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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Deuteronomy 17

The sacrifices offered to Jehovah must be without blemish. The worshipper was not to bring to the altar any victim that was so defective as to make the offering an insult to Jehovah.

Verse 1

1. Any evil favouredness Literally, any evil thing. In Leviticus 22:22-24, the faults and blemishes which render the offering unacceptable are enumerated. The investigation of charges of idolatry, and the punishment of the guilty, are enjoined upon the magistrates. If a man or woman was charged with idolatry, and the crime proved, the guilty one was to be led out to the gate and stoned.

Verse 5

5. Unto thy gates The punishment was to be in public before the whole people. By the gate is to be understood the open space near the gate, where in Eastern cities judicial proceedings take place. Comp. Nehemiah 8:1; Nehemiah 8:3; Job 29:7. The sentence was to be carried into execution outside of the city, as in Acts 7:58; Hebrews 13:12, as in the wilderness it had been outside of the camp: to denote that the criminal was excluded from the congregation.

Verse 8

8. If there arise a matter too hard for thee The meaning evidently is this: In cases where it is difficult to decide, as to a fatal blow or in disputes about civil matters, or in cases of bodily injury, the subject must be referred for adjudication to this high judicial court. The judges appointed at Sinai were to bring to Moses such cases as they found it impossible to decide.

So after the people became settled in the land there was to be a place for the final adjudication of difficult cases. This was not an appeal from the parties involved, but a referring of the matter by the local judges.

Verse 9

9. Thou shalt come unto the priests the Levites It is claimed that this book was not written by the same author as the earlier books, because in them the term used is, the priests the sons of Aaron.” In Deuteronomy they are never called the sons of Aaron, but the sons of Levi, or the Levites.

The difference of time in the composition of Leviticus and Deuteronomy is sufficient to account for the different term. When Leviticus was written Aaron was alive. When the discourses of Deuteronomy were spoken Aaron was dead, and the priests would have acquired a position for themselves. It is suggested by Wordsworth, in his Commentary on this passage, that it was very natural that “Moses, now about to depart, should desire to appease all jealousies between priests and Levites; and for this purpose he could not use a more healing phrase than that now before us, the priests the Levites. For thus on the one hand he exhorted the priests to treat the Levites with kindness as brethren, and not to domineer over them; and on the other hand he cheered the Levites with the reflection that the priests were of the same origin as themselves; that they therefore themselves derived honour from the priestly dignity, and ought not to encroach upon it, but to feel themselves honoured by being permitted to assist those who were invested with it.” For a thorough and exhaustive treatment of this question the reader is referred to CURTISS’S Levitical Priests.

Verse 12

12. The man that will do presumptuously Apparently defying the judge and the law.

And will not hearken unto the priest The Jews understood this to apply to such elders or judges as had, in accordance with the preceding requirement, referred an important matter to the highest authority, and then refused to abide by its decision.

Even that man shall die Such resistance was to be considered as rebellion against constituted authority. It was defiance of God’s law it was at that time to be looked upon as treason against the state.

Verse 14

THE CHOICE OF A KING, AND RULES FOR HIS CONDUCT, Deuteronomy 17:14-20.

14. I will set a king over me Moses does not direct nor advise the people to have a king for their ruler. He foresees that they will act as the nations around them, and will decide to set a king over them. Some directions, then, both as to the choice of a supreme ruler and as to his conduct, would seem most appropriate in these last words of the great leader and lawgiver. It is not improbable that at times during the forty years’ wandering the people longed for a king to lead their armies, and to be the head of the nation. Moses sees that in the future that desire will become still more imperious. He seeks to control it to keep it within proper bounds. That Moses “should have anticipated the rise of the kingdom, and spoken accordingly that he should speak of these things with prophetic certainty can only be a stumbling-block to those who deny the possibility of a divine revelation of the future.” CURTISS’S Levitical Priests, p. 152.

Verse 15

15. Whom the Lord thy God shall choose The manner in which the divine appointment was to be designated is not stated here. A prophet was the medium of the divine communication in the case of the first king, Saul.

1 Samuel 9:17; 1 Samuel 10:24. Also in the case of David. 1 Samuel 16:12. When Solomon was designated, the choice of the Lord was announced directly to his father David. 1 Chronicles 22:10.

Thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother The Jews placed great stress upon this prohibition. This is one of the passages of Scripture that were read at the feast of tabernacles in the sabbatical year by the king or high priest. It is related that when King Agrippa came to this passage, while reading the portions of Scripture, tears dropped from his eyes. The people then cried out, to encourage him, “Thou art our brother! Thou art our brother!” BARCLAY’S Talmud, p. 82.

Verse 16

16. He shall not multiply horses to himself Horses were chiefly used in the East in ancient times for military purposes. In many passages the horse is mentioned in connexion with warlike operations. The reasons for the prohibition are apparent. Their king should not make those preparations for war and conquest which were so generally made by Eastern despots.

Nor cause the people to return to Egypt Egypt was the principal source of supply for horses to the nations of western Asia. The gathering of large supplies of horses would necessitate great commercial intercourse with Egypt. Moses saw in the corruptions of Egyptian life the danger there was to the people in a close connexion with that country.

Verse 17

17. Neither shall he multiply wives to himself The Eastern kings had large harems, and it seems appropriate that the lawgiver should in this way admonish the future king of the chosen people.

Neither… silver and gold Oriental despots gathered from the people wealth to spend upon themselves. The king of God’s people was not to accumulate for himself. How different might have been the history of the Israelites if their kings had heeded these directions of Moses!

Verse 18

18. A copy of this law Moses designs to provide for a holy king. The people might be like the nations around them in having a king, but the king was to be unlike the rulers of other nations. With this law to teach him, if properly heeded, his heart would not be lifted up above his brethren. He would turn aside from the commandment neither to the right nor to the left. The king whom Jehovah is to choose appears in marked contrast with the Eastern despots, who arrogated to themselves supremacy above all. They demanded adoration as if they were divine. The heart of Israel’s king is not to be so lifted up.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 17". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/deuteronomy-17.html. 1874-1909.