SYNOPSIS: The Law of Moses stated that anyone executed and hung on a tree must be buried the same day, for anyone who is hung is cursed in the sight of God. In the New testament, Jesus was executed for crimes against heaven. His body was hung on a tree. He was cursed in God’s sight. And while his battered body would be removed before sundown, even still, God was so grieved by the crime he represented and the punishment he bore that the Father turned his back on his dying Son. And all of this was done to Jesus with God’s permission to atone for crimes that were not his own. He was the one and only substitute that could assuage the righteous wrath of a holy God. Jesus paid it all, in full, once and forever, for your sin. Yes, cursed is the One who hung on a tree—thank God.
Going Deep // Focus: Deuteronomy 21:22-23
If someone has committed a crime worthy of death and is executed and hung on a tree, the body must not remain hanging from the tree overnight. You must bury the body that same day, for anyone who is hung is cursed in the sight of God. In this way, you will prevent the defilement of the land the Lord your God is giving you as your special possession.
Whether as a modern American you agree with the death penalty or not, it was definitely used under the Mosaic law as punishment for certain kinds of crimes. In ancient Israel, the penalty for particularly offensive sins was swift, sure and beyond brutal. And in some cases, once the guilty person was executed, their body was to be hung on a tree as a sign to all of the seriousness of sin before God and the seriousness of breaking the shalom of the community of God. Indeed, punishment of sin was savage way beyond our comfort zones.
Even then, there were regulations to mitigate the trauma of witnessing a brutalized body hanging on a tree. It was not to be left twisting in the wind, swinging from the gallows overnight, but it was to be buried within the same day. Not only was the removal of the corpse to spare the sensitivities of the community, it was also to spare the Almighty from having to view what was termed a curse: “Anyone who is hung is cursed in the sight of God.” (Deuteronomy 21:23) Perhaps the execution of a criminal was so painful to God, an all out assault on the dignity with which he created human beings, that looking upon it for some length of time would have forced him to turn his back to it.
Now as we have often seen in our journey through the Old Testament, what happened to Israel spiritually foreshadowed the coming reality of God’s Kingdom awaiting fulfillment in the New Testament. Furthermore, the things that happened to the people of Israel were warnings signs posted to deter the new community from making similar mistakes. Paul writes an entire chapter on Israel’s idolatrous and rebellion in 1 Corinthians 10 as a cautionary tale for the new community, offering this blunt warning:
These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age. So if you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. (1 Corinthians 10:11-12)
The new community was warned in no uncertain terms not to fall into those same patterns of rebellion, idolatry and sin, and thereby become cursed in the sight of God, especially when Jesus had been hung on a tree in their place as one cursed of God:
But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in the Scriptures, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree. (Galatians 3:13)
Think of the similarities between the law in Deuteronomy and the death of Jesus: He was executed for crimes against heaven. His body was hung on a tree. He was cursed in the sight of God. His battered body was removed from the tree and buried the same day. Even still, God was so offended by the crime and the punishment that he turned his back on the dying Son of God. And all of this was done to Jesus by God’s decision to atone for crimes that were not his own. Jesus was the one and only substitute that could assuage the righteous wrath of a holy God. Jesus paid it all, in full, once and for all.
And he did it for sin; he did it for you. Yes cursed is the One who hung on a tree—thank God.