‘Purge the evil from your midst’

If there is found in your midst, in any of your towns, which the LORD your God is giving you, a man or a woman who does what is evil in the sight of the LORD your God, by transgressing His covenant, and has gone and served other gods and worshiped them . . . and if it is told you and you have heard of it, then you shall inquire thoroughly. Behold, if it is true and the thing certain that this detestable thing has been done in Israel, then you shall bring out that man or that woman who has done this evil deed to your gates . . . and you shall stone them to death. On the evidence of two witnesses or three witnesses, he who is to die shall be put to death; he shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness. The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. {Deut 17:2-7 NAS}

A few observations on the practical effects of this law:

  1. Neither apathy nor fanaticism.  When sin is reported you must investigate (inquire thoroughly) but you must not assume the report is true (2-3 witnesses must corroborate). This effectively vitiates the “it’s none of my business” excuse while also preventing you from breaking out the torch & pitchfork.
  2. No anonymous witnesses. Witnesses were obligated to throw the first stone on execution day so your testimony better be rock solid (no pun intended). If I have to throw the first stone I doubt I’d base my testimony on hearsay or innuendo. [see Deut 19:16-19 for how the Law handled false witnesses!]
  3. No bystanders. Even if I’m not a material witness I still take part in the execution. Compulsory participation is significant in two ways. First, I pay attention because I have a personal interest in the outcome of the proceedings. Second, this setting makes your good my good–if I can help you stay free from apostasy I keep myself (and the community) free from the messy consequences. I have good reason to be my brother’s keeper.
  4. A community purge. Negatively, this law is about purging evil from the body politic. Positively, the law is about keeping evil from metastasizing. Either way the pursuit of holiness is an individual and corporate endeavor.

Christian, take note of the Law’s severity but don’t get stuck there. Sin still kills and holiness is still a group effort (1Cor 5; Heb 3:12-13; Jude 22-23).

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Author: Jonathan P. Merritt

Happily married father of six. Associate pastor for education at Edgewood Baptist Church (Columbus, GA). Good-natured contrarian and theological Luddite. A student of one book.

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