Railings on your Roof Top, Why? by Jack Kettler
“When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet [railing] for your roof, that you may not bring the guilt of blood upon your house, if anyone should fall from it.” (Deuteronomy 22:8)
Consider the Pulpit Commentary’s exposition of this passage:
Verse 8. – Still less was human life to be exposed to danger through neglect of proper precautions. The houses in Palestine, as in other parts of the East, had flat roofs, and, as these were much frequented by the inhabitants for various purposes (cf. Joshua 2:6; 2 Samuel 11:2; 2 Samuel 18:24; Nehemiah 8:16; Matthew 10:27; Acts 10:9), it was necessary that a battlement or balustrade should surround the roof, in order to prevent persons falling over. Hence the direction here given. (1)
Is this law from ancient Israel still valid? There is a large amount of agreement that the ceremonial part of the Old Covenant Law has passed away. In the Reformed and Presbyterian traditions, the moral part of the law is still binding. Murder, stealing, lying and adultery are still wrong. What about the case laws throughout the Pentateuch? Theologians has wrestled with this.
Consulting Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XIX of the Law of God, we find:
IV. To them also, as a body politic, He gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people; not obliging under any now, further than the general equity thereof may require.
Of course, something has changed between the Old and New Covenants. In Point IV, the Westminster Confession says that the laws of Israel have EXPIRED. The confession then qualifies this with “not obliging under any now, further than the general equity thereof may require.” In modern parlance, it means that there may be reasons to retain some parts of a particular law by way of keeping a principle contained within the law along with a contemporary application.
Some Christians want nothing to do with the Old Testament Law of God. This is unfortunate since historically, the whole of Judeo/Christian law in the Western world is based upon the Ten Commandments and the case laws that are expounded in the Pentateuch. Emphatically, we are not talking about law keeping and salvation. I say this because some Christians when they hear the word law, go into a state of mental rote and start repeating, “we are not under the law, we are under grace.” This is absolutely true in the area of soteriology, but not true if we are dealing civil penalties for murder or theft.
What the confession is getting at when is says, “may require” is, there are binding principles that in some cases are relevant to modern society. Understanding this continuation of biblical principles will open up a whole new way of looking at God’s law that has nothing to do with salvation and law keeping. For example, “you shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13). Who would argue that this law has passed away and has no relevance today? Modern juries still try and determine first-degree or second-degree murder convictions that come right out of the Old Covenant case law.
In addition, prohibitions against lying, adultery, stealing are still valid today. In a similar way, this obscure passage from Deuteronomy 22:8 has incredible applications today. There are discontinuities and continuities between the Old and New Covenants. Some parts continue and other parts do not. Some parts of the law continue but in different form like Passover and Communion.
One particular hermeneutic argues that unless the New Covenant repeats the law, it is not carried over from the Old Covenant. This seems plausible, except for things like bestiality, which is not repeated in the New Covenant. I don’t think anyone would agree that this abominable practice is permissible today. New Covenant Christianity is inseparably linked to the Old Covenant.
Modern applications of Deuteronomy 22:8 where there is an enduring continuity would be:
Having a fence around your swimming pool. Having your yard fenced in if you have potentially vicious dog. Some buildings and apartments, have roof top recreational areas. Of course, you would want some type of barrier or railing for protection. In modern jurisprudence, there is a whole body of liability laws that deal with things like this. Bottom line, it is about protecting your neighbor and limiting your liability.
Many of the case laws are more difficult to find principals that have modern application. A passage from Mark 12:31 is the key to finding continuing principles of application.
“The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:31)
Regarding Mark 12:31, we learn from the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary:
31. And the second is like—”unto it” (Mt 22:39); as demanding the same affection, and only the extension of it, in its proper measure, to the creatures of Him whom we thus love—our brethren in the participation of the same nature, and neighbors, as connected with us by ties that render each dependent upon and necessary to the other.
Thou shall love thy neighbour as thyself—Now, as we are not to love ourselves supremely, this is virtually a command, in the first place, not to love our neighbor with all our heart and soul and mind and strength. And thus, it is a condemnation of the idolatry of the creature. Our supreme and uttermost affection is to be reserved for God. But as sincerely as ourselves we are to love all mankind, and with the same readiness to do and suffer for them as we should reasonably desire them to show to us. The golden rule (Mt 7:12) is here our best interpreter of the nature and extent of these claims.
There is none other commandment greater than these—or, as in Mt 22:40, “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (see on  Mt 5:17). It is as if He had said, “This is all Scripture in a nutshell; the whole law of human duty in a portable, pocket form.” Indeed, it is so simple that a child may understand it, so brief that all may remember it, so comprehensive as to embrace all possible cases. And from its very nature it is unchangeable. It is inconceivable that God should require from his rational creatures anything less, or in substance anything else, under any dispensation, in any world, at any period throughout eternal duration. He cannot but claim this—all this—alike in heaven, in earth, and in hell! And this incomparable summary of the divine law belonged to the Jewish religion! As it shines in its own self-evidencing splendor, so it reveals its own true source. The religion from which the world has received it could be none other than a God-given religion! (2)
Loving your neighbor is the key. Is there a principle in the law that protects your neighbor? The actual law in the Old Covenant Israel may have no relevance today and is expired. Yet, digging a little deeper it may be possible to glean a modern-day application. My wife’s mother was able to go to potato fields in Idaho and glean food that was left behind after the harvest. Her freedom to do this comes from Israel’s law.
For example, in Leviticus, we see God’ provision for the poor and traveler:
“And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 23:22)
Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary explains this law for the poor:
23:15-22 The feast of Weeks was held in remembrance of the giving of the law, fifty days after the departure from Egypt; and looked forward to the outpouring of the Holy Ghost, fifty days after Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us. On that day the apostles presented the first-fruits of the Christian church to God. To the institution of the feast of Pentecost, is added a repetition of that law, by which they were required to leave the gleanings of their fields. Those who are truly sensible of the mercy they received from God, will show mercy to the poor without grudging. (3)
The reader can now see that there are modern day applications of principles in Israel’s law that have enormous relevancy today. Modern legislators should look to Israel’s law for wisdom. Do we want man-made laws or based upon God’s law? A Church’s food bank for the poor is surely one of many applications of the Leviticus 23:22 case law.
When looking for modern applications, use as the rule of thumb, protecting and loving your neighbor and his goods or property. Thankfully, we are not stumbling in the dark ethically. We have God’s wisdom from the Old Covenant case laws as a place to look for solutions. As mentioned earlier, until recent times, laws in the Western World were based upon applications of Old Covenant case law.
To name a few, first, and second-degree murder, manslaughter, rape self-defense, restitution, bearing false witness, kidnapping, adultery, fornication, laws of inheritance and crimes of passion. The modern-day application of eternal principles from the Old Covenant is one of the many aspects of the Judeo/Christian world view.
Israel’s law was a witness to the nations of God’s goodness:
“Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’” (Deuteronomy 4:6)
Man’s law is temporal and constantly shifting downward into increasing depravity. In contrast, God’s law is Holy Eternal and Good. It reflects His standard of holiness! By His law, we can determine right from wrong. It does not change!
“The moral absolutes rest upon God’s character. The moral commands He has given to men are an expression of His character. Men as created in His image are to live by choice on the basis of what God is. The standards of morality are determined by what conforms to His character, while those things which do not conform are immoral.” – Francis A. Schaeffer
There are many reasons why the believer can say, “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.” (Psalm 119:97)
1. H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, Deuteronomy, Vol. III, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company reprint 1978), p. 355.
2. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 1977) p. 976.
3. Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary, Leviticus, (Nashville, Tennessee, Thomas Nelson), p. 228.
“But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:18)
“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” (Titus 3:5)
“To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks. Available at: http://www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com
For more Study:
See David Guzik’s Study Guide for Deuteronomy 22 – Various Laws to demonstrate kindness and purity provides many examples of what the principles and applications of law at: https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/archives/guzik_david/studyguide_deu/deu_22.cfm
See Gary North’s Economic Commentaries at: http://www.christianciv.com/North_Economic_Commentary.html