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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 21

Poole's English Annotations on the Holy BiblePoole's Annotations



How to expiate an uncertain murder, Deuteronomy 21:1-19.

The usage of a captive taken to wife, Deuteronomy 21:10-14.

The first born, though the son of the hated, is not to be disinherited, Deuteronomy 21:15-17.

The punishment of a stubborn son, viz. death, Deuteronomy 21:18-21.

The cursed death of them that are hanged, Deuteronomy 21:22,Deuteronomy 21:23.

Verse 1

In the field, or, in the city, or any place, only the field is named, as the place where such murders are most commonly committed, and most easily concealed.

Verse 2

Thy elders and thy judges; those of thy elders who are judges; for the latter word explains and restrains the former, the judges or rulers of all the neighbouring cities, who were all concerned in this inquiry.

They shall measure, unless it be evident and confessed which city is nearest, for then measuring was superfluous.

Verse 3

A fit vicegerent and representative of the murderer, in whose stead it was killed, who by this act hath shown himself to be a son of Belial, who would not bear the yoke of God’s law. A type also of Christ, who was obliged to no work, and under no yoke, but what he had voluntarily taken upon himself.

Verse 4

Neither eared nor sown; partly to represent the hard and unprofitable and untutored heart of the murderer; and partly that such a desert and horrid place might beget a horror of murder and of the murderer.

Strike off the heifer’s neck, to show what they would and should have done to the murderer if they had found him.

Verse 5

The priests shall come near, both to direct them in all the circumstances of action and to see that the law was observed, and to bless them in God’s name, by praying for them, and absolving or pronouncing them guiltless in this matter.

Every controversy; not absolutely all manner of controversies that could possibly arise, as if their word were to determine whether there were a God or providence or no, whether God should be worshipped, and his commands observed, or no, whether Moses was a true prophet or an impostor, whether apostate and idolatrous Israelites should be punished or no, which is apparently absurd and ridiculous; but every such controversy as might arise about the matter here spoken of; nothing being more usual than to understand universal expressions in a limited sense; and indeed this is limited and explained by the following words,

and every stroke, the particle and being put expositively, of which instances have been formerly given, i.e. every controversy which shall arise about any stroke, whether such a mortal stroke as is here spoken of, a murder, which may well be called a stroke, as to smite is oft used for to kill, as Genesis 4:15; Leviticus 24:17, &c., or any other stroke or wound given by one man to another.

Verse 6

In testimony of their innocency. See Poole "Matthew 27:24".

Verse 7

They shall answer, to wit, to the priests who shall examine them and determine this controversy.

This blood; this about which the present inquiry is made; or this which is here present; for it is thought the corpse of the slain man was brought into the same place where the heifer was slain.

Neither have our eyes seen it; nor have we seen or understood how or by whom this was done.

Verse 8

i.e. Not imputed to them, nor punished in them; for God is sometimes said to

forgive when he doth not punish, as Psalms 78:38. Besides, though there was no mortal guilt in this people, yet there was a ceremonial uncleanness in the land, which was to be expiated and forgiven.

Verse 10

Thine enemies, of other nations, but not of the Canaanites, for they might not spare their women, and much less marry them, Exodus 34:16; Deuteronomy 7:3.

Verse 11

Hast a desire unto her; or, hast cleaved to her, to wit, in love; or, hast taken delight in her; which may be a modest expression for lying with her, and seems probable, because it is said, Deuteronomy 21:14, that he had humbled her, to wit, by military insolence, when he took her captive, not after he had married her, for then he would have expressed it thus, because thou hast married her, which had been more emphatical than to say, because thou hast humbled her. And here seem to be two cases supposed, and direction given what to do in both of them:

1. That he did desire to marry her, of which he speaks Deuteronomy 21:11-13.

2. That he did not desire this, or not delight in her, of which he speaks Deuteronomy 21:14.

Verse 12


1. To take off his affections from her by rendering her uncomely and deformed; but then the last words must not be rendered shall

pare her nails, but shall nourish them, or suffer them to grow, as the Chaldee, Arabic, and divers of the learned Jews and other interpreters render it. Or,

2. To express her sorrow for the loss of her father and mother, as it follows, Deuteronomy 21:13, it being the ancient custom of mourners in most nations to shave themselves, and in some to pare their nails, in others to suffer them to grow. Or rather,

3. In token of her renouncing her heathenish idolatry and superstition, and of her becoming a new woman, and embracing the true religion; which her captive condition and subjection to his will would make her inclinable to do in profession.

Verse 13

The raiment of her captivity, i.e. either,

1. Those goodly raiments in which she was when she was taken captive, instead of which she now must put on a servile habit, as this is generally understood; or rather,

2. Those servile and sordid raiments which were put upon her when she was taken captive, as the manner was to do with captives, as the phrase itself seems to intimate; as prison garments (Jeremiah 52:33 are such garments as prisoners use to wear; and garments of praise are praiseworthy or glorious garments; and it seems harsh to call those garments of captivity, which are made for and generally worn by free persons only, and which are usually taken away from persons when they come into captivity. Add, that this doth not seem to be any part or token of her sorrow, but rather a mending of her condition, and exchanging her servile habit for a better and more decent one, which might be, though this were a mourning habit.

Her father and mother; either their death, or, which was in effect the same, her final separation from them. Withal this signified her alienation from them or from their superstitious and idolatrous courses, and her translation of her love from all other persons to her husband and to the true religion. Compare Psalms 45:11.

She shall be thy wife; supposing what might very rationally be supposed of one in her circumstances, and what she signified by the foregoing rites, that she should submit to her husband’s religion, in which case the marriage might be tolerable. Or this was a permission and indulgence given to them for the hardness of their hearts, as in the case of divorce, Deuteronomy 24:1; Matthew 19:8.

Verse 14

If thou have no delight in her; either,

1. After thou hast married her; and so this is a permission of a divorce, which being indulged towards an Israelitish woman, was not likely to be denied towards a stranger. Or rather,

2. Before thy marriage; for it is not probable, that God having given him competent time for the trial of his affections to her before he was permitted to marry her, would suffer him upon so slight an occasion, within a day or two after so solemn a contract, to send her away; nor is there a word spoken here of any divorce.

Thou shalt not make merchandise of her, i.e. make gain of her, either by using her to thy own servile works, or by prostituting her to the lusts or to the service of others.

Humbled her, i.e. lain with her, as this phrase is oft used, as Genesis 34:2; Deuteronomy 22:24,Deuteronomy 22:29; Judges 19:24; Ezekiel 23:10,Ezekiel 23:11.

Verse 15

Two wives; either,

1. Both together; which practice, though tolerated, is not hereby made lawful, but only provision is made for the children in that case. Or,

2. One after another. Hated, comparatively, i.e. less loved, as Genesis 29:31; Matthew 6:24; Luke 14:26.

Verse 16

He may not; it is not lawful, because contrary to the rights and law of nature.

Before the son, or, before the face of the son, i.e. in his lifetime, as this phrase is understood, Genesis 11:28; Genesis 16:12; Genesis 25:18. And when this phrase is rendered before another, it signifies only in the presence of another, but never notes the preference of one person to another, which the Hebrews express in another manner. And this may be added to intimate, that if the eldest son were dead, and had left a child, the father was free to give the right of his first-born unto his second son, rather than to the child of the eldest. Or this phrase may be an aggravation of the fact, whereby his father did in a manner spit in his face, and fasten a reproach upon him in his very sight and presence.

Verse 17

Acknowledge, i.e. make it appear that he owns him.

Double portion; for the phrase, see 2 Kings 2:9; Zechariah 13:8; and for the thing, see Genesis 25:31; 1 Chronicles 5:1.

The beginning of his strength, i.e. the first evidence of his manly strength and ability for procreation.

Verse 19

The consent of both father and mother is required to prevent the abuse of this law to cruelty. And it cannot reasonably be supposed that both would agree without manifest necessity, and the son’s abominable and incorrigible wickedness, in which case it seems a fit and righteous law, because the crime of rebellion against his own parents was so high in itself, and did so fully signify what a pernicious member and son of Belial he would be in the commonwealth of Israel, who had dissolved all his natural obligations. Yet the Jews say this law was never put in practice, and therefore it might be made for terror and prevention, and to render the authority of parents more sacred and powerful.

Bring him out unto the elders of his city; which was a sufficient caution to preserve children from the malice of any hard-hearted parents, because these elders were first to examine the cause with all exactness, and then to pronounce the sentence.

Verse 20

Stubborn and rebellious, adds incorrigibleness to all his wickedness.

A glutton and a drunkard; under which two offences others of a like or worse nature are comprehended by a synecdoche.

Verse 21

Stoning was the punishment appointed for blasphemers and idolaters; which if it seem severe, it is to be considered that parents are in God’s stead, and intrusted in good measure with his authority over their children; and that families are the matter and foundation of the church and commonwealth, and they who are naughty members and rebellious children in them, do commonly prove the bane and plague of these; and therefore no wonder if they are nipped in the bud.

Verse 22

Which was done after the malefactor was put to death some other way, this public shame being added to his former punishment. See Joshua 7:25; Joshua 8:29; Joshua 10:26; 2 Samuel 4:12.

Verse 23

Is accursed of God, i.e. he is in a singular manner cursed and punished by God’s appointment with a most shameful kind of punishment, as this was held among the Jews and all nations; and therefore this punishment may suffice for him, and there shall not be added to it that of lying unburied, which was another great calamity, Jeremiah 16:4. And this curse is here appropriated to those that are hanged, partly because this punishment was inflicted only upon the most notorious and public offenders, and such as brought the curse of God upon the community, as Numbers 25:4; 2 Samuel 21:6; and principally to foresignify that Christ should undergo this execrable punishment, and be made a curse for us, Galatians 3:13, which though it was yet to come in respect to men, yet was present unto God, and in his eye at this time. And so this is delivered with respect unto Christ, as many other passages of Scripture manifestly are.

Be not defiled, to wit, morally; either by inhumanity towards the dead; or rather by suffering the monument or memorial of the man’s great wickedness, and of God’s curse, to remain public and visible a longer time than God would have it, whereas it should be put out of sight, and buried in oblivion.

Bibliographical Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Deuteronomy 21". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/mpc/deuteronomy-21.html. 1685.
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