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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Deuteronomy 24

Verse 1

When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house.

It come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes. It appears that the practice of divorces was at this early period very prevalent among the Israelites, who had in all probability become familiar with it in Egypt (Lane), where too great facilities, and that on the most frivolous pretexts, have always existed to the dissolution of the nuptial tie. Parties agree to live together as man and wife for a stipulated period-for a month, for a year, or two years-and then separate in the most friendly manner. The usage being too deep-rooted to be soon or easily abolished, was tolerated by Moses. Because he hath found some uncleanness in her, [ `erwat (H6172) daabaar (H1697)] - any blemish (cf. Deuteronomy 23:15), something foul or corrupt; but whether a latent deformity and loathsome distemper of body, or a moral delinquency, was much debated among the later Jews, though, from want of data in the early books of the sacred history, it is impossible to determine the precise nature of the "uncleanness" referred to.

The law at first ordained that a woman convicted either of ante-nuptial fornication (Deuteronomy 22:13-21) or of adultery after marriage should be condemned to death. In a state of society which, like that of the emancipated Hebrews at the exodus, was marked by so much [ skleerokardia (G4641)] hardness of heart - i:e., general depravity (Matthew 19:3-8; Romans 2:5) - Moses, who saw that such executions would, through the extreme laxity of morals among the Israelites, be painfully frequent, modified the original stringency of the marriage law, permitting a wife in some cases to clear herself, by a solemn oath, of a criminal imputation (Numbers 5:11-31), and in others allowing a husband to put her away privately without bringing her to trial. This latter alternative was afforded by the law of divorce enunciated in this passage; and that it had become the common rule of procedure in such cases, appears from the recorded intention of Joseph to take advantage of it on suspecting his betrothed wife Mary (Matthew 1:19).

The rival schools of Hillel and Schammai, about the time of our Saviour, took different views of this statute. The former, overlooking the second clause in the first half of the verse, and laying stress chiefly upon the preceding one - "that she find no favour in his eyes " - taught that Israelites possessed a legal right to divorce their wives at pleasure, and that the validity of the nuptial bond might be dissolved at any time, and on account of any cause, however trivial [ascheemon pragma], something uncomely, some defect of person or infirmity of disposition], such as the appearance of an unsightly pimple on her face, her going abroad without a veil, the untidy or tasteless style of her dress, the overcooking of her husband's dinner, or mere dissatisfaction with her manners (Josephus, 'Life;' also 'Antiquities,' b. 18:, 5; 20:, 7; Lightfoot, 'Horae Hebraicae,' on Matthew 5:27-32; Matthew 19:3-8).

The latter school held that the only ground of divorce warranted by this law of Moses was something criminal-a breach of conjugal fidelity. Among modern commentators, Lightfoot and Michaelis support the interpretation of the Shammai school-the first, however, considering that the Mosaic permission of divorce was granted only in case of adultery ('Horae Hebaicae,' on Matthew 5:32), while the second supposes it was intended to refer to cases of less magnitude-such as that detailed in Deuteronomy 22:13-21 ('Commentary,' b. 3:, art.

93). No nearer approach than the preceding conjectures can be made to ascertain the precise class of cases for which this legislation was provided.

Then let him write her a bill of divorcement, [ wªkaatab (H3789) laah (H3807a) ceeper (H5612) kªriytut (H3748)] - a writing of cuttings-namely, of two in marriage; a certificate of separation. [Septuagint, biblion (G975) apostasiou (G647).] It was a practice in civil life which, in order to prevent greater evils among a rude and licentious people, who might have tried to get rid of their wives by poison or violence, the institution of Moses tolerated. But it was the doing of Moses-an enactment of human device and political expediency-not, as our Lord said, the original law of God [ ap' (G575) archees (G746) de (G1161) ou (G3756) gegonen (G1096) houtoos (G3779)]; and Moses did not command [ eneteilato (G1781)], as the Pharisees unwarrantably asserted (Matthew 19:7), but, as Christ stated in His answer, permitted epetrepsen (G2010). 'In fact, the very permission was virtual. The whole of the passage (Deuteronomy 24:1-4) is but one sentence. The first three verses contain a series of hypothetical statements respecting certain supposed successive divorces, and the apodosis does not occur until the fourth verse, which contains so stringent a prohibition of the possibility of a reunion of the original parties as to impose a powerful and salutary restraint on the caprice that might otherwise impel to a step which, in the case supposed, was declared to be irremediable' (Black's 'Exegetical Study of the Original Scriptures,' pp. 42, 43).

This permissive law of divorce was one of those 'statutes given to the Israelites that were not good' (Ezek This permissive law of divorce was one of those 'statutes given to the Israelites that were not good' (Ezekiel 20:25) - i:e., not absolutely, but only relatively good (see Montesquieu, 'Spirit of Laws,' b. 19:, ch. 21:); not the universal and perpetual law, but a provisional enactment suited to the demoralized state and special circumstances of the Hebrew people (Romans 5:20; Galatians 3:19).

They were allowed to divorce their wives without the assignation of any cause; but it was accompanied under the law with three conditions, which were calculated greatly to prevent the evils incident to the permitted system-namely:

1st. That the act of divorcement was to be certified on a written document, the preparation of which, with legal formality, probably by a Levite, who might admonish and counsel the parties, would afford time for reflection and repentance, as well as impart a solemn and deliberate character to the transaction (Michaelis, 'Commentary,' 2:, art. 317). (See the form of bill of divorcement in later times, Lightfoot's 'Horae Hebraicae,' in Matthew 4:3; Baxter's 'Synag. Judaic,' cap. 40; Surenhusii, 'Mishna' part 3:, p. 324).

2nd. That it was 'given in (into) her hand,' either privately or publicly. When delivered privately it was stamped with the husband's seal, and handed to the repudiated wife in presence of two witnesses; but when done publicly it was accompanied with increased formalities, and frequently taken to the sanhedrin, to be there deposited in their archives for preservation; and

3rd. That, in the event of the divorced wife being married to another husband, she could not, on the termination of that second marriage, be restored to her first husband, however desirous he might be to receive her.

In the circumstances of the Israelite people this law of divorce was of great use in preserving public morals, and promoting the comfort and permanence of married life. In later times-toward the period of our Saviour's advent, when the divorce system was carried to such an extreme that men freed themselves from the nuptial bonds on the most frivolous pretexts-the effect upon public morals was exceedingly baneful; and an idea may be formed of the social state of Palestine at the commencement of the Christian era from the existing condition of the Jews in that country.

'Wherever the teaching of the oral law prevails unchecked, as in the holy cities of the East, the concocting of divorces forms a chief branch of the business of a rabbi-he is occupied incessantly in putting asunder what God hath joined; and as a consequence, those cities are full of poor, unhappy, divorced women and girls, with all the intrigues inseparable from a state of things which saps the very foundations of society' ('Jewish Intelligence,' September, 1863).

Verses 2-4

And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man's wife.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 5

When a man hath taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war, neither shall he be charged with any business: but he shall be free at home one year, and shall cheer up his wife which he hath taken.

When a man hath taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war. This law of exemption was founded on good policy, and was favourable to matrimony, as it afforded a full opportunity for the affections of the newly-married pair being more firmly engaged, and it diminished or removed occasions for the divorces just mentioned.

It is somewhat remarkable that the same rule was put in practice by Alexander the Great in his expedition against Persia. For, after the battle of the Granicus, and previously to his retiring into winter quarters, he proclaimed to all of his soldiers who had married that year, that liberty was granted them to return home to Macedonia, and pass the winter in the society of their wives, appointing the officers to conduct this homeward-bound party, and to bring them back to the army when their furlough was expired, (Arrian, lib. 1:)

Verse 6

No man shall take the nether or the upper millstone to pledge: for he taketh a man's life to pledge.

No man shall take the nether or the upper millstone. The "upper" stone, being concave, covers the "nether" like a lid; and it has a small aperture through which the grain is poured, as well as a handle by which it is turned. The propriety of the law prohibiting either being taken was founded on the custom of grinding grain every morning for daily consumption. If either of the stones, therefore, which composed the handmill was wanting, a person would be deprived of his necessary provision; and as there was no other means of preparing it, all rational prospect of subsistence, no less than of paying his debts, was taken away.

Verse 7

If a man be found stealing any of his brethren of the children of Israel, and maketh merchandise of him, or selleth him; then that thief shall die; and thou shalt put evil away from among you.

If a man be found stealing any of his brethren - (see the note at Exodus 21:16.) A land so completely a thoroughfare for mercantile caravans as Canaan was must have presented special opportunities to kidnapping for a slave trade. The person who thus laid hold of a brother Israelite, and sold him into slavery among a foreign and pagan people-as was the case of Joseph into Egypt-was a criminal that merited both condemnation and death.

Verses 8-9

Take heed in the plague of leprosy, that thou observe diligently, and do according to all that the priests the Levites shall teach you: as I commanded them, so ye shall observe to do.

Take heed in the plague of leprosy (see the note at Leviticus 13:14) - avoid all occasion of contracting that dreadful disease, especially in the way of punishment for disobedience, like Miriam; but in the event of being overtaken by it, be implicitly subject to the counsels and instructions of the Levites, who were divinely directed what remedies to prescribe.

Verse 10

When thou dost lend thy brother any thing, thou shalt not go into his house to fetch his pledge.

When thou dost lend thy brother any thing, [ masha't (H4859)] - the loan between one Israelite and another of any article that was required, on the ground of pledge until it was restored, without any pecuniary consideration for the loan. Different words are used when interest was taken (Leviticus 25:36-37; Deuteronomy 23:19-20). The course recommended was, in kind and considerate regard, to spare the borrower's feelings by not exposing the poverty of his house, or affording an opportunity for the creditor to show insolvency. In the case of a poor man who had pledged his cloak, it was to be restored before night, as the poor in Eastern countries have commonly no other covering for wrapping themselves in when they go to sleep than the hyke or plaid they have worn during the day (see the notes at Exodus 22:26-27).

Verse 11

Thou shalt stand abroad, and the man to whom thou dost lend shall bring out the pledge abroad unto thee.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 12

And if the man be poor, thou shalt not sleep with his pledge:

Thou shalt not sleep with his pledge. Hengstenberg suggests that it should be 'sleep upon his pledge,' founding upon the subsequent phrase, "that he may sleep in his own raiment" [bªsalmaatow]. The Salema, or by transposition, Simela (Deuteronomy 22:5; Genesis 9:23; Judges 8:25), was the wide outer cloak or mantle. The hyke of the Arabs was of different sizes and fineness in qualities. The ordinary size of them is six yards long and five or six feet broad, bearing a close resemblance to the plaid of the Highlander.

Verse 13

In any case thou shalt deliver him the pledge again when the sun goeth down, that he may sleep in his own raiment, and bless thee: and it shall be righteousness unto thee before the LORD thy God.

When the sun goeth down - (see the note at Deuteronomy 16:6.) Sunset were the usual time for returning a pledged garment (Josephus, 'Antiquities,' b. 4:, ch. 8:, sec, 26).

Verses 14-15

Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant that is poor and needy, whether he be of thy brethren, or of thy strangers that are in thy land within thy gates:

Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant that is poor and needy. Hirelings, who consisted for the most part, though not exclusively, of foreigners (Exodus 12:45), were entitled by express statute to kind and considerate treatment: and as they had it in their power to choose their services, they could doubtless be influenced in the kind and degree of employment they deemed the best and easiest.

Hired servants, with the exception of a particular class resident in the family of their master, and whose term of employment lasted for a year (Gen. 25:53 ), were among the Israelites (cf. Matthew 20:1), as in the East generally, day labourers, and paid every day. No one works after the sun goes down (cf. Leviticus 19:13) even in winter. The wages are given at the close of the day; and for a master to defraud the labourer of his hire, or to withhold it wrongfully for a night, might have subjected a poor man with his family to suffering, and was therefore an injustice to be avoided (Leviticus 19:13: see Saalschutz, 'On Hebrew Servitude,' Barrow's translation). The hired were paid in money; the bought received their gratuity at least in grain, cattle, and the produce of the vintage. The hired lived in their own families; the bought formed part of their masters' families.

Verse 16

The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin.

The fathers shall not be put to death for the children. God, the sovereign author and proprietor of life, may, in certain circumstances, command this penalty; but the rule was addressed for the guidance of earthly magistrates, and it established the equitable principle that none should be responsible for the crimes of others, and that impartial justice should be blended with mercy in all their decisions.

This law had a special reference to the commission of idolatry, which was not only a sin against God, but a crime against the state; and as treason in many of the most civilized states is punished both by the death of the offender and also by the confiscation of property, which involves his family in poverty and degradation, so God, as the King of the Israelite nation, declared it to be a principle in His providential procedure to visit this "iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation" (see the note at Exodus 20:5). In carrying this principle into execution, human tribunals frequently err on the score of excessive severity; but in the Jewish state it was applied with unerring justice. 'For the Deity,' says Dr. Warburton ('Divine Legation,' b.

v., sec. 5), 'though He allowed capital punishment to be inflicted for the crime of less majesty on the person of the offender, by the delegated administration of the law, yet, concerning his family or posterity, he reserved the inquisition of the crime to Himself, and expressly forbade the magistrate to meddle with it in the common course of justice' (see the note at 2 Kings 14:6; also Graves' 'Lectures on the Pentateuch,' 2:, pp. 240, 241).

Verses 17-18

Thou shalt not pervert the judgment of the stranger, nor of the fatherless; nor take a widow's raiment to pledge:

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verses 19-22

When thou cuttest down thine harvest in thy field, and hast forgot a sheaf in the field, thou shalt not go again to fetch it: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow: that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hands.

When thou cuttest down thine harvest. The grain pulled up by the roots or cut down with a sickle was laid in loose sheaves; the fruit of the olive was obtained by striking the branches with long poles or shaking the tree (Isaiah 17:6; Isaiah 24:13); and the grape clusters, severed by a hook, were gathered in the hands of the vintager. Here is a beneficent provision for the poor, who were to participate in the general joy at the crowning of the year with the divine goodness. Every forgotten sheaf in the harvest field was to lie; the olive tree was not to be "gone over" a second time; the shaking was the method used by the poor strangers (Harmer);-nor gleaning grapes to be gathered, in order that, in collecting what remained, the hearts of the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow might be gladdened by the bounty of Providence.

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Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 24". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/deuteronomy-24.html. 1871-8.