Deuteronomy 21:15-17 – The Label Has Changed But The Problem’s Still the Same

Posted: March 10, 2017 in 99-Uncategorized
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Deuteronomy 21:15-17

Rights of the Firstborn Son

Man, Moses, you are giving us some hard stuff to deal with here. Why is that we are talking about polygamy here when it is clear from the totality of Scripture that such practices are not condoned by God. Yet, at the same time, it is the standard of our faith that the books of the Bible are written by men but who were under the guidance of the Holy Spirit when doing so. Therefore, is God contradicting Himself here. Is He, God, saying that polygamy is OK? That is the question we must first answer before we proceed. I again think that we must default to our reasoning from yesterday. God is not inconsistent here. He is simply trying to make the best of a bad situation. Israel was still as we know a rebellious people and they were struggling to be God’s people. As we have seen from Exodus forward, they are stubborn people. They have been immersed in Egyptian culture and have seen the cultures of the Middle East as a result. They want to be like everybody else and they struggle with God’s commands. Most cultures of the day allowed polygamy and accorded few rights, if any, to women. Thus, the practice of marrying multiple women was common in ancient Middle Eastern culture. As Israel develops as a culture over time, the practice diminishes among Israel’s men. However, God is saying here that OK so you guys want to do this detestable thing, well, then, I will compensate for this evil and the problems that it causes through laying down some rules for the kids that result from polygamous marriages. God is not condoning the practice and this rule is evidence that the practice is no good for society.


The modern day equivalent of this situation is not polygamy. Polygamy is roundly condemned by virtually all societies now and has been one of the positive influences of Christianity globally. However, we do have our equivalent. It is called serial monogamy. That’s a high brow term for our increasingly common practice of marrying, divorcing, and remarrying, sometimes multiple times. The ones that get caught up in the messiness of divorce and remarriage are the children. I have experienced this fact first hand. In my second marriage, I married a woman who already had three boys of her own. I had two girls of my own from a previous marriage. Thank God we did not have any children together. Boy, would that have complicated things even further. I know from experience that the jealousies spoken of in this passage can be a very real thing. My second wife expected that I would only do for my children born of me and my first wife what was legally necessary. She expected me to shun my past including my children. She expected that I would love her children more than my own. The least little appearance of giving my children an advantage was met with rebuke. Even though I had eight years and five years of history with my girls where silent glances created understanding was met with jealousy. There was no recognition that we were a family before this family. God hates divorce and these are some of the reasons why. It creates families that are thrown together not my blood but by marriage only. There are a whole host of social evils created by divorce that are far beyond what I experienced as a dad creating a blended family. However, jealousies are certainly one by-product of serial monogamy. The kids get caught in the crosshairs of a battle for family dominance. Whose kids are going to get the place of favor? It is like Luke 22:21-30 where the disciples were jockeying for position as to who was the greatest among them after Jesus. If my second wife and I had stayed married to the death, I bet the last in the litany of arguments that we had over the years about my kids vs. your kids would have definitely been about inheritance. I can just see it now. In the middle of a godless marriage, we become about things, and rights, and jealousies. I cannot even imagine the years of arguments (beyond the 10 years that we had together) if we had stayed together. Oh my! The tedium of constantly arguing about the rights of our respective children. I could not imagine it for another 20-30 years. But the last one would have been the argument of all arguments – about inheritance.


The only way that I could relate to today’s was to move it from an old problem, polygamy, to a new problem in today’s society, serial monogamy, and then think of how real this issue was in my own experience. Then, this passage is spot-on about how a sinful act (polygamy or divorce) breeds a whole ‘nother set of problems that God has to deal with and regulate. With that in mind, let’s read the passage together:


15 If a man has two wives, and he loves one but not the other, and both bear him sons but the firstborn is the son of the wife he does not love, 16 when he wills his property to his sons, he must not give the rights of the firstborn to the son of the wife he loves in preference to his actual firstborn, the son of the wife he does not love. 17 He must acknowledge the son of his unloved wife as the firstborn by giving him a double share of all he has. That son is the first sign of his father’s strength. The right of the firstborn belongs to him.


Jealousies about position is just a thing in a fallen world I guess. Because of our fallen nature, God has to set out standards of behavior to compensate for our evil deeds. Here, we see God dealing with a practical problem that results from our sin-filled lives. Kids are always caught in the wake of our sins. God here is saying to the Israelites, you are doing this detestable thing but you cannot let your sins affect your children. My already established rules of inheritance that I handed down to you cannot be thwarted or changed simply because you are practicing a custom that is not condoned by me.


I think that is the takeaway for me this morning. Just because we accept a custom of our culture and participate in it, it does not make it right. We as Christ followers are still bound by God’s commands and His expectations of His people. Just because society says something is OK does not mean that it is OK. God will still expect us to honor His Word and His commands even though our culture may be vastly different from God’s view of things. He will expect us to maintain our Christian integrity even in the face of opposition. God does meet us where we are at in our sin and helps us deal with the consequences of it and forges us a path to get through the muck and the mire of our sin consequences. That is the beauty of the Lord, He will show us the way to deal with the results of our sin. God’s truth and His expectations are never changing but He realizes that we live in a fallen world and He will show us the way to deal with it and see our way clear to following His commands in the future.


Amen and Amen.

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