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Inasmuch as moderation and humanity are here enjoined, it is a Supplement of the Sixth Commandment. The sum is, that, if any one is judicially condemned to be beaten with stripes, the chastisement should not be excessive. The question, however, is as to a punishment, which by lawyers is called a moderate correction, (43) and which ought to be such, as that the body torn by the whip should not be maimed or disfigured. Since, therefore, God has so far spared the guilty, as to repress even just severity, much more would He have regard paid to innocent blood; and since He prohibits the judge from using too great rigor, much less will He tolerate the violence of a private individual, if he shall employ it against his brother. But it was necessary that zeal should be thus restrained, because judges, in other respects not unjust, are often as severe against lesser offenses ( delicta) as against crimes. An equal measure of punishment is not indeed prescribed, as if all were to be beaten alike; it is only prohibited that the judges should order more than forty stripes in all to be inflicted for an offense. Thus the culprits were beaten deliberately, and not in such an indiscriminate manner as when it was not requisite to count the stripes; besides, they were not so injured for the future as to be deprived of the use of any of their limbs. With the same intent God would have the judges themselves to be present, that by their authority they may prevent any excess: and the reason is added, lest “thy brother should seem vile unto thee,” because he had been beaten immoderately. This may be explained in two ways, either, lest his body should be disfigured by the blows, and so he should be rendered unsightly; or, lest, being stained for ever with ignominy and disgrace, he should be discouraged in mind; for we know how grievous and bitter it is to be mocked and insulted. A third sense, (44) which some prefer, is too far-fetched, viz., lest he should die like some vile and contemptible beast; for God only provides that the wretched man should be improved by his chastisement, and not that he should grow callous from his infamy. As the Jews were always ostentatious of their zeal in trifling matters, they invented a childish precaution, in order that they might more strictly observe this law; for they were scrupulous in not proceeding to the fortieth stripe, but, by deducting one, they sought after an empty reputation for clemency, as if they were wiser than God Himself, and superior to Him in kindness. Into such folly do men fall, when they dare out of their own heads to invent anything in opposition to God’s word! This superstition already prevailed in Paul’s time, as we gather from his words, where he reports that “five times he received forty stripes save one.” (2 Corinthians 11:24.)
(43) “Ce que les jurisconsultes appellent une reprimande moyenne.” — Fr.
(44) This exposition is attributed to Vatablus in Poole’s Synopsis.
4. Thou shalt not muzzle the ox. This passage, indeed, properly belongs to the Supplements of the Commandment, but, since it is a confirmation of the foregoing decree, it seemed fit to connect them; especially because its faithful expositor, Paul, declares, that God had no other design in delivering it than that the laborer should not be defrauded of his just hire, (1 Corinthians 9:10;) for, when he is speaking of the maintenance to be afforded to the ministers of the Gospel, he adduces it. in proof of his case. And, lest any should object that there is a difference between oxen and men, he adds, that God does not care for oxen, but that it was said for the sake of those that labor. Meanwhile, we must bear in mind, that men are so instructed in equity, that they are bound to exercise it even towards the brute animals; for well does Solomon magnify the injustice, whereby our neighbor is injured, by the comparison; “A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast.” (Proverbs 12:10.) The sum is, that we should freely and voluntarily pay what is right, and that every one should be strict with himself as to the performance of his duty; for, if we are bound to supply subsistence to brute animals, much less must we wait for men to be importunate with us, in order that they may obtain their due.
5. If brethren dwell together, and one of them die. This law has some similarity with that which permits a betrothed person to return to the wife, whom he has not yet taken; since the object of both is to preserve to every man what he possesses, so that he may not be obliged to leave it to strangers, but that he may have heirs begotten of his own body: for, when a son succeeds to the father, whom he represents, there seems to be hardly any change made. Hence, too, it is manifest how greatly pleasing to God it is that no one should be deprived of his property, since He makes a provision even for the dying, that what they could not resign to others without regret and annoyance, should be preserved to their offspring. Unless, therefore, his kinsman should obviate the dead man’s childlessness, this inhumanity is accounted a kind of theft. For, since to be childless was a curse of God, it was a consolation in this condition to hope for a borrowed offspring, that the name might not be altogether extinct.
Since we now understand the intention of the law, we must also observe that the word brethren does not mean actual brothers, but cousins, and other kinsmen, whose marriage with the widows of their relative would not have been incestuous; otherwise God would contradict Himself. But these two things are quite compatible, that no one should uncover the nakedness of his brother, and yet that a widow should not marry out of her husband’s family, until she had raised up seed to him from some relation. In fact, Boaz did not marry Ruth because he was the brother of her deceased husband, but only his near kinsman. If any should object that it is not probable that other kinsmen should dwell together, I reply that this passage is improperly supposed to refer to actual living together, as if they dwelt in the same house, but that the precept is merely addressed to relations, whose near residence rendered it convenient to take the widows to their own homes; for, if any lived far away, liberty was accorded to both to seek the fulfillment of the provision elsewhere. Surely it is not probable that God would have authorized an incestuous marriage, which He had before expressed His abomination of. Nor can it be doubted, as I have above stated, but that the like necessity was imposed upon the woman of offering herself to the kinsman of her former husband; and although there was harshness in this, still she seemed to owe this much to his memory, that she should willingly raise up seed to the deceased; yet, if any one think differently, I will not contend the point with him. If, however, she were not obliged to do so, it was absurd that she should voluntarily obtrude herself: nor was there any other reason why she should bring to trial the kinsman, from whom she had suffered a repulse, except that she might acquire the liberty of marrying into another family. Yet it is not probable that he was to be condemned to an ignominious punishment, without being admitted to make his defense, because sometimes just reasons for refusal might be alleged. This disgrace, therefore, was only a penalty for inhumanity or avarice. By giving up his shoe, he renounced his right of relationship, and gave it up to another: for, by behaving so unkindly towards the dead, he became unworthy of reaping any of the advantages of his relationship.
This Law is apparently harsh, but its severity skews how very pleasing to God is modesty, whilst, on the other hand, He abominates indecency; for, if in the heat of a quarrel, when the agitation of the mind is an excuse for excesses, it was a crime thus heavily punished, for a woman to take hold of the private parts of a man who was not her husband, much less would God have her lasciviousness pardoned, if a woman were impelled by lust to do anything of the sort. Neither can we doubt but that the judges, in punishing obscenity, were bound to argue from the less to the greater. A threat is also added, lest the severity of the punishment should influence their minds to be tender and remiss ill inflicting it. It was indeed inexcusable effrontery, willfully to assail that part of the body, from the sight and touch of which all chaste women naturally recoil.
17. Remember what Amalek did unto thee. We have elsewhere seen how the Amalekites were the first who made a hostile attack upon the people, and endeavored to interrupt their journey; and Moses also related the sentence of God against them, the execution of which he now enjoins upon the people. God then swore that there should be perpetual war against them throughout all ages; and, that His threatening might not be frustrated, He appoints His people to take vengeance upon their great cruelty and impiety. For when the Israelites were inflicting no injury nor loss upon them, it was an act of injustice to make war upon peaceful persons proceeding, without doing any wrong, to another land. But humanity was still more grossly violated by them, inasmuch as they did not spare their own kindred, and thus cast away the feelings of nature. It is plain from Genesis 36:12, that the Amalekites were the descendants of Esau; and hence it follows that they were both sprung from the same ancestor, Isaac. It is true that this command seems but little in accordance with religion, that the people should retaliate an injury done to them. I reply, that they are not stimulated to vindictive feelings in these words, but that they are commanded to punish the sins of Amalek with the same severity as those of the other nations. God appears, indeed, to influence them by private motives when He recounts the cruelty shewn by the Amalekites; but we must judge of the intention of the Legislator with reference to His nature, for we know that no angry or hateful passions can be approved by God; and hence it is easy to conclude that the command was such as the people might obey with well-regulated zeal. The first origin of the crime is specified, viz., because they “feared not God,” for this must not be taken in its ordinary meaning, but as expressing that they rebelled against God as it were deliberately. For the promise given to Abraham and Isaac could not be unknown to them; but, since Esau, the founder of their race, had fallen from the right of primogeniture, it came to pass that they attempted to bring God’s covenant to nought out of wicked and sacrilegious jealousy; and this is the reason why He unites them with the reprobate nations unto the same destruction. The word זנב, zineb, which means to crop the tail, is equivalent to making an attack on the rear, where the baggage and invalids are wont to be placed. (304)
(304) Addition in Fr. , “ Dont il s’ensuit, que les Amalechites ont assailli le peuple comme en trahison;” whence it follows that the Amalekites assailed the people treacherously.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 25". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29