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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 21

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary


Verses 1-9


Verse 2

2. Thy elders and thy judges shall come forth These are understood to be the elders and judges of the adjacent places. The elders represented the people, the judges the magistracy. It was their first duty to find which city was nearest to the corpse that had been found.

Verse 3

3. The city which is next unto the slain man The nearest city was to expiate the bloodguiltiness.

A heifer, which hath not been wrought with The victim that was to be immolated must be one that had never been applied to common use. Comp. Exodus 20:25; Numbers 19:2. Among the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans such a victim was deemed more suitable for sacrifice.

Verse 4

4. A rough valley The Hebrew term which is here rendered valley also means a stream, and many critics have rendered the expression a perennial stream.

Neither eared nor sown Eared is the old term for ploughed. The heifer was to be brought to a valley through which flowed a perennial stream, a valley that had never been cultivated, and here be slain. This putting to death of the heifer was not, properly speaking, expiatory. It was symbolical, and calculated to impress upon the people the sacredness of human life.

Verse 5

5. And the priests… shall come near The priests were not to take part in the matter, but were present to see that all things were done in accordance with law.

Verses 6-8

6-8. The elders… shall wash their hands The elders were to wash their hands over the slain heifer, to indicate that the guilt of the blood of the murdered man was not to rest upon the place they represented.

Verses 10-14


The directions that follow must refer to captives that might be taken in war with the neighbouring nations after the Canaanites have been extirpated. The law was designed for the protection of the female captive, and was far in advance of the usages of the other nations of antiquity.

Verse 12

12. She shall shave her head, and pare her nails These were signs of purification to be understood, as Keil expresses it, as “symbols of her passing out of the state of a slave and her reception into the fellowship of the covenant nation.” Comp. Leviticus 14:8; Numbers 8:7.

Verse 14

14. Thou shalt not make merchandise of her Better translated, thou shalt not lay hands upon her that is, to treat her as a slave.

Verse 15

15. Hated The less beloved. Comp. Genesis 29:31; Genesis 29:33, where the same term is applied to Leah.

Verses 15-17

THE RIGHT OF THE FIRSTBORN, Deuteronomy 21:15-17.

Moses did not institute the right of primogeniture. He here lays down a direction to prevent the abuse of the father’s authority in favour of the son of a favourite wife.

Verse 18


18. A stubborn and rebellious son The directions given are intended to assert and also limit the authority of the parents. If the son was refractory no longer obedient provision was made for his punishment. From our point of view the law seems severe. But it must be borne in mind that in some ancient nations the power over the life of the child was absolutely in the father’s hand. Moses provides that both parents should consent to the infliction of the penalty, the matter having first been brought before the whole community. In the Gemara, Rabbi Simon is represented as saving that the law concerning a stubborn and rebellious son has never been, and never can be, practically applied.

Verse 19

19. Bring him out unto the elders of his city The elders are the representatives of the whole community, and are to act as magistrates.

Unto the gate of his place The gate of the Eastern city was the place for the transaction of business and for the administration of justice.

Verse 21

21. All the men of his city shall stone him Only the whole community could inflict the penalty of death. The law was much more merciful in its provisions than the usages of most of the ancient nations.

Verse 22

22. If a man… be put to death Capital punishment among the Hebrews was usually inflicted by stoning. See Exodus 17:4; Deuteronomy 13:10; John 10:31; Acts 14:5. Burning, in early times, was the punishment for unchastity. Genesis 38:24. In Leviticus 21:9, it is made the penalty for this sin in the case of a priest’s daughter. It was also the punishment for incest. Death by the sword or spear is mentioned in Exodus 19:13; Exodus 32:27; Numbers 25:7-8. According to the rabbins strangling was the most common method of capital punishment.

Hang him on a tree That is, after he has been put to death his body is to be ignominiously exposed to public view.

Verse 23

23. His body shall not remain all night upon the tree The exposed dead body defiled the land. Comp. Joshua 8:29; Joshua 10:26.

For he that is hanged is accursed of God The translation given in the version is the one most generally accepted. The Jewish commentators have rendered it: “He that is hanged is a curse to God that is, an insult or mockery.” We prefer the former. The whole passage would be equivalent to this: “Let not the body hang on the tree after sunset, for the hanging body of a malefactor defiles the land, since the curse of God rests upon it.” For the application of the passage, “He that is hanged is accursed of God,” to Jesus Christ, see Galatians 3:13.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 21". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/deuteronomy-21.html. 1874-1909.
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