“When you build a new house, make a parapet around your roof
so that you may not bring the guilt of bloodshed on your house
if someone falls from the roof.” (Deut. 22:8)
We'll start our journey of this verse with some observations. Observations help the reader to notice certain things which may be overlooked if not closely scanned. After the observations we'll go step-by-step through interpreting this verse and see how significant OT verses like these are for us today.
There are repeated words like “you”, “house”, “your”, and “roof”; which is exactly what this verse is about, the roof of their houses. There some active verbs in “build”, “make”, “bring”, and “falls”. There is a command in “When…make”. The NKJV, ESV, NASB, and KJV all say “you shall make”. Also, the phrase “so that you may not…if” is a resultant statement.
Step 1: What did the text mean (or what was the author's intent) to the biblical audience?
This instruction may have been received with mixed understanding. By this time the people of Israel were within months of entering the Promised Land, meaning they were still living in tents not in houses they would eventually build. This is why the very first word of this verse is so important (“When”) because it denotes a time to come. The mixed understanding may have come because only Moses, Joshua, and Caleb would remember Egypt and the style of houses there (and perhaps certain enemies who had clay brick houses also) to know why God would give this instruction, unlike the present generation getting ready to enter the Promised Land who probably had no idea what this meant. This verse falls in the midst of other laws regulating religious and social life. It’s not connected to anything else. It is its own singular instruction. This verse also contains correlation to the sixth commandment in that if you do not take the necessary steps to ensure, in this case, the safety of someone in your house so that if they die because of your negligence then you are at guilt for their bloodshed. Later in Israel’s history the roof of their houses would be flat and used as a place for grain (Josh. 2:6), to relax (2Sam. 11:2), for privacy (Acts 10:9), and guests (1Sam. 10:25-26). Thus, God was giving His people a preventive instruction in this verse, “When you build a new house, make a parapet (ma’aqeh, e.g. a guardrail or wall like around a balcony) around your roof so that you may not bring the guilt of bloodshed on your house if someone falls from the roof (e.g. be punishable for breaking the sixth commandment).”
Step 2: What are the difference between the biblical audience and us?
We are no longer under the Old Covenant. We are not about to enter into the land promised to our ancestors by God. We do not live in tents in the Middle Eastern desert or Middle Eastern style houses. We have not been wandering in the desert for forty years. We are not civilians of a theocracy. We have never seen or been led by God personally in the form of a cloud or fire. Moses nor Joshua is not our mediator, Jesus is. And so on the list can go.
Step 3: What is the theological principle in this text?
Follow God’s preventive wisdom for yours and others safety.
Step 4: Does the New Testament teaching modify or qualify this principle, and if so, how?
The New Testament is full of God’s preventive wisdom for ours and others safety. There are numerous verses and passages telling us to flee something sinful and ultimately destructive (e.g. 1Cor 6:18; 10:14, 1Tim. 6:11, 2Tim. 2:22, Jam. 4:7), seek God and the things of God (e.g. Matt. 6:33; 7:7-8, Rom. 14:19, 1Cor. 7:27; 10:24), follow Jesus (e.g. Matt. 10:38, 1Cor. 11:1, Eph. 5:1, 1Jn. 2:6), don’t worry or be anxious (e.g. Matt. 6:25-31, 34, Phil. 4:6-7), be persistent and serious in prayer (e.g. Lk. 18:1, 1Pet. 4:7), owe no one anything but to love them (e.g. Rom. 13:8-9), there will be troubles and such so stand firm (e.g. Jn. 16:33, 1Cor. 15:58; 16:13, Gal. 5:1, Eph. 6:10-13), etc, etc.
Step 5: How should individual Christians today apply this modified theological principle in their lives?
Christians today should apply God’s preventive wisdom just as we would follow the prescription for our medicine giving to us from the doctor, step by step, day by day, just as instructed for as long as instructed.
The One Volume Bible Commentary, 1936
NASB Life Application Study Bible, Updated Edition, 2000
NIV Archaeological Study Bible, 2005
The Strongest NIV Exhaustive Concordance, 1999