1

Going through the Torah, there are a large number of laws prescribed by the Lord through Moses. But I've been wondering why we don't hear much about enforcement of these rules in the period after the Judges.

During the period of the OT kings, it seems like as long as they removed the high places and objects of foreign worship everything was ok? Or should we assume that in the background of these texts, local judges and Levites were vigorously enforcing the Levitical code all along?

Put differently, my question is: from the reigns of Saul to the time of the exile to Babylon, were enforcements like these taking place:

  1. Death penalty (for disobedient children, sexual immorality, worshipping foreign gods, or possessing idols/graven images). It seems not from texts like 1 Samuel 19:13
  2. Impurity and exclusion: I don't recall reading of any of the armies of any of the kings post-war staying outside the "camp" for 7 days and doing 3rd day and 7th day purification rites as required of them in the Torah.

My feeling (and I can't back this up) is that while the Torah prescribed the requirements quite strongly, they fell into disuse pretty much as soon as the last good judge (Samuel) left the scene. The LORD seems to be happy with the Kings if they at least honoured him in their decisions and broadly did the right thing.

But happy to be contradicted if this is a mis-characterisation!

Also, apologies if this has been asked elsewhere - I couldn't find a broad answer, just a large number of instances where people asked about individual discrepancies like this question below:

Is Deuteronomy 23:1 a blanket prohibition barring eunuchs from Israel, or is it something more specific?

3
  • This is an interesting question, but it's not really one for this site. We're really focused strictly on the interpretation of specific passages here.
    – curiousdannii
    May 4 at 3:31
  • Hi @curiousdannii i apologise for that. In the spirit of a constructive way forward (both for myself and others who might stumble upon this question), from your experience, would you be able to recommend resources which can help answer this question?
    – BykerHero
    May 4 at 4:53
  • Well the narratives that we do have don't describe a lot of law following, so it doesn't seem likely that they perfectly followed the law the rest of the time. Jeremiah 34:12-16 is probably indicative - the Israelites apparently never followed the law to release slaves, until they repented once, shortly before unrepenting and re-enslaving the slaves the had just freed.
    – curiousdannii
    May 4 at 7:22
1
  1. I think you are correct that less and less of the law was followed throughout the history of Israel, until an uptick under Ezra and Nehemiah. If basic idolatry isn't being dealt with, how much less purification rituals. There's a major turn documented in Ezra and Nehemiah, where much of the law is vigorously enforced, both by scribes and by government officials, which sets the stage for the development of the Pharisaic tradition during the inter-testamental period.

  2. Much of the histories and prophets deal with the "weightier issues of the law" and so don't address much of the day-to-day activities addressed in the law. The best examples I can think of are 1 Sam 21:4, where Ahimelech asks David if his men have kept themselves from women (and I don't know of a biblical law requiring this); and Ruth 2, where farmers commonly leave room for the poor to glean the fields. As you get further into the text, much of this detail is thinned out, and it's hard to know how people were living.

  3. One of the curious facts of about the nation of Israel is that, despite being known as a theocracy, there was very little mechanism for enforcement of many of the finer points of the law. Where are the police? Where are the prisons? So if the law was being followed, it would have been as a matter of local piety, rather than government enforcement.

2
  • Thanks Kyle, do you know any writers who have written about this issue?
    – BykerHero
    May 4 at 4:51
  • Unfortunately, no. You're looking for Biblical History or Historical Theology, and those are surprisingly unpopular topics. May 4 at 12:04

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.