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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 17

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary


A.M. 2553. B.C. 1451.

A charge concerning sacrifices, Deuteronomy 17:1 . Concerning putting idolaters to death, Deuteronomy 17:2-7 . Concerning the decision of causes by the sanhedrim, Deuteronomy 17:8-13 . Concerning the choice and duty of a king, Deuteronomy 17:14-20 .

Verse 1

Deuteronomy 17:1. Having spoken of the principal services and offerings prescribed in the law for preventing the Israelites from idolatrous practices, Moses interposes a caution against neglect or profaneness in their own worship of the true God; which might be committed by offering any beast to him that had a disease, blemish, or defect in it. See in Leviticus 1:3. Bullock or sheep Either greater or smaller sacrifices, all being comprehended under the two most eminent kinds. All that God receives he requires to be perfect.

Verse 2

Deuteronomy 17:2. In transgressing his covenant That is, in idolatry, as it is explained Deuteronomy 17:3, which is called a transgression of God’s covenant made with Israel, both because it was a breach of their faith given to God, and of that law which they covenanted to keep; and because it was a dissolution of that matrimonial covenant with God, a renouncing of God and his worship, and a choosing other gods.

Verse 3

Deuteronomy 17:3. The host of heaven Those glorious creatures, which are to be admired as the wonderful works of God, but not to be set up in God’s stead. By condemning the most specious of all idolatries, he intimates how absurd a thing it is to worship stocks and stones, the works of men’s hands. I have not commanded That is, I have forbidden. Such negative expressions are emphatical.

Verse 6

Deuteronomy 17:6. Witnesses Namely, credible and competent witnesses. The Jews rejected the testimonies of children, women, servants, familiar friends, or enemies, persons of dissolute lives or evil fame.

Verse 7

Deuteronomy 17:7. First upon him God thus ordered it, for the caution of witnesses, that, if they had, through malice or wrath, accused him falsely, they might now be afraid to imbrue their hands in innocent blood; and for the security and satisfaction of the people in the execution of this punishment.

Verse 8

Deuteronomy 17:8. If there arise a matter too hard for thee These words are to be considered as addressed to the ordinary judges, or inferior magistrates, who were appointed in every city. Between blood and blood That is, in capital causes, whether a man hath committed wilful or casual murder. Between plea and plea In civil causes, about words or estates, when the question is, whose cause or plea is the better? Between stroke and stroke In criminal causes; in the case of wounds or blows inflicted by one man upon another, of which see Exodus 21:20. Being matters of controversy That is, such things being doubtful, and the magistrates being divided in their opinions about them. Thou shalt get thee unto the place which the Lord shall choose Namely, to set up his tabernacle or temple there; because there was the abode, both of their sanhedrim, which was constituted of priests and civil magistrates, and of the high-priests, who were to consult God, by Urim, in matters which could not be decided otherwise.

Verse 9

Deuteronomy 17:9. Unto the priests That is, unto the great council, which consisted chiefly of the priests and Levites, as being the best expositors of the laws of God, by which all those controversies were to be decided. And the high-priest was commonly one of that number, comprehended here under the priests, whereof he was the chief. By judges, here, seems to be meant those supreme judges of the nation, whom God raised up when the Israelites were oppressed by their enemies, such as Gideon, Jephthah, Samson, Samuel, &c. Such judges were, by their office, invested with the highest authority, civil as well as military; for to judge Israel was to administer justice, as well as to command armies. Moses seems to intimate, that the Hebrew commonwealth was to retain, after his death, the same form as it had now when he was alive; for he himself was the supreme judge, or administrator of justice, to whom the more difficult causes were to be referred, Deuteronomy 1:17. So Joshua was judge after him, and many other.

Verses 10-12

Deuteronomy 17:10-12. Thou shalt do according to the sentence He speaks, 1st, To the inferior magistrates, who, in the suits here referred to between man and man, were to give sentence in their lower courts, according to the decision of the great council, or of the supreme judge, and were to take care that that sentence should be carried into execution; and, 2d, To private persons, who, in such cases, are required to acquiesce in the judgment of those whom God had made the supreme interpreters of his law, and to conform themselves to the sentence passed. The man that will do presumptuously If an inferior judge should presume to contradict the sentence of the higher court, given according to God’s law, and would not execute the orders of it; or if a private person should refuse to conform himself to their sentence, that contumacy was to be punished with death, though the matter were ever so small in which the opposition was made. For unless the parties concerned had been strongly bound to obey the definitive sentence of the judge, priest, or great council, in such matters, there would have been no end of strife. And thou shalt put away the evil

The evil thing, that scandal, that pernicious example.

Verse 13

Deuteronomy 17:13. When thou shalt say, I will set a king over me He only foresees and foretels what they would do, but does not hereby signify that he should approve of it. Yea, when they did this thing, for the very reason here assigned, God declared his utter disapprobation of it.

Verse 15

Deuteronomy 17:15. Whom the Lord thy God shall choose Approve of, or appoint. So it was in Saul and David. God reserved to himself the nomination both of the family and of the person. Thy brethren Of the same nation and religion; because such a person was most likely to maintain true religion, and to rule with righteousness, gentleness, and kindness to his subjects; and that he might be a fit type of Christ, their supreme king, who was to be one of their brethren.

Verse 16

Deuteronomy 17:16. He shall not multiply horses Though he might have horses for his own use, yet he was not to have many horses for his officers and guard, much less for war, lest he should trust in them. The multiplying horses is also forbidden, lest it should raise too great a correspondence with Egypt, which furnished Canaan with them. The Lord hath said The Lord hath now said to me, and I, by his command, declare it to you. Ye shall no more return that way Into Egypt, lest ye be again infected with her idolatries.

Verse 17

Deuteronomy 17:17. Neither shall he multiply wives to himself As the manner of other kings was, contrary to the design of God from the beginning. That his heart turn not away From God and his law, as Solomon’s did. Neither silver nor gold Lest this should lift up his heart in confidence and pride, which God abhors, and beget in him a contempt of his people.

They are not simply forbidden to be rich, if God made them so, which was the case of David, Solomon, Jehoshaphat, and some others; but they are forbidden, either inordinately to desire, or irregularly to procure great riches, by grinding the faces of their own subjects, or possessing themselves, contrary to justice, of the property of others.

Verses 18-19

Deuteronomy 17:18-19. He shall write With his own hand, say the Jews. Out of that which is before the priests Out of that original, which was carefully kept by the priests in the sanctuary, that it might be a perfect copy, and that it might have the greater influence upon him, coming to him as from the hand and presence of God. He shall read therein Diligently and constantly: neither the greatness of his place, nor the weight and multitude of his business, shall excuse or hinder him; all the days of his life It is not enough to have Bibles, but we must use them, yea, use them daily. Our souls must have constant meals of that manna, which, if well digested, will afford them true nourishment and strength.

Verse 20

Deuteronomy 17:20. That his heart be not lifted up He intimates, that the Scriptures, diligently read, are a powerful means to keep a person humble, because they show him that, though a king, he is subject to a higher monarch, to whom he must give an account of all his administrations, and receive from him his sentence, agreeably to their quality, which is sufficient to abate the pride of the haughtiest person in the world.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 17". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/deuteronomy-17.html. 1857.
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