Deuteronomy 21
Matthew Poole's 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:
How to expiate an uncertain murder, Deu 21:1-19. The usage of a captive taken to wife, Deu 21:10-14. The first born, though the son of the hated, is not to be disinherited, Deu 21:15-17. The punishment of a stubborn son, viz. death, Deu 21:18-21. The cursed death of them that are hanged, Deu 21:22,23.

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, and most easily concealed.

Then thy elders and thy judges shall come forth, and they shall measure unto the cities which are round about him that is slain:
Thy elders and thy judges; those of thy elders who are judges; for the latter word explains and restrains the former, the judges or rulers of all the neighbouring cities, who were all concerned in this inquiry.

They shall measure, unless it be evident and confessed which city is nearest, for then measuring was superfluous.

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;
A fit vicegerent and representative of the murderer, in whose stead it was killed, who by this act hath shown himself to be a son of Belial, who would not bear the yoke of God’s law. A type also of Christ, who was obliged to no work, and under no yoke, but what he had voluntarily taken upon himself.

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:
Neither eared nor sown; partly to represent the hard and unprofitable and untutored heart of the murderer; and partly that such a desert and horrid place might beget a horror of murder and of the murderer.

Strike off the heifer’s neck, to show what they would and should 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:
The priests shall come near, both to direct them in all the circumstances of action and to see that the law was observed, and to bless them in God’s name, by praying for them, and absolving or pronouncing them guiltless in this matter.

Every controversy; not absolutely all manner of controversies that could possibly arise, as if their word were to determine whether there were a God or providence or no, whether God should be worshipped, and his commands observed, or no, whether Moses was a true prophet or an impostor, whether apostate and idolatrous Israelites should be punished or no, which is apparently absurd and ridiculous; but every such controversy as might arise about the matter here spoken of; nothing being more usual than to understand universal expressions in a limited sense; and indeed this is limited and explained by the following words,

and every stroke, the particle and being put expositively, of which instances have been formerly given, i.e. every controversy which shall arise about any stroke, whether such a mortal stroke as is here spoken of, a murder, which may well be called a stroke, as to smite is oft used for to kill, as Genesis 4:15 Leviticus 24:17, &c., or any other stroke or wound given by one man to another.

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:
In testimony of their innocency. See Poole "Matthew 27:24".

And they shall answer and say, Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it.
They shall answer, to wit, to the priests who shall examine them and determine this controversy.

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.

Neither have our eyes seen it; nor have we seen or understood how or by whom this was done.

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.
i.e. Not imputed to them, nor punished in them; for God is sometimes said to

forgive when he doth not punish, as Psalm 78:38. Besides, though there was no mortal guilt in this people, yet there was a ceremonial uncleanness in the land, which was to be expiated and forgiven.

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.
No text from Poole on this verse.

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,
Thine enemies, of other nations, but not of the Canaanites, for they might not spare their women, and much less marry them, Exodus 34:16 Deu 7:3.

And seest among the captives a beautiful woman, and hast a desire unto her, that thou wouldest have her to thy wife;
Hast a desire unto her; or, hast cleaved to her, to wit, in love; or, hast taken delight in her; which may be a modest expression for lying with her, and seems probable, because it is said, Deu 21:14, that he had humbled her, to wit, by military insolence, when he took her captive, not after he had married her, for then he would have expressed it thus, because thou hast married her, which had been more emphatical than to say, because thou hast humbled her. And here seem to be two cases supposed, and direction given what to do in both of them:

1. That he did desire to marry her, of which he speaks Deu 21:11-13.

2. That he did not desire this, or not delight in her, of which he speaks Deu 21:14.

Then thou shalt bring her home to thine house; and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails;

1. To take off his affections from her by rendering her uncomely and deformed; but then the last words must not be rendered shall

pare her nails, but shall nourish them, or suffer them to grow, as the Chaldee, Arabic, and divers of the learned Jews and other interpreters render it. Or,

2. To express her sorrow for the loss of her father and mother, as it follows, Deu 21:13, it being the ancient custom of mourners in most nations to shave themselves, and in some to pare their nails, in others to suffer them to grow. Or rather,

3. In token of her renouncing her heathenish idolatry and superstition, and of her becoming a new woman, and embracing the true religion; which her captive condition and subjection to his will would make her inclinable to do in profession.

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.
The raiment of her captivity, i.e. either,

1. Those goodly raiments in which she was when she was taken captive, instead of which she now must put on a servile habit, as this is generally understood; or rather,

2. Those servile and sordid raiments which were put upon her when she was taken captive, as the manner was to do with captives, as the phrase itself seems to intimate; as prison garments { Jeremiah 52:33} are such garments as prisoners use to wear; and garments of praise are praiseworthy or glorious garments; and it seems harsh to call those garments of captivity, which are made for and generally worn by free persons only, and which are usually taken away from persons when they come into captivity. Add, that this doth not seem to be any part or token of her sorrow, but rather a mending of her condition, and exchanging her servile habit for a better and more decent one, which might be, though this were a mourning habit.

Her father and mother; either their death, or, which was in effect the same, her final separation from them. Withal this signified her alienation from them or from their superstitious and idolatrous courses, and her translation of her love from all other persons to her husband and to the true religion. Compare Psalm 45:11.

She shall be thy wife; supposing what might very rationally be supposed of one in her circumstances, and what she signified by the foregoing rites, that she should submit to her husband’s religion, in which case the marriage might be tolerable. Or this was a permission and indulgence given to them for the hardness of their hearts, as in the case of divorce, Deu 24:1 Matthew 19:8.

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 thou have no delight in her; either,

1. After thou hast married her; and so this is a permission of a divorce, which being indulged towards an Israelitish woman, was not likely to be denied towards a stranger. Or rather,

2. Before thy marriage; for it is not probable, that God having given him competent time for the trial of his affections to her before he was permitted to marry her, would suffer him upon so slight an occasion, within a day or two after so solemn a contract, to send her away; nor is there a word spoken here of any divorce.

Thou shalt not make merchandise of her, i.e. make gain of her, either by using her to thy own servile works, or by prostituting her to the lusts or to the service of others.

Humbled her, i.e. lain with her, as this phrase is oft used, as Genesis 34:2 Deu 22:24,29 Jud 19:24 Ezekiel 23:10,11.

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:
Two wives; either,

1. Both together; which practice, though tolerated, is not hereby made lawful, but only provision is made for the children in that case. Or,

2. One after another. Hated, comparatively, i.e. less loved, as Genesis 29:31 Matthew 6:24 Luke 14:26.

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:
He may not; it is not lawful, because contrary to the rights and law of nature.

Before the son, or, before the face of the son, i.e. in his lifetime, as this phrase is understood, Genesis 11:28 16:12 25:18. And when this phrase is rendered before another, it signifies only in the presence of another, but never notes the preference of one person to another, which the Hebrews express in another manner. And this may be added to intimate, that if the eldest son were dead, and had left a child, the father was free to give the right of his first-born unto his second son, rather than to the child of the eldest. Or this phrase may be an aggravation of the fact, whereby his father did in a manner spit in his face, and fasten a reproach upon him in his very sight and presence.

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.
Acknowledge, i.e. make it appear that he owns him.

Double portion; for the phrase, see 2 Kings 2:9 Zechariah 13:8; and for the thing, see Genesis 25:31 1 Chronicles 5:1.

The beginning of his strength, i.e. the first evidence of his manly strength and ability for procreation.

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:
No text from Poole on this verse.

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;
The consent of both father and mother is required to prevent the abuse of this law to cruelty. And it cannot reasonably be supposed that both would agree without manifest necessity, and the son’s abominable and incorrigible wickedness, in which case it seems a fit and righteous law, because the crime of rebellion against his own parents was so high in itself, and did so fully signify what a pernicious member and son of Belial he would be in the commonwealth of Israel, who had dissolved all his natural obligations. Yet the Jews say this law was never put in practice, and therefore it might be made for terror and prevention, and to render the authority of parents more sacred and powerful.

Bring him out unto the elders of his city; 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.
Stubborn and rebellious, adds incorrigibleness to all his wickedness.

A glutton and a drunkard; under which two offences others of a like or worse nature are comprehended by a synecdoche.

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.
Stoning was the punishment appointed for blasphemers and idolaters; which if it seem severe, it is to be considered that parents are in God’s stead, and intrusted in good measure with his authority over their children; and that families are the matter and foundation of the church and commonwealth, and they who are naughty members and rebellious children in them, do commonly prove the bane and plague of these; and therefore no wonder if they are nipped in the bud.

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:
Which was done after the malefactor was put to death some other way, this public shame being added to his former punishment. See Joshua 7:25 8:29 10:26 2 Samuel 4:12.

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.
Is accursed of God, i.e. 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, which was another great calamity, Jeremiah 16:4. And this curse is here appropriated to those that are hanged, partly because this punishment was inflicted only upon the most notorious and public offenders, and such as brought the curse of God upon the community, as Numbers 25:4 2 Samuel 21:6; and principally to foresignify that Christ should undergo this execrable punishment, and be made a curse for us, Galatians 3:13, which though it was yet to come in respect to men, yet was present unto God, and in his eye at this time. And so this is delivered with respect unto Christ, as many other passages of Scripture manifestly are.

Be not defiled, to wit, morally; either by inhumanity towards the dead; or rather by suffering the monument or memorial of the man’s great wickedness, and of God’s curse, to remain public and visible a longer time than God would have it, whereas it should be put out of sight, and buried in oblivion.

Matthew Poole's Commentary

Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

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