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Your Responsibility for Your Brother
A recent writer in one of our religious papers has said, with all the omniscience and infallibility that attach to the press, that no one preaches from the Pentateuch in these days. By this he probably suggests that there is no Gospel in the Pentateuch, and in suggesting this he shows hopeless, unblushing ignorance. One of the best books Charles Kingsley wrote was The Gospel in the Pentateuch; and anyone who takes the trouble to look for it will find that he cannot read a couple of pages of the Pentateuch without finding therein Gospel truth and teaching.
Among many things that are stern and severe there is much that is tender and beautiful, much that breathes the spirit of Jesus. Notably there is tender and thoughtful care for weak things in nature, dumb creatures who serve men, and for children, for the outcast, the stranger, and the poor. There is also a great deal about brotherhood, enough I should think to satisfy the most ardent Socialist. The personal responsibility of man for man is constantly insisted on, and this passage is an example of it, 'Thou shalt not see thy brother's ox or his sheep go astray,' etc.
I. The teaching of this passage seems to me to be that we have a large share of responsibility for the wrongs which go on about us, and we are bound, even at cost and inconvenience to ourselves, to try to prevent and rectify them. Look at this picture again, and suppose that these cattle are being driven away. The man who sees it is bound to interfere. His interference may mean an altercation with the thief, it may mean that for some days he must find pasturage for his neighbour's sheep, it may mean a great deal of inconvenience and loss; but this is the law of God, and from it there is no appeal. He is bound to do his best to right the wrong.
II. The law obtains for us Christian people in the moral and spiritual realm. As a Christian man everything that concerns my brother should be a concern to me, even to his ox and ass and raiment, and I must, wherever possible, guard him against loss and damage. If I am to care for his ox and his ass, I am surely to care for his character. He will get over the loss of a sheep, but he will with difficulty recover a lost virtue.
There are three classes of people which come up to one's view, as one thinks of words like these and gives them their largest interpretation. They may be represented here as
(i) The people who lead others astray and cause them loss, people who have wronged their brother.
(ii) People who have seen their brother wronged or suffering loss, and have hidden themselves; who have deliberately refused to take any trouble or pains.
(iii) The people who have suffered loss and who themselves are being led astray.
C. Brown, Light of Life, p. 151.
The House and Its Battlement
The natural exposition of the text is a very simple one. Eastern houses were built with flat roofs for obvious reasons. As it was a hot clime people were glad to get to the top of the house for fresh air, and there would be little children, thoughtless comparatively so and if they were allowed at any time on the roof, where they would most likely wish to go, there would be a feeling of insecurity unless there was something to prevent a disaster. And so God in His infinite kindness, care, and thought for the welfare of the nation of Israel gives this special direction to those who had the building of houses, that they should not overlook this most necessary arrangement for safety, and build a parapet round the house that would prevent any one being placed in immediate peril, so that unless they presumptuously scaled that wall they would be as safe on the top as underneath. The gracious and eternal God, who in His condescension, care, and pity for fallen sinners, sees fit to make a law for their temporal safety, in building His spiritual house is none the less careful. I. The need of the battlement.
( a ) The house top in the East would be frequently used as a watch-tower. The children of Israel were ofttimes surrounded by invading hosts. Now there would be a special danger without the battlement. In their undue anxiety for their own safety, in watching the on-coming foe they would most likely forget where they were, and in their excitement step right off and not know what they were doing. Here we have a spiritual lesson. What a difficulty it is to find that narrow pathway between a gracious and salutary solicitude for our safety and that undue anxiety which comes through seeing the strength of our enemies surrounding us.
( b ) The house-roof in the East would also be used as a place of relaxation, exercise, and recreation; they would often repair there to view things proceeding around them in the ordinary way. Here we see the need of the parapet or battlement for safety. How this brings before us the dangers that surround the footsteps of the young. What a danger there is lest in spiritual glee and satisfaction they may tumble if there is not the battlement.
( c ) The house-roof in the East was frequently used as a place of repose and sleep. A battlement would be necessary to enable one to take pleasant repose. When God says 'I will cause my flock to lie down' He means 'I will give them to realize such a feeling of safety in My keeping, by strength and protection, that they shall be able to lie down comfortably'.
II. This battlement was to be a component or essential part of the building of the house. And so it is in reference to the securing love and mercy and faithfulness of God, it is a part of His own structure and never can be removed.
III. This battlement is to be used and not presumptuously abused. We shall either be looking upon the security of God's people as an impetus to encourage us to remember His keeping power, to cause us to hope in His mercy notwithstanding the sense of our failure, and to put the hand of our trembling faith into the hand of His great love, or we shall be found among those who have presumptuously climbed over God's restrictions.
References. XXII. 8. C. Perren, Revival Sermons, p. 234. XXV. 4. R. F. Horton, The Hidden God, p. 65.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 22". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13