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CRITICAL Notes.—In this chapter certain duties social and domestic are chosen to illustrate the general application of the law.
Deuteronomy 24:1-5. Relation of man and wife. Divorce. The verses are hypothetical and should form one sentence, the first three being protasis and Deuteronomy 24:4 the apodosis. Moses neither institutes nor commands divorce, but permits, puts under careful regulations which was too prevalent, too deeply rooted to abolish. The passage harmonises with Matthew 5:31-32; Matthew 19:3-9. Favour. Dues not please him. Unclean. Nakedness, disgrace or shame (1 Samuel 20:30; Isaiah 20:4). Bill, i.e., writing of cuttings, a certificate of separation, from the man with whom the wife was one flesh (Genesis 2:24). The first husband could not take his divorced wife back again; she was defiled (Deuteronomy 24:4) by marriage with a second husband. This moral defilement not removed by divorce from the second husband even after his death; but abomination a stain upon the land, as much as incest and licentiousness (Leviticus 18:25).
A precept, similar to that in Exodus 22:25-26.
Deuteronomy 24:6-9. Various prohibitions. Upper stone is concave and covers the nether like a lid-law, prohibited either from being taken; for then the hand-mill would be injured and life endangered.
Deuteronomy 24:7. Repetition of law against man-stealing (Exodus 21:16).
Deuteronomy 24:8-9. Plague (Leviticus 13:14). Leprosy was the symbol of sin, most often the theocratic punishment, the penalty for sins committed against the theocracy, as in the cases of Miriam. Gehazi and Uzziah.—. (Abp. Trench.)
Deuteronomy 24:10-13. Warnings against oppression. In loans they must not compel the borrower to give a pledge that was really necessary for him. If a poor man pledged his cloak it was restored before night. In East, poor generally have only their daily garments to cover them at night, (cf. Exodus 22:25-26).
Deuteronomy 24:16-18. Warning against injustice. Hired servants, paid at close of day; to withhold wages for a night would entail suffering and be sin, injustice.
Deuteronomy 24:15. Of. Leviticus 14:13, and James 5:4.
Deuteronomy 24:16. Caution addressed to earthly judges. God, as Sovereign Judge of all nations might visit the sins of parents upon children (Exodus 20:5). In heathen nations whole families were involved in the penalty of the parent and were put to death together; in Israel it must not be thus (cf. 2 Kings 14:6; Jeremiah 31:29-30).
Deuteronomy 24:17. Pervert. Law against perverting right of strangers, widows and orphans repeated from (Exodus 22:20-21; Exodus 23:9); with addition not to take a widow’s pledge, for they were once strangers and bondmen in Egypt (Leviticus 19:33).
Deuteronomy 24:19-22. Portion of the friendless. No injustice done to the poor, but they must be helped out of abundance; by a forgotten sheaf in the harvest field (Deuteronomy 24:19); by the fruit of the olive tree (Deuteronomy 24:20); and by gleanings from the vintage (Deuteronomy 24:21). In Deuteronomy 24:22 the reason is given, as in Deuteronomy 24:18 and Deuteronomy 15:16.
THE SANCTITY OF THE MARRIAGE BOND.—Deuteronomy 24:1-5
The relation between man and wife here set forth is one that is sacred and binding.
I. One which must not be broken by frivolous pretexts. The original institution sets forth the perpetuity of the bond (Genesis 2:24). Divorce for a time may be tolerated, but it contravenes the order of nature and of God. No whims, no words, no slander (Deuteronomy 22:13-19), no seduction before marriage (Deuteronomy 22:28-29), must lead to separation. “What God hath joined together let not man put asunder.”
II. One which must be strengthened by every possible method. Instead of frivolous rupture there should be constant endearment. The claims of married life rise above the exigencies of military service, and can only be severed by death. “He shall not go out to war” (Deuteronomy 24:5). Domestic duties must not be sacrificed to public engagements. “Neither shall he be charged with any business.” Home must be guarded and the wife loved. “Be free at home and cheer up his wife.”
THE LAW OF DIVORCE.—Deuteronomy 24:1-4
This permissive law of divorce was one of those “statutes” given to the Israelites that were not good (Ezekiel 20:25)—i.e., not absolutely, but only relatively good; not the universal and perpetual law, but a provisional enactment suited to the demoralized state and peculiar circumstances of the Hebrew people (Romans 5:20; Galatians 3:19). They were allowed to divorce their wives without the assignation of any cause; but it was accompanied under the law with three conditions which were calculated greatly to prevent the evils incident to the permitted system, viz.—1st. That the act of divorcement was to be certified on a written document, the preparation of which with legal formality, probably by a Levite, who might admonish and counsel the parties, would afford time for reflection and repentance, as well as impart a solemn and deliberate character to the transaction. 2nd. That it was “given in (into) her hand,” either privately or publicly. When delivered privately, it was stamped with the husband’s seal, and handed to the repudiated wife in presence of her witnesses; but when done publicly it was accompanied with increased formalities, and frequently taken to the Sanhedrim, to be there deposited in their archives for preservation. 3rd. That in the event of the divorced wife being married to another husband, she could not on the termination of the second marriage be restored to her first husband, however desirous he might be to receive her. In the circumstances of the Israelitish people this law of divorce was of great use in preserving public morals, and promoting the comfort and permanence of married life.—Jamieson’s Com.
HOMILETIC HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Deuteronomy 24:1-4. Christ’s toleration of divorce. Viewing these words in relation to Matthew 19:1-12, we learn—
1. That this was concessive legislation; a deviation from the eternal standard of right, not a change of law—moral, like natural law, is unchangeable. Moses suffered them, “but from the beginning it was not so.”
2. That it was conceded on account of their “hardness of heart.” They had fallen into that condition in which obedience to the higher law was impossible. The least of two evils was chosen. But for divorce the woman might have been the victim of tyranny, rigour and death. But while permitting divorce, Moses restricts it.
Checks upon divorce. He enacts
(1) that divorce must not take place as hithertofore at the arbitrary will and pleasure of the husband, and by mere word of mouth, but by reason given, and by means of a written and formal document. This legal document would require time and the intervention of public authority to attest sufficiency and due execution. This delay would give opportunity for reconsideration, interposition of magistrates to admonish and prevent frivolous complaints.
(2) That the divorced wife who had married a second time shall never return to her first husband. This would admonish the parties that divorce once consummated would be irreparable and ought not therefore to be brought about rashly and lightly.—(Speak. Com.)
Deuteronomy 24:1-5. The rights of woman.
1. To legal divorce when justified.
2. To be treated with due respect at home. Other systems degrade, but this exalts woman.
THE SACREDNESS of HUMAN LIFE.—Deuteronomy 24:6-7; Deuteronomy 24:10-12
In these prohibitions we see the sacredness of life in its various conditions and changes.
I. The implements by which life is sustained must not be taken. The millstone was the only means of grinding corn for daily sustenance. To take any part would hinder work, prevent the payment of debt, and injure “a man’s life.” Tools are needful to trade; beds, clothing, and cooking utensils to the comforts of life. We must work with our hands the tiling that is good that we may “have to give to him that needeth” (Ephesians 4:28).
II. The freedom by which life is enjoyed must be respected. To steal or sell a man was a capital offence, “That thief shall die.” Kidnapping deprives of liberty that gives life its chief value. Many would prefer death to slavery. To be made a slave would be a calamity most terrible, and when this results from kidnapping it is the most crushing of all misfortunes. Joseph was sold. Egyptian and classic history, American slavery, and African serfdom tell of bloody scenes enacted for purposes of man stealing. The law of Moses and the Gospel of Christ were greatly needed to check the atrocious crime. “He that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death” (Exodus 21:16)
III. The House in which life in spent must not be invaded. The pledge must not be fetched out of the house. The owner must bring it to the door. “An Englishman’s house is his castle.” The home of the poor must be as safe as the mansion of the rich; the hut of the serf as sacred as the palace of the prince. Thank God for the security and sanctity of home!
What can be sweeter than our native home!
Thither for ease and soft repose He come;
Home is the sacred refuge of our life.—Dryden.
REMEMBRANCE OF THE PAST.—Deuteronomy 24:8-9
No house was to be visited by a lender, but in case of leprosy the priest might enter and examine it. Home was to be inviolable except when public security demanded exposure. Hence special warning is given to avoid any sin which might bring the plague. Miriam’s case is prominently set forth. Learn—
I. The past history records interventions of God. God is in our own history—in the history of all nations, but especially in Jewish history. Under the Theocracy are remarkable instances of sins and punishments.
II. These interventions of God should be remembered by us. Israel were to remember “what the Lord God did” in Egypt and “by the way” to Canaan. “Memory is the conservative faculty,” says Sir W. Hamilton. It preserves from oblivion events of importance, and puts them again before our eyes. “Remember Lot’s wife.” “Remember what the Lord thy God did unto Miriam.”
III. Obedience to this rule will convert past history into help for the future. The future lies before us; the past is the period of facts, pleasing or painful. It is the storehouse of instruction and encouragement. Things which are written in Scripture and in history are written “for our learning.” Sin brings punishment, and obedience God’s favour. Let us avoid the one and secure the other. “All these things happened unto them for ensamples (types, figures), and they are written for our admonition (warning)” (1 Corinthians 10:11).
PROTECTION FOR THE UNFORTUNATE.—Deuteronomy 24:10-17
In these words we have warnings against injustice and oppression of the poor—
I. The poor must not be compelled to lend unlawful pledges. “The borrower is servant to the lender,” and may be forced to servile bondage. Man thus becomes an alien to his brother, and often the victim of gratification—not the object of sympathy. The widow’s raiment was not to be taken (Deuteronomy 24:17). The borrower was not to be compelled to give up any pledge needful for life and comfort. This would check strife, save from mendicancy, and urge generosity.
II. The condition of the poor must not be needlessly exposed. The lender was not to go into the house of the borrower (Deuteronomy 24:10). He must spare his neighbour feelings, and not require exposure of his home or declaration of insolvency. The creditor must not be insolent, but mitigate severity and preserve good feeling. “Blessed is he that considereth the poor.”
III. The wages of the poor must not be withheld. “Thou shalt give him his hire” (Deuteronomy 24:16). He sets his heart, has special desire for it, and his distress should urge its due payment. To withhold it for a night would be injustice, and inflict great suffering. This humane law was highly esteemed in after times. “He who treats a hireling with harshness sins as grievously as if he had taken away life, and transgresses five precepts.” It is robbery and a special sin against God. “Thou shalt not defraud thy neighbour, neither rob him: the wages of him that is hired shall not abide with thee all night until the morning (Leviticus 19:13).
IV. The poor must not be deprived of justice (Deuteronomy 24:17). The repetition of this law indicates the strong tendency of the Jewish people to oppress and illume strangers and the desire of the Moses to check it. They must not upbraid the stranger for his nationality nor remind him of his former idolatry. Their own bitter experience should remind them of this inhumanity. “Thou wast a bondman in Egypt.” Our own humiliation should soften our hearts towards others and teach as that the security of society depends upon the equal rights of all its ranks.
IMPORTANT RECOLLECTION.—Deuteronomy 24:18
The admonition may seem needless, but we are prone to forget God’s works and wonders. We have need to be stirred up to remembrance for four purposes. First, for the purpose of humility. We think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think. With the lowly is wisdom. If wise, we were once foolish; if justified, we were once condemned; if sons of God, we were once servants of sin. Look to the rock from whence hewn. Second, for the purpose of gratitude. If affected by kindness from our fellow creatures, should we overlook our infinite Benefactor. We have no claims upon Him and should be thankful for all His benefits. But herein is love. Blessed be the God of Israel, for He hath visited and redeemed His people. Thirdly, for the purpose of confidence. David argued from the past to the future. Because thou hast been my help, therefore under the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice. Here we have peculiar reason for encouragement. What were we when He first took knowledge of us? Was the want of worthiness a bar to His goodness then? Will it be so, now? Is there variableness or shadow of turning with Him? Is there not the same power in His arm and the same love in His heart? Did He pardon me when a rebel, and will He cast me off now that He has made me a friend? “He that spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all,” etc. Fourthly, for the purpose of pity and zeal. How many round about you in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity ready to perish? You know the state they are in, and the blessedness of deliverance from it. You are witnesses what God is able and willing to do. Invite the prisoners of hope to turn to Him—you can speak from experience.—Jay.
HOMILETIC HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Deuteronomy 24:8-9. The Plague of Leprosy.
1. Miriam’s sin.
2. Miriam’s punishment
3. Miriam a warning to others. “Take heed.”
Deuteronomy 24:10-15. Social Laws. Law is the bond of social morality.
1. Laws of lending and borrowing.
2. Laws of social intercourse. Regard the circumstances and the homes of the poor.
3. Laws of labour. Hiring—prompt and frequent payment of labourer’s wage.
Deuteronomy 24:15. Setteth his heart. How exceedingly natural is this! The poor servant who seldom sees money, yet finds from his master’s affluence that it procures all the conveniences and comforts of life, longs for the time when he shall receive his wages. Should his pay be delayed after the time is expired, he may naturally be expected to cry unto God against him who withholds it.—A. Clarke.
“Lest he cry.” A crying sin (cf. James 5:3), condemned by the very light of nature. Plato would have him double paid that is not paid in due time.—Trapp.
Deuteronomy 24:17-18. Three classes mentioned as liable to oppression.
1. The stranger; seldom protected by any legislation, unless they had become permanent residents.
2. The fatherless.
3. The widow. The right of widows and orphans were protected generally by civilised communities. But protection is often insufficient, therefore the command of God and the legal penalty certain to fall on those who offend. “Oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, not the poor,” etc. (Zechariah 7:9).
Deuteronomy 24:18. Remember. Most people who have affluence, rose from comparative penury; for those who are born to estates frequently squander them away; such therefore should remember what their feelings, their fears, and anxieties were when they were poor and abject. A want of attention to this most wholesome precept, is the reason why pride and arrogance are the general characteristics of those who have risen in the world from poverty to affluence, and it is the conduct of those men which gave rise to the rugged proverb, “Set a beggar on horseback, and he’ll ride to the devil.”—A. Clarke.
HARVEST LAWS.—Deuteronomy 24:19-21
In these words we have the earliest poor law that we read of in the code of any people, uniting the obligation of public duty with private benevolence.
I. God has special regard for the poor. The stranger, the fatherless, and the widow were defended by special providence. “The Lord’s poor are the Lord’s care.” The Mosaic law is full of tender provisions for them. To neglect, despise or reproach them is to mock God himself. “Whoso mocketh the poor reproacheth his Maker” (Proverbs 17:5).
II. God demands that our charity should be constantly exercised towards the poor. “The poor ye have always with you” to remind us of dependence upon God; to beget kindly feeling and cultivate constant charity.
1. He gives substance for charity. The harvest, the olive tree, and the vine, the fruits of the farm, and the results of labour and skill are His gifts. “What comes from God’s bounty should be laid out to God’s glory.” “Honour the Lord with thy substance,” etc. (Proverbs 3:9).
2. He gives seasons for charity—seed time and autumn—seasons of trial and want. Our bounties are never amiss—never out of season. “To everything there is a season and a time” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).
III. The motive which should prompt this charity is God’s goodness to us. “Remember thou wast a bondman in Egypt.” How often does God appeal to us on this ground? Facts in our experience and history enjoin warmest and purest benevolence to the wretched and defenceless—facts which many would turn to the cherishing of rancour, malevolence, and misanthropic feeling. God regardeth not persons; He knoweth no ritualistic and national differences. “He it is that executeth the judgment of the fatherless and the widow, and Who loveth the stranger to give unto Him food and raiment. Wherefore thou also must love the stranger, for ye yourselves were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
GLEANING A DIVINE ORDINANCE
I. The privilege of gleaning as accorded to the jew: “freely they have received” of God, and “freely they were to give.”
II. The far higher grounds of this privilege as existing among us. Let it be recollected from what misery we have been redeemed, and can we find a stronger argument than this for liberality to the poor. Learn—
1. As gleaners, avail yourselves of your privilege.
2. As proprietors, perform the duties that are here enjoined you.—C. Simeon, M. A.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 24
Deuteronomy 24:1-4. Divorcement. An idea may be formed of the social state of Palestine at the beginning of the Christian era from the existing condition of the Jews in that country. “Wherever the teaching of the oral law prevails unchecked, as in the holy cities of the East, the concocting of divorces forms a chief branch of the business of a Rabbi—he is occupied incessantly in putting asunder what God hath joined—and as a consequence those cities are full of poor, unhappy divorced women and girls, with all the intrigues inseparable from a state of things which saps the very foundations of society.”—Jewish Intelligence, September, 1863.
Deuteronomy 24:5. Taken a wife. After the battle of Granicus, previously to going into winter quarters, Alexander the Great proclaimed to all of his soldiers who had married that year, that liberty was granted them to return home to Macedonia and pass the winter in the society of their wives; appointing the officers to conduct this howeward bound party and to bring them back to the army when their furlough was expired.—cf. Jam. Com.
Deuteronomy 24:8. Leprosy. By others’ faults wise men correct their own. “Therefore,” says Bp. Hall, “God strikes some that he may warn all.”
Deuteronomy 24:10-15. Poor. It was the advice of a bishop to a candidate for ordination, “Take care of the poor, and the Lord will take care of you.” The history of that clergyman (who is still living) has most remarkably justified the wisdom of the counsel and verified the truth of the prediction.—G. S. Bowes.
Deuteronomy 24:19-21. Harvest field.
“Ye who have sown,
And reap so plenteously, and find the grange
Too narrow to contain the harvest given,
Be not severe, nor grudge the needy poor
So small a portion. For He who gave
Will bounteously reward the purposed wrong
Done to yourselves; nay, more, will twice repay
The generous neglect.”
Deuteronomy 24:22. Stranger.
Love’s special care
Are strangers poor and friendless.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 24". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25