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Bible Commentaries

Kretzmann's Popular Commentary of the Bible

Deuteronomy 21

Verses 1-9

The Case of an Unknown Murder

v. 1. If one be found slain in the land which the Lord, thy God, giveth thee to possess it, somewhere out in the open, on the soil, lying in the field, where the murderer had left or dragged him, and it be not known who hath slain him,

v. 2. then thy elders and thy judges shall come forth, namely, those of the neighboring cities and towns, the elders as the representatives of the congregation, and the judges as the exponents of law and order, and they shall measure unto the cities which are round about him that is slain;

v. 3. and it shall be that the city which is next unto the slain man, even the elders of that city, shall take an heifer, a young cow, which hath not been wrought with, and which hath not drawn in the yoke, one whose strength has in no way been broken by hard work;

v. 4. and the elders of that city, not merely because some citizen of their town would be suspected of the crime, but because blood-guiltiness was upon Israel generally, and therefore especially upon the places in the neighborhood of the murder, shall bring down the heifer unto a rough valley, a rocky gorge with a perennial stream, which is neither eared nor sown, where some barren strip was useless for agricultural purposes, and strike off the heifer's neck there in the valley, break her neck in symbolical representation of the punishment which should hare struck the murderer;

v. 5. and the priests, the sons of Levi, shall come near, some from the nearest city set aside for their residence; for them the Lord, thy God, hath chosen to minister unto Him, and to bless in the name of the Lord; and by their word, according to their advice and decision, shall every controversy and every stroke be tried, they decide the quarrels and determine when a punishment by beating should be administered, as the representatives of the Lord they receive the statement of the elders and sanction their action;

v. 6. and all the elders of that city that are next unto the slain man shall wash their hands over the heifer that is beheaded in the valley, as a symbolical declaration of innocence, Psalms 26:6; Psalms 73:13; Matthew 27:24;

v. 7. and they shall answer and say, Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it, they and their city were neither guilty of the crime, nor did they have any knowledge of its commission.

v. 8. Be merciful, O Lord, unto Thy people Israel, whom Thou hast redeemed, namely, by leading them out of Egypt, and lay not innocent blood unto Thy people of Israel's charge, they asked the Lord to cover over the guilt of blood and not lay the murder to their charge, since they were innocent of the blood that had been shed. And the blood shall be forgiven them, that is, the murder would not be placed to their account. Thus the share of guilt cleaving to their city was expiated.

v. 9. So shalt thou put away the guilt of innocent blood from among you, when thou shalt do that which is right in the sight of the Lord. Cf Numbers 35:33. Doing right in the sight of God included also the proper punishment of the murderer, in case he should still be apprehended, for the rite here prescribed did not clear the criminal in the sight of God. His rule is that he who sheds men's blood, by men shall his blood be shed.

Verses 10-14

The Law of Captive Women

v. 10. When thou goest forth to war against thine enemies, those outside of Canaan, Deuteronomy 20:13-18, and the Lord, thy God, hath delivered them into thine hands, and thou hast taken them captive,

v. 11. and seest among the captives a beautiful, well-formed woman, and hast a desire unto her, said of the love which desires union in lawful marriage, that thou wouldest have her to thy wife,

v. 12. then thou shalt bring her home to thine house; and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails, that is, cut them, keep them trimmed, 2 Samuel 19:24;

v. 13. and she shall put the raiment of her captivity from off her, all these acts being in the nature of purifying rites, Leviticus 14:8; Numbers 8:7, and shall remain in thine house, and bewail her father and her mother a full month, that is, her separation from them; and after that thou shalt go in unto her, in the relation peculiar to marriage, and be her husband, and she shall be thy wife. During this month the woman would have time even inwardly to detach herself from her previous relations and to adjust herself to the idea of joining the people of God, if possible, to be filled with genuine affection for the God of Israel and also for the man, whose action in declaring his readiness to marry her had saved her from the position and lot of a slave.

v. 14. And it shall be, if thou have no delight in her, after the marriage had thus taken place, then thou shalt let her go whither she will, as a free woman, with the rights of an Israelitess; but thou shalt not sell her at all for money, such a procedure was not to be thought of, thou shalt not make merchandise of her, not attempt a violent treatment of her by selling her as a slave, because thou hast humbled her, in making use of the right of a husband. This was a humane, merciful provision, intended to protect the dignity of the woman and the sanctity of marriage.

Verses 15-17

Of the First-Born in Bigamy.

v. 15. If a man have two wives, in that unnatural relation of bigamy which the Lord permitted among the Jews, one beloved and another hated, as in the case of Jacob, Genesis 29, 30, who was indifferent to the point of neglect toward Leah, and they have born him children, both the beloved and the hated, and if the first-born son be hers that was hated,

v. 16. then it shall be, when he maketh his sons to in her it that which he hath, when he makes his will and divides his property, that he may not make the son of the beloved first-born before the son of the hated, which is indeed the first-born, his love for the one wife should not cause him to commit an injustice to the true first-born son;

v. 17. but he shall acknowledge the son of the hated for the first-born, by giving him a double portion of all that he hath, of all the property found with him, for thus the firstborn was distinguished among the children of Israel; for he is the beginning of his strength, as Reuben was that of Jacob, Genesis 49:3; the right of the first-born is his. The Lord wants no favoritism shown at any time, but demands that right and justice rule among His people.

Verses 18-21

Punishment of a Rebellious Child

v. 18. If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, disputing the parental authority in disposition and deed, which will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, being incorrigibly disobedient and refractory, and that, when they have chastened him, have punished him according to the obligation resting upon them, will not hearken unto them,

v. 19. then shall his father-and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, to the magistrates who were charged with upholding authority and therefore also with backing up the parents in such a case, and unto the gate of his place, the open space inside the city gate, where all public affairs of this nature were decided;

v. 20. and they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice, calmly disregarding all commands; he is a glutton and a drunkard, a fact which explains his rebellious behavior.

v. 21. And all the men of his city, not the parents themselves, who had no power over life and death, shall stone him with stones that he die, the whole city agreeing that the case is clear beyond question; so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear and fear. Thus parental authority was upheld among the Israelites, but at the same time guarded. A good many modern parents, who have reached the opposite extreme, in permitting their children to tread all authority, both parental and civil, under foot, might learn from this passage the fact that God will not be mocked.

Verses 22-23

Concerning the Body of One Hanged

v. 22. And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, one upon which the death penalty had been placed and also put into execution, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree, literally, "on a wood," on some form of gallows,

v. 23. his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day, before sunset, (for he that is hanged is accursed of God,) rejected as detestable and as defiling the land, that thy land be not defiled, morally, by the presence of this curse above the ground, which the offender had no longer been worthy to tread, which the Lord, thy God, giveth thee for an inheritance. This rule was carried out also in the case of Jesus, John 19:31, because, as St. Paul writes, He became a curse for our sakes, Galatians 3:13.

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Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 21". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". 1921-23.