I am currently writing a book which includes a short section where I talk about the practice of stoning insubordinate sons to death with rocks as described in Deuteronomy 21:
18 If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him,19 his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. 20 They shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” 21 Then all the men of his town are to stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.
By any contemporary measure, this is a horrifying and morally indefensible practice. So it is perversely humorous to watch the deadpan way that some Bible scholars attempt to provide moral justifications for practices that would horrify them if they read about it in the newspaper.
This morning I was reading the relevant section by Eugene Merrill in his commentary Deuteronomy: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (B&H, 1994). After coolly describing the steps under which the execution would take place, Merrill explains why it was necessary to pelt insubordinate boys to death with rocks:
“The severity of the punishment appears to outweigh the crime, but we must recognize that parental sovereignty was at stake. Were insubordination of children toward their parents to have been tolerated, there would have been but a short step toward the insubordination of all of the Lord’s servant people to him, the King of kings.”
“I know it looks bad, but good gosh man, the boy was challenging parental sovereignty so he just had to be killed.”
Forgive me, but I’ll be darned if that doesn’t sound like the kind of thing blood-spattered murderers would say as they are led away in handcuffs.