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The Covenant Stipulations, Covenant Making at Shechem, Blessings and Cursings (Deuteronomy 12:1 to Deuteronomy 29:1 ).
In this section of Deuteronomy we first have a description of specific requirements that Yahweh laid down for His people. These make up the second part of the covenant stipulations for the covenant expressed in Deuteronomy 4:45 to Deuteronomy 29:1 and also for the covenant which makes up the whole book. They are found in chapters 12-26. As we have seen Deuteronomy 1:1 to Deuteronomy 4:44 provide the preamble and historical prologue for the overall covenant, followed by the general stipulations in chapters 5-11. There now, therefore, in 12-26 follow the detailed stipulations which complete the main body of the covenant. These also continue the second speech of Moses which began in Deuteronomy 5:1.
Overall in this speech Moses is concerned to connect with the people. It is to the people that his words are spoken rather than the priests so that much of the priestly legislation is simply assumed. Indeed it is remarkably absent in Deuteronomy except where it directly touches on the people. Anyone who read Deuteronomy on its own would wonder at the lack of cultic material it contained, and at how much the people were involved. It concentrates on their interests, and not those of the priests and Levites, while acknowledging the responsibility that they had towards both priests and Levites.
And even where the cultic legislation more specifically connects with the people, necessary detail is not given, simply because he was aware that they already had it in writing elsewhere. Their knowledge of it is assumed. Deuteronomy is building on a foundation already laid. In it Moses was more concerned to get over special aspects of the legislation as it was specifically affected by entry into the land, with the interests of the people especially in mind. The suggestion that it was later written in order to bring home a new law connected with the Temple does not fit in with the facts. Without the remainder of the covenant legislation in Exodus/Leviticus/Numbers to back it up, its presentation often does not make sense from a cultic point of view.
This is especially brought home by the fact that when he refers to their approach to God he speaks of it in terms of where they themselves stood or will stand when they do approach Him. They stand not on Sinai but in Horeb. They stand not in the Sanctuary but in ‘the place’, the site of the Sanctuary. That is why he emphasises Horeb, which included the area before the Mount, and not just Sinai itself (which he does not mention). And why he speaks of ‘the place’ which Yahweh chose, which includes where the Tabernacle is sited and where they gather together around the Tabernacle, and not of the Sanctuary itself. He wants them to feel that they have their full part in the whole.
These detailed stipulations in chapters 12-26 will then be followed by the details of the covenant ceremony to take place at the place which Yahweh has chosen at Shechem (Deuteronomy 27:0), followed by blessings and cursings to do with the observance or breach of the covenant (Deuteronomy 28:0).
V. FURTHER REGULATIONS (Chapters 22-25).
We have all heard sermons where the experienced preacher suddenly begins to roam far and wide, jumping swiftly from one subject to another in rapid succession, picking out information here and there, in order to present an overall picture. Sometimes there may seem to be no logic to it, but there usually is. And that is partly what Moses was doing here The regulations that follow may not seem to come in any discernible overall pattern, although Moses probably had one in his mind. But items are grouped together, or joined by key words and thoughts. Moses had a wide collection of laws from which he here extracted examples covering a wide range of circumstances so as to turn their thoughts back to Yahweh’s written Instruction. It was not intended to be comprehensive or detailed, but to convey an impression. (In the same way a similar lack of connections was found in many law codes).
While in some cases there is, and has been, a connection with the ten commandments, that is not sufficient to explain the miscellany of laws which we must now consider, although for such a connection see, for example, Deuteronomy 19:15-21 - ‘you shall not bear false witness’; Deuteronomy 21:1-9 - ‘you shall not murder’; Deuteronomy 21:18-21 ‘honour your father and your mother’; Deuteronomy 22:22-27 - ‘you shall not commit adultery’; Deuteronomy 23:24-25; Deuteronomy 24:7 (compare Deuteronomy 19:14) - ‘you shall not steal’. But we note that there is no mention anywhere of the Sabbath day, something which is quite remarkable if, as some think, parts of Deuteronomy were written later. It would have been seen as an obvious gap that had to be filled. But Moses may well have classed that as priestly regulation, which he rarely touches on in the speech. But these regulations which have the particular commandments in mind are found other regulations which do not obviously fit into the pattern, although attempts have been made to do it. Such attempts do, however, require a lot from the imagination.
From this point on therefore we have a miscellany of regulations which cap what has gone before. While certain connections are unquestionably at times discoverable there seem in some cases to be no particular pattern to them, apart from the important one of consideration for others, and a need to consider covenant regulations. The essence of the message was that they were to love their neighbours, and resident aliens, as themselves (Deuteronomy 10:19 compare Leviticus 19:18; Leviticus 19:34).
Chapter 22 Regulations In Respect of Concern for the Members of the Covenant Community and Creatures of the Land Yahweh Has Given Them.
In this chapter the regulations cited cover such things as lost livestock, avoiding cross dressing, conservation in nature, keeping buildings safe, avoiding cross connection of what Yahweh has established separately, maintaining a woman’s honour, and so on. The underlining principle behind them all was consideration and thoughtfulness, and respect for what belonged to God and to Israel under the covenant. The very wideness of the range is testimony to the wideness of the area covered by the covenant; concern for their neighbours’ possessions, concern for the relationship between man and woman, concern for the mother birds of the land, concern for the life of one’s guests, concern for natural things, concern for the women of the land, concern for a father’s position.
This can be analysed as follows:
a A man’s possessions were also seen as Israel’s possessions and Yahweh’s possession and are therefore seen as the responsibility of all, with each having concern for his neighbour (Deuteronomy 22:1-4).
b Men and women must respect each other’s differences because they are Yahweh’s, ‘male and female He created them’, and were members of the covenant (Deuteronomy 22:5).
c The birds in Yahweh’s land which are doing His will in multiplying are His, and must be conserved, even when a person was partaking of food from what they produced (Deuteronomy 22:6-7).
d Concern must be shown to prevent unnecessary accidental death thus depriving Yahweh of one of His people, and the tribe of one of its members (Deuteronomy 22:8 a).
d And shedding innocent blood to defile the land contrary to the covenant (Deuteronomy 22:8 b).
c Differences in creation must be respected, and respect shown for each individual created thing in the context of the whole, that the land might be wholesome (Deuteronomy 22:9-11).
b The right of a woman of the covenant to protection is upheld. Full consideration must be shown to her within the covenant while at the same time her failure to honour the covenant must be punished. Her behaviour brings either credit or disgrace on Israel (Deuteronomy 22:12-29).
a A son must not fail in consideration for his father’s position and rights within the covenant (Deuteronomy 22:30).
Note that in ‘a’ a man’s possessions must be the concern of all, while in the parallel a father’s position and rights must be the concern of all. In ‘b’ men and women must maintain their differences and in the parallel those differences mean that a woman must receive necessary protection. In ‘c’ concern must be shown for birds and in the parallel concern must be shown for different things in creation. In ‘d’ concern must be shown in order to prevent accidental death, and in the parallel to avoid shedding innocent blood in the land.
Note With Regard To Women In Chapters 21-22.
Note that in each case where a woman is involved in Deuteronomy 21-22 the woman’s position and what happened to her is emphasised first, and her rights are upheld. A woman captive must be rightly dealt with (Deuteronomy 21:10-14); a despised wife is to be given her rights (Deuteronomy 21:15-17); the woman bird is to be let go (Deuteronomy 22:6-7); a woman slighted is to be defended and vindicated (Deuteronomy 22:13-19). It is not just a question of male rights. There is full concern for the woman. At the same time the right of the father to conserve the rights of his daughters and to ensure that their future is established, is established. He is her protector. But it is not correct to see the woman as just property, even though her rights are protected by her family. She is cherished within the family, and concern is shown for her protection in the context of the family, while the bride compensation payment is an evidence of her genuine worth. Women are not seen as chattels here but have dignity and rights.
(End of Note.)
This chapter continues the ‘thee, thou’ emphasis apart from in Deuteronomy 22:24, where a group in a locality is in mind.
Looking After Other People’s Lost Belongings (Deuteronomy 22:1-3 ).
The principle behind this regulation was concern for one’s neighbour, as revealed in looking after his lost belongings with a view to restoring them, and concern for covenant property. The latter concern came out more in the original giving of these laws where the reference was to the fact that they should do this even for their ‘enemies’ (Exodus 23:4-5). There the principle of mutual guardianship of covenant property and ‘brotherhood’ was being enforced. But here Moses was seeking to establish unity ready for the days ahead. The idea was of brotherliness and helpfulness, and getting involved on behalf of others.
Analysis using the words of Moses:
a You shall not see your brother’s ox or his sheep go astray, and hide yourself from them. You shall surely bring them again to your brother (Deuteronomy 22:1).
b And if your brother be not near to you, or if you do not know him, then you shall bring it home to your house, and it shall be with you until your brother comes looking for it, and you shall restore it to him (Deuteronomy 22:2).
b And so shall you do with his ass; and so shall you do with his garment; and so shall you do with every lost thing of your brother’s, which he has lost, and you have found. You may not hide yourself (Deuteronomy 22:3).
a You shall not see your brother’s ass or his ox fallen down by the way, and hide yourself from them. You shall surely help him to lift them up again (Deuteronomy 22:4).
Note that in ‘a’ the ox or sheep has gone astray, and in the parallel they have fallen down by the way. In ‘b’ a ‘brother’s’ stray beast must be properly looked after, and in the parallel this is true also of clothing and anything the ‘brother’ has lost.
‘ You shall not see your brother’s ox or his sheep go astray, and hide yourself from them. You shall surely bring them again to your brother.’
The straying of livestock would be a regular occurrence. Here stress was laid on a man’s responsibility towards his covenant brothers. Where straying livestock were discovered they must be taken in charge and every effort made to restore them in good health to their owner.
In Exodus 23:0 the ox and the ass are mentioned, being the most valuable. But the idea behind it was simply, of course, any domestic animal. This spirit of helpfulness was absent from the law of Hammurabi which dealt more with legal positions. Indeed to retain someone else’s animal without their permission could there incur the death penalty. There all was suspicion. Here it is covenant love.
‘ And if your brother be not near to you, or if you do not know him, then you shall bring it home to your house, and it shall be with you until your brother comes looking for it, and you shall restore it to him.’
If the owner was known to live at a distance, or was for the time being unknown, the straying livestock must be housed and fed, probably separately and not mixed with his own herds and flocks, with the aim of restoring it in good condition to its owner. Where known no doubt a message would be sent to the owner, and in any case, as soon as the owner came seeking it, it was to be restored. But there was no responsibility to travel long distances in order to restore it. That was the owner’s responsibility. After a time, if no one claimed it, it would presumably simply merge in among his own animals. Its continual upkeep and the lack of an obvious owner would justify this action.
‘ And so shall you do with his ass; and so shall you do with his garment; and so shall you do with every lost thing of your brother’s, which he has lost, and you have found. You may not hide yourself.’
The sheep and cattle were mentioned first as being examples, but the same treatment in principle was to be followed with respect to any lost animal or article. They were not to deliberately let it pass unnoticed but do all that was reasonable to ensure its restoration in good condition to its owner. They were not to prevent the recovery of the articles in any way.
Being Always Ready To Give Assistance (Deuteronomy 22:4 ).
‘ You shall not see your brother’s ass or his ox fallen down by the way, and hide yourself from them. You shall surely help him to lift them up again.’
Where someone was seen to be in need of assistance with regard to his livestock which had had an accident while going along the road, or was overburdened, every assistance must be offered so as to help them. Compare Exodus 23:5.
Both these examples are a reminder to us that we should not just ignore the needs of our neighbours, but while not becoming a nuisance, should give a helping hand where we can.
Cross Dressing Is Forbidden (Deuteronomy 22:5 ).
‘ A woman shall not wear what pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment, for whoever does these things is an abomination to Yahweh your God.’
Cross dressing is strictly forbidden. It may well be that such behaviour was a part of certain religious rituals by which attempts were made to stir up, or even deceive the gods, but the principle was also laid down as a general one. Men should be men and women should be women, and they should be clearly distinguishable, and on principle should not wear each other’s clothing. To do so would be an abomination to God. From the beginning mankind was made male and female, the former as God’s representative on earth, the latter to assist him as an equal and bear children. And this distinction must be maintained and be clear to their children, and to the world.
This law respected the positions of both men and woman, and honoured their respective responsibilities. To mix them up was to dishonour both, and ignore God’s purpose for each. Both had authority in their own sphere within the covenant, which must not be trespassed on.
It may also possibly have in mind what purpose someone might have in such behaviour. By this means they might spy on each other’s behaviour, they might have nefarious reasons for entering into each others sanctums, they might trespass on each others right to privacy. They were blurring distinctions which were intended to be maintained, and providing themselves with a means of trespassing where they ought not to be. It made for suspicion and dishonesty in society.
“What pertains to a man.” This would include his weapons. Women were not to ape the man, or behave like men.
The modern attempt to blur the difference between the sexes is rebellion against God’s way of things. In His economy each have their differing function. While male and female are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28), stressing equality of status, this does not affect function. Each must act within their sphere. Such behaviour would also affect their children and coarsen society.
Israel Must Avoid All That Is Unseemly (Deuteronomy 22:5-12 )
Israel was to avoid all that was unseemly. That had applied with regard to what living things could be eaten (Deuteronomy 14:3-21). Now it applies to dressing transexually (Deuteronomy 22:5), to dealings with nature (Deuteronomy 22:6-7), and to mixing unlike with unlike (Deuteronomy 22:10-12).
Analysis using the words of Moses:
a A woman shall not wear what pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment, for whoever does these things is an abomination to Yahweh your God (5).
b If a bird’s nest chance to be before you in the way, in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs, and the mother sitting on the young, or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young, you shall surely let the mother go, but the young you may take to yourself, that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days (Deuteronomy 22:6-7).
c When you build a new house, then you shall make a parapet for your roof (Deuteronomy 22:8 a).
c So that you do not bring blood on your house, if any man fall from there (Deuteronomy 22:8 b).
b You shall not sow your vineyard with two kinds of seed, lest the whole fruit be forfeited (literally ‘be made holy’), the seed which you have sown, and the increase of the vineyard, you shall not plough with an ox and an ass together, you shall not wear a mixed fabric, wool and linen together (Deuteronomy 22:9-11).
a You shall make yourself tassels on the four borders of your robe with which you cover yourself (Deuteronomy 22:12).
Note that in ‘a’ emphasis is laid on the necessity for identification, and the same applies in the parallel. In ‘b’ a mother bird and her young must not be put together for the same treatment, and in the parallel other aspects of creation are not to be put together. In ‘c’ a parapet must be made for a flat roof, and in the parallel this is so that blood is not brought on the house.
Taking Both A Bird and Its Young or Eggs Is Forbidden (Deuteronomy 22:6-7 ).
Here what was seemly with regard to nature is in mind. Man was able to look on nature as a provider, but was not to treat it with disregard. Rather he should receive all with gratitude and watch over the provider. Compare the attitude required with regard to trees which were also providers (Deuteronomy 20:19-20). A general principle was being taught here of preserving the sources of supply.
‘ If a bird’s nest chance to be before you in the way, in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs, and the mother sitting on the young, or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young, you shall surely let the mother go, but the young you may take to yourself, that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days.’
There were two principles involved here. The first was the unseemliness of taking the young or the eggs of a bird for consumption, and at the same time eating the mother, who was fulfilling her God given responsibility of ‘multiplying’, thus taking the provision and eating the provider. This was seen as an offence against creation and against decency. The second was the principle of conservation. Some of what was found should be left so that it could reproduce further food in the future. To take the supplies and kill off the supplier was foolishness.
This has to do with taking eggs for food, not as an interesting hobby. The latter would have been looked on as waste. A bird could, of course, be shot down with a slingstone, and eaten, but it was not to be slain while it was fulfilling its God-given function. Thus this was very much a matter of principle. The point may also be of the impropriety of finding a bird nesting and killing the bird as well as stealing her young. It had similarities to boiling a kid in its mother’s milk (Deut. 14:31).
A further thing that may be in mind could be that in normal circumstances the bird could have flown to safety. It had remained to defend its young. It was fulfilling its motherhood. Under such circumstance it was to be spared on a parallel with the fatherless and widows, as an act of compassion. It inculcated a sense of decency and fair play.
“That it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days.” That this is especially added here would seem to confirm that this was seen as an exceptionally ‘good’ thing to do, and as recognition that it was conforming to creation’s purpose. It may on the one hand simply signify the benefits that would be obtained. The ready food would make it well with them, while preserving the mother would ensure future provision though their lives. But comparison with Deuteronomy 5:33; Deuteronomy 6:3; Deuteronomy 6:18; Deuteronomy 12:25; Deuteronomy 12:28; Deuteronomy 19:13 suggests that it was more because they would have obeyed Yahweh’s commandment and shown compassion and thought for God’s creative purposes and for living things. Thus they would benefit within those creative purposes. The phrases may have been added to emphasise the importance of what might have seemed to some, who were harder hearted, to be an unnecessary imposition.
Some might question whether a mother bird should be of such importance. But perhaps that should draw out the further fact that this was a real test of goodness, goodness towards something that would not appreciate it and would give no reward in return. This was one of many laws which taught that consideration should be given to the defenceless, whether human, beast or bird. Such behaviour revealed what true men who obeyed God were like. They were considerate and thoughtful in all their ways, people of compassion in all circumstances, even with the weakest.
In the end this was not saying that someone who just obeyed this particular commandment would have long life. It was rather pointing out that those who were like this would live long lives, while those not considerate in all their ways would in general not. For the fact is that righteousness contributes to long life just as being dissolute does not. Righteous behaviour tends towards good health. Furthermore a man who made friends was more likely to live longer (especially in a turbulent society) than one who made enemies. These are general principles which God supports. It brings out that God is with and guides the righteous in what contributes to health and happiness.
Any Roof Must Have A Protecting Parapet To Prevent People From Falling (Deuteronomy 22:8 ).
Here the idea was of thoughtfulness of the dangers we can put others in by carelessness with regard to safety. The roof would be a flat one that people would entertain on. Sometimes therefore they might be a bit tipsy. Every Israelite should be concerned for the preservation of all members of the covenant by all means, and for not defiling Yahweh’s land by spilling blood. The stress is on consideration for others.
‘ When you build a new house, then you shall make a parapet for your roof, so that you do not bring blood on your house, if any man fall from there.’
In all construction concern was to be shown to ensure that it was not dangerous to others, and to make it as safe as possible. They were to be concerned for each other’s welfare. This was especially so in order to prevent the spilling of blood. Thus all Israelite houses had to have a parapet. If they did not, and a man died through their negligence then innocent blood would have been spilled and the owners would bear the guilt before God. They might even be found guilty of manslaughter.
The Non-Mixing of Unlike Things (Deuteronomy 22:9-11 ).
Unlike things should not be put together as no one could have any idea how they would finally react (compare Leviticus 19:19). By dealing with things individually many problems could be avoided. There is probably underlying this the idea of respect for the distinctions within creation which must not be blurred. There may also be intended a subtle warning against being involved with the Canaanites, and thus mixing unlike with unlike, for they might be compared to grapes against grain (drunkenness against good bread), ass as against an ox bull or sheep (unclean against clean), or linen as opposed to wool (sophistication against tribal decency).
But the fact that we have three examples does suggest that there is an aspect of incompatibility in mind.
‘ You shall not sow your vineyard with two kinds of seed, lest the whole fruit be forfeited (literally ‘be made holy’), the seed which you have sown, and the increase of the vineyard.’
Practically speaking the danger of seeking to grow two things on the same piece of land was that there may not be sufficient sustenance for both, thus both might fail to grow properly. It would therefore be something best avoided. But the reference to ‘making holy’ might refer to the produce being seen as Yahweh’s and confiscated by the Sanctuary to save it from idolatrous significance, rather than to its just being naturally forfeited through its not growing properly. If this was so it may have been because such mixing was known to have religious significance among the Canaanites and/or the Egyptians, something which Moses and the people could have learned in Egypt. We know from inscriptions that Egypt had nothing against growing trees amidst grain, and that this was practised in sacred gardens. It may therefore have had an idolatrous taint.
It is, however, quite possible that grain and fruit that did not become edible was, with wry humour, spoken of as being ‘made holy’, that is, not available for eating, which would then support the first idea.
In the same way Leviticus 19:19 forbids the sowing of two types of seed in a field, presumably together. The folly of this would be that they choked each other and might grow at different rates. Thus harvesting problems would be caused.
But behind it all would seem to be the principle that what was compatible must go with what was compatible, that there be no dissension in creation.
‘ You shall not plough with an ox and an ass together.’
This may well have been because one was ‘clean’, and the other was not. To do this would thus be seeming to have a disregard for holiness. Alternately it may have been because of the incompatibility between the two and out of consideration for both. The danger with ploughing with two such different animals in the yoke could be that neither cooperated and that both were uneasy, thus making ploughing difficult. The Arabs did, however, in fact put ox and ass together in the yoke.
On the other hand the aim may have been to prevent a mutual relationship being built up between such unlike animals as they worked together, causing unnecessary distress. Such bonds between disparate animals do occur and would cause great distress on separation. Any way it is looked at the principle appears to have the animals’ welfare in mind.
Compare how Leviticus 19:19 forbids bringing two types of animal together for the purpose of breeding. This would indeed produce sterile offspring. But the stress is on the incompatability. It would be unseemly.
‘ You shall not wear a mixed fabric, wool and linen together.’
The form of the word for ‘mixed fabric’ demonstrates that it was not native Hebrew but was borrowed from another language and was probably an Egyptian loan word. This may suggest that it had a special type of religious implication. If so such a mixing of cloth might then have had connections with idolatry, the occult and magic and constantly have reminded those who wore it of such idolatry or magic, and may even have made them feel entrapped by such things.
Or it may be that we should remember that linen was what was worn by the priests. It might thus have been seen as having an aura of holiness. It may have been felt that to mix this with common wool was to degrade linen’s significance. Others have suggested that it was what prostitutes wore.
But the practical problem with mixing two types of such distinctive cloth was firstly that they might not weave well together, each having different strengths, and secondly that when washed each might react differently thus spoiling the garment (compare the new patch and old garment mentioned by Jesus (Mark 2:21)). That may indeed have been the sole reason for the restriction. Compare again Leviticus 19:19.
But the threefold repetition of examples would suggest that below all the other reasons lay the fact of incompatibility, and the importance of maintaining distinctions, whether for religious, ethical or practical reasons. And it may be that this principle was then to be extended towards ways of living. How shall two walk together except they be agreed?
A Fringe On The Robe (Deuteronomy 22:12 ).
In Numbers 15:37-41 special tassels were to be a distinctive mark of the Israelite, and were to remind him of Yahweh’s commandments. Here that requirement is simply demanded without explanation. In Numbers it was part of the nation’s dedication to Yahweh.
‘ You shall make yourself tassels on the four borders of your robe with which you cover yourself.’
One purpose of the tassels was that the Israelite should look at them and remember all the commandments of Yahweh and do them (Numbers 15:37-41). Just as they could not do there own will with regard to these tassels, so neither could they do their own will with respect to the covenant. The robe would be worn by day and serve as a blanket by night. Thus the tassels would remind them constantly of Yahweh’s covenant by day and by night. They would also be a means by which Israelites could be identified by their clothing, and would thus recognise fellow Israelites abroad or in battle, and provide a quiet means of witness to outsiders. They were the badge of the members of the covenant. They were to be attached by a dark blue thread which made them distinctive, a sign of heaven (Numbers 15:38).
But this may include the idea that the tassels would hold the robe down and prevent a man’s nakedness being revealed. The Hebrew is literally ‘with which covering you cover yourself’, emphasising the covering aspect of the garment.
Various Sexual Crimes (Deuteronomy 22:13-30 ).
The Protection Of A Woman’s Reputation (Deuteronomy 22:13-21 ).
The rather sad message behind this regulation was that all parents should retain proof of their daughter’s virginity, because some men were so evil that they might use her supposed lack of virginity on marriage in order to get rid of her without losing her dowry. It brings out the depths of man’s sinfulness. It probably indicates that divorce was not easy, which should be remembered when considering Deuteronomy 24:4, for it probably indicates that any divorce required solid reasons.
Analysis using the words of Moses:
a If any man take a wife, and go in to her, and hate her, and lay shameful things to her charge, and bring up an evil name on her (Deuteronomy 22:13-14 a).
b And say, “I took this woman, and when I came near to her, I did not find in her the tokens of virginity” (Deuteronomy 22:14 b).
c Then shall the father of the damsel, and her mother, take and bring forth the tokens of the young woman’s virginity to the elders of the city in the gate, and the young woman’s father shall say to the elders, “I gave my daughter to this man for a wife, and he hates her, and, lo, he has laid shameful charges, saying, I did not find in your daughter the tokens of virginity, and yet these are the tokens of my daughter’s virginity.” And they shall spread the garment before the elders of the city (Deuteronomy 22:15-17).
c And the elders of that city shall take the man and chastise him, and they shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver, and give them to the father of the young woman, because he has brought up an evil name on a virgin of Israel, and she shall be his wife. He may not put her away all his days (Deuteronomy 22:18-19).
b But if this thing be true, that the tokens of virginity were not found in the young woman, then they shall bring the young woman out to the door of her father’s house (Deuteronomy 22:20-21 a)
a The men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has wrought folly in Israel, to play the infamous woman in her father’s house. So shall you put away the evil from the midst of you (Deuteronomy 22:21 b).
Note that in ‘a’ an evil name is brought on the woman, and in the parallel she is therefore to be put to death. In ‘b’ his charge is that he did not find in here the tokens of virginity, and in the parallel this is the reason for her sentence. In ‘c’ the parents prove her innocence with the tokens of virginity and charge the man with laying shameful charges, and in the parallel he is punished accordingly.
‘ If any man take a wife, and go in to her, and hate her, and lay shameful things to her charge, and bring up an evil name on her, and say, “I took this woman, and when I came near to her, I did not find in her the tokens of virginity,” ’
We must assume that cases like this had occurred, so that Moses felt it necessary to issue a warning. Indeed it sounds like the citing of such a case. The idea was that the man had married the young woman and had found her unsatisfactory. Thus in order to get rid of her and keep her dowry he had accused her of not having been a virgin when he married her. That was to say, in other words, that she had previously committed fornication. That way she would be put to death and he would be free of her without losing face and without losing her dowry.
Note the wording which is disparaging to the man. He took her as his wife, he went in to her, he hated her, he laid a shameful charge against her, he brought an evil name on her. No reason is given for his change of heart so that the assumption is that it was just his own personal attitude that was at fault. He was unwilling to accept the consequences of his own actions, and sought for an evil way out. Note also how all is built around ‘he hated her’. He began with actions of love (took her as his wife and went in to her), and ended with disgraceful behaviour (he laid a shameful charge against her, and brought an evil name on her), and all because he had taken an aversion to her.
“The tokens of her virginity (bethulim).” This is usually taken to mean the blood stained garments or sheet which resulted from her hymen breaking on her first night of intercourse. It would appear that it was expected of all parents that they would have kept these after the marriage, so that if necessary they could produce them to prove their daughter’s virginity at that time. It is probable that all parents did so. (The same custom was known among some Arab tribes). While in some cases the hymen could in fact have been broken earlier as a result of vigorous activity or an accident, it would not usually be the case with a well brought up young woman.
It has, however, been suggested that what is referred to here are rather tokens which were proof that she was having periods (menstruating) right up to the time of the wedding, and had thus not been pregnant. ‘Bethulah’ at this time meant a young woman of marriageable age whether married or not (see Joel 1:8). Thus the ‘bethulim’ could indicate the proofs of young womanhood and faithfulness up to the time of the wedding. (Young women were married much younger in those days). This is supported by the later suggestion that there might be some argument about the position, while both parties would already know whether the ‘honeymoon’ sheet was bloodstained.
‘ Then shall the father of the damsel, and her mother, take and bring forth the tokens of the young woman’s virginity to the elders of the city in the gate, and the young woman’s father shall say to the elders, “I gave my daughter to this man for a wife, and he hates her, and, lo, he has laid shameful charges, saying, I did not find in your daughter the tokens of virginity, and yet these are the tokens of my daughter’s virginity.” And they shall spread the garment before the elders of the city.’
Then when an accusation was made against their daughter they could produce what they claimed to be the evidence of her virginity to the elders who were acting as judges at the city gates. It appears that these would normally be accepted as proof of the accuracy of their statement, as the parents represented two witnesses to the fact that the evidence truly related to their daughter at the important time. It should be noted that it is their testimony that is accepted. The court expected the parents to have such proof. Producing a bloodstained garment would not be too difficult. It was their testimony, and the fact that they would be known to have preserved it, that gave it added significance.
In a case like this it was essential that the wife's parents could prove that their daughter had been a virgin, not only to save her life and uphold the family honour, but in order that their daughter’s future should not be wrecked, and so that any child born could not be denied as the rightful heir. No one would be able to say that the child was illegitimate, for the wife had been demonstrated to be a virgin on her wedding night, (and would have been carefully observed afterwards). Such rights of inheritance were seen as of huge importance.
‘ And the elders of that city shall take the man and chastise him, and they shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver, and give them to the father of the young woman, because he has brought up an evil name on a virgin of Israel, and she shall be his wife. He may not put her away all his days.’
The accuser would then be taken and ‘chastised’. This probably indicated a severe beating depending on who the man was. He was also fined a hundred shekels of silver, the price of a number of slaves, which indicated the value put on a wife. This would be given to the father of the young woman as compensation for the slur on the family name, and perhaps to be held to safeguard her future. The woman would also then remain his permanent wife, because he would no longer have a right to divorce her. That right would have been lost. She would be secure from any further charges. Presumably her family would also keep an eye on her from then on. Indeed she may no longer have lived with him, but the rights of inheritance for any children she might have would have been secured.
The punishment was because he had ‘brought up an evil name on a virgin of Israel’. Israel were proud of the virginity of their young women. They were a bedrock of society. To bring an evil name on one was to bring an evil name on Israel, unless it were true.
Under the law of witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:19) we might have expected him to be put to death. But the decision here probably took into account that that would not be helpful to the injured woman. Instead he was to be sentenced to maintain her without any further accusation for life.
‘ But if this thing be true, that the tokens of virginity were not found in the young woman, then they shall bring the young woman out to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has wrought folly in Israel, to play the infamous woman in her father’s house. So shall you put away the evil from the midst of you.’
However, if no tokens of virginity could be produced the woman would be presumed guilty. Had they existed they would have been preserved. She was then to be taken to the door of her father’s house and stoned to death. This was because the parents had failed, possibly innocently, to ensure that their daughter was a virgin when they had arranged for her marriage, although professing that she was. This would incidentally support the fact that the tokens of her virginity were proof of menstruation up to marriage, as both parties would already have known whether no blood had been found on the ‘honeymoon’ sheets, and would have come to an arrangement accordingly. She would be stoned because she had ‘wrought folly in Israel’, a technical term for particularly obnoxious behaviour which was grievous to Yahweh (compare Genesis 34:7), by acting like a prostitute while living with her family.
All this would, of course, only apply if at marriage the claim had been made that she was an intact virgin. If not a certificate may well have been obtained acknowledging that that fact was known.
One lesson for us from this is the importance laid on virginity at marriage. This was God’s purpose for His people.
The Penalty For Adultery (Deuteronomy 22:22-24 ).
The accusation of the young woman, which was connected with possible adultery, now led on to an overall condemnation of adultery.
‘ If a man be found lying with a woman who is married to a husband, then they shall both of them die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman. So shall you put away the evil from Israel.’
Where a man, and a married woman who was someone else’s wife, were found having intercourse both were to be put to death. By this act they had broken her unity with her husband (Genesis 2:24). They had blasted apart a family. This was in order to put away evil in Israel. Their act was seen as a stain on, and a disruption, the whole community. The man was slain as a corrupter, the woman as one who was misusing her God-given responsibility to be a bearer of legitimate children in order to maintain the family and its inheritance.
Old Babylonian and Middle Assyrian law required a similar penalty, although in certain circumstances it could be ameliorated.
‘ If there be a young woman who is a woman of marriageable age (or virgin) betrothed to a husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you (ye) shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman, because she did not cry out, being in the city, and the man, because he has humbled his neighbour’s wife. So you shall put away the evil from the midst of you.’
A woman who was betrothed who committed adultery was to be treated in the same way as a wife, but only if it had happened in the city and she had not cried out. Houses were built so close together that the likelihood of her not being heard was very small. Note that there is no suggestion of force having been used in contrast with the next case. The man should be stoned because he had humbled his neighbour’s wife, the woman because she was deemed to have consented.
Note here that ‘the damsel who is a bethulah betrothed to a husband’ is also called ‘his neighbour’s wife’. She was a young woman of marriageable age who was betrothed (contracted to her future husband with the marriage price having been paid). She may or may not have been strictly a virgin. Intercourse within a betrothal was acceptable. But she had betrayed her trust.
Dealing With Sexual Misbehaviour (Deuteronomy 22:22-30 ).
Various aspect of sexual misbehaviour are dealt with in this passage with the most heinous at the beginning and the end.
Analysis using the words of Moses.
a If a man be found lying with a woman who is married to a husband, then they shall both of them die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman. So shall you put away the evil from Israel (Deuteronomy 22:22).
b If there be a young woman who is a woman of marriageable age (or virgin) betrothed to a husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you (ye) shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman, because she did not cry out, being in the city, and the man, because he has humbled his neighbour’s wife. So you shall put away the evil from the midst of you (Deuteronomy 22:23-24).
c But if the man find the young woman who is betrothed in the field, and the man force her, and lie with her; then the man only that lay with her shall die (Deuteronomy 22:25).
c But to the young woman you shall do nothing. There is in the young woman no sin worthy of death. For as when a man rises against his neighbour, and murders him, even so is this matter, for he found her in the field, the betrothed young woman cried out, and there was none to save her (Deuteronomy 22:26-27).
b If a man find a young woman who is a of marriageable age, who is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give to the young woman’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has humbled her. He may not put her away all his days (Deuteronomy 22:28-29).
a A man shall not take his father’s wife, and shall not uncover his father’s skirt (Deuteronomy 22:30).
Note that in ‘a’ a man is found lying with a married woman, and in the parallel a man takes his father’s wife, both liable to the death sentence. In ‘b’ the case of a damsel betrothed who lies with a man is dealt with and the remedy stated and in the parallel the case of a damsel not betrothed who lies with a man is dealt with and the remedy stated. In ‘c’ the case of a damsel betrothed who is forced to lie with a man is dealt with, and the man is to be put to death, and in the parallel she is declared innocent and is not to be put to death.
Dealing With The Rape of a Betrothed Woman (Deuteronomy 22:25-27 ).
‘ But if the man find the young woman who is betrothed in the field, and the man force her, and lie with her; then the man only that lay with her shall die, but to the young woman you shall do nothing. There is in the young woman no sin worthy of death. For as when a man rises against his neighbour, and murders him, even so is this matter, for he found her in the field, the betrothed young woman cried out, and there was none to save her.’
However, where the intercourse with the betrothed woman took place in the open country it was to be accepted that the man had forced her and that the woman would have cried out, but that no one heard. Only the man was then to be put to death. The woman was free from guilt. It was a similar case to murder. The guilty party would be seen as having ensured that he did it where no one would know, while she would be seen as the unwilling victim. Thus the woman was considered as having not been able to do anything about it, and therefore as innocent.
A Man Must Marry Permanently A Virgin Whom He Has Intercourse With (Deuteronomy 22:28-29 )
‘ If a man find a young woman who is a of marriageable age, who is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give to the young woman’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has humbled her. He may not put her away all his days.’
Compare here Exodus 22:16-17. Where a young unmarried woman was of marriageable age and could therefore be presumed to be a virgin (she was a bethulah) and a man forced on her sexual intercourse, (the impression given is of undue pressure, although no doubt it would apply anyway), then the man must pay compensation to her family of fifty shekels of silver which in Exodus 22:16 is described as a dowry, and must marry her permanently with no right of divorce. It should be noted that this was both to protect the good name of her family, and to see to the young woman’s interests. The penalty was against the man. The woman would not be bound to marry him if she did not wish to do so in which case he would still have to pay the compensation (Exodus 22:17). But society was such in those days that it was usually to her benefit to marry him.
It may seem strange to some that a woman should ever be married to the man who raped her. But we must understand the meaning of ‘lay hold of her and lay with her’. He may have been someone the woman knew well and was not necessarily averse to. His very action (in a society where everyone knew everyone else) demonstrated his deep feelings for her. There may therefore have been a willingness and readiness on her part. Indeed she may have encouraged it. Love did not necessarily play much part in the beginnings of most marriages in those days, and a young woman was expected to follow the directions and desires of her parents, even to the most unsuitable of suitors. Thus the young woman in these verses may actually have been luckier than most in marrying a man who really loved her. He would not necessarily brutalise her. And women did not then have the same expectations as today nor the same sense of their ‘rights’. They were trained to be submissive. Thus the prospect might not have appalled them as it appals us today. And there was always the opt out.
This example is a reminder to us that when a man and woman have intercourse God looks on it as putting them in a married state. They have been joined together as one flesh (compare 1 Corinthian Deuteronomy 6:16). They are one. Any subsequent sex with anyone else is therefore adultery.
A Son Must Not Make Love To His Father’s Wife (Deuteronomy 22:30 )
‘ A man shall not take his father’s wife, and shall not uncover his father’s skirt.’
The short section on sexual misdemeanour ends with the worse possible case, that of a man taking his father’s wife, (probably not to be seen as his own mother), and having intercourse with her. This would uncover his own father’s naked relationship, and would be a gross insult to the father and a great sin against him, betraying family honour and trust, and destroying family relationships. It might also be seen as an attempt to usurp his father’s place (the father may have been dead). It put the son under a curse (Deuteronomy 27:20).
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 22". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26