Deuteronomy 21:22-23

Hung by a Tree


The beauty of the Bible is that it all ties together. Although it was written over a 1,550-year period (1450 BC to 100 AD), it is a unified book that tells a singular story – God’s relentless pursuit of man all pointing toward Jesus Christ. There is no more telling indication of its unity than this unique set of verses. There are two levels on which this passages operates. First, there is the immediate context within the book in which these verses operate. Second, there is the prophetic nature of these verses as they have to do with Jesus Christ.


The immediate context is the fact it is a regulation that comes right after a regulation about raising one’s sons to be respectful and to submit to authority and the consequences of rebellion. In that light, the result of rebellion will always lead to death. A rebellious son will often come to a negative end. Sometimes, as parents no matter what you do for your child, no matter how godly of a life that you lead in front of them, no matter how much you sacrifice for them, they will rebel against you and sometimes it leads to lives of destruction. Cole McCaughlin, in his article, “The Original Meaning of Deuteronomy 21:22-23”, for Reformed Perspectives Magazine states,


“So, the mention of such a practice was not mere conjecture, but rather a vivid reminder for Israelites of the horrific fate of those who showed flagrant disregard for God’s law by perpetrating a capital offense. In fact, one value of this practice was to discourage the people from committing such criminal acts themselves. Textually, we need only look back one verse, to Deuteronomy 21:21, to see that deterrence was one motivation for the public nature of capital punishment in Israel. The incorrigible son was stoned that “all Israel will hear of it and be afraid.” Just as public execution engendered healthy reverence for God’s law in the hearts of the people, so it seems would post-execution hanging cause onlookers to think twice before engaging in lawlessness. Ardel Caneday says it well: “The gruesome display forcefully warned the Israelites concerning the results of breaking covenant laws that were punishable by death.”


The purpose of the law, the hanging of an executed person on a tree or a pole, was to teach the Israelites to see that rebellion against God’s law was never good and that it had more than eternal consequences. There were real-life consequences to violating God’s law for our lives. Certainly, God laid down this law and others like not so much to restrict His people from doing what they wanted but rather as a reminder that He knows best. He knew that murder and other capital offenses would tear at the very fabric of society. Murder causes loss and leads to vengeance and then an ever-maddening spiral of violence. Sin is a disease. Sin begets sin. We live in a fallen world because one original sin begets another starting in the Garden of Eden.


Another aspect of this regulation was that it required that the hanging corpse be removed from the tree before the next morning. There was certain amount of compassion toward the offending person who was put to death. They had paid for their crime so to remove their body before the next morning would reduce the amount of ridicule, derision or even physical desecration of the body by onlookers and passersby. Even in enforcing God’s law, God shows compassion toward those who have committed crimes against Him. Another aspect of the removal of the offender’s body had to do with holiness. Just as one sin is like a drop of black ink into a glass of pure water. The water is changed and eventually turns totally black as a result of the introduction of the ink. Sin is the same way. Here, God is saying that the sin must be removed from the land immediately so as not to taint the holiness of the Promised Land. God wanted not only the people to be holy but also the land on which they lived to be considered holy. By considering the land on which they lived to be holy, it was a reminder to the people of Israel that they were to be holy as well. The land must also have to remain holy because it was on this land that God’s holy temple sat and it was in this temple that God allowed His presence to come into contact with the earth. Therefore, the land had to be and remain holy.


That’s all pretty interesting from an Old Testament perspective, but, how does that tie into Jesus. What does this passage have to do with Him? Let’s read these two verses now and then see the implications:


22 If someone guilty of a capital offense is put to death and their body is exposed on a pole, 23 you must not leave the body hanging on the pole overnight. Be sure to bury it that same day, because anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse. You must not desecrate the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.


The law, in context of the previous requirements about the inheritance rights of a firstborn son and the stubborn an rebellious son who is executed certainly must have played a role in the Apostle Paul’s thought processes about Jesus in Galatians. In Galatians 3:13, Paul says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’”


That was part of the reason that Joseph of Arimithea was so insistent about taking Jesus’s body down from the cross. It was the Roman practice to leave the rotting corpses of criminals on the crosses to not only humiliate the criminal and their families but also to remind their conquered lands who was in control. However, Joseph knew Scripture very well. He knew that the Promised Land would be cursed if the body remained overnight on the cross. He did not want Jesus to be seen as a curse to the land. He knew  that Jesus was an innocent man and that He had died for reasons other than criminality. Paul sees the true nature of Christ on the cross for us.


Christ takes on the curse of the rebellious son for us. Christ accepts the curse of being hung from a tree so that we may be set free from the curse that our breaking the covenant with God. We deserve the punishment of being executed and hung from a tree. However, Jesus was the innocent one. He was accursed for us. He was treated as if were a criminal and executed and scorned as if He were a criminal. He was treated as a lawbreaker. He suffered the fate of lawbreakers under God’s law. He makes us clean. When we accept Christ as our Savior and Lord, he makes us clean again. We are no longer land defiled by sin. In this way, through the cleansing of our souls by Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit may dwell in us just as God’s presence dwelled in the Holy Temple. We are no longer defiled by our sin. Through Jesus Christ being accursed for us, we were made clean.


Thank you, Lord, for taking my punishment. It should be me as the accursed one on the tree, not you. You are the perfect sinless one who took on the nature of a criminal for me. Your act on the cross says that I take on all the violations of God’s covenant law for all mankind. I suffer the accursed nature of hanging from a tree. I was killed for the sins of many. I was offered as a sacrifice for sin. Thank you for being those things oh Lord. For without your being accursed, for without you being punished as a sinner, for without you humbly taking on the punishment for my sins, I would stand as condemned myself before God. Thank you Lord. Thank you Lord. Oh, thank you Lord.


Amen and Amen.

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