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LAWS RELATING TO CORPORAL PUNISHMENT, LEVIRATE MARRIAGES, AND WEIGHTS AND MEASURES.
The first and second verses should be read as one sentence, of which the protasis is in Deuteronomy 25:1 and the apodosis in Deuteronomy 25:2, thus: If there be a strife between men, and they come to judgment, and they (i.e. the judges) give judgment on them, and justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked, then it shall be, if the wicked deserve to be beaten (literally, be the son of blows), that the judge, etc. It is assumed that the judges shall pronounce just judgment, and apportion to the guilty party his due punishment; and then it is prescribed how that is to be inflicted. In the presence of the judge the man was to be cast down, and the adjudged number of blows were to be given him, not, however, exceeding forty, lest the man should be rendered contemptible in the eyes of the people, as if he were a mere slave or brute. This punishment was usually inflicted with a stick (Exodus 21:10; 2 Samuel 7:14, etc.), as is still the case among the Arabs and Egyptians; sometimes also with thorns (Judges 8:7, Judges 8:16); sometimes with whips and scorpions, i.e. scourges of cord or leather armed with sharp points or hard knots (1 Kings 12:11, 1 Kings 12:14). Though the culprit was laid on the ground, it does not appear that the bastinado was used among the Jews as it is now among the Arabs; the back and shoulders were the parts of the body on which the blows fell (Proverbs 10:13; Proverbs 19:29; Proverbs 26:3; Isaiah 1:6). According to his fault, by a certain number; literally, according to the requirement of his crime in number; i.e. according as his crime deserved. The number was fixed at forty, probably because of the symbolical significance of that number as a measure of completeness. The rabbins fixed the number at thirty-nine, apparently in order that the danger of exceeding the number prescribed by the Law should be diminished (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:24); but another reason is assigned by Maimonides, viz. that, as the instrument of punishment was a scourge with three tails, each stroke counted for three, and thus they could not give forty, but only thirty-nine, unless they exceeded the forty (Maimon; 'In Sanhedrin,' 17.2).
The leaving the ox unmuzzled when treading out the corn was in order that the animal might be free to eat of the grains which its labor severed from the husks. This prohibition, therefore, was dictated by a regard to the rights and claims of animals employed in labor; but there is involved in it the general principle that all labor is to be duly requited, and hence it seems to have passed into a proverb, and was applied to men as well as the lower animals (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:9; 1 Timothy 5:18). The use of oxen to tread out the corn and the rule of leaving the animals so employed unmuzzled still prevail among the Arabs and other Eastern peoples.
Levirate marriages. If a man who was married died without issue, his surviving brother was required to marry the widow, so as to raise up a successor to the deceased, who should be his heir. The brother who refused this duty must be publicly disgraced. The design of this institution—which was not originated by Moses, but came down from early times (Genesis 38:8), and is to be found amongst ether nations than the Jews, and that even in the present day—was to preserve a family from becoming extinct and to secure the property of a family from passing into the hands of a stranger. The notion that the usage "had its natural roots in the desire inherent in man who is born for immortality, and connected with the hitherto undeveloped belief in an eternal life, to secure a continued personal existence for himself and immortality for his name through the perpetuation of his family, and in the life of the son who took his place" (Keil), seems wholly fanciful.
Dwell together; i.e. not necessarily in the same house, but in the same community or place (cf. Genesis 13:6; Genesis 26:7). And have no child; literally, have no son; but this is rightly interpreted as meaning child (so the LXX.; Vulgate; Josephus, 'Antiq.,' 4.8, 23; Matthew 22:25; Maimon; 'In Jibbum.,' 2.6-9); for, if the deceased left a daughter, the perpetuation of the family and the retention of the property might be secured through her (cf. Numbers 27:4, etc.).
Shall succeed in the name of his brother which is dead; literally, shall rise up on the name of his deceased brother; i.e. shall be enrolled in the family register as heir of the deceased, and shall perpetuate his name.
If the man refused to marry the widow of his deceased brother, he was free to do so; but the woman had her redress. She was to bring the matter before the eiders of the town, sitting as magistrates at the gate, and they were to summon the man and speak to him, and if he persisted in his refusal, the woman was to take his shoe from off his foot, and spit before his face, and say, So shall it be done unto that man that will not build up his brother's house. The taking off of the shoe of the man by the woman was an act of indignity to him; it amounted to a declaration that he was not worthy to stand in his brother's place, and was scornfully rejected by the woman herself. As the planting of the shod foot on a piece of property, or the casting of the shoe over a field, was emblematical of taking possession of it with satisfaction (Psalms 60:8; Psalms 108:9); and as the voluntary handing of one's shoe to another betokened the giving up to that other of some property or right; so, contrariwise, the forcible removal from one of his shoe and the casting of it aside indicated contemptuous rejection of the owner, and repudiation of all his rights and claims in the matter. To walk barefooted was regarded by the Jews as ignominious and miserable (cf. Isaiah 20:2, Isaiah 20:4; 2 Samuel 15:30). The spitting before the face of the man (בְּפָנַיו in front of him) is by the Jewish interpreters understood of spitting on the ground in his presence. This seems to be what the words express (cf. Deuteronomy 4:37; Deuteronomy 7:24; Deuteronomy 11:25; Joshua 10:8; Ezekiel 10:8, for the rendering of בפני); and this, according to Oriental notions, would be insult enough (cf. Numbers 12:14; Isaiah 1:6; Niebuhr, ' Description de l'Arabie,' 1.49).
Deuteronomy 25:11, Deuteronomy 25:12
But though the childless widow might thus approach and lay hold on the man, no license was thus granted to women to pass beyond the bounds of decency in their approaches to the other sex. Hence the prohibition in these verses. The severe sentence here prescribed was by the rabbins commuted into a fine of the value of the hand.
Rectitude and integrity in trade are here anew inculcated (cf. Leviticus 19:35, etc.).
Diverse weights; literally, a stone and a stone—a large one for buying, and a small one for selling (cf. Amos 8:5). Both weights and measures were to be "perfect," i.e. exactly correct, and so just. (On the promise in Deuteronomy 25:15, see Deuteronomy 4:26; Deuteronomy 5:16.)
(Cf. Deuteronomy 22:5; Deuteronomy 23:12.) All that do unrighteously; equivalent to all that transgress any law.
Whilst in their intercourse with each other the law of love and brotherly kindness was to predominate, it was to be otherwise in regard to the enemies of God and his people. Them they were to overcome by force; wickedness was to be removed by the extinction of the wicked. Moses has already repeatedly reminded the Israelites that they had utterly to destroy the wicked nations of Canaan; and he here closes this discourse by reminding them that there was a nation outside of Canaan which was also doomed, and which they were to root out. This was Amalek, which had attacked the Israelites in their journey at Rephidim, and had taken advantage of their exhausted condition to harass their rear and destroy those who, faint and weary, had lagged behind. For this they had been already punished by the Israelites, who, led on by Joshua, had turned upon them and discomfited them with the edge of the sword. This, however, was not enough; Amalek was to be utterly destroyed, and this the Israelites were to effect as soon as the Lord had given them rest in the Promised Land. It was not, however, till the time of David that this was done.
And smote the hindmost of thee; literally, and tailed thee; i.e. cut off thy tail, or rear. The verb (זִנֵּב) occurs only here and in Joshua 10:19. It is a denominative from זָנָב, a tail, and, like many denominatives, both in the Hebrew and in other languages, it has the sense of taking away or cutting off the thing expressed by the noun from which it is formed, like the English verb to skin, for example.
Humanity to be respected in judicial inflictions.
This passage is an interesting illustration of the restraints which the Law of Moses puts on the Hebrews, as to the semi-barbarous customs of other nations. It is well known that punishment by bastinado was common among the ancient Egyptians. It would be not unnaturally adopted by the Hebrews. There are here three matters to be noticed.
1. Here is a principle to be recognized (Deuteronomy 25:1).
2. The punishment
(1) is to be inflicted in the presence of the judge, and
(2) is not to exceed forty stripes.
3. The reason given is very impressive, "lest thy brother should seem vile unto thee," i.e. lest he should be so excessively punished as to be afterwards unfit for service, and lest he should be the common butt of any one who chose to dishonor him. Human nature is to be respected, even in carrying out legal sentences on crime. Trapp says, "The Turks, when cruelly lashed, are compelled to return to the judge that commanded it, to kiss his hand, to give him thanks, and to pay the officer that whipped them!
I. The sight of a human being coming under the sentence of criminal law is matter for intense sadness.
II. The punishment to be inflicted on him should be such in matter and degree as to assert right principle, but not such as needlessly to dishonor him. For—
III. Humanity, in spite of crime, has dignity about it still. Sin and the sinner are not inseparable. God can kill one and save the other!
IV. With a view to a criminal's salvation, whatever of honor remains in his nature should be carefully guarded and tenderly appealed to.
Laborers to live by their labor.
The use of this verse by the apostle has brought it out of an obscurity to which it might have been relegated. It is quoted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:10, and is there applied by him as an illustration in the ancient Law of Moses of the same principle which our Lord affirmed when he appointed that "they that preach the gospel should live of the gospel" (see Matthew 10:9, Matthew 10:10). We can scarcely go so far as John Calvin in reference to Paul's allusion to it. He says that Paul here says, God does not care for oxen! Surely his meaning is simply that it was not merely from his care for oxen that God commanded Moses to pen such a precept, but that there was a common care of God for all his creatures, and that if he cared thus for the less, it was very certain he would care even more for the greater. Labor, moreover, is to be like all native growths—it is to have "its seed within itself." All who employ laborers are to see that their workmen are sufficiently well paid to enable them to live by their labor. Any one desiring to develop this truth in relation to spiritual toil would naturally rather take the New Testament texts referred to above. Keeping, therefore, simply to the earthly sphere, we remark:
1. No precept in this book which is connected with duty or character is too trivial to be "worthy of God."
2. An apparently small command may wrap up in it a great principle.
3. True benevolence will be kind and thoughtful to the humblest laborer even in minute detail.
4. God does not allow any one selfishly to monopolize the fruits of another's labor without giving the toiler adequate compensation for his toil.
5. The Great Defender of the rights of the working classes is—God!
6. It is a divinely appointed ordinance forever that the power of toil is to be a means of self-support; that labor shall bring wealth to the laborer. Here is a blow struck at slavery.
Family honor to be maintained.
This law supposes a state of society and a kind of public opinion which does not now exist, and in detail it is therefore obsolete. But the principle it involves is clear, viz. that in married life the honor of the family on both sides is an object of mutual interest and concern, not only during the events of life, but also in case of arrangements at and after death.
Deuteronomy 25:11, Deuteronomy 25:12
An offending hand.
This maybe compared with Matthew 5:30.
1. Any member of the body may become an instrument of sin.
2. Where there is in any case special danger there should a special watch be kept.
3. Favorite, yet sinful lusts must be crucified, whatever the cost may be.
Righteousness in trade imperative.
This paragraph requires no preparatory elucidation. The topic for a Homily which it gives is one of the most important in the range of human ethics. It furnishes six lines of thought.
1. In the providence of God men are thrown together for the purposes of trade.
2. Opportunity is thus furnished for the exercise of right principles of mutual justice and equity.
3. There is often given an opportunity also of taking advantage of others by unequal weights and measures.
4. God requires of us absolute justice to others, always and everywhere.
5. No false maxims of men, such as "business is business," can ever exonerate us from obligations to justice.
6. Our duty to man in this respect is enforced by a double argument.
(1) The neglect of it is an abomination to God (Deuteronomy 25:16).
(2) The observance of it will tend to long life, prosperity, and peace (Deuteronomy 25:15).
Kindness to enemies is not to degenerate into sympathy with or indifference to ungodliness.
God is kind. God is terrible. When he riseth up against sin to punish it openly, who—who can stand? The repeated injunctions in this book, of kindness to enemies, the prohibitions against private revenge, etc; should effectually guard any against attributing to Moses any incitement of the people to revengeful retaliation. He utters a prophecy, as a prophet. In Exodus 17:16, the LXX. read, ἐν χειρὶ κρυφαίᾳ, κ.τ.λ.% "by an unseen hand the Lord will war against Amalek." In Numbers 24:20, Balaam foretells Amalek's doom. In 1 Samuel 15:1-35; the execution of judgment on Amalek is recorded; and thus is the meaning of our present paragraph explained.
1. It is a very dangerous thing for a nation to harass or injure the people of God.
2. Such a nation may seem to prosper a while, but judgment is "laid up in store."
3. The retribution will come sooner or later in God's wonder-working providence. "Their fees shall slide in due time."
4. Whatever sympathy we may rightly feel for individual sufferers, the fact that God will ultimately avenge his people's wrongs may fill us with grateful joy.
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
Professor W. R. Smith regards this law of stripes as indicating a late date for Deuteronomy. He argues from the customs of the free Bedouins. But it is perilous to reason from the customs of the Bedouins to the punishments in vogue among a people who had lived some centuries in Egypt, where, as is well-known, the bastinado was in constant use. The sculptures at Beni-Hassan represent the very scene here described. We learn—
I. THAT IT IS THE FUNCTION OF CIVIL MAGISTRATES TO PUNISH CRIME. (Verses 1, 2.) They bear the sword for this purpose (Romans 14:4; 1 Peter 2:14). The modern humanitarian spirit tends to exalt the reformatory and preventive ends of punishment, at the expense of the retributive. That every effort should be put forth for the reformation of the criminal which the case admits of, we cordially allow. But the danger is, in these matters, that sentiment degenerate into sentimentalism. Crime deserves punishment, and on that ground alone, were there no other, ought to receive it. No theory can be satisfactory which loses sight of retribution, and makes reformation and prevention the all in all.
II. THAT PENALTIES OUGHT TO BE SUFFICIENTLY SEVERE. (Verse 2.) To be effective in early stages of civilization, penalties must be severe, prompt, and specific enough to be vividly conceived (cf. H. Spencer's 'Essays:' 'Prison Ethics'). The progress of society admits of the substitution of punishments appealing to a higher class of sensibilities. But even these ought adequately to express the measure of the criminal's desert. If Mr. Spencer were right, the slightest restraint compatible with the safety of the community, combined with compulsory self-support, would be punishment sufficient for the greatest crimes. The sense of justice in mankind rejects such ideas. Carlyle's teaching in 'Model Prisons' is healthier than this.
III. THAT PENALTIES OUGHT TO BE MEASURED. (Verse 3.) It is difficult to believe that in our own country, at the beginning of this century, the theft of five shillings from the person was a crime punishable by death. Yet the statute-book bristled with enactments, of which, unhappily, this was not the worst. Such outrageous disproportion between crime and punishment must have robbed the law's sentences of most of their moral effect. Anomalies exist still, which it would be to any statesman's credit to endeavor to remove.
IV. THAT PENALTIES SHOULD NOT BE UNDULY DEGRADING, (Vet, 3.) Lest "thy brother should seem vile unto thee." The effect of excessive severity is to harden, degrade, dehumanize. It often drives the criminal to desperation. As a victim of the older criminal code expressed it, "A man's heart is taken from him, and there is given to him the heart of a beast." The tendency in modern feeling is toward the abolition of corporal punishments entirely, as degrading alike to him who administers them, and to those by whom they are endured.
1. The profound idea on which the law rested. The body, part of human nature, and sharing its dignity as made in God's image.
2. The best laws may be unjustly and cruelly administered (2 Corinthians 11:24, 2 Corinthians 11:25).—J.O.
The apostle draws from this passage the general principle that the laborer is entitled to eat of the fruits of his labor (1 Corinthians 9:9, 1 Corinthians 9:10). His application teaches us to look for similar general principles wrapped up in other precepts of the Law. We learn—
I. ANIMALS ARE ENTITLED TO GENEROUS TREATMENT. The ox that trod out the corn was not to be muzzled. He was to be permitted to eat of the fruits of his work. Kindness to animals is a duty:
1. Which man owes to the creatures. Severe moralists, arguing that animals, being destitute of reason, are also destitute of rights, would bring all man's duties towards them under the head of duties to himself (e.g. Kant). Alford thinks this to be implied in Paul's language. But Paul's argument, if it is to be pressed in this connection, rather implies the contrary. It recognizes in the ox, on the ground of its being a laborer, a kind of right to be provided for. All that the apostle affirms is that the precept had an end beyond the reference to oxen, that the "care for oxen" was subordinate to the inculcation of a principle of general application. Our duty to the creatures rests on the ground that they are sentient beings, capable of pain and pleasure, and on the law of love, which requires us to diffuse happiness, and avoid inflicting needless suffering.
2. Which man owes to himself. For this view, while not the whole of the truth, is an important part of it. Leibnitz, in a small treatise written for the education of a prince, advised that, during youth, he should not be permitted to torment or give pain to any living thing, lest, by indulging the spirit of cruelty, he should contract a want of feeling for his fellow-men. Alford says, "The good done to a man's immortal spirit by acts of humanity and justice infinitely outweighs the mere physical comfort of a brute which perishes."
II. THE HUMAN LABORER IS ENTITLED TO SHARE IN THE PROFITS OF HIS LABORS. Theoretically, he does so every time he is paid wages. In the distribution of the fruits of production, the part which the laborer gets, we are told, is wages, the share of the landowner is rent, that of the capitalist is interest, and the Government takes taxes. Practically, however, wages are settled, not by abstract rules of fairness, but by competition, which may press so hard upon the laborer as (till things right themselves) to deprive him of his fair proportion of industrial profits. The wage system is far from working satisfactorily. As society advances, it appears to be leading to an increasing amount of bitterness and friction. Masters and men represent opposing interests, and stand, as it were, at daggers drawn. It is easier to see the evil than to devise a cure. Economists (Mill, Jevons, etc.) seem to look mainly in the direction of some form of co-operation. Their schemes are principally two;
1. Industrial co-operation.
2. Industrial partnerships—the system according to which a fixed proportion of profits is assigned for division amongst the workmen engaged in production.
III. MINISTERS OF THE GOSPEL ARE ENTITLED TO BE SUPPORTED BY THEIR FLOCKS. This is the application made by Paul (1 Corinthians 9:1-27.; cf. Matthew 10:10-12; Galatians 6:6). Christian ministers, laboring in spiritual things, and by that work withdrawn from ordinary avocations, are to be cheerfully supported. The text applies to this case more strictly than to the case of workmen claiming to participate in profits. The workman claims but his own. The right of the minister to support is of a different kind. He labors in things spiritual, but, it is to be hoped, with a higher end than the mere obtaining of a livelihood. While, therefore, his support is a duty, it is, like duties of benevolence generally, not one that can be enforced by positive law. The right to support is a moral, not a legal one. It creates an obligation, but, as moralists say, an indeterminate obligation. It is an obligation to be freely accepted, and as freely discharged.—J.O.
The levitate law.
At the root of this law, which obtained widely in the East, we find ideas and feelings such as these—
I. RESPECT FOR THE HONOR OF THE FAMILY. In the East, as is well known, childlessness is reckoned a calamity, almost a disgrace. Hence, as well as for other reasons, the severity of the law in Deuteronomy 25:11. Hence also this custom of marrying a brother's widow, in order to raise up seed to the brother. The motive is plainly to avert disgrace from a brother's house, to wipe out his reproach, to hand down his name in honor. We may respect the feeling while repudiating the form in which it embodied itself. What touches the credit of our families ought to be felt to concern ourselves. Not in the sense, certainly, of leading us to uphold that credit at the expense of truth and of justice to others; but in the sense of doing everything we can with a good conscience to maintain or redeem it.
II. DESIRE FOR A PERPETUATED NAME. The men of the old dispensation, as Matthew Henry says, not having so clear and certain a prospect of living themselves on the other side death as we have now, were the more anxious to live in their posterity. The principle is the same at bottom as that which leads us to wish for personal immortality. What man desires is perpetuated existence, of which existence in one's posterity is a kind of shadow, affording, in contemplation, a like "shadow of satisfaction" to the mind. Positivism, in falling back from a personal to a corporate immortality, is thus a movement in the wrong direction. The exchange it proposes is the substance for the shadow. The desire to exist in the remembrance of posterity, and to be well thought of by them, is, however, a legitimate principle of action. It should operate in leading us to live good and useful lives, which is the secret of the only lasting honor.
"Only the actions of the just
Smell sweet and blossom in the dust."
III. THE DISGRACE ATTACHING TO REFUSAL OF THE DUTIES IMPOSED ON US BY RELATIONSHIP TO THE DEAD. The disgrace in this case was emphatically marked (verses 9, 10). The wishes of the dead should be very sacred to us. The duties which spring from the bond of relationship, or from express request, should, if possible, be faithfully discharged. Aiding in the settlement of affairs, seeing provision made for a widow and children, accepting and fulfilling trusts, etc.—J.O.
Morality in trade.
The Hebrew lawgiver lays just stress on honesty in weights and measures. The general principle is that of honesty in trade. Weights and measures connect themselves intimately with the ideas of justice, rectitude, impartiality. Justice is represented by a figure with scales and weights. Falsification of weights and measures is thus a representative sin, one which corrupts integrity in man with peculiar and fatal rapidity.
I. AN INJUNCTION MUCH NEEDED. Trade morality is at present at a low ebb. Mixed up with the thousands of honest transactions which no doubt take place every day, there must be admitted to be an enormous number which are more or less fraudulent. "On the average," says Mr. Spencer, "men who deal in bales and tons differ but little in morality from men who deal in yards and pounds. Illicit practices of every form and shade, from venial deception up to all but direct theft, may be brought home to the higher grades of the commercial world. Tricks innumerable, lies acted or uttered, elaborately devised frauds, are prevalent—many of them established as 'customs of the trade;' nay, not only established, but defended" ('Essays,' vol. 2; 'Morals of Trade;' cf. Smiles on 'Duty,' Deuteronomy 3:1-29.). The saddest feature in the outlook is the apparent prevalence of the feeling that trickery of this kind is absolutely essential to success—that a man can't get on without it.
II. AN INJUNCTION WHICH OUGHT TO BE ENFORCED. But how? By a fearless exposure of dishonesties, and by a loud and firm demand on the part of every upright member of society for honest and truthful dealing. Only if the dishonest are a majority in society—a majority of overwhelming numbers—can they ultimately prevail against the honest. A determined combination on the part of persons of integrity would suffice to put them down. The man known to be honest should be supported, even at some pecuniary sacrifice. Custom should be unflinchingly withdrawn from men detected in tricks, and the stamp of public reprobation placed on such men and their doings. Means should be taken to diffuse information as to the arts and frauds by which dishonesty sustains itself. The causes of these dishonesties need also to be looked into—chiefly, according to Spencer, the indiscriminate respect paid to wealth. Love of the honor and position which wealth gives—the certainty of being looked up to, courted in society, applauded for success, with few questions asked,—this is the tap-root of the evil, and it is to be cured by distinguishing between wealth and character, and by honoring the former only when in alliance with the latter.
III. AN INJUNCTION WHICH IT IS EVERY ONE'S INTEREST TO ENFORCE. Trade dishonesty should, if possible, be checked:
1. In view of its inherent immorality. Nothing can be more despicable, more mean and disgraceful, than the lies, frauds, briberies, malpractices, adulterations, which, if the witnesses are to be trusted, abound in all branches of trade. These things are a blot on our country, the shame of which touches all.
2. In view of its corrupting effect on morals generally. Its influence spreads beyond itself. It saps principle, eats out faith in virtue, unfits the individual for every moral task.
3. In view of its effects on national prosperity. These are ruinous. God's displeasure rests on the nation, and he is certain to chastise it. But the sorest whip he uses to chastise it is the scourge of its own follies. Our dishonesties lose us (are actually losing us) our markets; lower us in the eyes of foreign nations; destroy credit; engender a spirit of general distrust; still worse, by undermining principle, they destroy the power of steady application to work, and increasingly substitute the motives of the gambler for those of the merchant content with lawful gains. The inevitable end is impoverishment and disgrace.
4. As a measure of self-protection. Each individual suffers as part of the whole. He is frequently cheated, sometimes incurs serious losses. Hard-earned money finds its way into the pockets of clever but unscrupulous scoundrels, who as rapidly squander it in reckless living.—J.O.
Moses, in calling the sin of Amalek to remembrance, and enjoining destruction of that people, was not speaking "of himself." He but declared the will of God, long before announced, and solemnly recorded in a book (Exodus 17:14). It was not "after the spirit or mission of the Law," as has been well remarked, "to and at overcoming inveterate opposition by love and by attempts at conversion. The Law taught God's hatred of sin and of rebellion against him by enjoining the extinction of the obstinate sinner" ('Speaker's Commentary'). The lessons from the command are these—
I. GOD KEEPS IN REMEMBRANCE INJURIES DONE TO HIS CHURCH AND PEOPLE. (Deuteronomy 25:17.)
II. GOD SPECIALLY REMEMBERS INJURIES TO THE FEEBLE AND AFFLICTED. (Deuteronomy 25:18.) The "fear of God," if nothing else, ought to restrain inhumanities. "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" (Acts 9:4).
III. WRONGS TO THE CHURCH OF GOD WILL NOT PASS UNAVENGED. (Deuteronomy 25:19.) Repentance, as in Paul's case, may reverse the sentence. If the sinner is obstinate, the doom will fall as certainly as in the case of Amalek (2Th2Th 1:9).—J.O.
HOMILIES BY D. DAVIES
Earthly magistracy an argument for the heavenly.
It is not conceivable that God should have taken such pains, through Moses, to secure pure administration of justice in earthly courts, unless he had established a like court of judicature in heaven. So far as the will of God is embodied in the judicial procedure on earth, it is copied from the pattern of heavenly things.
I. A JUDICIAL COURT IS CREATED FOR THE DISCRIMINATION OF HUMAN CHARACTER. The purpose of all examination and testimony is to separate the evil from the good—to bring to light the righteousness and the wickedness of men. Justice delights more in vindicating and commending the righteous than in censuring and condemning the wicked. Justice found a nobler occupation in marshalling Mordecai through the city, and proclaiming his innocence, than in erecting the gallows for the execution of Haman. Human judges, however, can discern only what is palpable and conspicuous. They have not an organ of insight delicate enough to detect the lesser excellences and blemishes; nor can they penetrate into the interior nature of man. These institutions are only the shadows of heavenly things. But every man stands before the tribunal of a higher Judge, where not only actions, but motives, intentions, and feelings, are examined and weighed. Here, without the possibility of mistake, the righteous are justified, the wicked are condemned. Discrimination is perfect: separation will be complete.
II. A JUDICIAL COURT IS ORDAINED FOR THE PUNISHMENT OF EVIL DEEDS.
1. The true punishment is measured by the scale of demerit. It is enjoined to be "according to his fault." In God's sagacious judgment, every degree of blameworthiness is noted. Nothing appertaining to moral conduct is beneath the notice of God's eye. We value far too little moral qualities. As we grow like God, we shall gain in that penetrative power which discerns the beauty of goodness and the blackness of iniquity.
2. Punishment is a loss of manliness. "The judge shall cause him to lie down." His dignity shall be prostrate. Sin robs us of manliness, but the loss does not come into public view until punishment follows. To be righteous throughout is to be a man.
3. Punishment is to be public. The culprit is "to be beaten before the judge's face." This publicity is part of the penalty. It is summary—to be inflicted at once. And publicity is also a safeguard against cruelty and against excess. So God invites public recognition and public approval of his doings. The ransomed universe shall unite in the testimony, "Just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints."
III. A JUDICIAL COURT REVEALS THE VALUE OF A HUMAN LIFE. The penalties were to be moderate, "lest thy brother should seem vile unto thee." The first ends of punishment are the reformation and improvement of the offender. If it is possible to teach the culprit the value of himself, and inspire him with a hatred of sin, we have done him unspeakable good. We do not spend so much in cutting and polishing a common stone as we do a ruby or a sapphire. Let our treatment of men be as if we esteemed them the jewels of God.—D.
Doing good inseparable from getting good.
Active exercise of our powers is a primary condition of getting good. Real service for others is destined to gain reward.
I. SERVICE CAN BE RENDERED TO MAN BY VERY INFERIOR NATURES. The whole animate creation waits upon man. Every living thing upon the earth is a servant and a lackey for men. He is a king here; and, if he have sufficient wisdom, he can rule all for his own advantage. Yet, in a higher sphere, man is only a servant. He who is served by all inferior beings is called to serve the Highest Being. The disparity between God and man is a disparity immeasurable; and yet God permits, yea, encourages, our intelligent and willing service. Inferior as we are to him, we can render efficient service to his kingdom and glory. This is man's truest honor.
II. SERVICE CONTRIBUTES TO PROVIDE AN ABUNDANT BANQUET. The labor of the oxen prepared the corn for men. So gross is our ignorance of the lower creation, that we do not perceive our indebtedness to the birds and insects, which play so useful a part in the preparation of our food. All well-directed service contributes something to the substantial advantage of man. There is a banquet of intellectual food, or a banquet for the aesthetic taste, or a banquet for the soul, resulting. Active labor serves both to create an appetite and to furnish a table.
III. SERVICE HAS CLAIMS UPON OUR GENEROUS RECOMPENSE. It would be nothing else than selfish cruelty to deny to the oxen a share in the result of their labor. Thus God cares for the oxen. Thus he cares for all the works of his hands. And does his kindly care for the inferior beasts diminish his tender regard for men? It immeasurably enhances it! Whoever or whatever does us useful service brings us under obligation. To the extent of our power we are bound to recompense such. This sense of indebtedness is a channel of blessing to the soul. The richest man is he who is the most generous. A muzzle is a shackle forged by wanton selfishness.—D.
Religion inspires commercial life.
It is certain that God displays the liveliest interest in every department of human life. He is not only the God of the hills; he is God of the valleys also. He takes cognizance, not only of great things, but also of small. Can any man tell us what are small things? Not only on the portal of every church, but on the forefront of every shop—ay, on the beam of every balance, we ought to see the inscription, "To the glory of God alone!"
I. RELIGION CLAIMS A THRONE IN EVERY SHOP. True religion is the sunny smile from God's eye, and, as the common light of day penetrates into every nook and cranny of nature, so the light of God's love pierces into every interest of human life. It is not a romantic something which has merely to do with the region of existence beyond the grave; it is the life of cur present life—the secret spring of every duty. Ordinary trade is a splendid field for the practical exercise of religious virtues, because the commercial activities of the age afford large facilities either for fidelity or for fraud. In every office and warehouse religion claims to set up her throne. In the smallest act of buying and selling she insists on having a voice.
II. RELIGION GOES TO THE ROOT OF THINGS—DETERMINES THE STANDARDS OF HUMAN ACTION. If the weight or measure be false, then every transaction will be false. Ingenious wickedness had invented two sets of standards—an over-large one for the man as buyer, an under-size for the same man as seller. This course of vile procedure carried the villainy into every item of the man's mercantile life. It is of the first importance that we set up fight standards. The Pharisee in the temple was a perfect man, according to his standard. The rich young man who came to Jesus Christ for counsel was blameless, according to his standard. Men are prone to set up conventional standards, and measure themselves and every one else according to their rule. Take heed that your standard is God's standard, "a perfect and just measure."
III. RELIGION IS BOTH DESTRUCTIVE AND CONSTRUCTIVE. "Thou shalt not have this; thou shalt have that." It first pulls down, then builds up. It first uproots, then plants. "Mortify your members, then add to your virtues." The old must be destroyed; the new must be sown and nursed. In our self-culture and in our training of others, it is not enough that we are repressive and prohibitive; the new growths will often cast off effete and injurious matter. Prune away barren boughs; encourage the development of the fruitful wood.
IV. RELIGION BRINGS COLLATERAL GAINS IN THIS LIFE. Her main reward is in the future, viz. possession of the Divine image; nevertheless, she confers many solid favors here and now. Real pleasure is her daily gift, and "length of days" is her special prize. "The wicked shall not live out half their days"—they die prematurely. Nor is long life on earth to be despised. There are, doubtless, moral advantages and gains obtainable in this life, which are not obtainable in the life to come. Many of the means of discipline and pruning and reformation will end with this life. We are placed here for probation; and (if well-used) long school-life is an advantage unspeakable. To be esteemed by God as "the apple of his eye" is better than an earthly coronet. To be regarded by him as "abomination" is "concentrated curse."—D.
Cowardice and cruelty avenged.
The feeling of resentment must be classed "low" among the moral sentiments. But this command to remember and to avenge the conduct of Amalek is not resentment. Abundant time was allowed the Amalekites to abandon evil ways and to cultivate friendly relations with Israel. But they continued, century after century, godless and hostile: hence their extinction.
I. ATHEISM BREEDS IS MEN BOTH CRUELTY AND COWARDICE. Against Amalek the gravest charge is, "he feared not God." This is the root of all his wickedness—the source of his base hostility to Israel. Practical atheism is the prolific parent of hateful vices. There was not a trait of nobleness in Amalek's conduct. It was cowardly and cruel. He attacked Israel in the rear—"smote the hindmost" stragglers—fell upon those already half-dead from fatigue. For a moment he gloried in the inglorious massacre, but only for a moment. The prayer of one man was more than a match for Amalek. In every age it is found that he "who fears not God" has no "regard for man." The influence of a bad man is perilously contagious. The whole tribe is embraced under the character of one man.
II. CRUEL TREATMENT LEAVES AN INDELIBLE IMPRESSION UPON THE MIND. Human nature is so constituted that a wrong done to us or to our fathers is held tenaciously in the memory, and provokes all the feelings to avenge the deed. Herein the Word of God is in accord with our mental nature. Human nature says, "Remember!" The Scripture says, "Remember!" "Thou shalt not forget it." Incidentally, we have here a proof that the Creator of the human mind is also the Author of Scripture. Injustice rouses up all the moral forces in the universe to inflict a fitting retribution; and very often God employs as his ministers of vengeance the victims of former oppression. The increase, the strength, the organization of Israel were to be employed early upon this end, viz. to extinguish Amalek.
III. INHERITANCE FROM GOD CARRIES WITH IT AN OBLIGATION TO DO HIS WILL. Rest is given to prepare for more difficult service. "When the Lord thy God hath given thee rest … thou shalt blot out Amalek." God never gives to men any inheritance for exclusive selfish enjoyment. If we are not disposed for service, and even for warfare, the only consistent course is to decline God's gifts. He has plainly made known to men the conditions of his bequests. Before Israel possessed the Promised Land it was clearly revealed what was expected from the occupants of that inheritance. Nor is the inheritance of heaven a state of indolent repose. The voice that says, "Enter into joy," says also, "Be thou ruler." We read of disputes between Michael and the adversary. Who shall say that God will not employ his ransomed ones to put down rebellion in some outlying province?—D.
HOMILIES BY R.M. EDGAR
We have here directions given for the punishment of criminals. As the Hebrews had no gaol system, a properly graduated corporal punishment supplied most effectively its place. Moses here directs the judges to look carefully into the case, and to assign a certain number of stripes, which are never to exceed forty, the chastisement being given in the presence of the judge. Thus the largest measure of equity was introduced into their penal system.
I. RETRIBUTION OF SOME KIND IS CONSONANT WITH OUR IDEAS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. To be allowed to sin with impunity would be, we all feel, an immoral regulation under any government, and especially immoral under a theocracy. Punishment for sin is demanded by the human conscience. All quarrel with retribution as such argues a want of conscientiousness.
II. BUT RETRIBUTION SHOULD BE PROPORTIONAL TO SIN. This is what the law before us secured. The stripes were to be few or many, according to the crime, but never to exceed forty. The judgment was to be righteous and equitable all through.
III. WE LOOK INSTINCTIVELY FOR THE SAME EQUITY UNDER THE GOVERNMENT OF GOD. And this is exactly what we have. And here let us observe—
1. Sin is not allowed to go unpunished under God's government. It has been very confidently asserted that, if people are penitent, no atonement is needed to secure pardon. But, supposing penitence a possible experience apart from the spectacle of a pierced and atoning Savior (Zechariah 12:10), should we not have "sin with impunity" under the reputedly just government of God? Those who glibly talk of penitence being all that is required, have formed no broad or consistent notion of the necessities of government. £ Now, the Divine arrangement has been to lay the "stripes" we deserve upon his willing Son. "With his stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5). The sin is punished in the person of a sinless and most willing Substitute, and the demands of justice met. We may be sure that, as the Father presided at the punishment, no more was laid on Jesus than the demands of simple justice and the exigencies of the government required. And—
2. Unpardoned because impenitent sinners shall have their punishment graduated according to the strictest justice. It has been asserted that punishment without end would be excessive for the sins of a short life on earth. But it is forgotten that "everlasting punishment" is the shadow simply of "everlasting sin." The latter, alas! is possible through the freedom of the creature; and as sin continues, so must punishment. At the same time, the graduation of punishment in the other world will be as accurate and as careful as the corporal punishment under the Law of Moses. In fact, it is this idea of stripes our Lord employs to express the truth. "And that servant which knew his lord's will, and made not ready, nor did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes; but he that knew not, and did things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. And to whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required; and to whom they commit much, of him will they ask the more" (Luke 12:47, Luke 12:48, Revised Version). It is thus clearly seen that the utmost care will be taken to graduate the penalties in the hereafter, so that no one shall have the least ground of complaint. The vulgar revolt against the everlasting punishment revealed in Scripture is due to the idea that the criminals are thrown pell-mell together and punished in the lump. With far greater care, however, shall each impenitent one have his penalties meted out to him than prisoners have under the most conscientious judges.
IV. INSTEAD OF BANDYING ABOUT ARGUMENTS IN FAVOR OF RELIEF UNDER PUNISHMENT, IT WOULD BE KINDER FOR CONTROVERSIALISTS TO INDUCE MEN THROUGH FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST TO ACCEPT OF PARDON AND SO ESCAPE PENALTY. The spectacle at present is a sad one. Writers are pursuing the phantom of remission of sins and of punishment in the other life, as a new gospel for sinners, instead of urging their fellows to flee at once to Jesus, the only Refuge. This much is certain, "Him that cometh unto me," says Christ, "I will in no wise cast out." Upon such a promise any soul may repose. But the uncertainty of speculation is proverbial, and can never be the sheet-anchor of any sane soul. Let men come to Jesus, and the question of punishment, so far as they are concerned, is settled forever.
Punishment gives way to pardon; while at the same time, it is felt that the sin has not gone unpunished.—R.M.E.
The rights of labor.
The threshing in the East is done by oxen in many cases still, though horses, where procurable, are found more serviceable. While the animals were engaged in their weary round, they were never muzzled, but allowed to eat of the corn they were treading out. £ It would appear, indeed, that it was the straw simply that they were to receive, and the corn was to be reserved for the men, their masters. £ But the idea manifestly was the right of the patient animal to a share of the corn he was helping to thresh. It suggests the large subject of the rights of labor. Into this, of course, we cannot enter at any length. But we may observe—
I. THAT CO-OPERATION IN WORK HAS A RIGHT TO A SHARE IN ITS WAGES. This is recognized in the Mosaic Law regarding the lower animals, and the argument is cumulative with regard to man. "The laborer is worthy of his hire," said our Lord. "The workman is worthy of his meat" (Luke 10:7; Matthew 10:10).
II. THE SHARE SHOULD BE SUFFICIENT TO SUSTAIN LIFE. The ox was expected to pick up on his rounds as much as would keep up his strength for labor. And in the same way, the wages of a laborer should be sufficient to sustain him in the position he occupies in society. The economic laws about the "wages' fund" are not so inexorable as to prevent such a plain principle being evermore kept in view. There is a heartlessness attributed to the laws of wealth that belongs to the capitalists themselves.
III. THERE SHOULD BE SYMPATHY BETWEEN EMPLOYER AND EMPLOYED. The very oxen occupy a position where sympathy must obtain between them and their keepers, if the work is to be properly performed. How much more must this obtain when the workers are our fellow-men! The late Sir Arthur Helps, in one of his early and anonymous volumes entitled, 'The Claims of Labor,' refers frequently to this. "You must not be surprised," he says to the employer, "at the ingratitude of those to whom you have given nothing but money." "Fortunately," he says in another place, "the proneness of men to regard with favor those put in authority over them is very strong; and I have little fear of finding any large body of thoughtful and kind masters suffering from permanent indifference or ingratitude on the part of their dependents." Sympathy between masters and men is more important even than adequate wages.
IV. BOTH JESUS AND PAUL APPLY THE PRINCIPLE TO MINISTERIAL SUPPORT. In the passage already noticed our Lord does so (Matthew 10:9-11; Luke 10:7). Paul also, in 1 Timothy 5:17, 1 Timothy 5:18, makes use of it, referring both to the passage before us in Deuteronomy and also to our Lord's deliverance. In placing the ministry upon the same ground as other workers, it is clear that it is to be no exception to the rule of proportional reward. Of course, it is not supported as other and meaner occupations are. Every other occupation is beneath it in dignity, but every other almost is above it in reward. Its rights must be advocated; its claims are valid, and men deny them at their peril.—R.M.E.
The rights of the firstborn.
We have already observed that the firstborn had a right to a double share of the family inheritance (Deuteronomy 21:17). We have before us another of his rights—a seed was to be raised up unto him by his younger brothers, that his name should not be put out in Israel. In a peasant proprietary such as existed in Palestine, we can easily understand the importance of such a regulation. It was, moreover, esteemed a most disgraceful act to refuse to raise up seed unto a dead brother, and the man guilty of it had to suffer the indignity of being spat upon, and of having his shoe contemptuously loosed.
Now, there can be no question that Jesus Christ occupies the position of Eldest Brother in the family of God. Not only was it declared prophetically, "I will make him my Firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth" (Psalms 89:27), but he is expressly called "the Firstborn from the dead," "the Firstborn among many brethren," and "the Firstborn of every creature" (Colossians 1:18; Romans 8:29; Colossians 1:15). Undoubtedly, then, the rights guaranteed by Jewish Law to the firstborn were intended to illustrate the rights of Jesus Christ.
I. JESUS CHRIST, LIKE THE DEAD FIRSTBORN, HAS TO DEPEND ON OTHERS FOR A SPIRITUAL SEED. For in the nature of things it would have been incongruous for Incarnate God to have entered into marriage with any daughter of Adam, and to have become physically a father. His condescension was surely great enough in becoming man at all, and it could not be expected that he would enter into still closer relations to the race. None ever stood in the relation to physical children of Jesus Christ; it would have made a confusion in the contemplated spiritual relationship. Hence our Lord bad to look to others to raise him up a seed.
II. IT LIFTS THE FAMILY RELATION INTO THE HOLIEST LIGHT TO THINK THAT WE MAY BE RAISING UP A SPIRITUAL SEED FOR JESUS. How holy all marriage relations become when it is felt to be possible to be providing the Great Elder Brother with a spiritual seed! The children sent of God are then regarded as Christ's; we dedicate them to him in prayer, and perhaps also in baptism; we handle them and rear them as consecrated things; we train them up in his nurture and admonition, and we feel honored in having any part in the formation of "the mighty family."
III. IT LIFTS THE PASTORAL AS WELL AS PARENTAL RELATION INTO THE HOLIEST LIGHT. In Weemse's book on the 'Ceremonial Laws of Moses,' where "the privileges of the firstborn" are so fully discussed, the application is made to preachers rather than to parents. But we think that parents should feel the elevation of spirit and life which the idea of raising up a seed for Jesus is fitted to impart. And if parents should feel it, much more should pastors. We are meant to be the "spiritual fathers" of men. We have exceptional advantages in prosecuting the holy work. Oh, how glorious it is to think of adding by our faithful labors to the great family of God! It is the Name and honor of Jesus which we should seek to perpetuate by our pastoral labors. And so our aim is to have men born again through the incorruptible seed, the Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever (1 Peter 1:23).
IV. ANY REFUSAL TO RAISE UP A SEED FOR JESUS WILL BE VISITED BY GOD IN DUE SEASON WITH DIRE DISGRACE. For the spitting in the face and the unloosing of the shoe are but symbols of the dire disgrace which shall overtake all who will not engage in this holy work. It is a work for Church members as well as for ministers. It lies as a responsibility upon every one that names the Name of Jesus, and is a younger brother or sister in the family of God. Woe be to the person who is indifferent to this!
And surely it should stimulate us to remember that the great ambition of Jesus is to have "many brethren." The mightier the multitude of redeemed ones the better. The glory and honor of Immanuel shall thus be the more thoroughly secured. He has no desire to be the solitary and selfish heir; but the whole plan of redemption is to have as many as possible "joint-heirs" with him. As families and as Churches grow in numbers and in loyalty to Jesus, his rights as Firstborn are being regarded and secured (Romans 8:17).
We cannot picture the dire disgrace which the refusal to secure the rights of Jesus Christ will entail. But the selfish souls will be the off scouring of all things; angels will despise them as having highest honor within reach, and not having the heart to accept it. Oh, let every one that has a word to speak and a kindness to perform in the Name of Jesus, do it in the holy hope of increasing the spiritual seed of the great and loving Elder Brother!—R.M.E.
Honesty the best policy.
We have first a law of purity, which needs no exposition, but in its holy severity (Deuteronomy 25:11, Deuteronomy 25:12) was fitted to check all tendency to lewd practices among the women of Israel. Then Moses passes on to speak of the crime of having divers weights and measures, and the effort to make money by dishonest practices. No blessing from God can rest upon such willfully dishonest ones; if his blessing is to be experienced, it must be by a policy of honesty all round.
I. IT IS APPARENTLY EASY TO MAKE MONEY BY LIGHT WEIGHTS AND SHORT MEASURES. It is not only securing the ordinary profits, but gaining by the deficiency palmed off for the perfect measure. It is a gain by quantity as well as by price. And plenty of people who look only at the surface imagine that they can easily enrich themselves by a little dishonesty, which will never be detected. Inspectors of weights and measures are the embodiment of the suspicions of society.
II. IT IS A SYSTEM OF BUSINESS UPON WHICH NO DIVINE BLESSING CAN BE ASKED. NO better test of the propriety of our procedure can be found than this. Will it stand the test of prayer? Can God, the All-holy One, be expected to bless it? Now, his whole Word shows that such practices are abominations to him. The stars of heaven will at length fight against such a policy.
III. NO TEMPORARY SUCCESS CAN COMPENSATE FOR AN UNEASY CONSCIENCE. Suppose that success waited on dishonesty invariably and proved lasting, life would be made miserable by the uneasy conscience. Stifled for a time, it rises like the furies at last, and makes life a lasting misery. No man ever trifled with conscience anal did not suffer for it. Success becomes in such a case but a whited sepulcher; the experience within is but the rottenness of the tomb.
IV. HONESTY IS THE BEST POLICY FOR PERSONAL PEACE AND FOR DIVINE BLESSING. We say that no man should so far outrage his conscience as to be dishonest. Honesty is a policy to be pursued for its own sake, as the only condition of personal peace. Were there no Divine blessing in question at all, conscientious men would be as honest as they are now.
At the same time, it makes the honesty all the happier that it lies in the sunshine of the Infinite Presence, and that his radiant smile is on it. There is no danger of a mercenary spirit entering into such a relation with God. He so wraps us round that in his circle of love it would be most ungrateful and most dissonant to practice dishonesty.
With people under a theocracy, or reign of God, we should expect to find just weights and full measures. The visits of the inspectors should prove superfluous with all those whose life lies open as the day to the inspection of their King.—R.M.E.
The extermination of the merciless.
The crime of the Amalekites was falling upon the hindmost, who were faint and weary. It was an act of judgment untempered by any mercy; and the decree of God is their extermination because they were merciless. Just as we see in another place that God won't forgive the unforgiving, so here we see that he will blot out the merciless from under his merciful heaven. "For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath showed no mercy" (James 2:13).
I. THE MERCILESS DESERVE NO MERCY. In the case before us there was everything calculated to stir up mercy. The rearguard was feeble and faint and weary. Surely these Amalekites will pity the poor pilgrims, and show them some mercy. But no, they think they are all the better prey, and so they smite the people of God most mercilessly. In their heartless act they put themselves beyond the pale of God's compassion, lie consigns them to extermination under the swords of Israel. Our conscience says, "Amen" to this decree. The Amalekites deserve destruction for their heartlessness.
What a word of warning to heartless people still! Let it be carried to a certain point, and God will hand them over to deserved destruction.
II. THE REARGUARD IS ALWAYS AVENGED. The tribe of Dan was directed to go "hindmost with their standards" (Numbers 2:31). And it must have seemed a trial to be always in the rear and never in the van. But they were here taught that they had in God a special Avenger. He espouses their cause, and will bring forth their righteousness as the light, and their judgment as the noonday (Psalms 37:6).
III. LET US CONTENTEDLY TAKE THE HINDMOST PLACE IF GOD GIVES IT TO US. All cannot be in the van, and the faithfulness of the rearguard is as much a matter of Divine observation as is the dash and courage which characterize the van.—R.M.E.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 25". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24