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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Deuteronomy 22

Verses 1-8

6. Laws arising from the sixth commandment 19:1-22:8

The sixth commandment is, "You shall not murder" (Deuteronomy 5:17). The representative laws in this chapter all protected people who were vulnerable for one reason or another. Civil law is in view.

Respect for life 21:22-22:8

This section opens and closes with references to death (Deuteronomy 21:22; Deuteronomy 22:8) placing it within the legislation dealing with the sixth commandment. [Note: See Kaufman, pp. 134-37.]

B. An exposition of selected covenant laws Chs. 12-25

Moses’ continuing homiletical exposition of the Law of Israel that follows explains reasons for the covenant laws that arose from the Ten Commandments. This address concludes with directions for celebrating and confirming the covenant (Deuteronomy 26:1-15). The section contains a mixture of laws previously revealed to the Israelites and other laws not previously revealed in the code given at Sinai (Exodus 20:1 to Exodus 23:19). This is instruction preached rather than codified as comprehensive legislation.

"The specific laws in this section were given to help the people subordinate every area of their lives to the LORD, and to help them eradicate whatever might threaten that pure devotion." [Note: Deere, p. 283.]

"Placement of the instruction about worship at the sanctuary in first position indicates clearly its priority for Deuteronomy, which assumes that the starting point for the proper, full, and exclusive love of the Lord (the primary demand of the first and second commandments and the Shema) is found in the way Israel carries out the activities of worship." [Note: Miller, p. 129.]

There is an obvious general movement from laws dealing with Israel’s religious life (Deuteronomy 12:1 to Deuteronomy 16:17) to those affecting her civil life (Deuteronomy 16:18 to Deuteronomy 22:8) and finally to those touching personal life (Deuteronomy 22:9 to Deuteronomy 26:15).

Two insightful writers suggested the following outlines for these chapters. [Note: Merrill, Deuteronomy, pp. 218-331; and Stephen A. Kaufman, "The Structure of the Deuteronomic Law," MAARAV 1 (1978-79):105-58.]

CommandmentMerrillKaufmanDescription
1Deuteronomy 12:1-31ch. 12Fidelity
2Deuteronomy 12:32 to Deuteronomy 13:18ch. 12Worship
3Deuteronomy 14:1-21Deuteronomy 13:1 to Deuteronomy 14:27Name of God
4Deuteronomy 14:22 to Deuteronomy 16:17Deuteronomy 14:28 to Deuteronomy 16:17Sabbath
5Deuteronomy 16:18 to Deuteronomy 18:22Deuteronomy 16:18 to Deuteronomy 18:22Authority
6Deuteronomy 19:1 to Deuteronomy 22:8Deuteronomy 19:1 to Deuteronomy 22:8Murder
7Deuteronomy 22:9 to Deuteronomy 23:18Deuteronomy 22:9 to Deuteronomy 23:19Adultery
8Deuteronomy 23:19 to Deuteronomy 24:7Deuteronomy 23:20 to Deuteronomy 24:7Theft
9Deuteronomy 24:8 to Deuteronomy 25:4Deuteronomy 24:8 to Deuteronomy 25:4False witness
10Deuteronomy 25:5-19Deuteronomy 25:5-16Coveting

". . . the entire second discourse of Moses (Deuteronomy 5-26) is a single literary unit that convincingly demonstrates that the moral law informs the statutes, judgments . . . and commands of God." [Note: Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Toward Old Testament Ethics, p. 129.]

In contrast with the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 20-23), the Deuteronomic Code, as some scholars prefer to call this section (chs. 12-26), is a popular exposition rather than a formal legal code. Its purpose was to explain to the generation entering the land all the laws that needed clarification, emphasis, and application, in view of Israel’s imminent entrance into Canaan. These laws reflect a centralized, monarchical society.

The value of this section of Scripture to the Christian today lies primarily in its revelation of the heart, mind, and will of God. The modern student of these chapters should look for this kind of insight here. This is the revelatory value of the Law.

Verses 1-8

Preventing accidental death 22:1-8

Love for one’s neighbor comes through in several concrete situations in Deuteronomy 22:1-4. Failure to get involved and help a neighbor in need is also wrong under the New Covenant (James 2:15-16; 1 John 3:17).

Men appeared in women’s clothing and vice versa (Deuteronomy 22:5) in some of the worship rituals of Astarte. [Note: Ibid., p. 234.] Furthermore transvestism did and still does have associations with certain forms of homosexuality. [Note: Craigie, The Book . . ., p. 288.] Perhaps for these reasons God gave the command to wear clothing appropriate to one’s own sex as well as because God intended to keep the sexes distinct (Deuteronomy 22:5). Homosexuality was punishable by death in Israel (Leviticus 20:13).

"There are positive values in preserving the differences between the sexes in matters of dress. The New Testament instruction in Galatians 3:28, that there is neither male nor female, but that Christians are all one in Christ Jesus, applies rather to status in God’s sight than to such things as dress. Without being legalistic some attempt to recognize the relative difference of the sexes, within their common unity as persons, is a principle worth safeguarding." [Note: Thompson, p. 234.]

Deuteronomy 22:6-7 show that God cares for the least of His creatures, and He wanted His people to do the same. Israelites could not kill mother birds along with their young or vice versa.

"The affectionate relation of parents to their young which God had established even in the animal world, was to be kept just as sacred [among animals as among humans, Deuteronomy 22:6-7]." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 3:410.]

Another view is that this law taught the Israelites to protect this important source of food, namely, eggs. [Note: Deere, p. 302. On the law of the bird’s nest (Deuteronomy 22:6-7), see Robert M. Johnston, "The Least of the Commandments: Deuteronomy 22:6-7 in Rabbinic Judaism and Early Christianity," Andrews University Seminary Studies 20:3 (Autumn 1982):205-15.] Building parapets on their flat-roofed houses, to keep people from falling off, reminded them of the value of human life and to love their neighbors (Deuteronomy 22:8).

Verses 9-12

Illustrations of the principle 22:9-12

The laws against mixing seed, animals in yoke, and fibers in clothing (Deuteronomy 22:9-11) may have had a double significance. They taught the Israelites the importance of purity and keeping things distinct ". . . because the order of the world must not be endangered." [Note: C. Houtman, "Another Look at Forbidden Mixtures," Vetus Testamentum 24:2 (1984):227.] They may have also illustrated the importance of remaining separate from the Canaanites (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:14-18). Oxen and donkeys would have not been a good combination when yoked together because they would pull at different rates. Wool was the fiber from which the Israelites made their clothing. However the Canaanites, especially the Canaanite priests, dressed in linen. [Note: See Calum Carmichael, "Forbidden Mixtures," Vetus Testamentum 32:4 (1982):394-415.] Tassels (Deuteronomy 22:12) were also visual aids (cf. Numbers 15:37-41).

"One of the ways the purity of the people is to be maintained, one that sounds rather strange in the contemporary world, is the insistence that things be kept in order and not mixed up inappropriately." [Note: Miller, p. 162.]

Verses 9-18

7. Laws arising from the seventh commandment 22:9-23:18

The seventh commandment is, "You shall not commit adultery" (Deuteronomy 5:18). Adultery involves mixing people in a way that they should not mix. The Israelites need to keep things properly apart separate.

"Known elsewhere in the ancient Near East as the ’Great Sin,’ adultery epitomizes all that impurity means, whether in family, social, political, or religious life." [Note: Merrill, Deuteronomy, p. 299.]

Verses 13-30

The marriage relationship 22:13-30

Moses considered seven types of cases in these verses.

The first case (Deuteronomy 22:13-19) is of a man who marries a woman and then falsely charges her with being a harlot (not being a virgin when he married her). If the girl could prove her virginity, her husband would have to pay a large fine (cf. 2 Samuel 24:24) to her father and remain married to the girl. Note that his law clarifies that God permitted divorce among the Israelites in some situations (because of the hardness of their hearts; cf. Deuteronomy 22:28-29; Deuteronomy 21:14; Deuteronomy 24:1-4). The evidence of the girl’s virginity was the blood on her dress or bedclothes on the wedding night. Some Bedouin and Moslem parents still retrieve and keep these to prove virginity if necessary. [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 3:411; Kalland, p. 138.]

The second case (Deuteronomy 22:20-21) involved a similar situation, but in this instance the girl was not a virgin. She would suffer stoning for being a harlot, a capital offense in Israel. These verses reveal that sex before marriage is sinful and serious in God’s sight (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:1-2). Premarital sex presumes to seize the highest privilege in marriage (i.e., intimacy through sexual union that results in the "one flesh" relationship). It does so without shouldering the responsibility, namely, permanent commitment to one another (expressed as "cleaving" in Genesis 2:24). It therefore perverts marriage, the basic institution of society. It presumes to dictate to God by altering His plan. Not everyone who has engaged in premarital sex has thought this through, but this is the basic reason premarital sex is wrong. To the engaged couple committed to one another and tempted to have sex before their marriage I would say postpone sex until the marriage has taken place. Scripture regards sex as the consummation of marriage, what takes place after the couple has completed everything else involved in the establishment of marriage (cf. Genesis 2:24). [Note: A good book to give teenagers tempted to have premarital sex is Al Haffner’s The High Cost of Free Love.]

The third case (Deuteronomy 22:22) decreed that a man who committed adultery with a married woman would die along with the woman.

The fourth case (Deuteronomy 22:23-24) dealt with a man who had intercourse with an engaged girl in a city. Both individuals would die by stoning. Israelites regarded engaged girls as virtually married and even called them wives (Deuteronomy 22:24). Thus they treated the man as having committed adultery, as in case three. The girl died because she did not cry out for help; she consented to the act. Apparently Moses was assuming that if she had cried out someone in the city would have heard and rescued her.

The fifth case (Deuteronomy 22:25-27) involved a situation similar to case four, but the intercourse took place in an isolated field. In this instance only the man died, assuming the girl cried for help but no one heard her. Presumably if it was clear that she did not cry out she would have died too.

The sixth case (Deuteronomy 22:28-29) had to do with a man and a virgin who had intercourse before they became engaged. In this case they had to marry and could not divorce. The man had to pay a penalty to his father-in-law too (cf. Exodus 22:16-17).

The seventh case (Deuteronomy 22:30) Moses stated in terms of a general principle. God forbade incest in Israel. "Uncovering the skirt" is a euphemism for sexual intercourse in Scripture (Deuteronomy 27:20). To do this means to encroach on another person’s marital rights. To "cover" in this sense represents committing to marry (cf. Ruth 3:9).

"One of the most important and difficult tasks in the interpretation of the Scriptures in general and of the passages that deal with women and marriage in particular, is the need to discern which elements are cultural, temporary, and variable, and which ones are transcultural, timeless, and universal." [Note: Edwin Yamauchi, "Cultural Aspects of Marriage in the Ancient World," Bibliotheca Sacra 135:539 (July-September 1978):241.]

God designed these laws to stress the importance of monogamy in a polygamous culture.

Marital ". . . purity and fidelity are essential to the well-being of society." [Note: Thompson, p. 238.]

God’s people need to keep sex in its proper place in relation to marriage (cf. Hebrews 13:4). The focus of this entire chapter is how to apply love.

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 22". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/deuteronomy-22.html. 2012.