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Friday, July 19th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 21

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-9

Deuteronomy 21:1-9

If one be found slain.

God’s value of individual life

“This narrative,” says one, “sets forth the preciousness of human life in the sight of God.” Dr. Jamieson believes this singular statute concerning homicide is far superior to what is found in the criminal code of any other ancient nation, and is undoubtedly the origin or germ of the modern coroners’ inquests.

Discovered in the loss of one man. Only one missing! But God counts men as well as stars, and “gathers one by one.” Ancient philosophy and modern socialism overlook personality, and legislate for men in a mass. The individual exists only for the race, has no rights, and becomes a tool or slave of society. Christianity does not belittle man, but recognises and renews individuals, exalts them to responsibility, and appeals to them for right. “Adam, where art thou?”

Discovered in the injury to one man. One man was missing, but he was murdered. His blood, like that of Abel, Was crying for justice. Society was wounded in one of its members. An inquiry was demanded, and the reproach must be wiped away.

Discovered in the interest which the community should take in one man. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Formerly heavy fines were inflicted on districts to prevent the murder of Danes and Normans by exasperated Englishmen. We are members one of another; related one to another, and none of us can turn away like Cain.

Discovered in the provision made for every man’s salvation. Christ died for one and for all. It is not the will of God “that one of these little ones should perish.” If one sheep goes astray, the ninety and nine are left by the shepherd. He seeks the one that is lost, and its restoration brings greater joy than over all the remainder. “Dost thou believe?” (J. Wolfendale.)

Expiating unknown murder

We shall endeavour--

To explain the ordinance. In doing this we must notice--

1. Its general design. God intended by this law--

(1) To prevent the commission of murder.

(2) To provide means for removing guilt from His land.

2. Its particular provisions: the victim, the death, the place; the protestations and petitions of the elders.

To point out some lessons which may be learned from it.

1. The importance of preventing or punishing sin.

2. The comfort of a good conscience.

3. The efficacy of united faith and prayer. (C. Simeon, M. A.)

Verses 15-17

Deuteronomy 21:15-17

The right of the firstborn.

I. The rights of primogeniture defined. “A double portion of all that he hath.” As head of the family, the eldest son would be put into power and privilege, be heir of his father’s rank and wealth. He was not to be limited in his allowance, nor deposed from his authority. The Divine Ruler entrusts him with possessions and entails them by His will.

The rights of primogeniture upheld. Individual preferences and partialities are not to set aside the rights of the firstborn.

1. Rights upheld through successive marriage. When an Israelite had two wives together or in succession, one might be loved and the other hated (Deuteronomy 21:15). God might tolerate polygamy, but right must be upheld.

2. Rights upheld against human partiality. The influence of the second wife was later and more permanent. Justice must not bend to personal like or dislike. Amid divided affections and divided authority, God and not caprice must rule.

3. Rights upheld by Divine injunction. Man is changeable; entails discord, feud, and litigation in his family; but God is just and impartial. He will protect our rights and vindicate our character. (J. Wolfendale.)

Verses 22-23

Deuteronomy 21:22-23

He that is hanged is accursed of God.


Hanging a disgraceful punishment. The body was exposed to insult and assault. Shameful deeds were kept in public memory, and the dead was a spectacle to the world. It was only inflicted on most infamous offenders. Cicero calls it a nameless wickedness. Its pain and disgrace were extreme.

Hanging a defilement of the land That thy land be not defiled. The vices of the living and the bodies of the dead defiled the land (Numbers 35:34).

1. Physically it would be defiled. In the hot climate its decomposition would injure the health and peril the life of others.

2. Morally, as the land of Jehovah, it would be polluted. Remembrance of crime would harden the heart and breed familiarity.

Hanging a warning to others. The punishment was designed to deter others. They saw the terrible consequences of guilt. Alas! “hanging is no warning,” and men leave the very gibbet or the gallows to commit their crimes.

Hanging a type of the death of Christ (Acts 5:35; Galatians 3:13).

1. He became our substitute.

2. He was buried in the evening (John 19:31).

3. As the land was cleansed by removal of curse, so the conscience and the Church purified by Christ. (J. Wolfendale.)

The accursed tree

A shameful death awaits abominable crime. “Worthy, of death,” lit., if there be on a man a right of death, “he was hanged upon a tree.”

Public ignominy expressed in this shameful death. Penalty for crime, detestation of the perpetrator, and the curse of God.

The desirability of taking away the memory of this shame. “He shall not remain all night,” take him down from the tree and bury him; blot out his name and remove the curse.

Christ alone removes the curse. The best of men treated as one of the vilest, died the just for the unjust, “who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree.” (J. Wolfendale.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Deuteronomy 21". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/deuteronomy-21.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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