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Critical Notes.—Corporal punishment. Controv., dispute arising from inflicted injury. Justify pronounce just, Exodus 23:7; Proverbs 17:15.
Deuteronomy 25:2. Lie down. “Precisely the same as the Egyptian bastinado, which was applied to the bared back of the culprit, who was stretched flat on the ground, his hands and feet being held by attendants” (Jam). The law of Moses introduced two restrictions, the infliction of punishment In presence of the judge and the limit to 40 stripes. If a criminal deserved severer punishment he was executed.
Deuteronomy 25:5. Ox In other kinds of labour oxen were muzzled. The spiritual sense is applied, 1 Corinthians 9:9; 1 Timothy 5:18; Hosea 10:11.
Deuteronomy 25:5-10. Law of Levirate Marriages. This usage existed before the law of Moses (Genesis 38:8-11) and seems to have originated in patriarchal times, for preserving the name and honour of the eldest son—the chieftain of the family. The Mosaic law rendered the custom obligatory (Matthew 22:25) on younger brothers, or the nearest kinsman, to marry the widow (Ruth 4:4), by associating the natural desire of perpetuating of a brother’s name with the preservation of property in the Hebrew families and tribes (Numbers 33:54; Numbers 36:9). If a younger brother declined to comply with law, the widow brought her claim before the authorities in public assembly (the gate of the city); she was ordered to loose the thong of his shoe (Deuteronomy 25:9) a sign of degradation—following up that act by spitting, not in his face, but in his presence before him on the ground (Jam.)
Deuteronomy 25:11-12. Severe penalty imposed upon a shameless woman, who wilfully should endanger or take away the power of offspring from a man, Exodus 21:22.
Deuteronomy 25:13-16. Weights and measures. Divers. lit., “a stone and a stone”—one just and one false, or a light and heavy one. Weights consisted of stones; facility in procuring them tempted to fraud. Measures, lit., “an ephah and an ephah,” the common or standard measure in Israel. Lengthened. cf. Deuteronomy 4:26; Deuteronomy 5:16. Unrighteously. Moses sums up all the breaches of the law. (Keil.)
Deuteronomy 25:17-19. Doom of Amalek. Did, met, thee, i.e., stealthily and in hostile encounter; not found in Exodus 17:14. The Jews had not only to manifest love and kindness, but often to inflict punishment upon God’s enemies. They were executors of Divine judgment upon Amalek and others; cf. 1 Samuel 15:3; 1 Samuel 15:32-33.
PUNISHMENT OF THE GUILTY.—Deuteronomy 25:1-3
God took special care for the administration of justice. The guilty must be punished, and the innocent defended. It is the duty of earthly tribunals to govern in equity.
I. Punishment incurred. There must not be mere report or accusation. The accused and accuser must be brought face to face, the dispute decided before the authorities, and the criminal be found “worthy to be beaten.” The wicked cannot sin with impunity. Punishment was demanded under the theocracy. Conscience predicts retribution and human magistrates are appointed to administer it. In doing so they are types of the eternal judge.
II. Punishment inflicted. We have special directors given to make the penal system just and effective.
1. By the authority of the judge. Not by some private heartless official wishing for revenge. Magistrates bear the sword, (Romans 14:4; 1 Peter 2:14; 1 Peter 2:21).
2. In publicity. “Before his face.” This would be itself a part of punishment and a check to cruelty and excesss.
3. According to desert. “According to his fault.” There must be discrimination and rectitude. To justify the wicked and condemn the just would reverse the order of justice, and become “an abomination to the Lord” (Proverbs 17:15).
4. In measured degree. “Forty stripes he may give and not exceed,” Deuteronomy 5:3. Stripes, few or many, according to guilt, but never to exceed forty. Punishment should ever be measured according to strictest justice. Our penal code has been disgraced by cruel administration, and punishment has often been excessive, outrageous, and beyond moral desert. “They shall judge it according to my judgments.”
5. With scrupulous fear. Lest “thy brother should seem vile unto thee.” Excessive punishment degrades humanity, dishonours law, and hardens the criminal. He must be corrected, reformed, and treated with humanity. “Count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.”
THE RIGHTS OF LABOUR.—Deuteronomy 25:4
The command not to put a muzzle upon the ox, is no doubt proverbial in its nature, and even in the context before us is not intended to apply merely literally to an ox employed in threshing, but to be understood, in the general sense in which the Apostle Paul uses it in (1 Corinthians 9:9, and 1 Timothy 5:18), viz.: that a labourer was not to be deprived of his wages. Keil.
I. Rights enforced by common usage. The use of oxen in treading out corn unmuzzled still prevails among Arabs and eastern nations. If God takes “care for oxen,” we must treat them kindly. The ox is not a mere animal, but a labourer, contributing to the sustenance and help of man.
II. Rights enforced by special enactment. This was a wonderful provision in the law of Moses. Nothing was too trivial connected with men or brutes. God defends the rights of every creature, and teaches us to recognise the nobility of labour in the smallest law.
III. Rights enforced by Divine law. This is a general principle, extending to the plougher and the sower. Toilers of hand and brain are not mere drones, but essential to the well-being of society. In all departments “the labourer is worthy of his hire.” The highest authority applies the law to ministerial support (Luke 10:1). “If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?” (Tim. Deuteronomy 5:18).
HOMILETIC HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Deuteronomy 25:3. Exceed. Abuse of power in excessive punishment. Power given for edification not destruction (2 Corinthians 13:10). “There is an honour due to all men (1 Peter 2:17), and though we must hate the sin, yet not the sinner,” Trapp. The reason assigned by the legislator in this statute for restricting the number of stripes is very remarkable. It is not simply a motive of compassion for a sufferer—it is a respect for human nature, the rights of which are preserved even in a criminal. To inflict upon a man an excessive and degrading punishment is to outrage the feelings of those who witness it, and to pour contempt upon humanity itself. This humane character of the Mosaic legislation is deserving of special notice. How rigorous soever it may be in some respects, it upholds the dignity of man’s nature, and does not permit even a guilty offender to “seem vile unto others.”—Jamieson.
Deuteronomy 25:4. Not muzzle the ox. Though enacted in a particular case, it teaches the humane lesson that animals, while engaged in the service of man, are entitled to his indulgence and kindness. Paul quotes this law (1 Corinthians 9:9; 1 Timothy 5:18), and shows that God did not appoint it for the sake of oxen alone, but that every labourer is worthy of his hire, and hence declares the obligation of men to exercise justice in properly rewarding those who labour for their advantage, especially those who labour for the good of their souls. The application, so far from weakening, seems to confirm its obligation and reference to that point, inasmuch as it displays to us that, in the eye of God, the same principles of equity are expected to prevail amongst all His creatures, and that they are not to be confined to our dealings with men.—Jamieson.
THE LAW OF LEVIRATE MARRIAGE.—Deuteronomy 25:5-10
This law is not peculiar to the Jews, but is found in all essential respects the same among various Oriental nations, ancient and modern, and exists at present among the South African tribes, the Arabians, the Druses, and the tribes of the Caucasus (Speak. Com.)
I. The duty imposed. The obligation was onerous and recognised as one of affection for the memory of the deceased. It devolved upon the neighbouring kinsman—“brethren that dwell together,” not “a stranger.” Affection is needful in married life. This cannot be forced. Love leads to duty and self-sacrifice.
II. The design of the obligation. (a) To prevent alienation of property; (b) To raise up seed. To be without issue was considered a great calamity (Genesis 16:4); a successor and heir a great blessing; (c) To perpetuate a name, “that his name be not put out of Israel.” Parents are anxious to maintain the honour and preserve the name of the family. Loss of inheritance, alienation of the rights of the firstborn, are a disgrace. God’s favour is better than fame which “is the shade of immortality, and in itself a shadow.”
Unblemished let me live, or die unknown,
Oh! grant me honest fame, or grant me none.—Pope.
III. The reproach of neglecting the obligation. It was not so binding as to permit no escape. If the brother preferred to submit to reproach. “If the man like not,” he might refuse (Deuteronomy 25:7). Then the thong of his shoe was loosed, he was stripped of power and degraded as a slave. Spitting in the face or in his presence, was the strongest expression of insult and contempt. The man was not worthy to take his brother’s place, was scornfully rejected by the woman herself, and his name became a bye word in Israel. “The house of him that hath his shoe loosed.”
TRADE MORALITY.—Deuteronomy 25:13-16
The language of Scripture on this point demands the serious attention of all engaged in trade. Principles of life are given in minute detail and enforced by special sanctions.
I. God requires honesty in trade. Not only in courts of law, but in commercial life, in the market place, and in the shop, justice must be done. There must be no different weights and measures; one for buying and another for selling; one light and another heavy. This was the iniquitous system of Jews. Accurate inspection may restrain gross deceit with us. But trickery and close dealing, evasion of legal rights, and deviation from honest trading are too prevalent. Advantage is taken of ignorance. Impositions, double-dealings and hard bargains are struck with cleverness and self-satisfaction (Proverbs 20:14). Christian professors and Christian churches have need of warning and care. “That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter” (1 Thessalonians 4:6).
II. Honesty in trade is enforced by special sanctions. That which is the standard of measure, the rule of justice must of itself be just. If not there will be fraud and deceit.
1. Justice will gain temporal advantage. “That thy days may be lengthened in the land” (Deuteronomy 25:15). Might prolonged life and made it happy. As a matter of self-interest, “Honesty is the best policy.” It will enrich spiritual experience, promote social morality and preserve national life.
2. Justice will secure God’s approval. We must act as under his eye and seek “a conscience void of offence towards God and man.” Equity and not “customs of the trade” must be our law. “A false balance is abomination to the Lord; but a just weight (a perfect stone) is his delight” (Proverbs 11:1).
3. Injustice will expose to God’s curse. “All that do unrighteously are abomination unto the Lord.” Man may excuse convenient lies, commend trickery for its wisdom (Luke 16:1-8) and cry “business is business,” but such trading is hateful to God, will bring shame and curse upon those who practise it. “Divers weights (a stone and a stone) and divers measures (an ephah and ephah), both of them are alike abomination to the Lord” (Proverbs 20:10).
THE CHRISTIAN IN COMMERCE
The greatest difficulties in the way of a Christian commercial life, arise out of the practices which prevail. Enforce right conduct, you are met by an appeal to general sanction, and a reference to the consequences which would follow from its adoption, in ridicule and condemnation, in loss and suffering. Thus the Christian tradesman must shape his principles in the way of reform and opposition—
I. Endeavour to point out what Christianity requires of a man in his dealings in business with his fellow-men.
1. Christianity requires the most rigid adherence to the principles of moral integrity in commerce. Truth is one of these, which lies at the basis of all intercourse, and without which society would be impossible. All positive misrepresentations, all arts by which one thing is passed off for another, all false appearances given to things, and all deficient scales and measures, are condemned. Honesty is another Christian virtue in commerce. In giving everyone his due, in meeting all equitable claims. For a man to refuse to pay his debts is dishonest. “Owe no man anything.” A debt is a debt until it be paid or forgiven. Bankruptcy is not payment. No earthly tribunal can exempt from the claims of eternal justice, and an honest debtor will deem nothing his while creditors are unsatisfied in fact or feeling. It is a grand saying of De Foe, “The obligations of an honest man can never die.”
2. Christianity requires the exercise of love and kindness in commerce. A man may be just, and yet a monster of inhumanity. The Christian spirit of love should not be confined to some departments of human life and excluded from others. It is designed to create a higher morality than that of the world, it will dictate much which law cannot take cognizance of, and preserve for the wretched practice of exclusive dealing, of punishing a man for his politics or religion by withholding custom and thus making commerce the instrument of bigotry and exclusiveness.
3. Christianity requires that a man should preserve his soul in peace and patience in commerce. Commerce implies contact with others. It compels intercourse with men of powerful passions, different dispositions and opposite principles. Hence we are sorely tried, exposed to innumerable disappointments, vexations and annoyances. We may be deceived by those we trusted, and injured by those we benefited. All this must be endured in meekness, and the heart must be kept calm and unruffled, seek no revenge, but cherish the spirit of love
4. Christianity requires that commerce should be consecrated and elevated by the spirit of holiness. There is a hardening and corrupting tendency in commercial pursuits. Constant calculation of profit and loss, incessant contemplation of pecuniary interests are apt to contract and debase the soul. The man who gives himself wholly to gain becomes earthly, sensual and devilish. All spiritual generous sensibilities and aspirations are destroyed. He becomes less malleable than the coin with which he deals. But Christianity teaches that commerce is a means, not an end; “that a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of things which he possesses;” that we may be yet having all things, and rich, yet having nothing. Commerce will be really noble and raised from the dust, when the higher faculties are cultivated with secular pursuits; wealth possessed and used in the spirit of stewardship, and a vigorous habit of Christian liberality finds a constant vent for the acquisitions of Christian industry.
II. Having described what a Christian should be in commerce briefly show Why he should be it. All considerations by which religion and morality are commended and enforced are applicable here. The course pointed out is right in itself, what we owe to God and connected with eternal destiny. It is necessary to inherit the kingdom of heaven. It is presented to us in the example of Christ, whom all disciples should imitate. In one word, Christianity requires it; all its precepts, principles, blessings, and prospects require it. But addnce some particular considerations.
1. Commerce is a most important part of life. It enters largely into our engagements. It is in some form or other the greatest part of the life of multitudes. Could a man be a Christian and yet not be a Christian in his dealings with his fellow-men? Is it possible to retain the spirit of the gospel and yet not bring it into business? The power of religion must be best displayed here. The truest test of a man’s spirituality is in his secular life. It is often said, “A man is really what he is relatively.” I would add a man is spiritually what he is secularly.
2. Commerce is a most influential part of our life. It is part of life with which men have most to do and of which they can best judge. It is the world-side of our religion. Ungodly men cannot see us believe and always hear us pray, but they behold our behaviour towards others. Though ignorant of doctrinal theology, and strangers to true spirituality, they are no bad critics of moral conduct. What then is our influence, if we be not holy in business? What use saying, “I know the truth,” if it can be replied, “You do a lie?” What an agency in the conversion of the world would be a blameless secular life throughout the Church! It would be belter than an army of ten thousand missionaries.
3. Commercial holiness is imperatively required by the character and temper of the times. It is a commercial country and age in which we live, and commercial sinfulness is a prevailing feature. It is the duty of the Christian to adapt his example and display the virtue most wanted. Never more necessary for saints to “condemn the world” by secular integrity, to give a noble example for it to follow, and to bring a spirit from above to bear on its pursuits. (A. J. Morris.)
THE DOOM OF AMALEK.—Deuteronomy 25:17-19
“Whilst the Israelites were to make love the guiding principle of their conduct in their dealings with a neighbour, and even with strangers and foes, this love was not to degenerate into weakness or indifference towards open ungodliness. To impress this truth upon the people, Moses concludes the discourse on the law by reminding them of the crafty enmity manifested toward them by Amalek on their march out of Egypt, and with the command to root out the Amalekites” (cf. Exodus 17:9-16).—Keil.
I. Amalek’s sin against Israel. “How he met thee by the way,” stealthily and fierce encounter, in a most difficult and risky place, “in Rephidim” (cf. Exodus 17:8).
1. This attack was unprovoked. No occasion was furnished for it. Israel had not the remotest intention to injure the persons or seize the territory of Amalek. But they were jealous at the prosperity of Israel, as descendants of Esau entertained a grudge against them, and longed to injure them.
2. This attack was cowardly. It was a mean, dastardly, insidious surprise, not in front, but in the rear, on “the hindmost”—not on the strong and vigorous, but on “the feeble,” “the faint and weary.” We have a kind of reverence for the brave, but cowards are objects of scorn and contempt.
3. This attack was cruel. Upon stragglers, upon a host tired in the march, almost unarmed and unable to resist. “The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.”
4. This attack was presumptuous “He feared not God.” A defiance against God of whom they had heard, and whose mighty acts in Egypt and the Red Sea had defended his people. It was an insult, “a lifting up of the hand upon the throne of God” (Marg. Exodus 17:16). “The fear of God” alone can restrain from evil. When this is cast off, there will be no “regard for men.”
II. Amalek’s sin remembered by God. “Remember what Amalek did.” A record was kept “in the book” (Exodus 17:14), and this conduct was never forgotten.
1. Sin is never overlooked. Silence may be kept at the time of commission. God may appear to connive, to wink at times of ignorance and sin (Acts 17:30), but they are not overlooked. If no direct interposition, men must not excuse, take courage, and cry God hath forgotten. God’s patience is no proof that He thinks lightly of sin. Sentence is gone forth; Edom’s doom was predicted, but warning is given, time for repentance afforded before execution.
2. Sin is kept in remembrance. A book of record is found somewhere. An impress is left upon nature, upon the human mind, and upon moral conduct. Wickedness is read in the pangs of conscience, the power of evil habits, and the moral forces of the universe. God prepares ministers of vengeance, and in due time the judgment will come.
III. Amalek’s sin punished by God. Injustice and cruelty towards God’s people will not pass unavenged. Joshua had punished them, but a more terrible doom awaited them.
1. Punishment long delayed. For some wise reason the honour of Jehovah was not vindicated at the time. The base attack was repelled, but the territory was not invaded—the final judgment was delayed. This was inflicted partly by Saul and David (1 Samuel 14:48; 1 Samuel 27:8; 1 Samuel 30:17; 2 Samuel 8:12), finally and completely under Hezekiah (1 Chronicles 4:43). Judgment may linger, but it is “laid up in store.”
2. Punishment by those who have suffered. God’s people themselves, when fixed in privileges and possession, must inflict it. Power and position are not given for selfish enjoyment. We must be ready for warfare as well as for service. No pity, no pride must prevent us from executing God’s will upon our enemies. “Remember,” “thou shalt not forget it.”
3. Punishment most severe. “Thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven” (Exodus 17:14). Fearful doom! But Scripture, Providence and human history confirm the law—“He shall have judgment without mercy, that hath showed no mercy.”
HOMILETIC HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Deuteronomy 25:11-12. Shameful insult. No excuse in the plea to help her husband. “Modesty is the hedge of chastity, and therefore ought to be very carefully preserved and kept up by both sexes.”
Deuteronomy 25:13-16. “Customs of trade.” Often—
(2) corrupting, and
(3) dangerous. “Shall I count them pure with the wicked balances, and with the bag of deceitful weights?” (Micah 6:11).
Deuteronomy 25:17-19. Amalek.
1. Ungodly principles lead to wicked conduct. “Amalek feared not God.”
2. Wicked conduct is not allowed to go unpunished in the providence of God.
3. This punishment when inflicted is full of suggestion—(a) delayed to prove the patience of God towards his enemies. (b) severe, to avenge His people, and teach the doctrine of retribution. “The portion of wicked men is to be “forgotten in the city where they had so done” (Ecclesiastes 8:10). Their memory dies with them; or if it be preserved, it stinks in keeping, and remains as a curse and perpetual disgrace” (Trapp). It is not always consistent with the purposes of the Divine economy to vindicate the honour of Jehovah by any general punishment at the time. But if no further notice had been taken, this contemptuous defiance of the power and majesty of God would have appeared to escape with impunity, a circumstance which might have degraded the Deity in the estimation of Israel, who judged of His power as all other nations then judged of their guardian gods, by His rigour and promptitude in defending His people and punishing their enemies. He would not suffer Amalek to pass finally unpunished, but would authorise and employ them to inflict judgment, thus impressing His people themselves with the Salutary conviction that where the majesty of Jehovah was insulted, present delay of punishment affords no presumption of final impunity.—(Graves on Pent.)
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 25
Deuteronomy 25:1-4. Judgment. No obligation to justice does force a man to be cruel, or to use the sharpest sentence. A just man does justice to every man and every thing; and then, if he be also wise, he knows there is a debt of mercy and compassion due to the infirmities of man’s nature; and that is to be paid; and he that, is cruel and ungentle to a sinning person, and does the worst to him, dies in his debt and is unjust.—Jeremy Taylor.
Deuteronomy 25:13-16. Trade. What signifies. a man’s trade? A man of honest trade can make himself respectable if he will (George III.). To be honest as this world goes is to be one picked out of ten thousand.—Shakespeare.
Deuteronomy 25:17-19. Not forget. Most just it is that he who breweth mischief should have the first draught of it himself.—(Jemmat). For inquisition shall be made into the counsels of the ungodly, and the sound of his words shall come unto the Lord for the manifestation of his wicked deeds (Wis. 1:7-9). Mercy to him that shows it is the rule by which heaven moves in pardoning guilty man; and he that shows none, being ripe in years, and conscious of the outrage ne commits, shall seek it and not find it in his turn.—Cowper.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 25". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26