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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

Deuteronomy 25

9. Laws arising from the ninth commandment 24:8-25:4

The ninth commandment is, "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor" (Deuteronomy 5:20). There may be a deliberate descending order of hierarchy in the list of offended parties in this section beginning with the highest to the lowest. [Note: Kaufman, pp. 141-42.]

Introduction

B. An exposition of selected covenant laws Chs. 12-25

Moses’ continuing homiletical exposition of the Law of Israel that follows explains reasons for the covenant laws that arose from the Ten Commandments. This address concludes with directions for celebrating and confirming the covenant (Deuteronomy 26:1-15). The section contains a mixture of laws previously revealed to the Israelites and other laws not previously revealed in the code given at Sinai (Exodus 20:1 to Exodus 23:19). This is instruction preached rather than codified as comprehensive legislation.

"The specific laws in this section were given to help the people subordinate every area of their lives to the LORD, and to help them eradicate whatever might threaten that pure devotion." [Note: Deere, p. 283.]

"Placement of the instruction about worship at the sanctuary in first position indicates clearly its priority for Deuteronomy, which assumes that the starting point for the proper, full, and exclusive love of the Lord (the primary demand of the first and second commandments and the Shema) is found in the way Israel carries out the activities of worship." [Note: Miller, p. 129.]

There is an obvious general movement from laws dealing with Israel’s religious life (Deuteronomy 12:1 to Deuteronomy 16:17) to those affecting her civil life (Deuteronomy 16:18 to Deuteronomy 22:8) and finally to those touching personal life (Deuteronomy 22:9 to Deuteronomy 26:15).

Two insightful writers suggested the following outlines for these chapters. [Note: Merrill, Deuteronomy, pp. 218-331; and Stephen A. Kaufman, "The Structure of the Deuteronomic Law," MAARAV 1 (1978-79):105-58.]

CommandmentMerrillKaufmanDescription
1Deuteronomy 12:1-31ch. 12Fidelity
2Deuteronomy 12:32 to Deuteronomy 13:18ch. 12Worship
3Deuteronomy 14:1-21Deuteronomy 13:1 to Deuteronomy 14:27Name of God
4Deuteronomy 14:22 to Deuteronomy 16:17Deuteronomy 14:28 to Deuteronomy 16:17Sabbath
5Deuteronomy 16:18 to Deuteronomy 18:22Deuteronomy 16:18 to Deuteronomy 18:22Authority
6Deuteronomy 19:1 to Deuteronomy 22:8Deuteronomy 19:1 to Deuteronomy 22:8Murder
7Deuteronomy 22:9 to Deuteronomy 23:18Deuteronomy 22:9 to Deuteronomy 23:19Adultery
8Deuteronomy 23:19 to Deuteronomy 24:7Deuteronomy 23:20 to Deuteronomy 24:7Theft
9Deuteronomy 24:8 to Deuteronomy 25:4Deuteronomy 24:8 to Deuteronomy 25:4False witness
10Deuteronomy 25:5-19Deuteronomy 25:5-16Coveting

". . . the entire second discourse of Moses (Deuteronomy 5-26) is a single literary unit that convincingly demonstrates that the moral law informs the statutes, judgments . . . and commands of God." [Note: Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Toward Old Testament Ethics, p. 129.]

In contrast with the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 20-23), the Deuteronomic Code, as some scholars prefer to call this section (chs. 12-26), is a popular exposition rather than a formal legal code. Its purpose was to explain to the generation entering the land all the laws that needed clarification, emphasis, and application, in view of Israel’s imminent entrance into Canaan. These laws reflect a centralized, monarchical society.

The value of this section of Scripture to the Christian today lies primarily in its revelation of the heart, mind, and will of God. The modern student of these chapters should look for this kind of insight here. This is the revelatory value of the Law.

Verses 1-3

Criminals 25:1-3

Beating was a form of punishment used in Israel for various offenses. However the safety and personal dignity of the person being beaten was important to God even though he or she deserved the beating. These things were also to be important to God’s people.

"This was the Egyptian mode of whipping, as we may see depicted upon the monuments, when the culprits lie flat upon the ground, and being held fast by the hands and feet, receive their strokes in the presence of the judge. . . . The number forty was not to be exceeded, because a larger number of strokes with a stick would not only endanger health and life, but disgrace the man. . . . If he had deserved a severer punishment, he was to be executed. . . . The number, forty, was probably chosen with reference to its symbolical significance, which it had derived from Gen. vii. 12 onwards, as the full measure of judgment. The Rabbins fixed the number at forty save one (vid. 2 Cor. xi. 24), from a scrupulous fear of transgressing the letter of the law, in case a mistake should be made in the counting; yet they felt no conscientious scruples about using a whip of twisted thongs instead of a stick." [Note: Ibid., 3:421.]

Deuteronomy 25:1 points out very clearly that "justify" means to declare righteous, not to make righteous. This distinction is very important to a correct understanding of the doctrine of justification as God has revealed it in Scripture. Generally speaking the Protestant Reformers failed to express this distinction clearly. To combat the Roman Catholic charge that justification by faith alone leads to antinomianism, some of them went beyond the proper definition of justification and taught that the justified believer will inevitably persevere in faith and good works. [Note: See Dillow, pp. 14, 25-41.]

Verse 4

Animals 25:4

God’s care for animals as His creatures lay behind this law. The Apostle Paul expounded the significance of this command (1 Corinthians 9:9; 1 Timothy 5:18).

"The purpose clearly was not only to provide for the ox itself but to make the point by a fortiori argument that if a mere animal was worthy of humane treatment, how much more so was a human being created as the image of God." [Note: Merrill, Deuteronomy, p. 325.]

Verses 5-10

Selfishness in levirate marriage 25:5-10

The purpose of the levirate marriage ordinance was to enable a man who died before fathering an heir to obtain one and so perpetuate his name and estate. "Levirate" comes from the Latin word levir meaning husband’s brother.

"The practice was common in the patriarchal period [cf. Genesis 38:1-10]. . . . Presumably the prohibition of sexual union with a brother’s wife in Leviticus 18:16; Leviticus 20:21 refers to such an act while the brother is still living." [Note: Thompson, p. 251.]

"The taking off of the shoe was an ancient custom in Israel, adopted, according to Ruth iv. 7, in cases of redemption and exchange, for the purpose of confirming commercial transactions. The usage arose from the fact, that when any one took possession of landed property he did so by treading upon the soil, and asserting his right of possession by standing upon it in his shoes [cf. e.g., Genesis 13:17]. In this way the taking off of the shoe and handing it to another became a symbol of the renunciation of a man’s position and property. . . . But the custom was an ignominious one in such a case as this, when the shoe was publicly taken off the foot of the brother-in-law by the widow whom he refused to marry. He was thus deprived of the position which he ought to have occupied in relation to her and to his deceased brother, or to his paternal house; and the disgrace involved in this was still further heightened by the fact that his sister-in-law spat in his face." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 3:423.]

The Israelites were to practice levirate marriage only in cases where the brothers had lived together (Deuteronomy 25:5) and the remaining brother was not already married. Living together meant living in the same area, not necessarily residing under the same roof. [Note: Ibid., 3:422.] When another kinsman voluntarily assumed the responsibility of the surviving brother, that brother was apparently under no obligation to marry his sister-in-law (cf. Ruth 4).

There were several reasons for this provision. These reasons were the importance of descendants in God’s purposes for Israel, the welfare of the widow, and the demonstration of love for one’s brother (cf. Genesis 38). [Note: See Dale W. Manor, "A Brief History of Levirate Marriage As It Relates to the Bible," Near Eastern Archaeological Society Bulletin NS20 (Fall 1982):33-52.]

Verses 5-19

10. Laws arising from the tenth commandment 25:5-19

The tenth commandment is, "You shall not covet . . . anything that belongs to your neighbor" (Deuteronomy 5:21). The four laws in this section all deal with desire or intention as opposed to deed.

Verses 11-12

Unfair defense by a wife 25:11-12

God forbade an Israelite woman from gaining unfair advantage of her husband’s adversary in hand-to-hand fighting. This is a rare example of punishment by mutilation in the Pentateuch (cf. Exodus 21:23-25; Leviticus 24:19-20; Deuteronomy 19:21).

Verses 13-16

Dishonest weights and measures 25:13-16

The Israelites were to use the same weights and measures for both buying and selling to ensure fairness in business (Deuteronomy 25:13-16).

Verses 17-19

Desire for peace at any price 25:17-19

When the Israelites had entered the Promised Land and had attained a measure of rest there, they were to remember that God had commanded them to exterminate the Amalekites. They were to do this because of the Amalekites’ treatment of Israel in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 25:17-19; cf. Exodus 17:8-16; Numbers 24:20; 1 Chronicles 4:42-43).

"Particular importance is attached to the fate of the Amalekites in the Pentateuch, especially as a sign of God’s faithfulness in fulfilling his promises." [Note: Sailhamer, p. 469.]

"Taken together, the laws of love and hate amount to the single requirement to love God, and consequently to love whom he loves and hate whom he hates." [Note: Kline, "Deuteronomy," p. 189.]

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 25". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/deuteronomy-25.html. 2012.