Deuteronomy 21

CHAPTER XXI

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, 1-4.

The rites to be used on the occasion, 5-9.

The ordinance concerning marriage with a captive, 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, 15-18.

The law concerning the stubborn and rebellious son, who, when

convicted, is to be stoned to death, 19-21.

Of the person who is to be hanged, 22.

His body shall not be left on the tree all night; every one that

is hanged on a tree is accursed of God, 23.

NOTES ON CHAP. XXI

Verse 4. Shall bring down the heifer unto a rough valley]

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.

Verse 6. 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.

Verse 11. 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.

Verse 12. 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, [Arabic] la alahila allah we Mohammed resooli Allah;

"There is no God but God, and Mohammed is the prophet of God."

Pare her nails] 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 practised in

India to the present day, and which was undoubtedly practised

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 2Sa 19:24:

Mephibosheth had not dressed (literally made) his feet-they had

not been thus coloured.

Verse 15. 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 Clarke on Ge 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

Mt 19:8.

Verse 18. - 21. 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!

Verse 23. 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.

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