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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

Deuteronomy 25



Stripes must not exceed forty: the brother must marry the wife of a brother who has died without children: divers weights and measures are an abomination to the Lord: the remembrance of Amalek is to be blotted out.

Before Christ 1451.

Verses 2-3

Ver. 2, 3. The judge shall cause him to lie down, &c.— To prevent severity in judgment upon persons found guilty of misdemeanors, Moses here not only enjoins the number of stripes to be inflicted, but takes care that it shall be done before the face of the judge himself. The criminal lay down in open court, either upon the ground, or before a low pillar, to which his hands were tied, and, being stripped to his waist, the executioner stood behind him, and scourged him on the back with thongs made of ox's hide: the stripes were not to exceed forty; on which account they were generally confined to thirty-nine. Thus St. Paul says of himself, Of the Jews, five times received I forty stripes save one. 2 Corinthians 11:24. The sacred writer adds, lest if he should exceed—thy brother should seem vile unto thee; i.e. lest the judges, by exceeding the bounds of humanity, and that compassion which is due to a brother, a partaker of human nature in common with themselves, might be accustomed to think despicably of their poor brethren, and set their lives at nought. The Vulgate renders it, ne foede laceratus abeat; lest your brother go away vilely mangled. There were no laws more mild than the Mosaic in this particular. The Athenian laws condemned criminals to fifty stripes; and, among the Romans, they were frequently lashed to death. How far the inflicting such a number of stripes, as unhappily is done, in some cases, among us, can be justified upon any principles of that merciful religion which we profess, may well deserve a very serious consideration. Respecting this punishment of the scourge, we refer to the Dissertation of Calmet, prefixed to his Commentary on Deuteronomy.

Verse 4

Ver. 4. Thou shalt not muzzle the ox, &c.— In Judea, as well as in Egypt, Greece, and Italy, they made use of beeves to tread out the corn; and Dr. Shaw tells us, that the people of Barbary continue to tread out their corn after the custom of the East. Instead of beeves, they frequently make use of mules and horses, by tying by the neck three or four together in like manner, and whipping them afterwards round about the nedders, as they call the treading floors, (the Libycae areae. Hor.) where the sheaves lie open and expanded, in the same manner as they are placed and prepared with us for threshing. This, indeed, is a much quicker way than ours, though less cleanly: for, as it is performed in the open air, (Hosea 13:3.) upon any round level plat of ground, dawbed over with cows' dung, to prevent, as much as possible, the earth, sand, or gravel from rising; a great quantity of them all, notwithstanding this precaution, must unavoidably be taken up with the grain: at the same time the straw, which is their chief and only fodder, is hereby shattered to pieces; a circumstance very pertinently alluded to, 2Ki 13:7 where the king of Syria is said to have made the Israelites like the dust by threshing. Travels, p. 138. While the oxen were at work some muzzled their mouths, to hinder them from eating the corn, which Moses here forbids; instructing the people, by this symbolical precept, to be kind to their servants and labourers, but especially to those who ministered to them in holy things. So St. Paul applies it, 1 Corinthians 9:8-9. 1 Timothy 5:18.

Verses 5-10

Ver. 5-10. If brethren dwell together, &c.— The great end of this law was, to preserve inheritances in the families to which they belonged: and the meaning plainly is, that, if a brother died without children, the next unmarried relation, whether brother or kinsman, was to marry the wife of the deceased, and raise up children to him. This appears evidently from the case put to our Saviour, as well as from the affair of Ruth and Boaz. A lenient provision, however, is made for such relations as should not choose to marry the brother's wife, though a degree of infamy is attached to the refusal. The wife, three months after her husband's death, was to go up to the gate where the court of judgment sat, where, the next relation being summoned, and refusing to marry her, she was to loose his shoe from off his foot, as a mark of infamy, for his want of natural affection; importing, that he deserved to be degraded into the condition of slaves, who were wont to go barefoot: accordingly, it appears to have been used as a sign of infamy and degradation, Isaiah 2:4. Some, however, think, that as the shoe was an emblem of power, Psalms 9:8; Psa 108:9 this symbolical action signified, that he was deprived of all right to the inheritance of his brother. Besides this taking off of the shoe, the widow was to spit in, or, as the rabbis expound it, before his face; i.e. in his sight, as the word signifies, ch. Deu 4:37 as a mark how much she despised him who had despised her: and she was to say, So shall it be done to the man who will not build up his brother's house; that is, who will not raise up a son and heir to him, to preserve his house or family from being extinct; while the house of the refuser was to be stigmatised with the disgraceful name of the house of him that hath his shoe loosed. It appears from Gen 38:7-8 that this also was only the renewal of a patriarchal law; though one would be apt to believe, from the story of Onan, that it was not then allowed to refuse marrying the brother's widow; a mitigation of the law now, perhaps, first inserted. From this law the king was exempted, according to the rabbis; and they might have added, the high-priest, as appears from Leviticus 21:13-14. Bishop Huet assures us, that some of the Indians and Persians, and the Tartars who inhabit Iberia and Albania, still retain this custom. See his Demonst. Evang prop. iv. c. xi. sect. 1.

Verse 13

Ver. 13. Thou shalt not have in thy bag divers weights In the margin of our Bibles, a stone and a stone: so, a heart and a heart, meaneth a double and deceitful heart; 1 Chronicles 12:33. The same mode of expression is used in the 14th verse. This law teaches them to be so far from practising deceit, that they were not even to retain the instruments of it; not to have a great weight to buy with, and a small one to sell with: a method of cheating, it is to be feared, but too common in our days. See on Leviticus 19:35.

Verse 19

Ver. 19. Thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek Respecting the transaction here referred to, see Exodus 17:0 from the 8th verse to the end. This deletion of Amalek was completed by the death of Haman the Amalekite; Esther 3:1; Esther 7:10. See the Reflections on the Destruction of the Canaanites after chap. 20:

REFLECTIONS.—A dreadful memento is put upon Amalek. He had fallen upon them as soon as they had escaped from Egypt. He had taken advantage of their weakness, and attacked them when weary with marching, and faint with thirst. He had, in a cowardly manner hung upon their rear, to pick up the hindmost, who could make no resistance; and impiously feared not the Lord, whose glory appeared so visibly at their head. For these instances of treacherous cruelty to his people, God will punish him with utter excision; and they must not forget to execute the sentence, which was done at several times by Saul and David, and finally in the time of Hezekiah, 1 Chronicles 4:43. Note; (1.) God will avenge the quarrels of his people upon their enemies; and they will be especially remembered who seek to distress or discourage the weak, and to offend his little ones who are but beginning to escape from spiritual Egypt. (2.) God's sentence is slow in the execution, but it is sure.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 25". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.