Hanging on Trees

Galatians 3:13 quotes Deuteronomy 21:23 as saying “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” in reference to Jesus becoming a curse for us. That is, he took the curse of sin upon himself that we might have life.

It’s an interesting point, especially because there are a few examples of hanging people on trees in the OT. As is my tendency to give lists, take a look at these examples of people hung on trees:
1. The Chief Baker of Pharoah – Gen 40:19-22
2. King of Ai – Josh 8:29
3. The Five Kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish and Eglon – Josh 10:26
4. Two Assyrian Officials – Esth 2:23

Apparently, it was considered particularly disgraceful to defile someone’s body by hanging it on a tree or impaling it. It was so reprehensible that the practice could even bring a curse on the land. Deuteronomy makes this clear in 21:22-3, “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance. ” (ESV)

The idea of the curse of being hung on a tree becomes very important for the proclamation of the gospel. It intensifies the disgracefulness of Jesus’ crucifixion, magnifies his humility and shows the greatness of his love for us. Peter mentions the curse twice in Acts (5:30, 10:39) and once in 1 Pet 2:24. His emphasis on the Deuteronomic curse should be relevant for us. Jesus not only died a disgraceful death, but he died in a way that warranted God’s curse and even a curse upon the land. His willingness to suffer this shows his love for us.

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