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Deuteronomy: The Second Law - Speech 7

A commentary on the seventh speech of Moses in Deuteronomy 24-26. 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 9

Law of Beatings

In the law of gleanings, which we have just covered, Moses spoke of beating the olive tree and how this beating was limited to a single round. Whatever was left on the tree after the single beating was given to feed the widow, orphan, and alien. We may view the olive tree as being prophetic of both Israel and of Jesus Christ, whose sufferings were for the benefit of the world.

Jesus was beaten to obtain the oil of the Holy Spirit to heal and nourish the world. Israel was beaten as well, although, as we will see, their beating was so severe that its branches were broken. Even this was part of the divine plan, for Paul tells us that the “natural branches” (Rom. 11:21) were broken in order to make it necessary to restore the tree with different types of branches through the process of grafting.

Hence, the broken branches of Israel benefitted the world. The work of re-grafting branches into the olive tree was done as men of all ethnicities came to a place of faith in Christ.

The Green Olive Tree

In the case of Jesus Christ, we find Him in the Garden of Gethsemane, which means “oil press,” located at the base of the Mount of Olives. There He was like an olive tree being pressed out, so that the oil of His presence might heal the nations. Later at His trial before Pilate, He was beaten as an olive tree to bring forth the oil of healing, for “by His scourging we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

Speaking to Israel and Judah as a whole, the prophet says in Jer. 11:16,

16 The Lord called your name, “A green olive tree, beautiful in fruit and form”; with the noise of a great tumult, He has kindled fire on it, and its branches are worthless [ra’a, “evil, crushed, broken”].

 So we find Israel as a nation pictured as an olive tree being burned by divine judgment. This is the origin of Paul’s discussion in Romans 11, where he speaks of the broken branches of Israel’s dispersion. I discussed this more fully in my book, Paul’s Epistle to the Saints in Rome, Vol. 2, Chapter 9.

We would expect, then, to see the law of gleaning olive trees being fulfilled on at least two levels. Christ’s beating would be the greatest fulfillment of the prophecy, of course, but yet one cannot ignore Israel as a secondary fulfillment.

The olive tree of physical Israel was beaten so severely that its branches were broken. This was necessary in order to set up the manner by which they might be grafted back into the olive tree. This is the main theme of Paul’s discussion in Romans 11, where he makes it clear that only those who have faith in Jesus Christ are grafted back into the tree, because ultimately, the olive tree is Jesus Christ. These, then, along with all others who are of the household of faith, have the legal right to be called Israelites.

The manner of fulfillment becomes more complex when we see that the term Israel carries more than one biblical definition. Since a “beating” indicates tribulation or judgment, carnal Israel as a nation received its greatest beating when the olive nation was conquered and carried away by the Assyrians (2 Kings 17:6).

This shows us the interplay between Jesus, the Olive Tree, and Israel, the olive tree. Faith is the link between the two, because faith is what makes them one (by grafting).

Joseph, the Fruitful (Olive) Bough

When we view Israel according to the original definition of the term, we see that Jacob became an Israelite on account of his new revelation of God’s sovereignty after wrestling with the angel in Genesis 32. His name was changed to Israel to reflect its meaning, “God rules.”

This view gives us understanding of a greater fulfillment. Israelites by this definition are the overcomers who are given that name/title as the mark of their deeper understanding and relationship with God. Even as Jacob was called Israel apart from any genealogical change, so also is ethnicity not a factor in this definition of Israel.

These are of the Joseph company, for Joseph’s sons exclusively were given the name Israel in Gen. 48:16. The other sons of Jacob were not Israelites legally except when they were in fellowship (unity) with Joseph. For this reason, when Judah and Benjamin were separated from the tribes of Joseph (after the death of Solomon), only the northern kingdom could call itself Israel. They included the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. The southern kingdom, being separated, had to settle for the tribal name, “house of Judah.”

In the two comings of Christ, He came first of Judah, but the second time of Joseph. While His first coming was by means of a genealogical birth, the second is not. In neither case would Jesus have physical offspring. His children are begotten by the Spirit through the seed of the word (or the “gospel” in 1 Cor. 4:15). The only way, then, to be an overcomer, receiving the name of Israel, is to be in union with the Heir of Joseph, who is Jesus Christ in His second appearance.

These are the true “sons of Joseph” today who support His claim to the Birthright in His second appearance. Ethnicity is not a factor, because Christ has no physical children. The only way to share in the Birthright of Joseph as an overcomer is to become one of His sons. This is done by a spiritual process and is the message of Sonship.

Gen. 49:22 says, “Joseph is a fruitful bough,” which can be seen as the bough (or “son”) of the olive tree. As long as the bough is attached to the olive tree, it has life. If it is pruned, it no longer has life until it is grafted back into that olive tree. The tribe of Ephraim, son of Joseph, was the leading tribe of the house of Israel. However, they degenerated into lawlessness and became wild and unfruitful. When they no longer manifested the calling of Joseph, God broke these unfruitful branches from the tree and sent the Israelites into captivity.

This is the great theme of Jesus in John 15, and also of Paul’s discussion in Rom. 11:17-25. Jer. 11:16 says that God judged this olive tree: “He has kindled fire on it, and its branches are worthless”[ra’a, “broken”]. Nevertheless, as the gospel spread to those wild olive branches that had been broken off by the Assyrians, they again had opportunity to be grafted back into the tree.

Therefore, when Jer. 11:16 calls Israel “a green olive tree,” it sets us up for a prophecy, not only about Jesus Christ, but also about the tribes of Israel and the overcomer sons of Joseph. These multiple layers of prophecy add richness to the text, but also a degree of complexity for those who study the divine plan.

Jeremiah’s Role as a Type of Christ

Jer. 11:16 is a messianic prophecy about the “green olive tree.” In the same passage, the prophet himself walked this out as a type of Christ, for the people plotted against his life. Verse 19 says,

19 But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter; and I did not know that they had devised plots against me, saying, “Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, and let us cut him off from the land of the living.”

In other words, the prophet was identified with the “tree.” The plotters wanted to “destroy the tree with its fruit.” Thus, they wanted to kill Jeremiah “like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter.” The tree, the prophet, the messiah, and the gentle lamb are all one in the prophecy. These show multiple layers of fulfillment. The main difference is that the tree, prophet, and lamb were all prophetic types, while the Messiah Himself was the antitype of prophetic fulfillment.

Jeremiah’s prophetic metaphor of the “gentle lamb” is similar to the one in Isaiah 53:7,

7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted; yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth.

Even as Isaiah foretold of the Messiah, who would go to the cross willingly as a lamb to the slaughter, so also was Jeremiah “like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter.” Both were the victims of plots against their life on account of their callings. Jeremiah himself was not actually killed, for it was enough that he was merely cast into a pit that represented death and burial (Jer. 38:6).

The Limits of Divine Judgment

So far we have limited our discussion of the olive tree to what we may say was a great pruning. Another way to view it is in terms of beating the olive tree so hard that the branches are broken. Both views are correct in their own way.

With this understanding of the big picture, let us go back and look at the idea of beating the olive tree in order to obtain its fruit (and oil) of the Spirit. Jesus had to die in the flesh; Israel had to die to the flesh. We all have to die to the flesh. In each case, the tree is “beaten” in order to obtain the fruit of the Spirit.

But the law limits the beating in order to ensure that the widows, orphans, and aliens are able to enjoy its fruit. They are not allowed to enjoy its fruit until after the tree has been beaten.

The limitation of this beating is thus seen again in the very next law that Moses covers, beginning in Deut. 25:1-3,

1 If there is a dispute between men and they go to court, and the judges decide their case, and they justify the righteous and condemn the wicked, 2 then it shall be if the wicked man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall then make him lie down and be beaten in his presence with the number of stripes according to his guilt. 3 He may beat him forty times but no more, lest he beat him with many more stripes than these, and your brother be degraded in your eyes.

It is no coincidence that these two laws are recorded together. The forty-stripe law is a natural outgrowth of the gleanings law where men are instructed not to beat the olive tree more than once.

Divine judgment for sin is limited by law to forty stripes. When we see how this law is linked to the previous law about beating the olive tree only once and no more, we get a better understanding of the mind of God insofar as His judgments are concerned. The divine limit on judgment is to ensure that the widows, orphans, and aliens may receive fruit. To clean glean an olive tree would be the equivalent of beating a man beyond forty stripes. The result would be degradation, rather than fruitfulness.

In other words, beating a man with more than forty stripes is as non-productive as clean gleaning an olive tree. In both cases, the will of God is subverted, for it ceases to bear fruit for God’s purpose.

This is also related to the law of Jubilee, which limits liability for sin by giving grace in the year of Jubilee. All sin is reckoned as a debt, and all debts are cancelled in the year of Jubilee (Lev. 25:10-14). The mercy of God is important, because the purpose of God’s judgment is to correct—not to destroy—and to make fruitful and nourishing to the poor—not to destroy the branches of the tree.

Divine Judgment is not Endless

When God judges the world, He judges according to His own merciful law, not according to the world’s laws of endless punishment. It is unfortunate that much of the Church has forgotten the law of God and its merciful judgment. And so they translate the Scriptures using the term “everlasting” and “eternal,” rather than the true meaning of the Hebrew and Greek terms.

In the Hebrew language, His judgments are olam, “indefinite, hidden, or not known, pertaining to an age,” but not endless. In the Greek language of the New Testament, His judgments are aionian, which again means “pertaining to an aion, or age.” The Greek word is the one that that Hebrew scholars chose as the nearest equivalent to the Hebrew word olam.

The indefinite word olam is used because the judgments in each case are different. Men may receive anywhere from a single stripe to a maximum of forty. Hence, the law mandates an indefinite number of stripes from one to forty. In more serious cases, where men are sold into slavery, their enslavement might be one day or up to 49 years.

The point is that enslavement is limited, as is a beating. So also olam and aionian mean roughly “an age,” which is indefinite in length. The only reason to think of the time as infinite or unending is if the context compels us to interpret it in that manner. The law, however, shows that divine judgment is limited and not to be interpreted as endless punishment.

And so the law forbids a godly judge to administer more than forty stripes to any man in any misdemeanor that might deserve a beating rather than restitution or death. Jesus Himself received a beating just before going to the cross (Matt. 27:26), for Pilate hoped that this would satisfy the crowd who were wanting Him to be crucified. In so doing, he fulfilled the law, and also the prophets, for Isaiah 53:5 says, “by His scourging we are healed.”

Jesus died for our felonies, and He was scourged for our misdemeanors. He paid the price for both types of sin, as the record tells us. In my view, Jesus received the full forty stripes before going to the cross. In those days the Jews set their own limit of 39 stripes in order to prevent an accidental violation of the law. The Apostle Paul knew this law well, for five times he had received this penalty (2 Cor. 11:24). Pilate was no doubt fully aware of this tradition, but I believe God directed him to give Jesus the full forty stripes in order to fulfill the law to the letter.

My view differs from Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ, where Jesus was shown receiving over 60 stripes, contrary to the law. Perhaps Gibson assumed that Pilate was ignorant of Hebrew law, or chose to ignore it. Perhaps he simply preferred the drama of excessive punishment upon an innocent man. But in my view, the law prophesied of Christ’s passion. Thus, Jesus had to receive the exact, full penalty of the law—that is, forty stripes—in order to pay its full penalty to obtain full healing for us. When Deut. 25:3 sets the limit at forty stripes, I see it as prophetic of what would actually be administered to Jesus Christ.

Jesus refers to this law in Luke 12:47-49, speaking of the “servants” (i.e., believers) who have been lawless in oppressing others. It is a good illustration of the discretion given to the judge in a godly court. Jesus says that the number of stripes a person receives correlates with their knowledge of God’s will and their level of authority. Those who are ignorant of His will (that is, His law—see Rom. 2:18) are to receive fewer stripes than those who knew His law and yet violated it.

In Luke 12:49 Jesus concludes,

49 I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled!

In the context we see that the “fire” is divine judgment—in this case the beatings that are to be administered to His servants according to the “fiery law” of Deut. 33:2. It is not a reference to a burning hell. Jesus had no wish to cast never-ending hell fire upon the earth. His judgments spring from His love nature and are true and righteous altogether, for they are not only limited by the law of beatings and by the law of Jubilee, they are also corrective. Jesus desired for the fiery law to judge the earth, not because He wanted to cast people into an endless torture chamber, but because He desired to bring correction to all men so that they could be reconciled to Him.

For a full study of God’s fiery judgment, see my book, The Judgments of the Divine Law.