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DIRECTIONS IN REFERENCE TO THE MATTER OF DIVORCE, Deuteronomy 24:1-4.
Moses does not here give the husband the right to put away his wife. The privilege of divorce is assumed as a custom already in vogue. The provision here made is, “If a man married a wife, and he put her away with a letter of divorce because she did not please him any longer, and the divorced woman married another man, and he either put her away in the same manner or died, the first husband could not take her as his wife again.” Keil. The letter of divorce was her proof that the marriage had been legally dissolved, and that she was at liberty to marry again. No doubt, there had been instances where parties who had been thus separated wished to be again united in marriage, even after the divorced wife had been married to another husband. But if it were enacted, as it here is, that the wife who had been put aside could never again be married to the same husband, he would consider the matter carefully before he demanded a separation.
The whole passage may be translated as follows: “If a man hath taken a wife, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes because he has found some blemish in her, and given her a bill of divorcement and given it into her hand and sent her forth from his house, and if she has departed out of his house and become another man’s wife, and if the latter husband hate her and give her a bill of divorcement and give it into her hand and send her forth from his house, or if the latter husband who took her as his wife die, the former husband who sent her away cannot take her again as a wife.”
1. Some uncleanness in her The meaning of the expression ערות דבר , which our translators have rendered some uncleanness, as an occasion for divorce, was disputed among the Jewish rabbins. One school, that of Hillel, explained it in the spirit of the question addressed to the Saviour by the Pharisees (Matthew 19:3) for every cause, and held that a man could divorce his wife for any disgust that he felt toward her, or even if he saw another woman that pleased him more. But the school of Schammai held it to mean that divorce could take place only in cases of unchastity. Divorce is still very common among the Jews in the East. In a single year there were sixteen cases of divorce in the small Jewish population of Jerusalem. A Jew may divorce his wife for any cause, he himself being the sole judge. But to prevent divorces in a sudden fit of spleen, the bill of divorce must have the concurrence of three rabbins and be written on ruled vellum containing neither more nor less that twelve lines; and it must be given in the presence of ten witnesses. See FARRAR’S Life of Christ, vol. ii, p. 153.
5. When a man hath taken, etc. We read in chap. Deuteronomy 20:7, that the man betrothed was to be exempt from serving in the army when a battle was impending. Here provision is made that the newly married man not only be exempt from military service, but from any business. No public burdens were to be placed upon him. In the Mosaic legislation marriage was honourable and desirable.
6. No man shall take the… millstone to pledge The handmill of the people consisted of two stones. It was necessary for preparing the ordinary food of the family, and was therefore exempt from execution for debt. Comp. Exodus 22:25-26.
7. Stealing any of his brethren A repetition of the law against man-stealing. Comp. Exodus 21:16.
Maketh merchandise of him The same verb is here used that is employed in Deuteronomy 21:14. It means to lay hands upon one, to use violence, to treat one as a slave.
8. Take heed in the plague of leprosy Keil understands the meaning of the passage to be, Be on thy guard because of the plague of leprosy, that thou dost not have to bear it as the punishment for thy rebellion against what the priests teach according to the commandment of the Lord.
9. Remember what… thy God did unto Miriam The case of Miriam, the sister of Moses, is here introduced to enforce the admonition. She became “leprous, white as snow.” Numbers 12:10.
10. When thou dost lend, etc. The creditor was not to go into the house of the debtor to exact such a pledge as he deemed the best security, but he was to let the borrower bring out to him what he might be able to spare.
12. Thou shalt not sleep with his pledge As the poor debtor might have nothing to cover him but his outer garment, which served him for his bed. This the creditor was not to keep at night. Comp. Exodus 22:25-26.
14, 15. Thou shalt not oppress a hired servant These merciful provisions for the poor are in the main from Leviticus 19:13.
16. The fathers shall not be put to death for the children Among the Eastern nations the family of the guilty criminal was frequently made to suffer, the innocent with the guilty. Comp. Esther 9:13-14.
17, 18. Thou shalt not pervert, etc. The law is repeated from Exodus 22:21-22, and Exodus 23:9, with the addition that a widow’s raiment was not to be taken as a pledge.
19-22. Harvest… olive tree… grapes Strangers, widows, and orphans were to be allowed to glean in the time of the harvest and the vintage. Comp. Leviticus 19:9-10; Leviticus 23:22.
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 24". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25