Deuteronomy 21-23
(Mishpats - Part I)
February 27th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

Click here for a print-friendly version

Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

When you go through your neighbor’s grainfield, you may pluck some of the ears with your hand, but do not put a sickle to your neighbor’s grain.

- Deuteronomy 23:26 (NAB)

Summary of Chapters

Most of the material in the readings for today (chapters 21-23) and tomorrow (chapters 24-26) can be categorized as mishpats, which is one of eight Hebrew words for law (1). The distinction of mishpats is that they are judgments or ordinances that have to do with civil, social, and sanitation laws

Chapter 21 covers various topics, including resolution of an unsolved murder with no clues, rules for marrying a woman captured in war, rights of the first-born when there have been two wives for a single man, and punishment for extremely rebellious children. The end of the chapter notes that a man who has been hung on a tree must be buried the same day because he has a curse upon him.

Chapter 22 begins with various mishpats relating to good neighborly behavior:

    If you see your kinsman's ox or sheep wandering off loose, don't look the other way as if you didn't see it. Return it promptly. If your fellow Israelite is not close by or you don't know whose it is, take the animal home with you and take care of it until your fellow asks about it. Then return it to him. Do the same if it's his donkey or a piece of clothing or anything else your fellow Israelite loses. Don't look the other way as if you didn't see it.

    If you see your fellow's donkey or ox injured along the road, don't look the other way. Help him get it up and on its way.

    - Deuteronomy 22:1-4 (MSG)

The chapter continues with rules for avoiding household accidents, ensuring sound agricultural practices, and case studies in marriage violations. Chapter 23 is more outward looking as it focuses on various mishpats for keeping foreign and unholy matter out of the gatherings of Israelites.

For example, foreigners were not permitted to enter the assembly of Israel, which was a gathering of the citizens for purposes of war or feasts. In another example, when soldiers are camped together for a campaign, they were required to go outside of the camp to relieve themselves, so that the camp would not be soiled. This mishpat had a practical hygienic reasoning behind it, but was also symbolic of maintaining a holy aura for the camp in order to retain the presence of God. Other examples of mishpats in this chapter include the prohibition of serving as a prostitute or charging interest to brothers from the tribes of Israel. Both practices were common in other nations, but would not be allowed in God’s nation.

Reflection and Application

One of the other Hebrew words for law is mitswahs, which are overarching commandments from God, as in the Ten Commandments. Most of the ordinances in chapters 21-26 could be considered as mishpats in the form of case studies for the application of the greatest Commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself. Moses had probably received a lot of questions from the people regarding how the mitswahs (Commandments) would apply in specific situations. Therefore, with 40 years of experience under his belt he was in a good position to call to their attention the types of examples that frequently came before him.

The comment about the curse upon a man hung on a tree stands out conspicuously at the end of chapter 21. It appears immediately after the section on rebellious children and seems a bit out of place. Nevertheless, this is one that the Israelites remembered. When Jesus allowed himself to be hung on a tree, in the form of a cross, they assumed he was a cursed man, according to the Mosiac Mishpat. However, in this case, when the Son of God had permitted the people to crucify him, he had taken on the curse and sins of all of the people. Jesus died in atonement for our sins, just like the innocent heifer described in Deuteronomy 21. There was no pre-trial hearing to charge us and there was no trial to convict us. Instead, he offered himself without explanation, thereby erasing our sins and relieving us from the burden of trying to abide by every mishpat so that we can get to heaven. Instead, we only need to believe in him.

If we believe in Jesus, then we know that he expects us to follow the mitswahs out of reverence and respect. For example, if we find something that has been lost, we ought to do our best to return it to its owners. “Finders keepers” is not a mishpat in Jesus’ book. Our homes should be maintained in a way that our guests cannot be hurt and our home life should fulfill the Commandments. Children should obey their parents, full stop. By the way, there is no known record of any child of Israel being subjected to the sentence described in chapter 21, but this statement from Moses underscored the importance of obedient children and demonstrated the commitment of the community to support parents. Likewise, husbands and wives are to honor each other.

Moses repeated certain Commandments and provided explanations and examples in order to emphasize the meaning of the Commandments and to help us remember. Jesus continued the tradition of reminding us of the Commandments:

    Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

    “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

    “Which ones?” he inquired.

    Jesus replied, " 'You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,' and 'love your neighbor as yourself.' "

    - Matthew 19:16-19 (NIV)

Note that Jesus says "There is only One who is good," thereby emphasizing that none of us can earn eternal life by doing good things. However, if we believe in the eternal life that he offers, then we will want to keep the commandments that he describes.

Sometimes it's easy for us to assume that the Commandments are focused on things we are to avoid, e.g. murder, stealing, and adultery. But Moses reminds us that we could be breaking the commandments by not doing something, such as looking the other way when our neighbor's animal gets loose, or when he drops something valuable on the sidewalk, or when he is persecuted unfairly. Jesus reiterated this type of interpretation in his description of those who did nothing to help their neighbor in his infamous story of the Good Samaritan (See Luke 10:25-37)

"Scandal of Grace," performed by Hillsong

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. What was the most valuable item that you have found by accident?
    2. How does it feel to be relieved of the responsibility of trying to earn eternal life?
    3. What is something different that you can do today to show love to your fellow person?

    Recommended Prayer
    Father in heaven, please help us to show our love for our brothers and sisters today.

    Suggested Prayer Concerns
    Victims of war


    (1) Life Application Study Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, M; 1991, p 277

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Deuteronomy 24-26 (Mishpats - Part II)

    Comments and Questions
    If you have comments or questions, please add them to our Comments page, email to the author at, or share your comments or questions via the Listening for God Twitter account

    Click to follow Listening for God(@listeningforgod)