Since God’s Law requires stoning stubborn rebellious sons (De 21:20-21a), it seems most Christians would argue the old Mosaic laws, or at least some of them, are obsolete, inconsistent with the Law of Love. (Ro 13:10) This is so obvious to most of us it’s offensive to suggest otherwise. (Ps 119:172) Yet Christ affirms otherwise: the entire Mosaic Law remains valid so long as Heaven and Earth stand. (Mt 5:18-19) We do well to ponder the maxim: Obviousness is always the enemy of correctness. (Is 8:20)
First, note that this command to stone a defiant son may not be obeyed in isolation, parents taking matters into their own hands: following this command requires the collective assessment and agreement of an entire civil community. Parents accuse the son of rebellion in front of the city elders, in the city gate where civil matters are formally resolved. (De 18:18-19) The elders then enquire, question the parents, the son and others familiar with the situation, and must align with the parents in their struggle. Then all the men of the community participate in executing the son, after his legal conviction.
So, unless parents live in a society which incorporates the civil aspects of Torah within its legal code (as every society should), this command to stone a rebellious son cannot be rightly obeyed. This does not mean the law is obsolete; God has not abolished it (Mt 5:17); it simply doesn’t apply outside this civil context. However, when Messiah returns to rule the nations (Ps 2:9), we can be sure He will enforce this law (Mi 4:2), and it will be holy, righteous and good. (He 1:8)
Secondly, the charge requires both parents to publicly testify that their son is in willful rebellion against them both (De 21:20a), implying both parents are uniquely accountable for training their children into adulthood, and in this case neither parent has been successful in getting their son to cooperate
Thirdly, the requirement for the son to obey implies he is still a child, not yet an adult, and therefore unable to provide for himself; he remains under his parents’ roof and dependent on them, and therefore required to obey them. Further, the context implies the son is sufficiently mature to understand the gravity of the consequences of his rebellion; though still a child, he is choosing to defy his parents and is old enough to be held accountable for his actions.
Finally, the accusation must include the sense that the son, in addition to being defiant, is focused on pursuing his own interests and pleasures. (De 21:20b) The rebellious son is intent on gratifying his own personal appetites without providing for himself; he is acting irresponsibly and burdening his parents rather than contributing to the welfare of the family.
These public accusations, and the threat of brutal execution looming before him, provide a final opportunity for the rebellious son to repent, or perhaps to expose his parents if they’ve been neglectful, abusive or cruel. (De 25:1) In either case, the conflict is dealt with decisively by the community such that open childhood rebellion is not normalized at any level within the culture. (De 21:21c)
Just imagine this command of God playing itself out in a society over decades, over centuries, as parents raise up children amidst grandparents, aunts and uncles, extended family all keeping an eye out for domestic strife, ready to intervene, to love, encourage and advise as needed.
What parent could afford to be careless, negligent or selfish here, unreasonably harsh or undisciplined, knowing a bloody execution could be the outcome? That they’d lose a son, nephew or grandson in brutal termination before the entire community. To be remembered as the family who couldn’t control their kids.
What sobriety this would encourage! (Ti 2:1-6) What self-control and wisdom! What prayerful discipline of all the children in the household, care taken to promptly and prayerfully address any signs of rebellion with firmness, impartiality, fairness, consistency and love! (Pr 19:18)
How it would encourage wisdom in courtship! to choose a compatible, godly spouse, to intentionally avoid turmoil and chaos in the home. How it would motivate parents to collaborate and work together to solve relational issues, both between themselves and among their children, to seek God in maintaining a loving, stable equilibrium in the family, constantly aware of the pulse and disposition of each of their children as they grow and mature.
Might this be a good thing?
And what are our alternatives? Tolerate such abuse and disruption in the family? Do nothing of consequence to deter and prevent it? (Ps 119:155)
I hear the Jews claim that throughout their recorded history, not a single Jewish son has ever been stoned for rebellion. If true, this certainly is something to think about, as we search down the corridors of our prisons — it’s rare indeed to find among the inmates the son of a practicing Jewish family.