Deuteronomy 21

Laws Concerning Unsolved Murder

1If a homicide victim
Heb “slain [one].” The term חָלָל (khalal) suggests something other than a natural death (cf. Num 19:16; 23:24; Jer 51:52; Ezek 26:15; 30:24; 31:17–18).
should be found lying in a field in the land the Lord your God is giving you,
The Hebrew text includes “to possess it,” but this has not been included in the translation for stylistic reasons.
and no one knows who killed
Heb “struck,” but in context a fatal blow is meant; cf. NLT “who committed the murder.”
2your elders and judges must go out and measure how far it is to the cities in the vicinity of the corpse.
Heb “surrounding the slain [one].”
3Then the elders of the city nearest to the corpse
Heb “slain [one].”
must take from the herd a heifer that has not been worked – that has never pulled with the yoke –
4and bring the heifer down to a wadi with flowing water,
The combination “a wadi with flowing water” is necessary because a wadi (נַחַל, nakhal) was ordinarily a dry stream or riverbed. For this ritual, however, a perennial stream must be chosen so that there would be fresh, rushing water.
to a valley that is neither plowed nor sown.
The unworked heifer, fresh stream, and uncultivated valley speak of ritual purity – of freedom from human contamination.
There at the wadi they are to break the heifer’s neck.
5Then the Levitical priests
Heb “the priests, the sons of Levi.”
will approach (for the Lord your God has chosen them to serve him and to pronounce blessings in his name,
Heb “in the name of the Lord.” See note on Deut 10:8. The pronoun has been used in the translation for stylistic reasons to avoid redundancy.
and to decide
Heb “by their mouth.”
every judicial verdict
Heb “every controversy and every blow.”
6and all the elders of that city nearest the corpse
Heb “slain [one].”
must wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the valley.
Heb “wadi,” a seasonal watercourse through a valley.
7Then they must proclaim, “Our hands have not spilled this blood, nor have we
Heb “our eyes.” This is a figure of speech known as synecdoche in which the part (the eyes) is put for the whole (the entire person).
witnessed the crime.
Heb “seen”; the implied object (the crime committed) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
8Do not blame
Heb “Atone for.”
your people Israel whom you redeemed, O Lord, and do not hold them accountable for the bloodshed of an innocent person.”
Heb “and do not place innocent blood in the midst of your people Israel.”
Then atonement will be made for the bloodshed.
9In this manner you will purge out the guilt of innocent blood from among you, for you must do what is right before
Heb “in the eyes of” (so ASV, NASB, NIV).
the Lord.

Laws Concerning Wives

10 When you go out to do battle with your enemies and the Lord your God allows you to prevail
Heb “gives him into your hands.”
and you take prisoners,
11if you should see among them
Heb “the prisoners.” The pronoun has been used in the translation for stylistic reasons, to avoid redundancy.
an attractive woman whom you wish to take as a wife,
12you may bring her back to your house. She must shave her head,
This requirement for the woman to shave her head may symbolize the putting away of the old life and customs in preparation for being numbered among the people of the Lord. The same is true for the two following requirements.
trim her nails,
13discard the clothing she was wearing when captured,
Heb “she is to…remove the clothing of her captivity” (cf. NASB); NRSV “discard her captive’s garb.”
and stay
Heb “sit”; KJV, NASB, NRSV “remain.”
in your house, lamenting for her father and mother for a full month. After that you may have sexual relations
Heb “go unto,” a common Hebrew euphemism for sexual relations.
with her and become her husband and she your wife.
14If you are not pleased with her, then you must let her go
Heb “send her off.” The Hebrew term שִׁלַּחְתָּה (shillakhtah) is a somewhat euphemistic way of referring to divorce, the matter clearly in view here (cf. Deut 22:19, 29; 24:1, 3; Jer 3:1; Mal 2:16). This passage does not have the matter of divorce as its principal objective, so it should not be understood as endorsing divorce generally. It merely makes the point that if grounds for divorce exist (see Deut 24:1–4), and then divorce ensues, the husband could in no way gain profit from it.
where she pleases. You cannot in any case sell
The Hebrew text uses the infinitive absolute for emphasis, which the translation indicates by the words “in any case.”
The Hebrew text includes “for money.” This phrase has not been included in the translation for stylistic reasons.
you must not take advantage of
Or perhaps “must not enslave her” (cf. ASV, NAB, NIV, NRSV, NLT); Heb “[must not] be tyrannical over.”
her, since you have already humiliated
You have humiliated her. Since divorce was considered rejection, the wife subjected to it would “lose face” in addition to the already humiliating event of having become a wife by force (21:11–13). Furthermore, the Hebrew verb translated “humiliated” here (עָנָה, ’anah), commonly used to speak of rape (cf. Gen 34:2; 2 Sam 13:12, 14, 22, 32; Judg 19:24), likely has sexual overtones as well. The woman may not be enslaved or abused after the divorce because it would be double humiliation (see also E. H. Merrill, Deuteronomy [NAC], 291).

Laws Concerning Children

15 Suppose a man has two wives, one whom he loves more than the other,
Heb “one whom he loves and one whom he hates.” For the idea of שָׂנֵא (sane’, “hate”) meaning to be rejected or loved less (cf. NRSV “disliked”), see Gen 29:31, 33; Mal 1:2–3. Cf. A. Konkel, NIDOTTE 3:1256–60.
and they both
Heb “both the one whom he loves and the one whom he hates.” On the meaning of the phrase “one whom he loves and one whom he hates” see the note on the word “other” earlier in this verse. The translation has been simplified for stylistic reasons, to avoid redundancy.
bear him sons, with the firstborn being the child of the less loved wife.
16In the day he divides his inheritance
Heb “when he causes his sons to inherit what is his.”
he must not appoint as firstborn the son of the favorite wife in place of the other
Heb “the hated.”
wife’s son who is actually the firstborn.
17Rather, he must acknowledge the son of the less loved
See note on the word “other” in v. 15.
wife as firstborn and give him the double portion
Heb “measure of two.” The Hebrew expression פִּי שְׁנַיִם (piy shenayim) suggests a two-thirds split; that is, the elder gets two parts and the younger one part. Cf. 2 Kgs 2:9; Zech 13:8. The practice is implicit in Isaac’s blessing of Jacob (Gen 25:31–34) and Jacob’s blessing of Ephraim (Gen 48:8–22).
of all he has, for that son is the beginning of his father’s procreative power
Heb “his generative power” (אוֹן, ’on; cf. HALOT 22 s.v.). Cf. NAB “the first fruits of his manhood”; NRSV “the first issue of his virility.”
– to him should go the right of the firstborn.

18 If a person has a stubborn, rebellious son who pays no attention to his father or mother, and they discipline him to no avail,
Heb “and he does not listen to them.”
19his father and mother must seize him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his city. 20They must declare to the elders
The LXX and Smr read “to the men,” probably to conform to this phrase in v. 21. However, since judicial cases were the responsibility of the elders in such instances (cf. Deut 19:12; 21:3, 6; 25:7–8) the reading of the MT is likely original and correct here.
of his city, “Our son is stubborn and rebellious and pays no attention to what we say – he is a glutton and drunkard.”
21Then all the men of his city must stone him to death. In this way you will purge out
The Hebrew term בִּעַרְתָּה (biartah), here and elsewhere in such contexts (cf. Deut 13:5; 17:7, 12; 19:19; 21:9), suggests God’s anger which consumes like fire (thus בָעַר, baar, “to burn”). See H. Ringgren, TDOT 2:203–4.
wickedness from among you, and all Israel
Some LXX traditions read הַנִּשְׁאָרִים (hannisharim, “those who remain”) for the MT’s יִשְׂרָאֵל (yisrael, “Israel”), understandable in light of Deut 19:20. However, the more difficult reading found in the MT is more likely original.
will hear about it and be afraid.

Disposition of a Criminal’s Remains

22 If a person commits a sin punishable by death and is executed, and you hang the corpse
Heb “him.”
on a tree,
23his body must not remain all night on the tree; instead you must make certain you bury
The Hebrew text uses the infinitive absolute for emphasis, which the translation indicates by “make certain.”
him that same day, for the one who is left exposed
Heb “hung,” but this could convey the wrong image in English (hanging with a rope as a means of execution). Cf. NCV “anyone whose body is displayed on a tree.”
on a tree is cursed by God.
The idea behind the phrase cursed by God seems to be not that the person was impaled because he was cursed but that to leave him exposed there was to invite the curse of God upon the whole land. Why this would be so is not clear, though the rabbinic idea that even a criminal is created in the image of God may give some clue (thus J. H. Tigay, Deuteronomy [JPSTC], 198). Paul cites this text (see Gal 3:13) to make the point that Christ, suspended from a cross, thereby took upon himself the curse associated with such a display of divine wrath and judgment (T. George, Galatians [NAC], 238–39).
You must not defile your land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.

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