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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Deuteronomy 17

Verse 1

Thou shalt not sacrifice unto the LORD thy God any bullock, or sheep, wherein is blemish, or any Thou shalt not sacrifice unto the LORD thy God any bullock, or sheep, wherein is blemish, or any evilfavouredness: for that is an abomination unto the LORD thy God.

Any bullock or sheep wherein is blemish. Under the name of bullock were comprehended bulls, cows, and calves; under that of sheep, rams, lambs, kids, he and she goats. An ox, from mutilation, was inadmissible for an offering on the altar. The qualities required in animals destined for sacrifice are described, Exodus 12:5; Leviticus 1:3.

Verse 2

If there be found among you, within any of thy gates which the LORD thy God giveth thee, man or woman, that hath wrought wickedness in the sight of the LORD thy God, in transgressing his covenant,

Man or woman, that hath wrought wickedness. The grand object contemplated by God in choosing Israel was to preserve the knowledge and worship of Himself; and hence, idolatry of any kind, whether of the heavenly bodies or in some grosser form, is called 'a transgression of his covenant.' No rank nor sex could palliate this crime. Every reported case, even a flying rumour of the perpetration of so heinous an offence, was to be judicially examined; and if proved by the testimony of competent witnesses-not a single witness, however, for this provision against a hasty and unjust verdict, deemed one of the wisest arrangements of modern legislation, was incorporated in the statutes of the Mosaic code-the offender was to be taken without the gates and stoned to death, the witnesses casting the first stone at him. The object of this special arrangement was partly to deter the witnesses from making a rash-accusation, by the prominent part they had to act as executioners, and partly to give a public assurance that the crime had met its due punishment.

Verses 3-7

And hath gone and served other gods, and worshipped them, either the sun, or moon, or any of the host of heaven, which I have not commanded;

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 8

If there arise a matter too hard for thee in judgment, between blood and blood, between plea and plea, and between stroke and stroke, being matters of controversy within thy gates: then shalt thou arise, and get thee up into the place which the LORD thy God shall choose;

If there arise a matter too hard for thee (cf. Deuteronomy 1:16-17; Exodus 18:22). civil or criminal cases, where there was any doubt or difficulty in giving a decision, the local magistrates were to submit them by reference to the tribunal of the Sanhedrim-the supreme council, which was composed partly of civil and partly of ecclesiastical persons. The principal of these officers were to be "the priests, the Levites" - i:e., the Levitical priests, a select number of them, including the high priest, who were members of the legislative assembly, and who, along with a proportion of brethren from the other tribes, are called by enallage (see the note at Deuteronomy 19:17) "the judge" (cf. Wilkinson's 'Ancient Egypt.,' 1:, p. 282; Hengstenberg, 'Egypt and Books of Moses, Clarke's edition, pp. 150, 151, note; Michaelis' 'Annotation' on this passage; Graves 'On the Pentateuch,' 2:, p.

22). Their sittings were held in the neighbourhood of the sanctuary, because in great emergencies the high priest had to consult God by Urim (Numbers 27:21).

From their judgment there was no appeal; and if a person were so perverse and refractory as to refuse obedience to their sentences, his conduct, as inconsistent with the maintenance of order and good government, was then to be regarded and punished as a capital crime.

Verses 9-13

And thou shalt come unto the priests the Levites, and unto the judge that shall be in those days, and inquire; and they shall shew thee the sentence of judgment:

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 14

When thou art come unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, and shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein, and shalt say, I will set a king over me, like as all the nations that are about me;

When thou ... shalt say, I will set a king over me. In the following passage Moses prophetically announces a revolution which should occur at a later period in the national history of Israel. No sanction nor recommendation was indicated; on the contrary, when the popular clamour had effected that constitutional change on the Theocracy by the appointment of a king, the divine disapproval was expressed in the most unequivocal terms (1 Samuel 8:7).

Permission at length was granted, God reserving to Himself the nomination of the family and the person who should be elevated to the regal dignity (1 Samuel 9:16; 1 Samuel 10:24; 1 Samuel 16:12; 1 Chronicles 28:4). In short, Moses, foreseeing that his ignorant and fickle countrymen, insensible to their advantages as a special people, would soon wish to change their constitution and be like other nations, provides to a certain extent for such an emergency, and lays down the principles on which a king in Israel must act, (cf. 1 Samuel 8:1-22; 1 Samuel 10:1-27; 1 Samuel 12:1-25.)

He was to possess certain indispensable requisites; he was not to be a foreigner, but a native Israelite, of the same race and religion as the people, to preserve the civil and ecclesiastical laws of the state, especially to maintain the purity of the established worship, as well as to be a type of Christ, a spiritual king, one of their brethren (Graves 'On the Pentateuch.' 2:, p. 153; also, 1:, p. 32-35; Hengstenberg, 'Christology,' 1: p. 227, 228).

Verse 15

Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the LORD thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother.

Thou mayest not set a stranger - i:e., by their free and voluntary choice. God, in the retributions of His providence, did allow foreign princes to usurp the dominion (Jeremiah 38:17; Matthew 22:17).

Verse 16

But he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses: forasmuch as the LORD hath said unto you, Ye shall henceforth return no more that way.

He shall not multiply horses. The use of these animals was not absolutely prohibited, nor is there any reason to conclude that they might not be employed as part of the state equipage. But the multiplication of horses would inevitably lead to many evils, to increased contact with foreign nations, especially with Egypt, to the importation of an animal to which the character of the country was not suited, to the establishment of an Oriental military despotism, to proud and pompous parade in peace, to a dependence upon Egypt in time of war, and a consequent withdrawal of trust and confidence in God (2 Samuel 8:4; 1 Kings 10:26; 2 Chronicles 1:16; 2 Chronicles 9:28; Isaiah 31:3).

The reason and the effect of this law are pointed out by Bochart's 'Hierozoicon;' by Paxton, 'Natural History,'

p. 205; Lowth's 'Israelite Nation,' ch. 2:, 7; Sherlock's 'Discourse on Prophecy,' dissertation 4:; Bunsen's 'Egypt's Place,' 4:, p. 559; Hengstenberg, 'Egypt and Books of Moses,' p. 222.

Bovet ('Voyage en Terre Saints' p. 310) says-`In the present day Egypt is the country of donkeys, and Palestine that of horses. In Biblical times it was the reverse, as is evident from the early rules prescribed for regulating the conduct of Israelite kings. It is well known that Solomon in this respect, as well as in many others, set himself above the law (1 Kings 10:26-29; 2 Chronicles 9:28), in his ambition to surpass all the monarchs of the East in magnificence. But the spirit of the Mosaic legislation continued to be upheld by the prophets (Isaiah 2:7), and even in an age of gross degeneracy, Zechariah, when describing the restoration of a native sovereign, represents him entering Jerusalem like the ancient judges of Israel, not upon a horse or a mule, but upon an ass of the native breed' (Zechariah 9:9: cf. Matthew 21:5).

Verse 17

Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold.

Neither shall he multiply wives. There were the strongest reasons for recording an express prohibition on this point, founded on the practice of neighbouring countries, in which polygamy prevailed, and whose kings had numerous harems; besides, the monarch of Israel was to be absolutely independent of the people, and had nothing but the divine law to restrain his passions.

The mischievous effects resulting from the breach of this condition were exemplified in the history of Solomon and other princes, who, by trampling on the restrictive law, corrupted themselves as well as the nation.

Neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold - i:e., by engaging in foreign commerce. In is point also the law was transgressed (2 Chronicles 1:15) by Solomon, who was imitated by Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:2). The kings were forbidden to accumulate money for private purposes.

Verse 18

And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites:

He shall write him a copy. The original scroll of the ancient Scriptures was deposited in the sanctuary under the strict custody of the priests (see the notes at Deuteronomy 31:26; 2 Kings 22:8). Each monarch, on his accession, was to be furnished with a true and faithful copy, which he was to keep constantly beside him, and daily peruse it, that his character and sentiments being cast into its sanctifying mould, he might discharge his royal functions in the spirit of faith and piety, of humility and a love of righteousness.

Verse 19

And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them: No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 20

That his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left: to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he, and his children, in the midst of Israel.

That he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he, and his children. From this it appears that the crown in Israel was to be hereditary, unless forfeited by personal crime.

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Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 17". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.