“Allow newly-wed man to build Home (Deut 24,5)”

by John Wijngaards, LAWS FOR LIFE Series in the New Leader, 10 February 1974; in Telugu Bharata Mithram, 28 September 1975

“If a man is newly married, he may not be forced to join the Army or to perform public service. He shall be left at home free of all obligations for one year to bring joy to the wife he has taken.” (Deuteronomy 24,5)

In ancient times the king had the right to requisition services from his subjects, When a war broke out, he could make them join his army as soldiers. In peace time he could impose work on them both on his agricultural estates or in his palaces. The book of Samuel mentions: “Ploughing the king’s land, harvesting his harvest, making his weapons of war, cooking in his palaces and looking after flocks” (1 Sam 8, 11.18). King Solomon raised an annual levy of forced labour throughout Israel of 30,000 men, apart from the casual labour that could include as many as 70,000 porters (1 Kings 5,18-19). Rehoboam built 15 fortresses in Judah with reqisitioned labour (ll Chron 11,6.12). The law under discusslon gives exemption to newly manied men from such public services.

Building a Family

The exemption goes back to a very ancient custom dating from the time of Israel’s holy war. It is also known from Ugaritic literature. According to this custom a person who had just boilt a new house, planted a vineyard and married a wife should not take part in a battle (Dt 20, 5.7). If such a person were to die he would be prevented from enjoying the fruits of the new family he was building up. It would amount to the so-called frustration curse (Dt 28,30) for which the Jews nurtured a deep-seated fear.

To put it in simple words: the man who is just building up a new family should not be disturbed. Otherwise the whole of society could be affected. He should have time to give joy to his wife and get to know her. He should be free to constroct his house and to lay out the vineya.rd on which his wife and children would have to live. The undisturbed peace of a new fa.mily was for the Jews an external manifestation of God’s blessing. This peaee should not be disturbed even for such neoessary things as warfare and public service.

To give joy

The law tells us that the newly married man should be exempted from all obligations “to give joy to his wife”. What a beautiful definition of family life! The secret of a happy family or community does not lie in a selfcentered seeking of comfort and security. Rather it lies in the determination of the members to give joy to one another: the husband to his wife, the wife to her husband, the parents to their children and the children to their parents. In human life family means growth. The giving of joy is the environment in which growth is possible.

It is persons that count not things. A life without joy is a wasted life. Serving society at the cost of your family is like planting a tree but cutting its roots. Scripture reminds us: “If a man is mean to himself, to whom will he be good?” (Sir 14,5)