Deuteronomy 21
Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures
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:
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,
The Seventh Commandment

CHAPTER 21:10–23

10When 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, 11And seest among the captives a beautiful woman, and hast [holdest] a desire; unto her, that thou wouldest have [and takest] her to thy wife; 12Then thou shalt bring [And bringest] her home to thine house, and [so] she shall shave her head, and pare 13[make, make right] her nails: 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 [so many days]: and after that, thou shalt go in unto her, and be her husband, and she shall be thy wife. 14And it shall be, if thou have no delight [more] in her, then thou shalt let her go whither she will [go after her soul, desire]; but thou shalt not sell her at all for money; thou shalt not make merchandise of her [treat her harshly], because thou hast humbled her. 15If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated, and they have borne him children [sons], both the beloved and the hated; and if the first-born son be hers that was hated: 16Then it shall be, when [at the day] he maketh his sons to inherit that which he hath, that he may [see, 7:22; 12:17] not make the son of the beloved first-born, before the son of the hated, which is indeed [om. which is indeed] the first-born: 17But he shall acknowledge the son of the hated for [om. for] the first-born, by giving him a double portion of all that he hath [all that is found with him]: for he is the beginning 18[firstling] of his strength; the right of the first-born 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: 19Then 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; 20And 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 [spendthrift] and a drunkard. 21And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou [and thou shalt] put evil away from among you, and all Israel shall hear, and fear. 22And 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: 23His 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 [the curse of God];) that thy land be not defiled, which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.


1. Deut 21:10–14. Moses comes first to speak of the seventh command, its explanation and application, as after the possession of Canaan, thus entirely as 20:1, and consequently with reference to enemies not Canaanites (7:3), from whom an Israelite might take himself a wife. Deut 21:10 (20:13). שְׁבִי and שִׁבְיָה (Deut 21:11), Proverbs concrete, captives. Deut 21:11. Comp. Gen. 29:17; 34:8 (Deut. 7:7; 10:15). The circumstance was natural and human, but also leads to regulated and enduring relations. And takest, sq., namely to thy wife, otherwise the bringing her home would be out of place. But to this insertion into the home there must follow a not less natural and humane severing of previous relations on the part of the woman. As the head is to be shaven, the clothing in which she was captured to be put off, so the making is to average, set right the nails, i.e. to cut them (2 Sam. 19:25). Not as the pietists among the Rabbins, to make herself repulsive, and deter the son of Israel from the heathen; nor even as a mourning custom (14:1; Lev. 21:5), in which they permitted the nails to grow, unless the cutting was practised under the supposition of colored nails; but as outwardly in the body and clothing, so inwardly she should have time through the mourning to detach herself from her previous relations (comp. Lev. 14:8; Num. 6:9; 8:7). Her defenceless condition, beyond the pale of law, secures her human sympathy. The transition from heathenism was not indeed symbolized; but in so tender and affecting an indulgence of the human, a preparation for the way to the divine could scarcely fail (Ps. 45:10). The marriage relation (Deut 21:13) is a dominion, 24:1. But because it was marriage, Deut 21:14, therefore a formal separation (Matt. 19:8), that she might go out free whither she would (Jer. 34:16). Comp. Ex. 21:8, 11; Deut. 24:7. The humiliation extended to the captivity, the taking to wife (especially 22:24). One act of violence should not be followed by another and harsher. [The law was obviously fitted to restrain the violence of lawless passion. The month’s delay would test the sincerity and purity of the love or desire. If at its expiration he still delighted in her to take her for a wife, then she was to become his wife; if not, then she was to go out free. He could not treat her as a slave; neither sell her nor treat her with constraint. It was a merciful provision for those who were regarded as the spoils of war.—A. G.]

2. Deut 21:15–17. There may be also a second wife which a man takes, and indeed the beloved one; therefore, in the second place, what should be of force in regard to such a marriage—marriage direction (SCHULTZ). Deut 21:15. The case was similar to that of Jacob, the father of the people, Gen. 29:30. In such a case it depends more and more at last upon love and hatred (Gen. 29:31). Comp. Matt. 6:24; Luke 14:26; Rom. 9:13 (1 Sam. 1:5, 6). Moses, however, must indulge the custom; its morality is not therewith conceded; he limits it in its practical consequences. Thus, moreover, the very natural transfer from the mothers to their sons. The preference, Deut 21:16, should not give superiority in reference to the inheritance, the position in the family; it must respect the natural right, the priority in this regard must be allowed. על־ (comp. 5:7) is not while the same remains alive; that is self-evident. The right of primogeniture, Deut 21:17, פי שניס, mouth, two mouthfuls, i.e. one time as much more as to each and every other son, concerns merely the inheritance. He represents the family generally after the father’s death. Comp. still Gen. 49:3.

3. Deut 21:18–21. As in the foregoing, the direction concerning marriage embraces parents and children, so thirdly Deut 21:18 sq., the wedded life expressly on the side of the children. There may be a son, who appears to his father worthy of preference, and not merely as before on his mother’s account, but who is also rejected by him, and at the same time by his mother, and indeed entirely through his son’s misconduct. Comp. upon 4:36; 8:5. He disputes the parental, i.e., divine authority in disposition and life, and indeed although it has been held before him, thus with full knowledge and purpose. Deut 21:19. The mother agrees with the father so that it is publicly witnessed. With the parental,the civil authority is also endangered, and hence the case passes from that, to this (comp. 17:5). The elders do not appear as judges, for Deut 21:20, the mere accusation, as at the same time proceeding from both parents, is satisfactorily confirmed through the specification: Glutton, sq., (Prov. 23:30; 28:7) and requires no further proof or judicial investigation (Matt. 11:19). Upon, Deut 21:21 comp. Prov. 19:18. When the parents are the accusers they should not also cast the stones. When the whole city agrees, the case moreover lies beyond question. Comp. 13:11; 6:12. [Parental authority is upheld, but at the same time guarded. The power of life and death does not vest in the Israelitish father.—A. G.].

4. Deut 21:22, 23, Give the conclusion to the deuteronomic completion of the seventh commandment, whose transgression draws after it the death penalty (SCHULTZ). But it is not of the death penalty generally which the discourse here treats in this appendix to the foregoing paragraph, but of a peculiar, significant, intensifying of the death-sentence, as it appears in the procedure with the person executed. The rebellion against the power and glory of God in the parental authority, on the part of a son to be stoned, gives the connection. The surrender of the same, by both parents, to the executive of the city, is already as a curse of God. Deut 21:22. Comp. upon 19:6. The suspending of the body on the tree, (probably a post similar to a cross) raised to some extent the executed from the earth, which he was no longer worthy to tread, and held him heavenwards, as without hope, and for the sorer vengeance of God. (Num. 25:4; Gen. 40:19; Josh. 10:26). That day upon which he was slain, and afterwards hanged, before the sunset. קללת, the word contains the idea; to reject as detestable, wherefore the one cursed of God must be removed as soon as possible out of sight, from off the land given by God, which is defiled (morally, not physically, not even levitically) by him (Lev. 18:24, 28; Num. 35:34). “Then rests the blessing eye of Jehovah ever upon the land of Israel (11:12) and this divine blessing must overcome and remove every curse.” BAUMGARTEN. Comp. upon Gal. 3:13. According to the Talmud: “For one hanged has cursed God (because this intense emphatic punishment was usual only in cases of blasphemy”). RASCHI: “For it is an injury to God, sq.,” when he who is made in the image of God remains longer so detestable a spectacle. Comp. John 19:31. [“Suspension whether from cross, stake or gallows, was not used as a mode of taking life, but in cases of peculiar atrocity was added after death to enhance the punishment, and, as the Rabbins held, only for the crimes of idolatry and cursing God. The command, Num. 25:4, 5, appears to mean that the rebels should be first slain, and then impaled or nailed to crosses. The word used there is different from that used here.” “The grounds of the emphatic detestation expressed in the text against him that is hanged, depend in some degree on the exact rendering of the words. The case attached to קללת (see LIGHTFOOT, Galatians, p. 150) may denote either the person who pronounces the curse (Judg. 9:57), or the person against whom it is pronounced (Gen. 27:13). We may explain therefore either ‘he that is hanged is accursed of God,’ as SEPT., Vul., SYR., ST. PAUL, Gal. 3:13, and most Christian commentators, or he that is hanged is a curse (injury, insult, mockery) to God, as by most Jewish commentators since the second century of the Christian era. There can be no doubt that the former rendering is the original and correct one.” BIB. COM. See also LANGE, Galatians, Brown on Galatians, and WORDSWORTH.—A. G.]


1. The relations of war offer a fitting occasion for the exercise of humanity (1:6–4:40; Doct. and Eth. 3). The general human love, which as placed by God in the heart of every man is sacred, and is to be heartily esteemed, is made availing directly over against passion, as in the special case, Deut 21:11. Thus should the sacred ties which bind men to their parents (Deut 21:13), and the worth and dignity of human personality (Deut 21:14) have influence with Israel in its relations to the not-Israel.

2. That Israel is elastic enough for a relation of love, even of marriage with foreign women, shows again its destination for humanity at large.

3. The deep, quiet reverence exerts its influence upon the prevalent custom to which Moses refers, and becomes a protection here to the lowly wife, a captive in war, and unable to make any resistance. The passion is elevated in the form of marriage; still more the wife appears, and indeed in her most helpless form, as justified over against her husband.

4. The form of marriage which Moses must allow here for the time, is generally that of polygamy. But its opposition to the original marriage ordinance he has established already, Gen. 2:22, 24, as Christ also refers to the same original ordinance against divorce. What is self-evident in the woman, as she is brought by God to the man, her entire personal concession to her husband, for which reason he would have her called “woman;” that is the duty of the husband to his wife, since it is not uttered first as a command, but only as an actual fact, as the most natural thing which could occur, Gen. 2:24. Polygamy, on the contrary, with respect to the man bears the character of unfaithfulness, instead of “being one flesh,” of the restless and unsatisfied lust of the flesh. When on the part of the wife, envy, jealousy, bitterness, appear as the results of the polygamous relation, then we see first the wretchedness, the impossibility of a polygamous institution, to which all the hints of Moses (Deut 21:15 sq.; 18 sq.) point. Monogamy has its necessity in the very nature of marriage; it is indeed its very idea. Hence there is no necessity that the law should enjoin it, but wait until the custom has developed itself in and through the morality of the idea of marriage. While polygamy draws man to bestiality (BAUMGARTEN: “Because the woman has not yet been restored to her full personality from the fall through the word of the serpent”), is thus therefore far removed from humanity, the humanity of the monogamous marriage reaches perfection in the mystery (Eph. 5:36) in regard to Christ and the Church. Where there is no mutual esteem of the individual,and of the personality, e.g., where the system of slavery exists, there polygamy prevails, and it follows therefore that everything in Deuteronomy which promotes and confirms human rights, strikes a blow at the very root of polygamy.


Deut 21:10, 11. WURTH. BIB.: “Parents, partners, children, are often torn asunder in war, and do not see each other again; let us therefore pray diligently: Thou, dear Lord God, preserve us from war and bloodshed.” Deut 21:14. OSIANDER: “God looks with pity upon the wretchedness of the captive, Gen. 39:3 sq.; 21 sq.” Deut 21:15 sq. STARKE: “The case is quite different with respect to Cain, Esau, Reuben.” TUB. BIB.: “It is the bounden duty of parents to be impartial towards their children.” Deut 21:18 sq. STARKE: “The Jews infer thence, that God makes no distinction between fathers and mothers. All other duties are included under obedience.” BAUMGARTEN: “The true divine ordinance in this region is overstepped in two directions: through strictness, which amounts to cruelty; by levity, which passes into weakness: the former in the periods of rude unbroken society; the latter in those more civilized. The law of Moses here given is a bitter but wholesome pill to the base and shameful tenderness under which we suffer and are corrupted at present. According to the Talmud this law was never executed. Comp. further 2 Sam. 18:17. What the rod of the parents neglects or does not reach, ofttimes makes a demand upon the hangman.” Deut 21:22 sq. BAUMGARTEN: “That this removal from the earth may be designated as an exaltation and redemption (John 3:14; 12:32) requires the whole divine almighty power of Christ, who overcame even the abyss of hell, and takes possession of heaven.” SCHULTZ: “In the New Testament the death-penalty for the child vanishes with the received possibility of conversion. The disfiguring of the executed after his death finds its discharge in the death of the Redeemer upon the cross. Is the death-penalty, viewed in relation to the atoning death of Christ, still Christian?” RICHTER: “The removal from the cursed tree, and the burial have their goal also in Christ, in whom guilt and the curse are done away, the law has its satisfaction, the earth is purified, that the blessing may come upon all nations, Gal. 3:14.” CALVIN: The destination of the human race is to be buried, both as a pledge and symbol of the resurrection, and that the living may be spared the sight, and escape contamination from such a spectacle. [“Christ was made a curse for us, Gal. 3:13, and thus redeemed us from the curse of the law, not only dying for our sins, but suffering that particular kind of death which the law had specified as that of those who were under a curse of God. He summed up all mankind in Himself, being the second Adam, and by being in the likeness of sinful flesh (Rom. 8:3), and yet perfectly sinless, He paid a sufficient penalty and made adequate satisfaction for the sins of all whom He represented by shedding His own most precious blood, and bare our sins in His own body on the tree (1 Pet. 2:24), and took them upon Himself, and took away from us the curse of the law under which all mankind lay for disobedience; and by His perfect obedience in our nature presented us in a state of acceptability with God, and became the Lord our Righteousness, in whom we are justified before Him.” WORDSWORTH.—A. G.]

Lange, John Peter - Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical

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