This week’s Parshah (Torah portion), is Deuteronomy 21:10 –25:19. It’s a section designated by the combining of two Hebrew words at the beginning of Deuteronomy 21:10. The particle and verb attached to each other is ki teitzei (key – tay – zay) which means, “when you go out.” And because Moses is concerned here with the conquest of the Promised Land, in this context when he speaks of going out, he’s referring to when the Israelites go out to engage their enemies in battle. And so in view of their impending possession of the Land on the other side of these battles, Moses provides specific laws and instructions to regulate civil life in Israel; laws intended to build a just and fair community of people who would not only be concerned with their own well-being, but also concerned with the well-being of others. God wanted His covenant people to demonstrate mercy and kindness to everyone, especially those who were powerless, helpless or oppressed; people like female captives of war, strangers and foreigners, destitute laborers, refugee slaves, and the poorest of society—orphans and widows. Exhibiting this kind of conduct was considered an act of holiness because it revealed to the outside world the goodness of the God of Israel.
Now the portion within this portion I’ve chosen to focus on is Deuteronomy 21:22-23. It reads, 22 If a person commits a sin punishable by death and is executed, and you hang the corpse on a tree, 23 his body must not remain all night on the tree; instead you must make certain you bury him that same day, for the one who is left exposed on a tree is cursed by God. You must not defile your land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance.
Hanging by the neck was not a form of execution that was practiced in ancient Israel. The normal method of public execution prescribed in Israel was stoning. And after an executed criminal died, sometimes their executioners impaled their bodies for all to see as a deterrent to similar crimes (cf. 1 Sam. 31:9-13). So Moses is looking beyond an execution to the public proclamation of the satisfaction of justice. And according to the law given here in Deuteronomy, those responsible for the public display of an executed individual had to bury the body the same day as the execution to avoid defiling the land further because of death (cf. Num. 35:33-34; Lev. 18:24-27).
It also needs to be stressed that the displaying or hanging of a deceased body wasn’t the cause of God’s curse it was the result of God’s curse. Under the Mosaic Law, this gruesome display was the fate of criminals whom God had cursed. And again the reason for the curse is that the law itself pronounced a curse on the law-breaker. God did not curse law-breakers because they hung on a tree, law-breakers hung on a tree because God had cursed them for breaking the law.
This is the background behind Paul’s statement in Galatians 3:13 that, Messiah redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (because it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”).
Even though Jesus had every right to live because He kept the Law perfectly, He was the substitutionary representative for all who had violated the Law. He took on the penalty of the Law and suffered its punitive death sentence. And in the context of Galatians 3, the beneficiaries of Messiah becoming a curse in this way were Jewish believers formerly under the authority and accountability of the Mosaic Law.
Now in 1 Peter 2:24, Peter uses this same term “tree” to speak of the Roman execution stake that Jesus suffered on (cf. Acts 5:30; 10:39). And in the second part of this verse, one of the reasons for His Messianic suffering is given. It says; He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we may cease from sinning and live for righteousness.
Yeshua’s death enabled us to be separated from our sins. This means that as a result of Messiah dying for our sin condition and our sin actions, we can now live for the purpose of doing righteousness instead of living for the purpose of doing unrighteousness (cf. Rom. 6:1-11). The idea here is that Messiah having died for our sin (singular), and our sins (plural), as our substitute; gives us a standing before God where we have no more connection with our old sins, or with our former life of sinning. Now obviously, not until the final glorification stage of our salvation will we ever be sinless; but, until then, God’s divine power has presently given us everything we need to sin less (cf. 2 Pet. 1:3)! So now, the irreducible minimum of our sanctification journey is aligning our behavioral practice with our spiritual position through cooperation with and dependence upon the Ruach Ha Kodesh (Holy Spirit). And the Messianic person and atoning work that set this whole program in motion, is the One who also righteously pulled off a legal curse reverse so we no longer have to be perverse!