Deuteronomy 21:21 (CSB)
21 Then all the men of his city will stone him to death. You must purge the evil from you, and all Israel will hear and be afraid.
This can be a tough passage to accept, especially in our time and culture. The summation of this passage is that when a child is rebellious, refusing to obey and listen to their parents, if deemed appropriate by the elders, the penalty was death. Let’s walk through the pushback there obviously can be to this passage.
- The punishment doesn’t fit the crime. This is most likely the first and biggest pushback to this passage. Even for a string Christian this passage could prove difficult… it was for me at first. But there are a couple things we should think about first. First: the language used in this English translation probably does not convey the severity of the “rebelliousness” of the child. We are not talking about a simple talking back, or not doing chores, or even sassing one’s parents. Instead, the use of two adjectives: “stubborn” and “rebellious”, suggests a higher level of disobedience. It suggests a willful refusal to follow the authority of one’s parents. Second: although the sin here, at first, seems to be against one’s parents, we must keep in mind that the family is the design of God, and is his hierarchical structure to achieve his purposes in his people and his world. So, by “stubborn rebelliousness”, the child is not just dishonoring their parents, but rebelling against God. Finally, it is almost non-sensical to think that God, who so cherishes life, would institute such extreme punishment without there first being every effort made to correct the behavior prior to this final step. We can only assume that this is not some sort of “first-offense” type penalty here, but a culmination of a history of behavior without any repentance or improvement. In this light, we can certainly see how the punishment is in line with the offense.
- How could parents offer up their own child for a public decision on their life or death? We live in a culture where we have, in some instances, gone well past the protection of children to the stripping of parental authority, and even shifting authority to the children in some cases. There can be no doubt that our culture suffers from children who lack discipline, and this becomes not just a personal hindrance to their future success, but it becomes a real problem for society as a whole, because the attitude spreads like a disease: a sin disease. Israel was a nation surrounded by enemies. Israel was a nation who had God dwelling amongst them, and the fact that God was with them is the only reason they were not wiped out completely. So to think that a stubborn, rebellious, gluttonous, drunkard child should be allowed to poison a nation in such a fragile position is lunacy.
- How can God, if he is loving, want children to be stoned to death? He doesn’t! We must be careful not to interpret the fact that there is a punishment for a severe sin as meaning God wants people to commit that sin, and therefore be punished accordingly. This would be like saying the good parent that punishes their child for disobedience relishes the act of grounding their child. Obviously this is a ludicrous notion!
Lord, thank you for making the hard decisions, the hard choices that we so often wouldn’t make. I pray that instead of bucking against you, that we would choose to follow you. Instead of questioning your decisions, your guidelines, that we would seek to follow, honor, and glorify you. Amen.