Troublesome Topic: Stone My Own Son? Are You Kidding Me?

Lesson 5 of 6

Deuteronomy 21:18


If a man has a son who is stubbornly rebellious

Go to footnote number

and provocatively rebellious and he will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother and when they have chastised him he will not listen to them,


If a man has a son who has turned away from the good and become stubbornly rebellious and provocatively rebellious and he will not obey his father’s instructions or his mother’s instructions, and when they punish him, he still does not listen to them,

Deuteronomy 21:19


Then his father and mother must take hold of him and lead him to the elders of the city, even to the gate of the city,


Then his father and mother must drag him, if need be, but somehow get him to the respected leaders of the city who are at the city gate where important business is transacted,

Deuteronomy 21:20


and they shall say to the elders of the city, “This son of ours is stubbornly rebellious and provocatively rebellious and will not obey our voices; he is a glutton

Go to footnote number

and a drunkard.”


and they must say to the respected leaders of the city, “This son of ours is stubbornly rebellious and provocatively rebellious and he will not follow our instructions when we talk to him; he is on a downward slide of self-centeredness demonstrated by gluttony and not perceiving the value of things, and he’s always drunk.”

Deuteronomy 21:21


Then all the men of the city shall stone him with stones and you shall purge

Go to footnote number

the evil from among you; all ISRAEL will hear and be afraid.


Then all the men of the city must stone him with chunks of stone and in this way you will purge the evil from among you; all THOSE WHO NEVER LET GO OF GOD will hear what happened and they will not want it to happen to them too.

A Reminder of How Stoning Worked

Ray VanderLaan has given us a clear explanation of how a stoning worked. Someone who was accused of something punishable by stoning was brought to the leaders of the city and the witnesses made their case. If the leaders of the city determined the person was worthy of death, they would give the word and then the group would proceed, with the perpetrator bound up, to a cliff or steep ravine outside the city, or to the top of the city wall. The perpetrator was thrown over the edge, still bound, and the key witnesses were the first to throw a stone. Each person got one stone. It could be as big or small as they wished, but only one. If they missed, they missed; they did not get another chance. After the key witnesses threw their stones, then the others who had also witnessed enough to be in agreement with the decision, would also throw one stone.

Why Such Harsh Action?

1. A son would later be a leader. He would become a father, and then a grandfather, who was called an elder. Elders were the leaders of the community. If he was the oldest son, he might be in line to be the leader of a clan or an entire tribe. Because of the importance of families and clans during that time, they trained the boys to be leaders from a very early age, especially the oldest son. Almost everything they did was part of that training process.

A second or third son needed to be ready to step into the eldest son’s shoes if his big brother died in battle or from disease or an injury. Thus, all sons were trained to be leaders, be that the leader of their home, or an elder who lead a clan or an entire tribe.

What the parents were saying was something like this: “We have tried to train him to become a good leader someday. We have punished him, but he has not responded. He has consistently been heading in a direction that tells us he will never be a good leader. He has proved to us that he will only lead for himself and will crush others to get what he wants. While we hate to do this to our own son, we fear for our future grandchildren and for the entire community. It is better for one bad apple to be sacrificed than for the entire community to be hurt by one bad leader. Please help us remove this looming danger from our midst.”

2. Notice that all the men of the city participate in the stoning. This means they were all willing to act as secondary witnesses, the key witnesses being Dad and Mom. All the men of the community could either corroborate how bad the situation was, or stop the stoning from happening by telling the parents that it was not as bad as they thought. If it was as bad as the parents were saying, the entire community would know about it for they would all have observed his actions and attitudes.

3. Sometimes someone lived through a stoning; Paul did. In fact, the outcome of the stoning usually depended on how many people were willing to say, “Yes, I can corroborate the evidence that convicts him and I am willing to participate in rendering judgement on him.” In this case Dad would take a small stone, shut his eyes and hope to miss. I don’t know if women got to throw a stone or not, but if so, Mom would get an even smaller stone, close her eyes and barely drop it over the edge of the cliff. So whether this young man lived or died depended on how many other witnesses there were. If there were many, a pile of rocks would eventually develop over top of him; if a small group participated, it was more likely that he would come out of it alive.

So you see, it was possible that the young man would come out of this situation maimed, humbled, but alive. At least one would hope that if he lived through it, he would emerge a different person. He needed to be humbled, and this might just do the trick.

4. This was not just the case of a young man that ate too much. This is not the case of your average drunk. This was a young man who thought he would be a leader someday, but he was out of control, totally unhinged, totally self-centered, sliding rapidly down a spiral that lead to disaster for others in his future. The degree of rebellion described was extreme.

For a young man, there is something intoxicating about proving his power by challenging those in authority. He is drawn to a quick route to power, a route that bypasses the years of discipline required by the standard plan of community approval. But someone who chose to forcibly take power that he had not yet earned was not fit to lead, rather he was a danger to the community.

What Did this Teach?

It taught parents to train their children well so they would be good leaders someday. It taught parents to catch bad habits when they were small rather than waiting till they got big. It taught children to realize that they could not think only about themselves. It taught everyone that God’s holiness places serious demands on us and He wants us to avoid bigger problems in the future. It taught that there are no God-approved routes to leadership that are quick, forceful, self-centered, or that bypass the slow, steady acquisition of self-discipline.

We don’t know of any case in which this was actually done, and apparently, neither do the Jewish Rabbis. Hopefully this means that, since they did not want to follow through with this, they took seriously their responsibility of training future leaders. At the same time, there needs to be a balance here because sometimes children are rebellious despite the efforts of their parents. However, those children need to change before they can be given leadership responsibilities.

The alternative to stoning him while young was for no father to give him a daughter as a wife, and then the community would have to deal with an angry troublemaker who would eventually earn himself the death penalty anyway. But how much death and destruction would he cause first? God was saying that it is better to deal with the problem early. This law was not primarily an indictment on the parents, rather it was a motivation for parents and a way to protect the community from an obvious, looming danger.

Although that command sounds very strange to us today, there are some principles in it that we should not ignore.

The next lesson in the full series on Covenants is: Tattoos.

The next lesson in Why Is That in the Bible? is: Why So Much Blood?



What I have rendered as “stubbornly rebellious” means “to be stubborn, to be rebellious, or to turn away.” It is usually translated as “stubborn or rebellious.” But the very next word means rebellious as well. The two together either mean “stubborn and rebellious” or point to two types of rebellion, “stubbornly rebellious and provocatively rebellious.”


This word, usually translated as “glutton,” comes from a root word meaning “down.” It refers to someone sliding further and further down into the habits of gluttony, squandering and in general not caring about the value of things.


The word I and most people translate as “purge” really means to “burn or consume with fire.” It is a very strong word. Since evil is not a physical object that can be burned, “purge” is the best rendering of it.