Deuteronomy 17:7 (CSB)
7 The witnesses’ hands are to be the first in putting him to death, and after that, the hands of all the people. You must purge the evil from you.
Before addressing what would probably be the most popular objection to this passage, I would like to note a few interesting things.
- It is worthwhile to note that the offender is located in a town which God has given the Israelites. And they are breaking the covenant established between God and them. And that violation is not trivial, but it is a rejection of God as God, through the worship of false gods.
- Nothing here is rash. The offense is to be “investigated thoroughly”. The “you” in Deut. 17:4 must refer to the Israelites as a whole, so this is a community endeavor, not an individual witch hunt or vendetta.
- God has built in a system of protecting his people, and having a check in place to mitigate false accusations and condemnations. Deut. 17:6 outlines how there must be testimony by multiple witnesses. And, those witnesses are to be the ones who lead in the execution.
- Just as the community as a whole is responsible for investigating, it is also responsible for carrying out the punishment. How much more effective would our message be if we were to not just speak against sin, but also battle and destroy it? There is an investment here that we can sometimes lack.
So the obvious objection today would be the idea of executing someone for a different belief system. Obviously we do not stone people for being Muslim, Hindu, or even atheist, nor should we suggest or condone such behavior. But this does not mean that during a time when God dwelt among his people, in a manner such as a king, that the penalty outlined here would not be appropriate. To worship false gods as a member of God’s people, in God’s kingdom, was unacceptable. Just as nations consider treason a major crime, carrying maximum penalties, why wouldn’t God consider this similar, and thus carrying a similar penalty? And we must also remember what happens when God’s own people worship false gods here, the stakes are high: not only do the Israelites fall away from God, but non-Israelites never see a picture of the real God among his people.
Lord, thank you for providing for us, for placing us amidst your creation, and for sustaining us. I do a bad job of honoring you, and I am sorry. I often think of you only as the loving god, one that I morph into a push-over sometimes, and can forget about honoring you and your power. Help me to know the full you, as much as I can, and convey you to the world. Amen.