Curses, the Old Testament, and Freedom

John D. Barry

“And if a man commits a sin punishable by death, and so he is put to and you hang him on a tree, his dead body shall not hang on the tree, but certainly you shall bury him on that day, for cursed by God is one that is being hung” (Deut 21:22–23).

Being hung on a tree was a sign of being cursed. Romans 5:12 tells us that the punishment of sin is death; we as sinners deserve that curse. If Christ wasn’t cursed for us by being hung on a tree (the cross), then we would still have a debt to pay and a curse to live under.

It can be difficult to find significance in the OT, especially in passages that are as harsh as this one. But the OT still holds meaning for us today, and that meaning often reveals our human and individual state.

The same is true for those odd laws about crimes and marrying foreigners (Deut 21:1–14). It’s not that we’re supposed to practice these laws; they were intended for a land and a place. But we are meant to use them to understand God’s conceptual framework. God always opposes taking a life. Similarly, marrying someone who doesn’t share your belief in Christ (the equivalent of an Israelite marrying a foreigner) will be detrimental to God’s work: that person will lead you astray. The law may not be in force anymore, but God’s framework for interpreting the moral values in the world remains the same.

There isn’t always a clear connection between the OT laws and our lives today since the contextual framework is often quite complex. But there is always an easy relationship between our actions and what Christ has done for us. We are free from the OT laws and the curse we deserve, but that freedom is meant to prompt us to live like Christ—not for ourselves (see Rom 7). We are called to live as free people should live. We are called to live for God’s kingdom.

What moral values are you learning from the OT? In what ways are you currently misusing the freedom that Christ has given you?

This article was originally published in Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan.