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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 14

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


In this chapter, Moses recounted some of the regulations already given in Leviticus, etc. (See Leviticus 11 for some of the rules mentioned here.) The slight variations in the lists of clean and unclean creatures when compared with similar lists in Leviticus are by no stretch of the imagination indications of “separate traditions,” “multiple sources” or “different authors.” To begin with, the variations are so slight as to be negligible. The appearance of a name here and there which is omitted in Leviticus is most likely due to more than one name belonging to a specific creature. Even in America we have two names for the flesh of a sheep - “mutton chops,” “lamb chops,” etc.

Alexander discussed the variations as follows:

“In Leviticus, the general classification of animals that may be eaten is given, whereas in Deuteronomy the names of specific animals are included. Also, the list of fowls which may not be eaten included “the glede” (Deuteronomy 14:13), which is not mentioned in Leviticus. However, the vulture is mentioned in Leviticus, and the glede is probably of the vulture family. The class of reptiles carefully described in Leviticus is altogether omitted in Deuteronomy, etc., etc.”(F1)

As easily seen, such “variations” are of little or no significance, and it is a waste of time to pay a lot of attention to so-called “discrepancies” of this type.

Another “variation,” of a little different kind was utilized by Driver, one of the great architects of the alleged-sources-of-the-Pentateuch theories to claim that, “The Israelites and the strangers are placed on different footings in Deuteronomy, and placed on the same footing in Leviticus.”(F2) As McGarvey pointed out, “No such discrepancy exists.” It is simply an example of the critic having failed to read what is written in the text.

Verses 1-3

“Ye are the children of Jehovah your God: ye shall not cut yourselves, nor make any baldness between your eyes for the dead. For thou art a holy people unto Jehovah thy God, and Jehovah hath chosen thee to be a people for his own possession, above all peoples that are upon the face of the earth. Thou shalt not eat any abominable thing.”

First, the Jews were forbidden to indulge in the ridiculous mutilations and disfigurements that characterized pagan funeral customs. As a people who, like their distinguished ancestor, “looked for the city that hath the foundations,” it was altogether unbecoming that they should indulge the wild excesses of the pagans. Moreover, the body itself was “holy unto Jehovah” and it was not appropriate to disfigure and mutilate the body. There is surely an echo in this verse of Exodus 19:6, where all Israel is conceived of as a “holy priesthood unto Jehovah.” It is primarily the holiness of Israel that formed the reason why such customs were forbidden.

The cuttings and the baldness mentioned here were “pagan acts of sacrifice, the blood and the hair being offered up to heathen deities or to the dead but deified ancestors.”(F3) That such cuttings of the body with knives was a standard procedure in pagan worship is also noticeable in Elijah’s contest on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:25 ff). Thus, such customs so closely allied to paganism were forbidden to Israel in the same Spirit that commands Christians “to avoid the very appearance of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22).

Deuteronomy 14:3 introduces a list of clean and unclean creatures as they pertained to the authorized diet of the Hebrews. As Cousins said, “It is futile to seek detailed explanations for the inclusion and exclusion of creatures listed.”(F4) As far as we are concerned, it appears that the list is absolutely arbitrary. “But the very arbitrariness of these stipulations make them the better tests of submission to the sovereign word of the Lord and more distinctive badges of consecration to him.”(F5) This is not to deny that in specific instances, there could have been some dietary reason for the restriction, swine’s flesh, for example, being, even yet, a prime carrier of the deadly trichinosis. However, the flat declaration of the N.T. that Jesus Christ “made all meats clean” (Mark 7:19) reveals the undeniable truth that, after all, the lists were simply arbitrary. This or that was wrong or right simply because that is what the Lord commanded. These dietary restrictions certainly did what they were designed to do, they separated God’s people from the rest of mankind! There is a sense in which baptism itself, as commanded in the N.T., partakes of the same nature as possessed in these ancient lists. It is a purely arbitrary commandment, needing no justification at all, except that Jesus Christ commanded it! In our commentary on these restrictions in Leviticus, we stated that they were “not merely arbitrary,” but there we were speaking of them from God’s viewpoint. Of course, God had a motive and a reason for the restrictions, but here we are speaking of the fact that there appear to be no human reasons why some were restricted and others allowed, and, from that viewpoint they were absolutely arbitrary.

Verses 4-21


“These are the beasts which ye may eat: the ox, the sheep, and the goat, the hart, and the gazelle, and the roebuck, and the wild goat, and the pygarg, and the antelope, and the chamois. And every beast that parteth the hoof, and hath the hoof cloven in two, and cheweth the cud, among the beasts, that may ye eat. Nevertheless these ye shall not eat of them that chew the cud, or of them that hath the hoof cloven: The camel, and the hare, and the coney, because they chew the cud but part not the hoof, they are unclean unto you. And the swine, because he parteth the hoof but cheweth not the cud, he is unclean unto you: of their flesh ye shall not eat, and their carcasses ye shall not touch. “These ye may eat of all that are in the waters: whatsoever hath fins and scales, may ye eat; and whatsoever hath not fins and scales ye shall not eat; it is unclean unto you. “Of all clean birds ye may eat. But these are they of which ye shall not eat: the eagle, and the gier-eagle, and the osprey and the glede, and the falcon, and the kite after its kind, and every raven after its kind, and the ostrich, and the night-hawk, and the sea mew, and the hawk after its kind, the little owl, and the great owl, and the horned owl, and the pelican, and the vulture, and the cormorant, and the stork, and the heron after its kind, and the hoopoe, and the bat. And all winged creeping things are unclean unto you: they shall not be eaten. Of all clean birds ye may eat. “Ye shall not eat of anything that dieth of itself: thou mayest give it unto the sojourner that is within thy gates, that he may eat it; or thou mayest sell it unto a foreigner: for thou art a holy people unto Jehovah thy God. Thou shalt not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.”

“These verses agree closely with Leviticus 11:2-23,”(F6) and we have already commented extensively on these regulations in my Commentary (Vol. 3) on Leviticus-Numbers en loco. However, the last sentence above regarding seething a kid in its mother’s milk, is a reference to Exodus 23; Exodus 19, and is not found in Leviticus 11. For generations men could discern no reason whatever for such a prohibition as this, and Rawlinson said, “Reason has nothing to say against such a mode of preparing food.”(F7) However, the mystery was unlocked in 1930, when the reason for this pagan practice was discovered in Ugaritic literature.(F8) The pagans used such a broth to increase the fertility of their crops. The pagan idea was that the new life of the kid added to its mother’s milk created double fertility.(F9) In this light, there is no question of why God prohibited His people from indulging such a pagan superstition.

The permission to sell to foreigners (Deuteronomy 14:21) is apparently mentioned here for the first time because, “such permission would have been useless in the wilderness.”(F10)

Verses 22-29


“Thou shalt surely tithe all the increase of thy seed, that which cometh forth from the field year by year. And thou shalt eat before Jehovah thy God, in the place which he shall choose, to cause his name to dwell there, the tithe of thy grain, of thy new wine, and of thine oil, and the firstlings of thy herd and of thy flock; that thou mayest learn to fear Jehovah thy God always. And if the way be too long for thee, so that thou art not able to carry it, because the place is too far from thee, which Jehovah thy God shall choose, to set his name there, when Jehovah thy God shall bless thee; then shalt thou turn it into money, and bind up the money in thy hand, and shalt go unto the place which Jehovah thy God shall choose: and thou shalt bestow the money for whatsoever thy soul desireth, for oxen or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul asketh of thee; and thou shalt eat there before Jehovah thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou and thy household. And the Levite that is within thy gates, thou shalt not forsake him; for he hath no portion nor inheritance with thee. At the end of every three years thou shalt bring forth all the tithe of thine increase in the same year, and shall lay it up within thy gates: and the Levite, because he hath no portion nor inheritance with thee, and the sojourner, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are within thy gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that Jehovah thy God may bless thee in all the work of thy hand which thou doest.”

The first paragraph here teaches that the tithe shall be eaten at the central sanctuary by the offerer, except when, due to the distance that may be involved, it is too far to carry the tithe of his fields, and in which case the tithes are to be converted to money, the money to be used for a feast at the central sanctuary to which the Levites are also to be invited.

The mention of the tithe in the third year has led some to suppose that this was another tithe in addition to those already prescribed, but the best view of this is that it merely prescribes what use shall be made of the tithe, already known and received as a customary duty, in every third year. It shall be used for the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widows. In short, it was for the alleviation of distress among the poor of the land. “The tithe thus to be used in the third year was not an additional tithe.”(F11) It was merely a charitable usage of the tithe already required. “The tithe of the first and second years was to be eaten before the Lord at the central sanctuary; the tithe of the third year was for the poor and needy.”(F12)

Kline’s comment on the purpose of these tithing regulations is as follows:

“The purpose of this section on tithing is not so much to give a comprehensive statement of the laws on tithing, as it is to guard the tithing procedure from being prostituted to idolatrous ends, that is, to prevent Israel from honoring the Canaanite fertility gods for their harvests.(F13)

With regard to the subject of tithing, a few words on this are in order. It has been a widespread conviction among churches of the Restoration movement that, “We don’t have to tithe!” But there remains somewhat to be said regarding this ancient duty which antedates Judaism, which was an established institution in the days of Abraham who gave tithes to Melchizedek, priest of God Most High. When Jacob promised to give a tenth to God following his vision at Bethel, he was not initiating a new obligation, but merely promising to fulfil an obligation that already existed.

Are not Christians “Children of Abraham? (Galatians 3:29). Then, what kind of “children” are those who vow that they have no duty to pay tithes? As seen in Deuteronomy and throughout the Pentateuch, the payment of tithes was a vital and continuing part of the duty that pertained to every Israelite, and what a strange thing it would be if the Israel of God which is the Church should have no obligation whatever along this line.

Jesus Christ affirmed that the righteousness of his followers should “exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees” (Matthew 5:20), adding that unless it does so, one cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. Certainly the Pharisees paid tithes of all that they had, and can a Christian’s “righteousness” exceed that of the Pharisee while he persists in the denial that he should pay any tithes whatever? This is a question that every Christian should ponder.

Furthermore, here is a little verse from Hebrews 7:8, “There (in heaven), he (Christ) receiveth them (tithes). This cannot be unless the followers of the Lord give tithes. Application of these words to Melchizedek and not to Christ is a distinction without a difference.

This writer’s views have hardened on this subject through many years of study. It has not always been a conviction with some of us that tithing is a Christian duty, but from a lifetime of study and faithful practice of the obligation, we derive the certainty that those who neglect this duty do great injury to themselves. To us it appears as a plain duty to tithe one’s income for the Lord’s work, nor can we truthfully say that even that sufficiently fulfills the duty to “give as we have been prospered.”

One disclaimer we wish to make. It is not our purpose here to bind this view on anyone who simply will not have it so. That there are exceptions, unusual cases, and perhaps even outright exemptions from this obligation in certain instances we freely admit. We do not pass judgment upon any man in regard to this. If men cannot perform the duty, God certainly does not require it, but no preacher who ever lived has the right in God’s name to excuse or release men from this obligation. An obligation it most certainly is. As the years pass, and as we see God’s work languishing for lack of funds, and at the same time tens of thousands of Christians wallowing in luxurious wealth unknown anywhere else on earth, the sacred obligation of the faithful Jew in the matter of tithing contrasts dramatically with the behavior of countless Christians who give what amounts to a pittance to the work of God. (For a fuller discussion of this subject, see my commentary, Vol. 10 in the N.T. series, under Hebrews 7:8.)

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 14". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/deuteronomy-14.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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