Deuteronomy 21
Clarke's Commentary
If a man be found slain in a field, and the cause of his death be unknown, the murder shall be expiated by the sacrifice of a heifer in an uncultivated valley, Deuteronomy 21:1-4. The rites to be used on the occasion, Deuteronomy 21:5-9. The ordinance concerning marriage with a captive, Deuteronomy 21:10-14. The law relative to the children of the hated and beloved wives: if the son of the hated wife should be the first-born he shall not be disinherited by the son of the beloved wife, but shall have a double portion of all his father's goods, Deuteronomy 21:15-18. The law concerning the stubborn and rebellious son, who, when convicted, is to be stoned to death, Deuteronomy 21:19-21. Of the person who is to be hanged, Deuteronomy 21:22. His body shall not be left on the tree all night; every one that is hanged on a tree is accursed of God, Deuteronomy 21:23.

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:
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:
Shall bring down the heifer unto a rough valley - נחל איתן nachal eythan might be translated a rapid stream, probably passing through a piece of uncultivated ground where the elders of the city were to strike off the head of the heifer, and to wash their hands over her in token of their innocence. The spot of ground on which this sacrifice was made must be uncultivated, because it was considered to be a sacrifice to make atonement for the murder, and consequently would pollute the land. This regulation was calculated to keep murder in abhorrence, and to make the magistrates alert in their office, that delinquents might be discovered and punished, and thus public expense saved.

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:
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:
Shall wash their hands over the heifer - Washing the hands, in reference to such a subject as this, was a rite anciently used to signify that the persons thus washing were innocent of the crime in question. It was probably from the Jews that Pilate learned this symbolical method of expressing his innocence.

And they shall answer and say, Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it.
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.
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;
And seest - a beautiful woman - No forcible possession was allowed even in this case, when the woman was taken in war, and was, by the general consent of ancient nations, adjudged as a part of the spoils. The person to whose lot or share such a woman as is here described fell, might, if he chose, have her for a wife on certain conditions; but he was not permitted to use her under any inferior character.

Then thou shalt bring her home to thine house; and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails;
She shall shave her head - This was in token of her renouncing her religion, and becoming a proselyte to that of the Jews. This is still a custom in the East; when a Christian turns Mohammedan his head is shaven, and he is carried through the city crying, la alahila allah we Mohammed resooli Allah; "There is no God but God, and Mohammed is the prophet of God."

Pare her nails - ועשתה את צפרניה veasethah eth tsipporneyha, "she shall make her nails." Now whether this signifies paring or letting them grow, is greatly doubted among learned men. Possibly it means neither, but colouring the nails, staining them red with the hennah, which is much practiced in India to the present day, and which was undoubtedly practiced among the ancient Egyptians, as is evident from the nails of mummies which are found thus stained. The hennah, according to Hasselquist, grows in India, and in Upper and Lower Egypt; it flowers from May to August. The manner of using it is this: the leaves are powdered, and made into a paste with water: they bind this paste on the nails of their fingers and toes, and let it stand on all night; in the morning they are found to be of a beautiful reddish yellow, and this lasts three weeks or a month, after which they renew the application. They often stain the palms of their hands and the soles of their feet in the same way, as appears from many paintings of eastern ladies done in India and Persia, which now lie before me. This staining the soles of the feet with the hennah is probably meant in 2 Samuel 19:24 : Mephibosheth had not dressed (literally made) his feet - they had not been thus coloured.

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.
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:
One beloved, and another hated - That is, one loved less than the other. This is the true notion of the word hate in Scripture. So Jacob Hated Leah, that is, he loved her less than he did Rachel; and Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I Hated, that is, I have shown a more particular affection to the posterity of Jacob than I have to the posterity of Esau. See the note on Genesis 29:31. From this verse we see that polygamy did exist under the Mosaic laws, and that it was put under certain regulations; but it was not enjoined, Moses merely suffered it, because of the hardness of their hearts, as our Lord justly remarks Matthew 19:8.

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:
The stubborn, rebellious, gluttonous, and drunken son is to be stoned to death - This law, severe as it may seem, must have acted as a powerful preventive of crime. If such a law were in force now, and duly executed, how many deaths of disobedient and profligate children would there be in all corners of the land!

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;
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.
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:
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.
His body shall not remain all night upon the tree - Its exposure for the space of one day was judged sufficient. The law which required this answered all the ends of public justice, exposed the shame and infamy of the conduct, but did not put to torture the feelings of humanity by requiring a perpetual exhibition of a human being, a slow prey to the most loathsome process of putrefaction. Did ever the spiking of the heads of state criminals prevent high treason? or the gibbeting of a thief or a murderer, prevent either murder or robbery? These questions may be safely answered in the negative; and the remains of the ancient barbarism which requires these disgusting and abominable exhibitions, and which are deplored by every feeling heart, should be banished with all possible speed. In the case given in the text, God considers the land as defiled while the body of the executed criminal lay exposed, hence it was enjoined, Thou shalt in any wise bury him that day.

For he that is hanged is accursed of God - That is, he has forfeited his life to the law; for it is written, Cursed is every one who continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them; and on his body, in the execution of the sentence of the law, the curse was considered as alighting; hence the necessity of removing the accursed thing out of sight. How excellent are all these laws! How wondrously well calculated to repress crimes by showing the enormity of sin! It is worthy of remark that in the infliction of punishment prescribed by the Mosaic law, we ever find that Mercy walks hand in hand with Judgment.

Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke [1831].
Text Courtesy of Internet Sacred Texts Archive.

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