Deuteronomy 22:21, Thou Fool, part II of II

[S]he shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done a disgraceful thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father’s house. You must purge the evil from among you.

//In my verse yesterday, Jesus said if you call somebody a fool, you’re on your way to hell. So, I thought I’d provide a bit  of ambiance, describing what happened to “fools” in the Old Testament. Here’s another one:

Joshua 7:15, He who is caught with the devoted things shall be destroyed by fire, along with all that belongs to him. He has violated the covenant of the LORD and has done a disgraceful thing in Israel!'”

So, people who disobey the law of God are to be stoned or burned. Probably both … killed with stones, then the body destroyed by fire. But what does this have to do with fools? We go back to the promise of Jesus in Matthew 5:21, the verse I quoted yesterday. Say to your brother, Raca, and you might have to go before the judge (Raca is an expression of contempt, like calling him stupid.) But say Thou Fool, and you’re in danger of hell fire.

It’s our interpretation that makes this hard to understand. “Thou fool” sounds quaint next to “hey, stupid!” But the Greek word translated “fool” actually speaks of something far more sinister than mere stupidity. Think of it as someone practicing idolatry or worse. It’s no sin to be stupid, but it’s a sin to be stupid about God’s directives. That’s why the fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psalm 14:1) … not because he’s an idiot, but because he justifies his sin with unbelief.

Which brings us to another point. When Jesus promised “hell fire,” the Greek word he used was Gehennah, which is not hell at all. It’s a once-pleasant valley on the south side of Jerusalem, but which drew the disfavor of God because of idolatry practiced there. Gehennah eventually evolved into a garbage dump that burned perpetually, a sort of fiery symbol for contemptuous destruction. The King James version of the Bible leaped to the conclusion that Jesus was speaking symbolically of eternal damnation, but scholars continue to argue about just what this image of Gehennah was meant to convey. A closer translation than eternal punishment might be the promise in Joshua 7:15, above, where the punishment is to be killed, and the body burned … exactly how the valley of Gehennah was once used; as a fiery disposal of the bodies of the enemy. 

We may never grasp just what this distasteful image of Gehennah was meant to convey. But if I were you, I’d stick to just calling my brother stupid.

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