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The elders represented the citizens at large, the judges the magistracy: priests Deuteronomy 21:5 from the nearest priestly town, were likewise to be at hand. Thus, all classes would be represented at the purging away of that blood-guiltiness which until removed attached to the whole community.
The requirements as regards place and victim are symbolic. The heifer represented the murderer, so far at least as to die in his stead, since he himself could not be found. As hearing his guilt the heifer must therefore be one which was of full growth and strength, and had not yet been ceremonially profaned by human use. The Christian commentators find here a type of Christ and of His sacrifice for man: but the heifer was not strictly a sacrifice or sin-offering. The transaction was rather figurative, and was so ordered as to impress the lesson of Genesis 9:5.
Eared - i. e., plowed; compare Genesis 45:6 note and references. The word is derived from the Latin, and is in frequent use by English writers of the fifteenth and two following centuries.
Strike off the heifer’s neck - Rather, “break its neck” (compare Exodus 13:13). The mode of killing the victim distinguishes this lustration from the sin-offering, in which there would be of course shedding and sprinkling of the blood.
The regulations which now follow in the rest of this and throughout the next chapter bring out the sanctity of various personal rights and relations fundamental to human life and society.
Deuteronomy 21:10-14. The war supposed here is one against the neighboring nations after Israel had utterly destroyed the Canaanites (compare Deuteronomy 7:3), and taken possession of their land.
The shaving the head (a customary sign of purification, Leviticus 14:8; Numbers 8:7), and the putting away “the garment of her captivity,” were designed to signify the translation of the woman from the state of a pagan and a slave to that of a wife among the covenant-people. Consistency required that she should “pare” (dress, compare 2 Samuel 19:24), not “suffer to grow,” her nails; and thus, so far as possible, lay aside everything belonging to her condition as an alien.
Bewail her father and her mother a full month - This is prescribed from motives of humanity, that the woman might have time and leisure to detach her affections from their natural ties, and prepare her mind for new ones.
Thou shalt not make merchandise of her - Rather, thou shalt not constrain her: literally “treat her with constraint,” or “treat her as a slave.”
Moses did not originate the rights of primogeniture (compare Genesis 25:31), but recognized them, since he found them pre-existing in the general social system of the East. Paternal authority could set aside these rights on just grounds Genesis 27:33, but it is forbidden here to do so from mere partiality.
The formal accusation of parents against a child was to be received without inquiry, as being its own proof. Thus the just authority of the parents is recognized and effectually upheld (compare Exodus 20:12; Exodus 21:15, Exodus 21:17; Leviticus 20:9); but the extreme and irresponsible power of life and death, conceded by the law of Rome and other pagan nations, is withheld from the Israelite father. In this, as in the last law, provision is made against the abuses of a necessary authority.
There were four methods of execution in use among the ancient Jews; stoning (Exodus 17:4; Deuteronomy 13:10, etc.), burning Leviticus 20:14; Leviticus 21:9, the sword Exodus 32:27, and strangulation. The latter, though not named in Scripture, is regarded by the rabbis as the most common, and the proper one to be adopted when no other is expressly enjoined by the Law. Suspension, whether from cross, stake, or gallows, was not used as a mode of taking life, but was sometimes added after death as an enhancement of punishment. Pharaoh’s chief baker Genesis 40:19 was hanged after being put to death by the sword; and similarly Joshua appears Joshua 10:26 to have dealt with the five kings who made war against Gibeon. Compare also Numbers 25:4.
He that is hanged is accursed of God - i. e. “Bury him that is hanged out of the way before evening: his hanging body defiles the land; for God’s curse rests on it.” The curse of God is probably regarded as lying on the malefactor because, from the fact of his being hanged, be must have been guilty of a especially atrocious breach of God’s covenant. Such an offender could not remain on the face of the earth without defiling it (compare Leviticus 18:25, Leviticus 18:28; Numbers 35:34). Therefore after the penalty of his crime had been inflicted, and he had hung for a time as a public example, the holy land was to be at once and entirely delivered from his presence. See Galatians 3:13 for Paul’s quotation of this text and his application of it.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 21". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany