Deuteronomy 21
Benson Commentary
If one be found slain in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee to possess it, lying in the field, and it be not known who hath slain him:
Deuteronomy 21:1-3. Lying 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. Thy elders and judges — Those of thy elders who are judges: the judges or rulers of all the neighbouring cities. Measure — Unless it be evident which city is nearest; for then measuring was superfluous. Which hath not drawn in the yoke — A fit representation of the murderer, in whose stead it was killed, who would not bear the yoke of God’s laws. A type also of Christ, who was under no yoke but what he had voluntarily taken upon himself.

Then thy elders and thy judges shall come forth, and they shall measure unto the cities which are round about him that is slain:
And it shall be, that the city which is next unto the slain man, even the elders of that city shall take an heifer, which hath not been wrought with, and which hath not drawn in the yoke;
And the elders of that city shall bring down the heifer unto a rough valley, which is neither eared nor sown, and shall strike off the heifer's neck there in the valley:
Deuteronomy 21:4. Unto a rough valley — The Hebrew word נחל, nachal, here used, signifies either a valley or a torrent; and most probably is here meant of a valley with a brook running through it. For (Deuteronomy 21:6) the elders are required to wash their hands over the heifer, which seems to intimate that there was running water in the place. Which is neither eared nor sown — Rough, uncultivated ground, fitly representing the horribleness of the murder. The Jews say, that unless, after this, the murderer was found, this valley was never to be tilled nor sown, which made the owners of the ground employ their utmost diligence to find out the murderer, that their land might not be waste for ever. But it is more natural to suppose, that such a rough and waste place was chosen partly that the horridness of it might beget a horror of the murder, and of the murderer, and partly because the blood of the victim would have polluted cultivated ground. For, though not slain at the altar, this was a kind of expiatory sacrifice, whereby the land was to be purged from the legal pollution contracted by the murder; and such sacrifices rendered every person or thing unclean that touched them. Shall strike off the heifer’s neck — To show what they should and would have done to the murderer, if they had found him.

And the priests the sons of Levi shall come near; 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 shall every controversy and every stroke be tried:
Deuteronomy 21:5-6. By their word shall every controversy be tried — That is, every one of this kind, every one that shall arise about any stroke, whether such a mortal stroke as is here spoken of, or any other, or wound given by one man to another. In these matters they shall give sentence, being consulted by the elders or judges of the cities, Deuteronomy 17:9-12. The elders shall wash their hands — Protesting their innocence, says a learned Jewish writer, (Chazkuni,) in these words: “As our hands are now clean, so are we innocent of the blood which has been shed.” See an allusion to this, Psalm 26:6; Matthew 27:24.

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:
And they shall answer and say, Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it.
Deuteronomy 21:7-8. They shall answer — To the priests who shall examine them. 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. Nor have we seen or understood how or by whom this was done. Forgiven — Though there was no moral guilt in this people, yet there was a ceremonial uncleanness in the land, which was to be expiated and forgiven.

Be merciful, O LORD, unto thy people Israel, whom thou hast redeemed, and lay not innocent blood unto thy people of Israel's charge. And the blood shall be forgiven them.
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.
Deuteronomy 21:9. So shalt thou put away the guilt of innocent blood — Till this was done, the guilt was to be looked upon as national; but upon this being solemnly performed, the government was deemed to have done its duty, and the nation cleared of all guilt in this matter. No doubt the chief end of the appointment of this ceremony was to beget and preserve in the minds of men an abhorrence of murder, and a care to prevent or detect it.

When thou goest forth to war against thine enemies, and the LORD thy God hath delivered them into thine hands, and thou hast taken them captive,
And seest among the captives a beautiful woman, and hast a desire unto her, that thou wouldest have her to thy wife;
Deuteronomy 21:11. And hast a desire unto her — Moses here returning to the case of war with the neighbouring nations, directs that, if a Hebrew soldier conceived a peculiar regard for a captive woman, and desired to marry her, he must not do it immediately after she became his prisoner, it being of dangerous consequence for the Israelites to marry Gentile wives. He was first to keep the woman in his house for a month, at least, where she was to live in the retirement and habit of a mourner, for the loss of her parents and her country; as also to give her time to be instructed in the knowledge of the true God and his will, and renounce her idolatrous worship, and to allow him sufficient space to try whether his affection for her was calm and steady, or might cool and wear off. If this interval caused no abatement of his love, but, upon her turning proselyte, he still desired to make her his wife, he might then lawfully do it.

Then thou shalt bring her home to thine house; and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails;
Deuteronomy 21:12-13. She shall shave her head — This was one of the external signs of mourning, Leviticus 19:27; Leviticus 21:5. Shall pare her nails — This also seems to have been done in mourning. In the original it is, Shall make her nails, which may be understood of letting her nails grow, which to us seems more suitable to a state of mourning. But this is to be resolved entirely into the fashion of countries. Poole thinks that both of these things were rather to be done in token of her renouncing her heathenish idolatry and superstition, and of her becoming a new woman, and embracing the true religion. She shall put the raiment of her captivity off from her —

That is, as the French renders the words more clearly, the raiment which she wore when she was taken captive. Instead of the fine clothes wherein she had been taken captive, she was to put on sordid apparel, which was the habit of mourners. And shall bewail her father and her mother — Either their death, or, which was in effect the same, her final separation from them, being now to forget all her former relations.

And she shall put the raiment of her captivity from off her, and shall remain in thine house, and bewail her father and her mother a full month: and after that thou shalt go in unto her, and be her husband, and she shall be thy wife.
And it shall be, if thou have no delight in her, then thou shalt let her go whither she will; but thou shalt not sell her at all for money, thou shalt not make merchandise of her, because thou hast humbled her.
Deuteronomy 21:14. If thou have no delight in her — The sense may either be, 1st, If, after he had afflicted her, by making her shave her head, change her garments, &c., and keeping her a full month in hope of marriage, he should change his mind and refuse to marry her: or, 2d, If, after he had married her, and she had been his wife some time, he should conceive a dislike to her, and resolve to part with her; in either of these cases it was not to be in his power to use her as a prisoner of war, by either selling her for money, or making her a slave, but he was to give her her liberty, and let her dispose or herself as she pleased. “The wisdom and humanity of Moses,” says Philo, “are very remarkable in this law, whereby the soldiers are forbidden to indulge a hasty and brutal passion, are kept a whole month in abstinence, and thereby have an opportunity given them of knowing the temper and disposition of the woman, for whose misfortune in captivity a compassionate provision is made, by allowing her so long a time of separation and mourning.”

If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated, and they have born him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the firstborn son be hers that was hated:
Deuteronomy 21:15. If a man have two wives — This practice, though tolerated, is not hereby made lawful; but only provision is made for the children in that case. Hated — Comparatively, that is, less loved.

Then it shall be, when he maketh his sons to inherit that which he hath, that he may not make the son of the beloved firstborn before the son of the hated, which is indeed the firstborn:
But he shall acknowledge the son of the hated for the firstborn, by giving him a double portion of all that he hath: for he is the beginning of his strength; the right of the firstborn is his.
If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them:
Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place;
Deuteronomy 21:19. His father and mother — The consent of both is required, to prevent the abuse of this law to cruelty. And it cannot reasonably be supposed that both would agree without the son’s abominable and incorrigible wickedness, in which case it seems a righteous law, because the crime of rebellion against his own parents did so fully signify what a pernicious member he would be in the commonwealth of Israel, who had dissolved all his natural obligations. Unto the elders — 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.

And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.
Deuteronomy 21:20. A glutton and a drunkard — Under which two offences others of a like or worse nature are comprehended.

And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.
And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree:
Deuteronomy 21:22. On a tree — Which was done after the malefactor was put to death some other way; this public shame being added to his former punishment.

His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.
Deuteronomy 21:23. He is accursed of God — 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. And this curse is here appropriated to those that are hanged, to signify beforehand that Christ should undergo this execrable punishment, and be made a curse for us, (Galatians 3:13,) which, though it was future in respect to men, yet was present unto God. Defiled — Either by inhumanity toward the dead, or by suffering the monument of the man’s wickedness, and of God’s curse, to remain public a longer time than God would have it; whereas, it ought to be put out of sight, and buried in oblivion.

Benson Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

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