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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Deuteronomy 21

Verses 1-23

Deuteronomy 21:4 . A rough valley. The guilt being transferred to the heifer, the slaying it in a cultivated field would have polluted the ground. The Hebrew altar allowed of no victim to be offered there, when the law sentenced it to die. How blasphemous then is the Irish priest, who hears a confession of murder, and for five shillings conceals the sin!

Deuteronomy 21:6-7 . All the elders shall wash their hands, and say, Our hands have not shed this blood. The custom of ablution after the shedding of blood seems to have been universal in former ages. See on Genesis 31:19. If a heathen had slain a robber, he purified himself before he entered a temple.

Deuteronomy 21:11 . Seest among the captives a beautiful woman that thou wouldst have for a wife. Moses did not allow her to be touched, without first being lawfully married at a fixed time: and though he allowed of divorce, and of having two wives, Deuteronomy 21:15, it was merely Lex custorum, the law of customs, and nowhere a divine injunction. Divorces, except for adultery, proceeded from “the hardness of their hearts.”

Deuteronomy 21:21 . All the men of the city shall stone him. Thousands of parents, yea cities and nations, would have survived, if guilty sons, committing crimes worthy of death, had been stoned. The rape of Helen, as that of the Levite’s concubine, and other crimes, which slowly murder parents, ought in common justice to have been punished with death. It proved very tragic when Eli spared his sons, and David his Amnon.


Israel being in covenant with God, no crimes could remain unpurged. The sins of the nation were removed evening and morning by the oblation of a lamb, whose body was, in fact, burning night and day upon the altar. The sin also of every secret murder must be purged with the blood of a heifer, a sacrifice adequate to purge the sins of the whole nation. Washing of hands, protestations of innocence, and prayers for pardon must be joined with sacrifice. How precious in the eyes of the Lord is the life of man; and how great the crime of slaying a man, made in the image of God! How happy also is that nation who have magistrates and ministers whose pious care it is to purge the people of crimes, and to turn away the wrath of heaven from their country. The allowance of a full month for a woman taken in war, to mourn for the dead, and purify herself before marriage, teaches us that all persons in trouble ought to be commiserated and indulged; and that the lawless lusts of military triumph are an abomination in the sight of the Lord. Consequently that general who does not deter his men from those crimes, by executing the ringleaders, throws the whole guilt on himself, and on his country. Injustice once sanctioned by the ministers of justice, becomes the last of crimes.

The punishment here denounced against a prodigal, whose vices rendered him insupportable to his own parents, however extraordinary and severe, is highly equitable. If the tender feelings of humanity revolt at the sentence; let our more sober judgment say, what is due to a youth who daily robs his parents, riots in taverns, blasphemes the name of God, and uses violence in the commission of crimes. Shall Eli merely say, Nay, my sons, this is no good report that I hear of you, till the old man loses his mitre, his life, by sparing his guilty sons; and till Israel loses the ark? Rather let us say with Solomon, Whoso curseth father or mother, his light shall go out in obscurity, and the young eagles of the valley shall pick out his eyes. Surely this united kingdom, as well as Israel, is in danger from a multitude of profligate youths.

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Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 21". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. 1835.