Torah Portion for week 49: Deuteronomy 21:10 – 25:19
Ki Teitzei (When you go out)
This week’s Torah portion continues to expound the law, and a number of topics are presented. There is so much included here that you should read it all for yourself.
For now, we will concentrate on two verses in this section that speak about how those who are hanged for a crime should be handled in regards to the land of Israel. This may seem abstract or even irrelevant to modern readers; it is not always clear how such passages affect us today. But, these verses are extremely helpful in understanding the events in the life and death of Yeshua (Jesus). Deuteronomy 21:22-23 says: “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance.”
These verses help explain both the history and the theology of the New Testament regarding what happened immediately after the crucifixion. For skeptics who question the burial story – and there are more than a few of them – this passage makes it clear that a body that was hanged (or crucified) would not have been left unburied in ancient Israel. That would have meant a curse on the land, and even those who were unsympathetic toward Yeshua would have wanted to avoid that. He was buried, and fortunately that is not the end of the story.
But, this passage in Deuteronomy also speaks to the theology of what happened. A person who was hanged was considered cursed. This truth helps explain the message of the gospel. Yeshua himself was not guilty of a crime, as the Deuteronomy passage says. Instead, he stood in the place of those who are guilty. Paul writes in Galatians 3:13, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’ – so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.”
The “curse of the law” that Paul speaks about is not a condemnation of the law itself. In fact, in Romans 7:12, Paul says that the law is holy and good. The law not only teaches us about the holiness of God; it provides principles for life and worship, and it points ahead to the Messiah. The law also acts as a barometer, a measuring stick, for us to learn about ourselves. Among other things, it reveals the problem of sin. In other words, the “curse of the law” that Paul speaks about is a problem with us, not the law.
Yeshua stood in our place, but not everyone recognized what actually happened. Isaiah chapter 53:4 speaks of what Yeshua would do, and how it would be misunderstood. Some would even think that he himself was the guilty one, as it says, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.”
Isaiah goes on to say that after he was “cut off out of the land of the living,” his ministry continued (Isa 53:8, 10). In other words, he rose from the dead and ultimately reversed the curse. These verses in Deuteronomy, then, are not obscure or insignificant.