When you build a new house, then you shall make a battlement for your roof, that you bring not blood on your house…
Obviously the letter of this precept applies only to the flat-roofed houses of the East. There the housetop has always been a place of resort. Rahab took the scouts to the top of her house in Jericho, where her flax was spread out, and hid them there. King David walked on the housetop at the hour of evening. Our Lord spoke to the Twelve of preaching upon the housetops. It is not improbable that even in our climate more use may hereafter be made of the housetops than heretofore. The pressure of crowded cities may lead to this. Already the plan of having recreation ground for children on the flat roof of a school house has been tried, where a playground could not otherwise be obtained; and it has been found to answer well. In any such case the need of a strong balustrade is, of course, as imperative as it was in Palestine. God requires that human life shall not be trifled with. Precaution should be taken that it be not, even through inadvertence, sacrificed. And this principle belongs peculiarly to our holy religion. Other forms of religion have breathed a cruel spirit, and a contempt for human life. We can imagine an Israelite chafing at such a command as this. "Religion," he might say, "is religion. Sacrifice is sacrifice. Prayer is prayer. But business also is business, and has its own necessities. May not a man build a house as he likes with his own money?" But he might be answered thus: "There is no such separation as you desire between piety and conduct. Religion does not consent to be shut up in tabernacle, temple, or synagogue. It must come out into the streets and highways, a witness for righteousness and love. It absolutely denies your right to build or to do anything whatever just as you like. The question is not what you choose, but what you ought to do." That God of order and of mercy who gave directions about stray sheep, an ox or ass that had fallen by the way, and even about the egos in a bird's nest, did not omit to legislate against fatal accidents to men, women, and children. Now, this is our God; and what He deemed worthy of His notice, and even of His legislation in the time of Moses, is certainly not forgotten or disregarded by Him now. He will not hold any man guiltless who builds a house, whether for his own residence or to be let or sold to another, and does not in the building guard against whatever is perilous to human life. A house built, or run up with defective supports, damp walls or bad drainage, violates this law. It is a structure unsafe or pernicious for man, and therefore displeasing to God. Let the owners of house property look to it. The spirit of the enactment suggests other and wider applications. Religion has something serious to say to those who possess and those who manage mines and railways, and those who send ships to sea. Calamities will happen even in the most carefully excavated and managed mines, on the most skilfully built and regulated railways, and in the stoutest and best found ships; but when they occur through parsimony, or through recklessness, the parties who are really responsible, whether or not made answerable to human justice, incur the heavy displeasure of God. He requires that all precautions which are possible shall be taken to prevent a wanton sacrifice of life. Precaution is not an interesting word. It has not a heroic sound; but it denotes a thing that is wise and that pleases God. A dashing rescue of men out of deadly peril attracts more admiration; but he does well who prevents them from falling into the danger. Neglect of due precaution is, in fact, the mother of all sorts of mischief. No harm is intended, but a little indolence or heedlessness grudges the trouble, or parsimony grudges the expense of preventive measures; and so harm is done, which no skill can remedy. The watertight doors between the compartments of the ship are left open on the very night when she is struck, and it is too late to close them when the water rushes from stem to stern and she begins to settle down into the hungry sea. Often a man falls short in his precautionary duty through overmuch confidence in himself. He needs no parapet to protect him. It is thus that men ungenerously disregard the moral safety of others. One has what is called a "strong head." Whether it be from strength or sluggishness, he can drink much wine or strong drink with apparent impunity; and on this account he laughs at abstinence. But his own son may be unable to govern himself. Far be it from us to disparage the remedial efforts that in any measure bless the world. The Gospel itself is the announcement of a Divine remedy for human sin and woe; and men act in the spirit of the Gospel when they bring cleansing and healing to those who have fallen. But what folly it is to let things go wrong in order to right them again! Surely the first duty is to prevent preventable evils. Towards such objects a good deal has been done by modern English legislation, and by the action of philanthropic societies and institutions. The influence of the Christian family, of Church, and of Sunday school ought to form a still better parapet to guard the youth of England. Is the relation to the Lord which is implied in their baptism seriously and intelligently explained to children? Are the claims of the Saviour on their love and allegiance unfolded to them? Without any premature strictness being forced upon the young, a moral parapet might be quietly and insensibly raised around them by the prayer of faith, the charm of good example, and a careful, patient training in upright speech and conduct. Alas! there are those who will, in their infatuation, leap over every such battlement and throw their lives away. But it is none the less desirable that the battlement should be there. It will save some, though not all. It is a check, though not a panacea. It gives time for reason, for conscience, for reflection, for self-respect; above all, for the grace of God, to act, and preserve men from moral self-destruction. Possibly some of you have fallen and are broken. No parapet was placed round their heedless youth, or if there was a battlement, they laughed at it and jumped over. They had taken their own way, done their own will and pleasure, ridiculed the scruples of their best friends; and let us hope they at last begin to recognise their own folly, and are bruised, and sore, and self-vexed. The mercy of God is for them. They have destroyed themselves, but in Him is their help. Jesus Christ, the Son of the Highest, is the Good Physician. He has come to heal the broken and to save the lost.
(D. Fraser, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: When thou buildest a new house, then thou shalt make a battlement for thy roof, that thou bring not blood upon thine house, if any man fall from thence.