The uniqueness of this passage is that there is no crying mentioned or regrets. The assumption is that crying has already taken place, an attempt to find reconciliation has taken place, and since all that has failed, the final option is to put the son to death. The other element is that there is a societal purpose for the death of the incorrigible son. That is, according to verse 21: “All Israel shall hear, and fear.” This example will serve as a reminder for the sons and daughter who decide to live autonomously. This will serve as a reminder that the God of Israel intends that children honor their father and mother (Exodus 20).
What about modern applications? Some will inevitably argue that this was unique to the nation of Israel under a theocracy, and should not be so today. After all, we live in a pluralistic society where all religions and practices are permitted. In the case of a disobedient son who fits the paradigm of Deuteronomy 21, the humanists would say he should be sent to certain centers for rehabilitation. ((The prison system has been one of the greatest tragedies in modern society. According to Vern Poythress, when the Bible makes any mention of something like a prison, it is supposed to be a waiting place for execution. See The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses.)) The answer to this objection is that the state has not given the authority to invent their own methods of punishment. Who has given the authority to the state to abandon God’s written Law-Word concerning their responsibility to execute that child? Who are we to say that the law of God for Israel concerning the incorrigible son loses its ethical efficacy in the New Testament? It does not take a trained penologist to realize that the solutions the messianic State ((I borrow this language from the late Rousas Rushdoony who believed that the state was messianic, since it appeared to take the place of the Messiah for the peoples.)) has offered over the years have failed one after the other. In these offender centers they learn to be better criminals; ((According to recent statistics, 90% of all youngsters who are part of some rehabilitation program go back to their old habits and gangs. This is not a good average.)) besides, the libertarian argument is that there are better things the people can do with their money than to pay for gangsters to enjoy three meals a day and all the pleasantries the system affords.
In terms of modern application, the text makes explicit that it is not the parents’ role to execute their children. If this takes place, their blood shall also be required. ((Genesis 9:6.)) The text explicitly gives that responsibility to the local authorities. In this time of redemptive history God has given that authority to the state and to the state alone. ((Romans 13.)) If the son is a member of a church, the church has the authority to excommunicate that son. ((The father will have no right to be in any pastoral ministry, since his home is not ruled well.)) It is further the church’s duty to encourage the parents during this time of trial. If after, the church tries to restore him and fails, he is to be treated as a pagan. Nevertheless, the text seems to indicate that it is the parent’s final judgment to turn their son to the governmental authorities, not the church’s. ((This may require some more work, but it would appear that the church can educate these parents to turn them over to the state, after all options have been tried.))
In the end, Biblical Law reveals the wisdom and patience of God. The death penalty is not applied at the first offense, but as a last resort, when all efforts have failed. Those who hold firmly to Biblical law should not be embarrassed at this covenantal sanction. In the words of Rev. William Einwechter: “Contempt of parental authority, if left unchecked, is the death of the family, law, and order. The question then is: Who or what should die? The rebel, or family and society?” ((Einwechter, Stoning Disobedient Children.))
The forgotten premise of the Bible is that the family carries a stabilizing role in the social order. When the family is dysfunctional, society is dysfunctional. These covenant curses are not replaced by excommunication in the New Covenant as some would support, because a form of excommunication was also practiced in the Old Covenant. After all, not all punishments deserved the death penalty, and for those particular punishments, a form of excommunication was applied (consider being put out of the city). In the words of Jesus himself in Matthew, “For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’” ((Matthew 15:4)) Jesus confirms the Old Testament penalty. Furthermore, our Lord himself did not come to abrogate the law, but to fulfill it. ((For a 50-page exegesis of Matthew 5:17 see Greg Bahnsen’s Theonomy in Christian Ethics.))
Parental care and concern for their children will lead churches and pastors to place a proper focus on the family unit. Any church that is not concerned about the future of the family, is not concerned about the future of the church. Christ has promised to bring victory through his Bride in history. The family is the chosen vessel to bring about the fulfillment of the Cultural Mandate.