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Deuteronomy: The Second Law - Speech 6

A commentary on the sixth speech of Moses in Deuteronomy 21-23. The book of Deuteronomy is a series of 12 speeches that Moses gave just before his death at the end of Israel's wilderness journey.

Category - Bible Commentaries

Chapter 8

Safety Laws

In Deut. 22:8 Moses shows how liability is incurred when others are hurt when we do not take safety precautions.

8 When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, that you may not bring bloodguilt on your house if anyone falls from it.

Such laws trace back to the question that Cain asked after killing his brother, Abel, in Genesis 4:9,

9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” And he said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”

The divine law does indeed make us our brother’s keeper, at least to the extent that we are able. (No pun intended.) It is part of the basic law that says you are to love your neighbor as yourself (Lev. 19:18). In fact, the entire judicial system of divine law mandates that if anyone is a witness in a case, he is to give full testimony to the judge, so that the truth is known. In other words, our neighbor’s welfare is indeed our concern.

In biblical days men built houses with a flat roof, having a staircase leading up to the roof. During the evening, people could go up to the roof where it was cool, either to visit with others or to sleep. For this reason it might be dangerous, especially for children, to be on a roof that had no parapet, that is, a low wall around the edge. It was therefore a basic safety feature to build such a barrier upon the roof of every house.

What does this law tell us about the mind of God? The law makes it clear that if one does NOT build such a safety feature, and someone falls off the roof, the owner of the house incurs “bloodguilt,” or liability. The owner cannot defend himself by claiming that the one who fell was being careless or that he fell of his own free will. The owner of the house does not have to push him off the roof to incur liability, although obviously, if he did so, it would increase his liability, for this would be murder.

A first cousin to this law is given to us in James 4:17,

17 Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin.

The law makes it clear that sin that is committed in ignorance carries less liability than sin done with full knowledge. Jesus said in Luke 12:47 and 48 that the ignorant servant who oppressed others would receive a few lashes, while the knowledgeable servant would receive many lashes. And so, as James says, men commit sin by failing to do what they know is right.

God’s Liability for the Fall of Adam

When we understand that this law comes from the mind of God Himself, who cannot sin, then we are faced with the age-old question: Why does God allow evil in the world? Did He not build a wall on the roof to prevent Adam and Eve from falling? Could He not have prevented all the evil in the world by building some sort of spiritual parapet on the roof?

Yet the fact remains that God forbade them to eat of the tree, but put no fence around it. Adam and Eve were inexperienced, much like children. Would a parent build a house with no parapet and then allow children to play on the roof, telling them, “Thou shalt not fall from the roof”? Would a “Danger” sign suffice? Not at all.

What about God? Did God incur any liability for Adam’s fall, or was it all Adam’s fault? The underlying question is whether or not God had the ability to prevent Adam’s fall. This is the spirit behind the law in Deut. 22:8, which reveals the mind of God in such matters.

It is obvious that God could have prevented Adam’s fall, if He had chosen to do so. He could have built a wall around the tree of knowledge—or even refrained from planting such a tree in the first place. Men have argued for thousands of years about free will vs. God’s sovereignty. Some have maintained the sovereignty of God, making God liable, while others have sought to remove all liability from God by arguing for man’s free will.

In the end, however, “free will” does not entirely remove liability from God, any more than a house owner is free from liability if someone falls from his roof that was built without a parapet. Free will might reduce God’s liability, but it could never eliminate it altogether. For this reason, arguing for man’s free will does not succeed in its attempt to free God from all liability for Adam’s sin.

By extension, we may look at all of history which shows us the effects of Adam’s sin. Was God helpless to prevent any of this sin? Had He lost all power by giving man free will? What about the times when God intervened to save His people? Each intervention prevented men from carrying out their evil purposes. If God could do this once in a while, then why does He not do so all of the time?

Men’s arguments often present us with just two alternatives. Either we are presented with a sovereign God who does little or nothing to prevent evil, or we are presented with a God who is helpless in the face of billions of men each having free will that prevents or restricts God from using His power. Is there no third alternative?

I believe there is such an alternative. God intended for man to fall, and so He did not prevent it. God’s action (or inaction) did indeed incur liability, and this is proven by the simple fact that Jesus Christ—who was God in the flesh—took upon Himself the liability for the sin of the world by dying on the cross. Adam’s sin and Christ’s death on the cross were both planned simultaneously from the beginning.

Hence, God is not only sovereign, but also liable by His own law. He allowed Adam to sin, having full knowledge that this would result in His own horrible death on the cross. The liability laws, then, prophesied of things to come, because the laws not only define sin and righteousness, but also reveal the divine plan by which He would eradicate sin and restore the lawful order in the universe.

Further, it is plain that Adam’s sin was the source for all sin throughout history, for Rom. 5:12 tells us that Adam’s sin brought death (mortality) to all men “on which (eph ho) all sin.” Adam’s sin was imputed to all men, and therefore, all men became liable for Adam’s sin. Hence, they became mortal.

This mortality gave men weakness "on which" they personally sin.

God Takes Responsibility for His Actions

God’s law teaches us to take responsibility for our own actions. God also teaches us by His personal example. It was not a sin for God to allow Adam to “fall,” but He was certainly liable according to the His own law. And so, in order to restore the lawful order, a second Adam was sent to earth to reverse the effects of the first Adam’s sin. Paul explains this fully in Rom. 5:14-19. Verses 18 and 19 give us the core statements:

18 So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. 19 For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.

This is reinforced in 1 Corinthians 15:22,

22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive.

When we view these statements in terms of God’s liability laws, we see that God incurred liability for Adam’s sin, knowing that this would give Him opportunity to express His love by dying for the sin of the world. Because Adam’s sin did not merely affect believers, but rather “all men,” the only way that God could relieve Himself of this liability was to die for the sin of “all men,” and not merely pay the penalty for believers.

After all, even the worst unbeliever would not have fallen into sin, had it not been for Adam’s original sin that made him weak through death (mortality) that worked in him. All men were born mortal on account of Adam’s sin. No man suddenly became mortal when he himself sinned. Likewise, the solution occurred outside of ourselves, and the salvation of the world was accomplished by the death of Christ.

Ownership and Liability

There are related laws that are of equal importance, for they each show different reasons for God’s liability for the sin of the world. The law of ownership makes the owner of a pit liable for whatever falls into the pit, if he leaves it uncovered, for Exodus 21:34 says, “the owner of the pit shall make restitution.” This is the same principle found in Deut. 22:8, where the owner of a house is liable if he does not build a parapet around the roof. Liability is based upon ownership, not free will.

The fact that God is the Creator of heaven and earth makes God liable for that which He created. Why? Because we own that which we create, and we are liable for what we own. In the law God claims ownership of the land, saying in Lev. 25:23, “the land is Mine.” Jer. 27:5 confirms this, saying,

5 I have made the earth, the men and the beasts which are on the face of the earth by My great power and by My outstretched arm, and I will give it to the one who is pleasing in My sight.

God is the Creator. The Creator is sovereign over His creation. This includes “the men and the beasts.”

Hence, by His laws of liability, God cannot shift all responsibility upon men for their actions, for only God is sovereign. Man has limited liability according to his level of authority. Therefore, judgment for man’s sin is also limited, but in the end God must save all men by His own power and wisdom.

Hence, the law demands righteousness from mankind, but also demands that God must do what is necessary to bring that righteousness into the earth. While the Old Covenant was based upon man’s vow of obedience, the New Covenant is based upon God’s promise (vow, or oath) to do what is necessary to be our God and to make us His people.

The New Covenant

This is the main topic in Deuteronomy 29, which speaks of the second covenant in verse 1 and then defines it in verses 10-15,

10 You stand today, all of you before the Lord your God; your chiefs, your tribes, your elders and your officers, even all the men of Israel, 11 your little ones, your wives, and the alien who is within your camps, from the one who chops your wood to the one who draws your water, 12 that you may enter into the covenant with the Lord your God, and into His oath which the Lord your God is making with you today, 13 in order that He may establish you today as His people and that He may be your God, just as He spoke to you and as He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

God’s oath had been promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but here is it more clearly defined. Moses then commissioned Joshua to carry out the oath, for he was a type of Yeshua-Jesus Christ. This oath was to “establish you today as His people, and that He may be your God.” The Israelites had failed to be established as His people, because they violated their own oath which they had made in Exodus 19:8. Because of man’s incapability of being saved by fulfilling his own good intentions, God saved them by taking upon Himself the obligation of this new vow, which we call the New Covenant.

It is a covenant in which God Himself is responsible to make it happen. In fact, the scope of God’s vow goes beyond Israel, because even the “alien who is within your camps” was included. More than that, the vow was extended to all who were NOT in attendance, as we see from verses 14, 15,

14 Now not with you alone am I making this covenant and this oath, 15 but both with those who stand here with us today in the presence of the Lord our God, and with those who are not with us here today.

That day there were only two kinds of people: those present and those not presence. Together, they constitute all of mankind, both Israelites and non-Israelites. So in the end, if there are any lingering effects of Adam’s sin, God will hold Himself liable. Yet we know from Scripture that He will reconcile all of creation to Himself in the end, after all liability for sin has been judged. Col. 1:16-20 reads,

16 For by Him all things [ta panta, “the all”] were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things [ta panta, “the all”] have been created by Him and for Him… 20 and through Him to reconcile all things [ta panta, “the all”] to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.

We can rest assured, then, that God is still on the throne, and that He did not give away His sovereignty to mankind. Man did not create himself, so he does not have the right of ownership over himself. While all men will be held liable according to their level of authority and knowledge, it is equally true that God has bound Himself by His own word, mandating by law that He, as the Creator, must reconcile all things back to Himself.

He created “the all,” and He will also reconcile “the all” back to Himself “through the blood of the cross.” Obviously, most of this reconciliation will be accomplished after the Great White Throne judgment. Most men are not reconciled to God during their life time on earth. For this reason, there is a resurrection. Another age yet to come is required, wherein every knee will bow and every tongue will confess Jesus Christ as Lord (Phil. 2:10, 11). These will be judged according to “the fiery law” (Deut. 33:2), because “when the earth experiences Thy judgments, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness” (Isaiah 26:9). God’s judgments will correct men’s beliefs and actions, and their labor (as servants of those who reign with Christ) will pay restitution for past sins.

No man has the ability to work off all liability for sin, of course, so in the end he must be set free by the law of Jubilee. The Jubilee cancels all debt and sets men free to return to their God-given inheritance.

John saw a great vision of the final result of the Jubilee in Revelation 5:13,

13 And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.”

We conclude, then, that the Safety Law in Deut. 22:8 has far-reaching implications for the salvation of the world. It makes God liable to save mankind, and for this reason God swore an oath to turn all mankind into His people. He intends to be the God of the whole earth by writing His law upon every heart. This plan will be completed only at the end of time, after the time of judgment in the age to come, when the Creation Jubilee is declared. Then all of creation will be set free into the glorious liberty of the children of God (Rom. 8:21).