A new post on the “Our Disturbing Scriptures” series is long overdue. Part of this was just due to a busy schedule; another part was (and this surprises even me) I couldn’t think of another good example to write about. Considering the contents of the Bible, which can range from dismembered concubines to the mass slaughter of an entire generation of Egyptian children, that’s saying something.
Anyway, during my vacation this past week, a new one came to mind:
“If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear.” (Deuteronomy 21:18-21)
Hear and fear, indeed.
I’ve been in churches most of my life, and I can’t recall when, if ever, I heard someone devote some serious time to unpacking this passage for an audience. Maybe that’s because, like me, they find it too harsh and unsettling to devote time to, and sometimes it’s easier to forget that passages like these even exist.
I understand the need for a child to be disciplined since it can ultimately breed maturity and character. But the death penalty seems to be too much, to say the least.
How were these parents, themselves flawed human beings, able to judge when their child had reached the point of no return?
Would the supposedly rebellious child have a chance to respond to and appeal the charges brought against him?
And if the death penalty had to be pursued, were there not faster ways of killing a person than throwing stones at them? Why drag out the punishment?
This seems like a brutal punishment, as if a crime deserving a spanking is instead being settled with a gun.
I can think of one possible explanation, though it’s not entirely satisfying:
If children didn’t honor their parents when they were young, those parents might not be taken care of when they’re older and in need their children’s support. God, by instituting this punishment, is trying to prevent an entire generation of elderly people from suffering neglect and abuse.
I leave other explanations open to the comments section below. (Also, I’ll try and do a better job of updating this blog.)