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Tuesday, September 26th, 2023
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 21

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Verses 1-9


This is a special chapter, which also forms a whole in the five sections of which it consists. We find here the holiness of life and personal rights, seen from all angles. We also discover a nice overview of God’s plans with His people. There are also spiritual applications to make.

Reconciliation of Innocent Blood

Here it is about someone who has died a violent death, while the perpetrator is unknown. The scene of the crime is the open country, not a city. The first murder in the history of mankind also occurs in the field (Genesis 4:8). If no perpetrator is known, in society everyone normally goes unpunished. For God this is not so. For Him it is certain that there is guilt and to that awareness the people must come. One of them is a murderer. The people must learn to see that guilt as their guilt.

The blood that has been shed is innocent blood (Deuteronomy 21:9-2 Samuel :) in the sense that one does not know who the perpetrator is. Yet there is guilt, because it happened among the people. The whole land is involved (Deuteronomy 21:1; Deuteronomy 21:8). To reconcile the guilt of the land (Deuteronomy 21:8), a sacrifice must be brought. God provides a means by which the general guilt of people and land will be removed. As long as crime is not punished, justice is not satisfied. If the perpetrator can’t be traced, the guilt that rests on the land and the people must be removed in another way. The general guilt of the individual’s act can also be seen in Joshua 7 (Joshua 7:1; 2 Samuel 21:1-Exodus :).

In Deuteronomy 19 a provision has been made for manslaughter in which the manslayer is known (Deuteronomy 19:1-1 Chronicles :). In this chapter a provision is made in case the murderer is not known. To work reconciliation for the shed blood, a heifer’s neck must be broken by the elders and these elders must wash their hands above the heifer. During this washing of hands, the elders, as representatives of the people, have to declare themselves innocent of this shed blood. Then they must ask the LORD to keep his redeemed people innocent.

There is no reconciliation in the usual sense of the word here. Nothing happens with the blood of the heifer. It is rather a reconciliation through justice. The heifer dies instead of the unknown murderer, through which the land cleansed of guilt (cf. Numbers 35:33).

The prophetic application is what will happen to Israel later on. Israel will see that it is guilty of the death of the Lord Jesus (Zechariah 12:10). Not those who then live have literally killed Him. They are literally innocent, but as a people they are guilty of blood. Thus the people, represented in the elders, stand in the valley: personally innocent, but guilty as a whole. The fact that it has to happen in a valley symbolically indicates humiliation about what happened among them.

The heifer is brought “down to a valley with running water, which has not been plowed or sown”. The running water speaks of the never-ending grace of God. The fact that has not been plowed or sown indicates the absence of any human work or any human effort with the hope of a future result. The work that God does for reconciliation is exclusively the result of His grace without any contribution from man.

The laying on of the hands is the identification with the murderer present in their midst, although he is unknown. By the sacrifice, the people are freed from the guilt that rests on them. The judgment strikes the heifer and not the guilty people as a whole. They wash their hands as a sign of identification with the sacrifice (Psalms 26:6; Psalms 73:13) and not like Pilate, who didn’t want to have anything to do with the sacrifice (Matthew 27:24).

Both the murdered and the heifer represent the Lord Jesus. The murdering of the Lord Jesus (Acts 7:52) is the result of His rejection by man. Giving Christ as a means of reconciliation is the answer of God’s grace. This can be seen on the cross. There man has brought Christ and at the same time God gives Him as reconciliation.

There is also an application to the church. Evil that is present in a local church affects all the people of God. The borders of the land do not apply to the church of God. Yet not all the people are dealing with it. This is done by the ‘cities’ closest to them, and not everyone, but the elders and judges who represent the element of responsibility. It is important to know where the first spiritual responsibility lies. There has to be ‘measured’ who has the first responsibility.

Someone can only deal with evil if there is no guilt on their own hands. Only then can there be identification in the awareness that the whole people are guilty. It is concern brothers who are closest in a spiritual sense. They can engage in it. They are brothers who, as priests, are accustomed to being in God’s presence. They are not only concerned with serious evil as murder, but with “every assault” (Deuteronomy 21:5). For such believers, it is important that the priestly and the judicial element are in balance.

Verses 10-14

The Captured Woman

This section (Deuteronomy 21:10-2 Chronicles :) and the following section (Deuteronomy 21:15-Esther :) both deal with marriage and the particular relationship between man and woman. In both sections it is about the relationship between God and His people that is presented in the Bible as a marriage relationship.

The first section is about the marriage between an Israelite man and a woman from a foreign people imprisoned in the war. This cannot be a woman from the nations of Canaan (Deuteronomy 20:16-Job :), but from one of the nations outside of the land (Deuteronomy 20:15). By marrying her he becomes her husband instead of her master. In this way, the woman enters into the rights of a daughter of Israel. The man may not therefore just send her away if he is no longer pleased with her (cf. Exodus 21:8). God has allowed that someone sends away his wife. That is because of the hardness of man’s heart, for “from the beginning it has not been this way” (Matthew 19:7-Ruth :). He also connects to this consent various command for the protection of the woman.

Before the Israelite can take the captured woman to be his wife, various conditions must also be met. It should not be just an excitement of lust. When he comes home, she shall shave her head, trim her nails and remove her former clothes. Everything that has made her attractive in her previous state and has characterized her, must be disposed of.

The woman’s long hair indicates the place she has in creation in relation to the man (1 Corinthians 11:15). She indicates with it that she wants to be submissive and devoted to the man. If she cuts it off, she says she will not take that place. For the captured woman, cutting her hair is giving up the previous relationship. She lets it grow in the new relationship into which she now has come. She may also mourn for a month the previous relationship from which she was removed. She gets the time to dislodge from it. That too is a gracious provision from God.

In the prophetic application, this section (Deuteronomy 21:10-2 Chronicles :) precedes the previous section (Deuteronomy 21:1-1 Samuel :). As said, the relationship between God and Israel is compared with that of man and wife (Ezekiel 16:1-2 Chronicles :). In that relationship there is an engagement time, a time of disconnecting from the old state, here a month. This happened when God redeemed Israel from Egypt and accepted it to His people (Jeremiah 2:2).

But a time has come when God could no longer is pleased with her. In Deuteronomy 21:14, it is not commented on whose fault it is. In the break that has come between God and His people, this is no question. The fact that God no longer is pleased with her is entirely due to Israel’s behavior. He sent her away because of her unfaithfulness that culminated in the rejection of His Son, which is evident in the picture of Deuteronomy 21:1-1 Samuel :.

God did not sell His people, but did let them go where they themselves wanted to go. But He has not given up His rights to His people. This is discussed in the following section (Deuteronomy 21:15-Esther :).

Verses 15-17

The Right of the Firstborn

Having two women is not according to God’s thoughts. Yet God, through something created by sin, can teach us something about the relationship He has with the two peoples to which He has committed Himself: Israel and the church. Because the bond of marriage is inseparable and the relationship in marriage is that of love, the picture of marriage is suitable to understand these relationships.

In the example we see a man who has two wives. One wife is loved by him, the other is unloved. Each of the wives has borne him sons. This is now about the right of the firstborn. In this, the man may not be led by his natural feelings. If the firstborn son is the son of the unloved wife, he must give him the right of the firstborn. He is entitled to the double potion of the inheritance. In this case, the man may not give that double portion to the son of the beloved.

When we apply this to the relationship God has with His earthly people, Israel, and His heavenly people, the church, we see the following. God had to reject His earthly people, as Deuteronomy 21:14 indicates. It has been given the place of the unloved (cf. Hosea 1:6; Hosea 1:8-1 Samuel :).

After He rejected His earthly people, another people took their place. This people are a people from the nations that are not God’s people, but are now accepted by Him to be His people (Romans 9:25). With this, God has established similar relationships. The church is now God’s beloved.

That does not mean that God has rejected Israel forever. The firstborn is the son of the unloved and he gets the right of the firstborn. God will also fulfil all the promises He has made to this people. They get their double part.

In Jacob and his two wives – Lea and Rachel – we see an illustration. Jacob works for Rachel and gets Lea. After that he works for Rachel and also gets her. Thus the Lord Jesus came for Israel and He received the church. But he will also have Israel, as Jacob received Rachel. Israel has the oldest rights. The people are now the unloved wife, but soon the people will again become the beloved wife and will have the rights that are in connection with the Firstborn, the Lord Jesus, Who was born from her.

The church is now connected with the Lord Jesus (2 Corinthians 11:2). Can He find His pleasure in us? God also allows the Christian testimony to go its own way; as a whole, He no longer is pleased with it. Yet God continues to recognize in that Christian testimony what this principle of first birth represents: in the midst of this Christian testimony is “the church of the firstborn” (Hebrews 12:23). God will always continue to acknowledge what He Himself has worked in it.

Verses 18-21

The Rebellious and Disobedient Son

Both with Israel and the church the important thing is a remnant. That remnant will repent and receive the blessing of the firstborn. The whole will have the character of “a rebellious and disobedient son”. They don’t want to obey and will be judged. As the parents have to do with the rebellious son, so does God deal with stubborn confessors.

In this section it is about an extraordinary contempt for God’s commandment to honor the parents. All the men of the city must stone the rebellious son to death. This son is a picture of the wicked mass of the people who will die in judgment.

The remnant, which is miserable and poor, is reconciled, while the whole of the firstborn son once called out of Egypt by God (Exodus 4:22) will perish. The same applies to the church. Those who belong to the church bear the name ‘son’, but God cannot recognize them as such if they do not separate themselves from evil (2 Corinthians 6:17-Job :).

Verses 22-23

Burial of a Hanged Person

In these verses we have a third aspect of the cross of Calvary: the death of the Lord Jesus as the Accursed, “for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”” (Galatians 3:13). Cross reveals
1. the guilt of man, because he brought Him to the cross (Deuteronomy 21:1-1 Samuel :);
2. God’s grace for man (Deuteronomy 21:10-1 Chronicles :);
3. That God has to leave Him when He makes Him a curse (Deuteronomy 21:22-Isaiah :).

The remnant has earned nothing. There exists “a remnant according to [God’s] gracious choice” of God (Romans 10:5). In itself it is nothing better than the wicked mass. It owes everything to Him Who has become a curse. They will see on Him “Whom they have pierced” (Zechariah 12:10) and that is their salvation.

Deuteronomy 21:23 prescribes that a hanged person must be buried. This also happened to the Lord Jesus. The spiritual application of this to us is important. Our old man must be buried. We testify of this in baptism (Romans 6:4). We must constantly take this into account throughout our lives. The question is: Do we make true what we confessed in baptism? Nothing more of the old man should become visible in our lives (Romans 6:6). God no longer wants to see anything of the curse. The grave is locked above us and nothing more of our old life should become visible.

God wants to see in our lives the new, that we walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). God has more pleasure in us if we behave as true firstborn sons, which is the case if we would understand more of the curse that God has pronounced on and exercised on the Lord Jesus.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Deuteronomy 21". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/deuteronomy-21.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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