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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 21

Grant's Commentary on the BibleGrant's Commentary

Verses 1-23



If one was killed and his body found removed from any city or town, the murderer being unknown, then elders and judges of Israel were required to ascertain what was the nearest city. Then the elders of that city must take the responsibility of facing this righteously.

This involved taking a young heifer that had never been worked or yoked for service, bringing it down to a valley where there was running water, a valley in its pristine condition. There the elders were to break the heifer's neck (v.4). This was not at all a sacrifice, no matter of bloodshed. In fact, it is a reminder ofExodus 13:13; Exodus 13:13, "Every firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb; and if you will not redeem it, then you shall break its neck." This is judgment rather then sacrifice. It would therefore be a condemnation of the murderer, though it was not known who he was.

In the case of a person found dead in a field, when the elders had broken the neck of the heifer, the priests were to be present as witnesses to the declaration of the elders of the city nearby, who were to wash their hands over the heifer in token of their hands being clean in reference to the murder that had taken place (v.6). This was no confession of guilt, but the opposite. Then they were to make the declaration as representing the city itself, that their hands had not shed this innocent blood, nor did they have any knowledge of the incident (v.7).

They bring no offering to make atonement for the guilt, because the guilty person was not known, but they were to ask the Lord to provide atonement according to His own perfect wisdom, and that He would not charge Israel with the guilt of this murder (v.8). Thus they would clear themselves fully from any identification with the evil. God would Himself provide atonement on their behalf, and the guilt of innocent blood would be put away (vs.8-9).



If in battle with nations outside the land Israel took captives, it could be that a man would see among the captives a woman whom he desired as a wife (vs.10-11). Of course the men from that nation would have been killed (Deuteronomy 20:13-14). The woman could be brought home to the house of the man who desired her, have her head shaved and her finger nails trimmed (for it was part of the religion of ungodly nations that they had long finger nails and hair intertwined with idolatrous jewels), change from the clothes of a captive, and remain in the house for a full month to mourn for her father and mother, before she could be married to her suitor.

If, however, the man was disappointed in the woman, he was to set her free, not selling her and not treating her brutally. The month in which she stayed in his house would be enough for him to observe whether he was satisfied with her, so that, if not, there would be no reason to marry her.



If a man had two wives (as Jacob did), one favored above the other, and the less favored bore his first son, then he must not deprive the son of his firstborn status to give this to the son of his favorite wife (vs.15-16). He must bequeath a double portion to the firstborn in acknowledgment of his prime place (v.17). Men were not allowed to change this, though God on some occasions did set aside the rights of a firstborn to give these to a younger son, as in the case of Ishmael and Isaac (Genesis 17:18-21), of Esau and Jacob (Genesis 25:23) and predominantly of Adam and Christ (Colossians 1:15).



One might think that if he was the firstborn he had a right to be rebellious, or another might be rebellious because he was not the firstborn. But God does not tolerate rebellion, which springs from the pride of thinking that only one's own opinions are worth considering. God has instituted parental authority, and one stubbornly rebellious against his parents was to be brought by them to the elders of the city, the place of judgment (the gate) (vs.18-19).

The witness of his parents was then sufficient to the effect that their son was stubborn and rebellious, a glutton and a drunkard. In this case he had become unmanageable, and sentence was to be immediately executed by the stoning of the young man to death (vs.20-21). This was the law, judgment without mercy. While rebellion is no less evil today in God's eyes, yet in the present day of grace God is patiently delaying judgment in desire that men may repent and be saved. But under law, judgment was carried out to make others fear the consequences of rebellion.



When the death penalty was incurred because of a crime, only certain crimes called for hanging the body, for this indicated one dying under the curse of God (v.23). It was intended as a public disgrace and a warning to others. But that disgrace was not to be continued beyond the day of hanging. Galatians 3:13 shows this to be predominantly applicable to the Lord Jesus, who was on Calvary made a curse for us, subjected to the most dreadful disgrace for our sakes. But this awful course was confined to that one day. When His great work of atonement was finished, the body of the Lord Jesus was taken by those who loved him and laid in a grave (Jn.l9:38-42). We shall never understand the depths of agony He suffered under the curse of God for our sakes, but we thank God His work has been so perfectly done that He has been raised from the dead and is alive forevermore, thereby assuring believers of their eternal redemption. The result of His bearing that curse of God is blessing for Himself for eternity, and blessing for all those who have put their trust in Him.

Bibliographical Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 21". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lmg/deuteronomy-21.html. 1897-1910.
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