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6 March. Deuteronomy chapters 21-23
What an odd collection of laws! Some of those given here are purely practical, like not weaving wool with linen (22:11) – the warp and weft would shrink differently – or not yoking an ox with a donkey (a comical idea – the ox would carry on ploughing while the donkey sat down on the spot, as they do). Others are just good hygiene practice (digging latrines outside the camp, 23:12). But then we get ‘laws’ concerning marriage and sexual relations that seem shocking to us, such as it being OK to rape an unbetrothed virgin and then marry her in return for paying her father a dowry (22:28) – where is her opinion in that? Where are the human rights? And don’t ask me to read Deuteronomy 23:1 aloud in church!
So I won’t attempt to comment on those passages. Instead I will look at a law that has Lenten resonances for Christians: “When someone is convicted of a crime punishable by death and is executed, and you hang him on a tree, his corpse must not remain all night upon the tree; you shall bury him that same day, for anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse.” (21:22-23). This reminds us that Jesus was executed as a criminal, the cross being treated under Jewish law in the same way as a living tree, and therefore his disciples, with the help of Joseph of Arimathea who provided the grave space, laid him to rest the same day, in haste and without time to prepare the body for burial. The next day after Jesus’ death was a Sabbath anyway, when all ‘work’ was prohibited. But if they had waited until the next working day to give him a ‘proper’ burial, would they have returned to the tomb and found it empty? Sometimes, following the rules, even if they seem restrictive, can actually lead to blessings. Perhaps that’s one reason why many people set themselves a particular discipline in Lent, whether in abstinence or additional good works or times of prayer.