When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow, in order that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat your olive tree, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow. 21 When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not go over it again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow. 22 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this thing.” (Dt. 24:19-22). The rule for gleaning food from the field is also found elsewhere in the Torah (Lev. 19:9-10; 23:22). It was also how Ruth the Moabite survived (Ruth 2:2). By allowing the poor to glean from the field, God ensured that their needs, not wants, were met. Providing for the poor is one of the two things that defines true religion: “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (Jam. 1:27). When you provide for the poor, you are providing for Jesus: “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.” (Matt. 25:40). Are you giving time and money to the poor? If you expect the government to do this, how much love will you have for the poor?