Light from the Sidra

Ki Tetsei

Deuteronomy 21:10 - 25:19

Kids. Who’d have’em? You give them the best years of your life, you feed them, clothe them, provide for them and then they turn into teenagers. Hormones begin to surge round their rapidly changing pubescent bodies. Suddenly our sweet little angels turn into obnoxious, surly, highly-strung couch potatoes who refuse to do a thing they are told. What can you do? Ground them? Stop their pocket money? Stone them to death?

Stone them! The law of Moses took no prisoners. Ki Tetsei offers a sure-fire prescription for rebellious sons: death. If Harry Enfield’s teenage monster Kevin had lived in ancient Israel, he wouldn’t have lived to see his fourteenth birthday.

To our modern and post-modern minds, at this point the Torah appears barbarous. What society stones its erring children to death? But before we get too carried away, let’s remind ourselves that this seemingly inhumane solution to teenage rebellion must have shocked the ancient Israelite society that received the law. And it was meant to. All Israel was to hear this and fear.

We have to read the law as a whole. The law was based on love. The drastic answer to lawlessness in Deuteronomy 21 was part of a system of precepts that could be summed up by the rule, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”. But the primary and most important principle was love for God. Israel was to be his showcase to the world. As such they were to be an example in their way of life. Any evil within the nation had therefore to be purged, which was the purpose of the commandment in question. It wasn’t just that the son rebelled against mum and dad; he was a breaker of the divine commandments and sin against God is always worthy of death.

On the surface, this week’s Haftorah appears to have little to do with the Sidra. But Isaiah 54:1-10 presents a rebellious Israelite nation under the judgement of God. For a while God had abandoned his people, he had poured out his wrath on them and hidden his face from Israel. But through Isaiah the LORD promised the day would dawn when he would show Israel “everlasting kindness”. Just as the earth had recovered from the Deluge of Noah so, after divine punishment, the nation would experience the kindness of the LORD and know his “covenant of peace”.

In the New Testament, in Luke 15, Jesus adopts the imagery of a rebellious prodigal son who rebels against his father and becomes a “drunkard and a glutton”. But in Jesus’ story, instead of calling the villagers together to stone the boy as the law demanded, the father gave his son what he asked for and allowed him to go his own way. The people who originally heard the story must have been shocked beyond belief, especially when the father forgave the son after he wasted his inheritance. But that was how God was dealing with Israel. The defiant teenager was none other than God’s firstborn son Israel. The nation had turned its back on its God but he was showing mercy and was about to establish his “covenant of peace” through the blood of the Messiah.

The irony of the situation was that those who were regarded as beyond the pale by the religious establishment - tax - collectors, prostitutes, lepers - found their way back to their Father’s house while the religious leaders of Israel looked on with distain and refused to sit down with them at the Messianic banquet.

People say, “Why doesn’t God stop the evil in the world?” If God decided to purge the world of all evil today there wouldn’t be a person left alive. The world would be destroyed because we’ve all rebelled against him to some degree. Instead of punishing us all, God has declared an amnesty. Whoever turns to him through Messiah Jesus will be accepted. Whoever continues to stand on their dignity pleading tradition and mitzvot and refusing to acknowledge that Jesus is the anointed of God will find themselves excluded from the Messianic kingdom and cast into outer darkness.

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