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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 21

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-9


Verses 1-9:

This text provides for the expiation of guilt incurred by death of a human being, who died from a wound inflicted by an unknown assailant. If a body were discovered in an open field, and it was not known who the killer was, certain steps were taken to cleanse the land of blood-guilt.

(1) The "elders" and "judges" of near-by cities met to determine which was the city nearest the location of the corpse. The former were magistrates representing the communities, and the latter represented the administrators of law. Once the distance to the nearest city was determined, that city and its officials had the duty of expiating the crime.

(2) A young cow which was ceremonially clean was led to a "rough valley," a valley through which a stream flowed, a valley neither plowed nor sown.

(3) The heifer was slain in that valley, by breaking its neck, compare Exodus 13:13. This was not in the nature of a sacrifice, which required ceremonial shedding of blood. It was a symbolic acknowledgment of death by an unknown assailant.

(4) The priests were present, as representatives of Jehovah, to assure that all was carried out in accordance with Divine law.

(5) The city officials then washed their hands over the dead heifer and proclaimed their innocence of death of one slain.

In the event the identity of the killer could be determined, his death would be the expiation for the crime of murder. But if the killer were not known, the above procedure sufficed to cleanse the land from this guilt.

Verses 10-14

Verses 10-14:

It was not uncommon for a victorious soldier to take a wife from among the women of a captured city or country. God regulated this practice, by giving the statute in this text.

First, the captive woman was to shave her head and pare (trim) her nails. This was a token of her purification from idolatry. She was to put away the garments she wore when taken captive, in order to put on a garment of mourning. Then, she was to be allowed one month, in which to mourn the loss of her parents, or her native land.

Later, if for some reason the man found he no longer had pleasure in the captive woman, he could send her away wherever she chose to go. But he must not sell her as a slave.

This provision applied to captives from a distant city, Deuteronomy 20:13-14. It did not apply to the Canaanites, who were to be utterly destroyed.

Verses 15-17

Verses 15-17:

This text explains the law of primogeniture, in the case of a man, with two wives, one beloved and the other unloved. If the unloved wife bore the firstborn son, the father must bestow upon him the rights of the firstborn, He must not give this right to the son of the beloved wife. The firstborn was to receive a double portion of the inheritance, twice that of the other heirs.

It is interesting that Jacob (Israel) himself did not follow this provision, but bestowed upon Joseph, son of Rachel, the portion of the firstborn, Genesis 29:31-32; Genesis 30:22-23; Genesis 37:3-4; Genesis 48:5.

Verses 18-21

Verses 18-21:

This law concerns an incorrigible son who was given to sensual indulgence, and who would not yield to the chastening and correction of his parents. The father and mother of this son were to bring him before the magistrates of the city where they lived, and prefer charges against him.

"Glutton," zalal, "vile, lightly esteemed, gluttonous." The term includes all kinds of excesses.

"Drunkard," saba, "suck up, be satiated."

When the charges were confirmed, it became the duty of the court and the community to put the incorrigible son to death, by stoning.

Among the Greeks and the Romans, the father inflicted the death penalty. But in Israel, this was a community affair. Disobedience to parental authority struck at the very heart of the community, and must be speedily dealt with.

A father might chastise his son severely, but he must not do so to the extent that he takes the child’s life, Proverbs 19:18.

Verses 22-23

Verses 22, 23:

The common method of capital punishment was death by stoning. But in the case of a particularly heinous crime, the body of the criminal might be hanged on a tree, or impaled on a stake, for public display. In this event, the body must not be allowed to remain hanging overnight. The reason: that the land might not be defiled.

The sins of criminals defiled the land, but the public display of executed criminals also defiled it, see Leviticus 18:24-25; Numbers 35:33-34; Joshua 8:29; Joshua 10:26-27.

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 21". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/deuteronomy-21.html. 1985.
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