Our portion this week consists of a collection of laws that range from captives of war, to the treatment of animals, to social justice. They seem to have very little to do with each other, yet as I read this week I noticed a connection I hadn’t considered before. Each of these laws has to do with what Yeshua called the second greatest commandment. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Consider this how this principle even plays out in the realm of capital punishment.
If a man has committed a sin worthy of death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his corpse shall not hang all night on the tree, but you shall surely bury him on the same day (for he who is hanged is accursed of Elohim), so that you do not defile your land which Yahweh your Elohim gives you as an inheritance.Deuteronomy 21:22-23 NASB
My mind immediately turns to pictures of the dark ages where criminals’ corpses were hung out until eaten away. Not a pleasant thought. And yet Elohim, in his mercy takes that time in His word to express concern even for the body of the criminal. Consider what the commentator Adam Clark states:
How excellent are all these laws! How wondrously well calculated to repress crimes by showing the enormity of sin! It is worthy of remark that in the infliction of punishment prescribed by the Mosaic law, we ever find that Mercy walks hand in hand with Judgment.Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible
Certainly there were other issues addressed in these few verses. Because the person had violated the covenant, and brought a curse upon themselves, their body (bearing the curse) needed to be removed in order to keep the land pure. But even in this putting away, there is a mercy.
Let’s turn for a minute and talk about the person. The passage states that this level of punishment was to be levied upon someone who “committed a sin worthy of death.” Suddenly this passage becomes more relevant for us. Doesn’t Scripture also say, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23)? You see, the person deserving to be hung on the tree is us. Death awaits us, not because Elohim desires to punish wickedness, but because death is the natural result of sin. Elohim’s desire is to rescue and save (2 Peter 3:9).
The hope of the gospel is that Yeshua stood in our place and accepted the curse upon Himself.
Messiah Redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us – for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree -‘Galatians 3:13
All who fail to reckon with God’s method of salvation (the “righteousness of God” in Romans) will likewise experience the curses. Thus Paul is able to switch to the first person plural (“… having become a curse for us …”). God’s justice does not allow simply negating the curse—it must be enacted upon those who rebel against the covenant. Paul recognizes in the sacrificial system revealed in the Torah that God’s method of forgiveness is not to negate the curses which He promised, but rather to enact the curses upon a representative in order that those He represents may go unpunished. Like the redemption of the first-born (cf. Num 3:44-51) in which a sacrifice stands in the place of the first-born who is therefore redeemed, so the sinner who stands to be cursed is freed by the sacrifice of Yeshua. This “one-for-one redemption” stands at the heart of the Gospel and thus at the core of Paul’s teaching.Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians Commentary by Tim Hegg
This is not a new message, and (thankfully) not a complicated one. But in our day to day lives it is one that often gets forgotten. May we take the time to pull it forward in our thinking and remember, as Adam Clarke said, to consider the enormity of sin, but that we ever find that Mercy walks hand in hand with judgement.
In short, we have reason to hope.