As with all good spy stories, the 1968 movie adaptation of Alistair MacLean’s Ice Station Zebra does not reveal the full truth until near the end. All we know at the beginning is that a US Navy submarine is on a mission to rescue British scientists trapped at a weather station on the Arctic ice pack. We realize something unusual is afoot since the boat’s captain, James Ferraday (played by Rock Hudson), has been ordered to take aboard not only a platoon of Marines, but also a British Intelligence officer who goes by the name Jones (Patrick McGoohan). At sea they are joined by Boris Vaslov (Ernest Borgnine), a Russian defector. After an act of sabotage nearly destroys the submarine, Captain Ferraday confronts Vaslov, asking why he should not believe him to be the saboteur. Vaslov responds, “That should be obvious, Captain. I was born a Russian, but I chose my side out of conviction, not by accident of birth.” Jones vouches for him, and the mission continues.
In time the submarine reaches the destination and breaks through the Arctic ice near Ice Station Zebra. As the Navy crewmen rescue the surviving scientists, Jones and Vaslov go about the real business of the mission. Ferraday finds opportunity to speak with Jones alone as the British agent searches for what we learn is a canister of highly sensitive photographic film created in the United States for use in a British camera of extraordinary technical capabilities. Soviet agents had stolen the film and the camera, and the Soviet Union adapted both for use in a spy satellite. Jones explains this in one of the movie’s most famous lines:
The Russians put our camera made by “our” German scientists and your film made by “your” German scientists into their satellite made by “their” German scientists, and up it went, round and round, whizzing by the United States of America seven times a day.
Just as the film canister is discovered, a force of Soviet paratroopers lands near the ice station. Their mission, of course, is also to recover the film canister. It is at that point that we learn Vaslov’s convictions are not as strong as he would have others believe. He assaults Jones and reveals himself as a double agent whose real intent is to assist the Soviets in recovering the film. As the American and Soviet forces engage in a firefight, Jones kills Vaslov. The fighting ends when the hopelessly outnumbered Americans agree to surrender the canister, but then succeed in destroying it by a final act of intrigue. Having no further reason to remain in conflict, both sides withdraw, leaving the body of the treacherous Vaslov on the ice.
Boris Vaslov teaches us an eternal truth. Unable to choose between two identities, in the end he loses them both. So it is with everyone who halts between allegiance to the Kingdom of Heaven and the kingdom of this world. It is best to choose wisely since Scripture provides an unambiguous statement on the conclusion of this matter:
Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15 NRSV)
This identity question is a recurring theme among the myriad of bewildering commandments in Ki Tetze (When You Go Out; Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19). Here again we arrive at a part of the Torah which generates opposition from the world for its harsh penalties and antiquated laws. How are we to understand and make practical application of such commandments as procedures for soldiers taking wives from among their women captives (Deuteronomy 21:10-14)? Or what about the commandment that if a man dies without children, his brother is to marry his widow and have a child by her in the deceased man’s name (Deuteronomy 25:5-10)? Or perhaps even that commandment about how parents are to request capital punishment for a rebellious child (Deuteronomy 21:18-21)?
These are only a few of the many commandments in this Torah portion. Many of them make sense, such as those about treating hired workers fairly, treating animals kindly, and showing compassion to the poor, orphans, widows, and strangers. In fact, kindness is perhaps the single greatest unifying factor in these chapters. This is where we get to the identity question. The people of Israel are to be like the God Who called them into the nation. It matters not whether they were born into it or chose to become part of it; Israel is a holy kingdom that reflects the nature of YHVH. What, then, is His nature? Consider these verses:
The Lord is gracious and merciful; slow to anger and great in lovingkindness. The Lord is good to all, and His mercies are over all His works. (Psalm 145:8-9 NASB)
These are only two passages of many that attest to the loving, kind, forgiving, merciful nature of YHVH. He is, of course, just, righteous, jealous, and many other things, but what He demonstrates toward us first and most of all is love (Exodus 20:5-6; Deuteronomy 7:7-8, 10:18; John 3:16; Romans 5:8; I John 4:7-8, 16). He could destroy us all in an instant for the simple fact that He has already condemned this world for our rebellion, and yet He has chosen to extend mercy so that every person may come back into His good graces (Isaiah 45:21-23, 49:6-7, 53:10-12; Nahum 1:1-9; John 3:16-21). He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but wants all to come to repentance and enjoy the blessed life He designed us to live (Ezekiel 18:23, 33:11; II Peter 3:9). This is love, and the ultimate expression of love in action is that God manifested Himself as a human being to suffer the penalty of death on our behalf. That is the story of Yeshua of Nazareth, Messiah of Israel and the whole world.
If all that Yeshua demonstrated was how to die a loving, sacrificial death, then the story would not be complete. The Apostle Paul explains the other part of the story: that Yeshua’s resurrection to life established the hope for the world (I Corinthians 15:12-28). Yet there is even more to it than that. Yeshua not only taught us how to die, but how to live a life of lovingkindness. That was the point of His ministry among the people of Judea, Galilee, and Samaria. He demonstrated the proper way to live out the commandments of His Father so that His people might fulfill those two greatest commandments: loving God and loving other people (Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-31; Luke 10:25-37). Some years later, Paul offered an explanation of how that looks:
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (I Corinthians 13:4-7 NASB)
Neither Paul nor Yeshua were making up anything new. They taught by their own examples directly from the Torah of Moses. If we want to know where they learned about love, we can start right here in Ki Tetze. The myriad commandments explain details of how to demonstrate love toward our neighbors, our family members, strangers in our midst, the poor among us, and our animals. What is kindness if not love in action? And thus we study these details in Moses so that we may learn and walk out the principles governing those details.
Yet we still have those commandments that seem outdated, uncomfortable, and even barbaric to our modern ears. What are we to do with them? The first thing is to remember that these commandments reflect the reality of the Ancient Near East, so we should study them in proper context. Perhaps there are some things that have no parallel to our own place and time, but they certainly had application 3,500 years ago. If there is a need to update, clarify, or change any of the commandments given through Moses, YHVH will make that clear in time. Until then, studying these commandments in context will help us understand those godly principles behind them and make proper application to our present circumstances.
The second thing is to consider that perhaps these ancient commandments have more application to our modern time than we may suppose. Consider, for example, the plight of young women bound over to sex slavery. The most outrageous cases before us today include those Nigerian school girls taken captive by the Islamist terror group Boko Haram, and the Yazidi and Christian girls in the custody of the self-proclaimed caliphate of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. How many of these women would long for the opportunity to live a life as a cherished wife? Many of those taken by Boko Haram and the Islamic State are now married, but their marriages more closely resemble the outcome of a slave auction rather than holy matrimony. It is a reality reminiscent of the Ancient Near East – a reality YHVH abhorred then, and abhors now. Knowing this, perhaps we should look again at this seemingly antiquated, barbaric law and see what YHVH actually said:
When you go out to battle against your enemies, and the Lord your God delivers them into your hands and you take them away captive, and see among the captives a beautiful woman, and have a desire for her and would take her as a wife for yourself, then you shall bring her home to your house, and she shall shave her head and trim her nails. She shall also remove the clothes of her captivity and shall remain in your house, and mourn her father and mother a full month; and after that you may go in to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife. It shall be, if you are not pleased with her, then you shall let her go wherever she wishes; but you shall certainly not sell her for money, you shall not mistreat her, because you have humbled her. (Deuteronomy 21:10-14 NASB)
Is the kindness, the love, the compassion evident in this commandment? These are not the procedures for dividing up the spoils of war, but for taking a foreign captive woman into the society as a full-fledged, equal, participating member. If it seems outdated and barbaric, it is only because the commandment given to Moses had to be shaped in the reality of his era. The challenge for us is to translate the Lord’s intent into our present reality. If we can do so with this commandment, then we can do so as well with the others in this portion and throughout Torah that clash with our modern sensibilities.
There is, however, another disturbing possibility. What if our modern sensibilities do not reflect YHVH’s nature? That is a frightening prospect. Are we then to stone our children, for example? No, certainly not – not without exhausting all the provisions of justice and mercy expressed in God’s holy law. Once again let us consult the Scripture:
If any man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father or his mother, and when they chastise him, he will not even listen to them, then his father and mother shall seize him, and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gateway of his hometown. They shall say to the elders of his city, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey us, he is a glutton and a drunkard.” Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death; so you shall remove the evil from your midst, and all Israel will hear of it and fear. (Deuteronomy 21:18-21 NASB)
Notice that the stubborn and rebellious son is not a sullen child, but from the context he is an adult (what child would be a drunkard?). We may assume that the parents have raised their son according to Torah, teaching him how to walk in the kindness and love of the Lord, but that he has chosen to go his own way. Since we know that Torah requires thorough investigation, and since there is due process involved requiring the testimony of two or three witnesses to confirm a matter, then we must conclude that the local authorities (the elders) will not execute the man on a whim. Perhaps this individual has robbed his parents, or has done terrible harm to the family, or has exhibited a pattern of behavior that is a menace to society. Such things happen, and the results are tragic. The case of Eli’s sons was certainly tragic. As we know from I Samuel 2:12-17, 22-36, those two young priests of Israel were thoroughly corrupt and were indeed a menace to society. Having exhibited a pattern of criminal behavior, and having refused to listen to their father’s rebuke, they suffered the ultimate punishment from the Lord. We must wonder, however, if things would have been better had Eli done as this commandment required and submitted his sons to the judgment of Shiloh’s city elders. Scripture tells us the manner of their deaths at the hands of the Lord involved defeat and occupation by the Philistines, capture of the Ark of the Covenant, and destruction of Shiloh as the center of worship for the nation (I Samuel 4:1-22). Perhaps their execution by due process of law would have prevented this great disaster in Israel.
Which is, of course, instructive, but how does that get to the question of the difference between our modern sensibilities and God’s nature? At the most basic level it is this: if a man or woman are not willing to obey the most intimate authorities in their lives, meaning their father and mother, then they are not likely to accept any authority. This commandment speaks to more than merely the failure of an individual to obey his parents; it speaks to a total failure of society. The parents are unable or unwilling to establish and enforce authority at home, perhaps because the family structure has broken down to the point that it is hardly recognizable. The norms of their society have informed the way they run their home (or his home, or her home, since it may well be a single-parent family), and those norms likely reflect a rejection of authority and a high degree of lawlessness. Disobedience to parents, therefore, is a symptom of rejection of God, if we are to believe Paul’s commentary:
And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil; disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:28-32 NASB, emphasis added; see also I Timothy 3:1-5)
Notice the type of people with whom Paul associates these disobedient children, and then notice how he upholds the same sentence of death as prescribed in Torah. We can understand why murderers and other such vile people would be worthy of such a sentence, but why the disobedient children? If we look further into the context of Paul’s commentary, we find that this list of despicable persons follows immediately after his famous indictment of homosexuals and lesbians:
For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. (Romans 1:26-28 NASB)
What is the reason God gave such people over to their own lusts? They rejected the testimony of Him evident in nature and revealed in His Word, preferring to worship a lie than to follow the Truth (Romans 1:18-25). The sins of homosexuality and every other thing Paul listed, including disobedience to parents, are the end of a long road of depravity resulting from systematic refusal of our Creator and His ways. In the end such people become unwilling and unable to give or receive lovingkindness, like salt without any flavor, and as such are not worthy of anything except to be cast out (Matthew 5:13).
When we look at the question in this way, how sensible do our modern sensibilities really seem? Is it right to indulge our children so that they learn to express themselves in any way they choose? Or is it better, and ultimately kinder, to discipline them so they learn to function properly in society, a blessing to others and a blessing to themselves? Which answer better reflects the identity of the Living God? And which results in the children entering into the assembly of the Lord?
Those who refuse the invitation of YHVH to new life, and refuse His instruction on how to live that life, are sadly doomed to the fate of salt that has lost its flavor. We might say they are like Amalekites, a people who proved themselves incapable of kindness by their predilection for preying on the weak, the sick, and the vulnerable. That is why they alone, of all the people on earth, receive this fearful condemnation:
Remember what Amalek did to you along the way when you came out from Egypt, how he met you along the way and attacked among you all the stragglers at your rear when you were faint and weary; and he did not fear God. Therefore it shall come about when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your surrounding enemies, in the land which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you must not forget. (Deuteronomy 25:17-19 NASB; see also Exodus 17:8-16)
Earlier in this portion, YHVH makes provision for other peoples to come into His assembly (the nation of Israel). Edomites and Egyptians may do so after the third generation, presumably entering into the assembly while retaining their identity (Deuteronomy 23:7-8). Edomites gain admittance because they are close relatives of Israel, being descended from Esau, Jacob’s twin. Egyptians have special status because our Israelite ancestors were aliens there for such a long time, as was our Messiah (Exodus 4:22-23; Numbers 24:8; Hosea 11:1; Matthew 2:13-15). But there are others who, like the Amalekites, cannot gain entry:
No one who is emasculated or has his male organ cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord. No one of illegitimate birth shall enter the assembly of the Lord; none of his descendants, even to the tenth generation, shall enter the assembly of the Lord. No Ammonite or Moabite shall enter the assembly of the Lord; none of their descendants, even to the tenth generation, shall ever enter the assembly of the Lord, because they did not meet you with food and water on the way when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you. Nevertheless, the Lord your God was not willing to listen to Balaam, but the Lord your God turned the curse into a blessing for you because the Lord your God loves you. You shall never seek their peace or their prosperity all your days. (Deuteronomy 23:1-6 NASB)
Oddly enough, by these standards King David could not have entered into the assembly of the Lord since his great-grandmother was Ruth, the Moabitess (Ruth 4:13-21). Neither could the great prophet Daniel, for he became a eunuch in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (Daniel 1:1-7; II Kings 20:16-18). How, then, do they hold such positions of high honor? The same reason anyone can be esteemed in God’s sight: by humbling themselves before Him and trading their corrupted identity for the new identity He offers. That is the promise He spoke through Isaiah:
Thus says the Lord, “Preserve justice and do righteousness, for My salvation is about to come and My righteousness to be revealed. How blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who takes hold of it; who keeps from profaning the sabbath, and keeps his hand from doing any evil.” Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely separate me from His people.” Nor let the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” For thus says the Lord, “To the eunuchs who keep My sabbaths, and choose what pleases Me, and hold fast My covenant, to them I will give in My house and within My walls a memorial, and a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name which will not be cut off. Also the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to Him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be His servants, every one who keeps from profaning the sabbath and holds fast My covenant; even those I will bring to My holy mountain and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar; for My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.” The Lord God, who gathers the dispersed of Israel, declares, “Yet others I will gather to them, to those already gathered.” (Isaiah 56:1-8 NASB)
How does this work? Very simply: YHVH, through His Messiah, gathers the nations into His nation, Israel, giving each person a new name and a new identity. Those who enter in by faith reflect that new identity by living in the way this loving, merciful, kind, and just God wants them to live, thus reflecting His very image. Anyone who chooses not to enter in, for whatever reason, ends up losing everything, even their name, just like the Amalekites.
“Shout for joy, O barren one, you who have borne no child; break forth into joyful shouting and cry aloud, you who have not travailed; for the sons of the desolate one will be more numerous than the sons of the married woman,” says the Lord. “Enlarge the place of your tent; stretch out the curtains of your dwellings, spare not; lengthen your cords and strengthen your pegs. For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left. And your descendants will possess nations and will resettle the desolate cities. Fear not, for you will not be put to shame; and do not feel humiliated, for you will not be disgraced; but you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more. For your husband is your Maker, whose name is the Lord of hosts;you’re your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, Who is called the God of all the earth. For the Lord has called you, like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, even like a wife of one’s youth when she is rejected,” says your God. “For a brief moment I forsook you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In an outburst of anger I hid My face from you for a moment, but with everlasting lovingkindness I will have compassion on you,” says the Lord your Redeemer. For this is like the days of Noah to Me, when I swore that the waters of Noah would not flood the earth again; so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you nor will I rebuke you. For the mountains may be removed and the hills may shake, but My lovingkindness will not be removed from you, and My covenant of peace will not be shaken,” says the Lord who has compassion on you. (Isaiah 54:1-10 NASB)