Friday, September 17, 2010

The Age of Culpability

With Numbers complete, we now enter the final book of the Pentateuch/Torah/Law. Deuteronomy summarizes the Israelites' journey, reviews, revises, and appends to God's commandments, and ultimately transfers leadership from Moses to Joshua. This is the last time when God will be this intensely interactive and thoroughly revealed until the time of Jesus. Let us learn what we can.

The Age of Culpability
When is a boy no longer a boy, but rather a man? At what age do you hold a person fully responsible for their own actions? It is difficult to say, as biologically we all mature on our own schedules, so any picked age is seemingly arbitrary. Jews have picked the age of Bar or Bat Mitzvah (son or daughter under the commandments) as 13 for boys and 12 for girls, but that is not what God says.

Deuteronomy 1:3 sets the time frame for Deuteronomy as starting in the eleventh month of the fortieth year since the Exodus from Egypt. Deuteronomy 1:6-46 retells the story of why it has been forty years since leaving Egypt and they have yet to enter the Promised Land. (The original story is told in Numbers 13-14.) That reason? Fear.

Spies sent into the Promised Land reported that the existing occupants were very strong and big. The report so frightened the Israelites (600,000+ fighting men strong, Numbers 1:45-46) that they wanted to go back to Egypt. Their natural human emotion, their fear, angered God so much that He repented bringing them out of Egypt in the first place, and so He wanted to kill them all right then and there, and instead make a new nation from Moses (Numbers 14:12).

Moses managed to change God's mind. God forgave the Israelites (Numbers 14:20). Demonstrating His forgiveness, God cursed all of the Israelite men which were 20 years old or older to die in the desert over the next forty years (Numbers 14:26-35).

In the Deuteronomy recount, there is a correlated verse to this death sentence. Deuteronomy 1:39 reads:
“And the little ones that you (Israelites) said would be taken captive, your children who do not yet know good from bad—they will enter the [Promised Land]. I will give it to them and they will take possession of it.” NIV
Putting this verse together with the original Numbers story reveals that God thinks that people are fully accountable when they become 20 years old, because by then they know good from bad. That makes me happy, because I sure did a lot of stupid stuff in my teen years.

On a side note, one argument from apologists for God's existence is that He created us with the knowledge of right and wrong, of good and evil. Somehow, having such intuitive knowledge is given as proof of divine knowledge granted to us. Yet here, according to God's Word, children do not have this knowledge. This implies that such knowledge is learned, not granted, and thus defeats that argument quite neatly.

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